April 2019

Exotic Flavors with Hometown Charm: Olive & Fig Mediterranean Kitchen—as authentic as you can get without a passport

Author: Barry Kaufman

The original tale of Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, as written in 1001 Arabian Nights, bears little resemblance to its Disney adaptation. For example, in the original text, Aladdin wisely asks the genie for the greatest treasure in the Arab world: a meal. Using his second wish, Aladdin asks for food and is granted “twelve silver plates containing rich meats, two silver cups and two bottles of wine.”

Thankfully, you don’t need a powerful genie to conjure up a legendary feast of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. You simply need to visit Olive & Fig, where Chef Munjid Yousif has granted the Lowcountry’s wish for exotic flavors prepared with authenticity.

“It’s a concept you can’t find close by, and we do very authentic cuisine: Greek, Lebanese, Mediterranean … it’s all authentic. What you eat here is what you eat in Lebanon,” Yousif said.

Having grown up in Lebanon, learning the time-tested techniques of his country’s cuisine at his mother’s apron strings, Yousif has brought a lifetime of experience to bear at Olive & Fig. In fact, you won’t find a single recipe in the place. Everything stems directly from Yousif’s Lebanese upbringing and his years spent cooking around the world. A student of London’s Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Yousif has cooked his way around Hilton Head Island for years, at places like Long Cove Club and Palmetto Hall, while flexing his hospitality muscles in opening kitchens like Bayshore Retirement Village. It’s this foundation of authenticity, fueled by his years in the kitchen, that have formed an unwavering commitment to replicating the famed flavors, textures and aromas of the region’s food.

“We will drive to Charlotte or Jacksonville to the Arabic markets to get what we need,” said Tammy Yousif, the front-of-the-house half of the husband and wife duo. “We’ve had people who traveled to the region tell us it’s like being there again.”

That ironclad commitment to authentic ingredients and techniques informs a menu of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes that entice from the moment you step in and bask in the aromas of exotic spice. It’s akin to a 10-day culinary tour with Greek staples like gyros, saganaki and stuffed grape leaves joining Middle Eastern favorites like doner kebob, shawarma and falafel (in one writer’s opinion, the best you’ll find) in a cross-regional feast for the senses.

“Everything is fresh and prepared daily, right down to the sauces. We don’t use a microwave—we don’t even use steam tables,” Tammy said. “People can tell the difference when they eat the food, and I think that’s why people continually come back.”

They certainly do come back, as evidenced by the massive following Olive & Fig has amassed just in its first year. First spreading by word of mouth, and then across the electronic forum of social media, the restaurant won over patrons with its food and its friendliness.

“The word is out,” Tammy said. She cites tourists who have made Olive & Fig the first stop on their return visit to the area (“they hadn’t even been to their condo yet.”) as well as the multitude of times folks have stopped in for dinner and then returned the next day for lunch, drawn by the craving for those authentic flavors. “The locals we attract, it’s important to know their name; it’s important to know where they like to sit… We get a lot of women stopping in for after-work drinks because they know it’s a safe place; it has a very neighborhood feel.”

The extent of their unbridled popularity came when the couple, who are in the restaurant all day every day they’re open, took some time off to move. “We had to close for 10 days. It was like a bombshell.”

They had so many visits from hungry patrons, in fact, that the police had to get involved. Don’t worry, all the authorities did was erect a larger sign out front that the restaurant was closed. “Which is exactly what our sign said,” added Tammy with a laugh.

It didn’t really hit them how popular their restaurant had become until they reopened. “We reopened on a Friday, and I remember thinking maybe we should have waited until Monday,” Tammy said. “People were pulling in before we opened, and we weren’t out of here until midnight.”

She says it with a laugh, of course. As surprised as they are by their sudden popularity, the Yousifs are incredibly grateful for the support this community has shown them. It’s what keeps them going, adding to the experience all the time. It’s why they’ve started once-a-month belly dancing nights featuring the famed Gigi out of Savannah.

“It’s all about the experience,” Tammy said.

The friendliness, the neighborhood atmosphere and the regular entertainment are all a part of it. But the lion’s share of the experience is the food—those sublimely delicious creations of Chef Yousif that hint at the wonders of the world while ensuring a return visit to continue your culinary tour. Prepared with rigid adherence to freshness and authenticity, every bite is like a new experience.

And as Aladdin would surely attest, every dish is like a wish come true.

Olive & Fig Mediterranean Kitchen is located at 1533 Fording Island Rd. #326, in Moss Creek Shopping Center. For more information, visit https://olive-fig-mediterranean-kitchen.business.site or call (843) 605-4093.

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