An extended Greek family has opened up a grocery store/deli near the corner of Ringgold Road and John Ross Road.
The Olive Branch Mediterranean Foods will be a godsend to the Greek community in the greater Chattanooga area and a chance for the people of East Ridge to expand their palates with authentic savory and sweet delights from one of the world’s oldest cultures.
Callie Meta, the owner/operator of The Olive Branch, said that her family’s store is stocked with traditional Mediterranean foods that she simply couldn’t buy anywhere in the Chattanooga area.
“We couldn’t find what we wanted to eat,” Callie said. “The kind of Feta cheese and Gyro we can’t find here. We would have to travel two hours to Atlanta to buy what we needed.
“We intend to sell to other people who travel to Atlanta to find Southern Mediterranean food,” she said. “As we grow we will stock more items including Arab, Italian and Spanish products.”
Callie brought out a number of items from the refrigerator and the shelves as examples of the hard-to-find food that The Olive Branch carries. Myzithra cheese and a product called “Turkish Delight,” a candy that has rose water in it, were a couple of examples.
Then she brought out a jar containing a white substance and on the front it said “Mastic.”
Callie explained that Mastic is an ingredient of tape and glue. It comes from a tree in Greece, she said. Traditionally, Mastic is put in cold water and one dips a stick in it to form a lolly pop.
“It’s an offering,” she said of Mastic. “You know here when you go into someone’s house and they will say ‘would you like a beer?'”
There are cultural items in the store, such as incense used in the Eastern Orthodox Church and holders for the incense.
On the other side of the store is a deli that has all kinds of wonderful meats and cheeses. Customers can order made to order sandwiches. This reporter had a pastrami and Swiss on toasted rye bread with a slather of mustard. The mayo-based potato salad was garnished with, what else, a beautiful exotic olive. Exotic to an East Ridge boy, that is.
I also tasted an Egyptian salad _ for the life of me I can’t remember the formal name. But Chef Nick said it had cucumbers, olive oil, tomatoes, some delicate green that was chopped super-fine and what may have been for lack of a better term _ grits. (See, this is a perfect illustration of the educational opportunities for one’s taste buds at The Olive Branch).
There’s also a whole section dedicated to sweets of the Mediterranean variety. The baklava and other treats are made in house. Not being high on sweets, my crash course in Mediterranean deserts was brief. But, if you got the sweet tooth, Olive Branch can fulfill your cravings. They also bake their own bread every day.
Callie explained the Olive Branch will have daily specials that will be posted on its Facebook page. In addition there is a hot bar with whatever delectable culinary offering Chef Nick, a graduate of the Baltimore Culinary Arts Institute, decides he wants to make that day.
Over and above all that, the folks at the Olive Branch will provide catering. Callie said if you are having a get-together and need cheese pies for 200, she can handle it.
“If you want to create an event with a Mediterranean feel, we can make that happen,” she said.
While I was there, Mayor Brent Lambert’s wife, Mandy, stopped by to check out one of the city’s newest businesses. Mandy said that she loved the idea of having a Mediterranean grocery store/deli in East Ridge.
“People don’t realize just how diverse East Ridge has become,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful they have come to our city.”
The Olive Branch, located at 3992 Ringgold Road, is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day. The store’s main phone number is 423-800-3969.