Tucked away in the corner of a small brick plaza in North Olmstead, Olive Tree Middle East Food & Meat (27189 Brookpark Rd., 440-734-4790) may be a best-kept secret among Greater Cleveland ethnic groceries. Nearby are other halal stores and an Asian-Indian spice outlet, but Olive Tree stands out for its bewildering assortment of fresh ingredients. The grocery has been serving the international community in the westside suburb for nine years.
Owner Amin Abu Hamda stocks shelves as he waits for customers to order from the walk-up food counter, Jerusalem Kabab- Falafel, in the rear of the store. Hamda makes all of the shwarma, kabab and falafel sandwiches himself.
"I made you a big one," he says, locking eyes and handing over a white carryout bag heavy with pita, spit-roasted lamb, pickled onions, fresh garlic, cucumbers, tomato, lettuce, white sauce, and a delicious red pepper hot sauce. Everything on the menu comes in under $7.
"We serve customers from all over," Hamda says. "Turkish, Greek, Romanian; that's why I named it Olive Tree and not something from the old country, so everyone would feel welcome."
It's an accessible market with a friendly and helpful staff. Today, a woman in a bright purple hijab with matching eye shadow wraps spinach pies in cellophane and rings people out from behind a large, open counter.
Two men work behind the meat counter, breaking down cuts of lamb, veal, goat, beef oxtail, chicken and tenderloin. All meat brought into the shop is halal certified. The butchers will sell as much of the animal as possible, from whole lamb heads (just $3.99) to packages of spleen, liver, kidneys and even testicles, all priced by the pound.
Hamda says the store receives three to four shipments every day. A large piece of that is due to the pita, which is delivered fresh from local bakeries like Asaad, Jasmine and Aladdin. They also receive Al Shams Pita Bread, from Dearborn, Michigan, twice a week. Baklawa, ballourie, bassma and ghouribeh pastries, made fresh weekly, are sold in assorted boxes or by the piece.
The shop carries a large selection of bulk-sized olive oils, tahini, rice, and grape leaves. Herbs and spices are packaged in store and range from traditional Middle Eastern blends of cardamom, cumin, nutmeg and coriander to Cajun seasoning, anise and more. Specialty items like rosewater, pomegranate molasses, and a wall of nuts are especially enticing. Olive Tree also carries several varieties of labneh, or strained yogurt cheese. For a perfect dessert, pick up some Turkish Delights or Malban Kashta to go, chewy bite-sized candies often adorned with nuts.
Olive Tree has garnered relatively little notoriety for the diversity of high-quality products it sells, but it's obvious that the nearby community, along with in-the-know chefs, appreciate what Hamda has to offer.