Granite City goes Mediterranean at The Olive Branch

News-DemocratJanuary 26, 2014 

The opening of The Olive Branch in Granite City is like a homecoming for Pavlos "Paul" Batsios.

Many customers used to patronize his three Crackers restaurants, two in downtown St. Louis and one in Granite City. The latter closed in 2005.

"We know from the past that if Paul's running it, it's going to be good," said Sandy Dillard, 70.

On a recent weekday, Sandy was eating lunch with her husband, Ron. She ordered chili and a taco salad while he went with bacon and eggs. The Olive Branch serves breakfast all day.

The building has housed several restaurants since Hardee's moved out. Paul took over Dec. 16.

"The food's excellent," Sandy said. "It's clean, and the service is great. (The location is) good for us. We live in Granite City, and we like to keep our business in town."

The restaurant serves appetizers, soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches, Italian pasta dishes and Greek specialties, such as spanakopita (spinach and feta baked in phyllo pastry) and dolmades (rice-stuffed grape leaves).

Other specialties include baklava and tiramisu for dessert and kalamata olives with feta, tzatziki (cucumber sauce), hummus and eggplant dip for appetizers.

Paul is a Greek American who immigrated to the United States in 1967.

"I don't care how many restaurants in Granite City (serve gyros)," he said, smiling. "This is the only place you can get a Greek gyro."

Paul also is known for his homemade chili and soups, including bean, broccoli cheese, garden vegetable and a soup of the day.

He's carrying on the tradition of Crackers, which offered six of its 72 soups each day and kept giant bowls of crackers on tables.

"Most of my recipes are expanded from home recipes," Paul said, noting ingredients aren't exact. "The potato soup might be a little different today than it was yesterday."

Paul, 60, lives in Granite City with his wife, Kristina, a school nurse. She grew up in the Macedonia region of the former Yugoslavia. They have a blended family of four grown children and one granddaughter.

Paul was 13 when his family immigrated to the United States from northern Greece, also called Macedonia. He bussed tables at a restaurant owned by his aunt and uncle in Flint, Mich.

"I wanted to go to school to be an architect," he said. "But my dad said, 'There's no time. You need to go to work and make a living.'"

Paul owned the Crackers in downtown St. Louis from 1984 to 2002 and 1995 to 1996 and in Granite City from 1999 to 2005. He quit for health reasons, undergoing a quadruple heart bypass before working as Webster University's supervisor of campus dining for seven years.

The Olive Branch replaced Frank's Restaurant on Madison Avenue in Granite City. The Batsioses renovated the interior, installed new tables to go with booths and hung paintings of Mediterranean coastal scenes.

Paul's return was good news for former Crackers customer Frank Orris Jr.

"There aren't that many sit-down places in Granite City," he said. "You've got Ravanelli's, and I guess you could say Applebee's is sit-down. This is kind of a fast-food town."

Frank, 82, had just finished an order of biscuits and gravy at The Olive Branch. He eats lunch every day with his son, Frank III.

When Paul isn't in the kitchen cooking, he's welcoming, thanking or otherwise hobnobbing with customers.

"My uncle use to say, 'You should be really, really glad to see the people who pay your bills,'" he said. "I try to make my customers my friends."

At a glance

What: The Olive Branch

Where: 2642 Madison Ave. in Granite City

Hours: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays

Seating: About 90

Carry-out: Yes

Handicap-accessible: Yes

Information: Call 618-451-7000

On the menu

Western Omelet -- Three-egg omelet with ham, sausage, bacon, green peppers, onions and tomato, served with potatoes and toast or biscuit, $6.25

Patty Melt -- Half-pound burger with grilled onions and mozzarella cheese on Texas toast, $6.95

Sandwich Combo -- Half sandwich (club, roast beef, BLT, tuna or chicken salad) and soup or salad, $5.95

Spanakopita -- Spinach and feta cheese baked in phyllo pastry, served with a small Greek salad, $7.95

Gyro Plate -- Gyro meat on pita bread, served with feta cheese, olives, tomato, onions and cucumbers, $8.95

Pasta con Broccoli -- Pasta shells, broccoli and mushrooms, tossed in Alfredo sauce and served with small Italian salad, $7.95

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