Lake Forest Mall
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Most items $3.50 to $4.
Is it possible to serve fast food of quality instead of the mass-produced mush dished out by the behemoth chains? Olga's, a smallish outfit with franchises in Gaithersburg and Tysons Corner, proves that it can be done -- and at a fair price.
Olga's specialty is sandwiches fixed on a special bread cooked fresh for each order. These sandwiches are wonderful, filled with tender, juicy meats and crisp vegetables.
The bread, which tastes like a cross between pita and a crepe, is rolled and stretched into a thin disk and cooked on a griddle. Then it's wrapped around the filling, moo-shi style, and fastened with a toothpick.
Tender, slightly sweet, lightly dappled, this bread is far better than the rubbery, plastic-bagged pita you get in most gyros joints.
Interestingly, the "Olga original" sandwich is filled with a gyros-like meat, a pressed, spiced beef-lamb combination that's commendably lean and flavorful. If the bread beats most gyros sandwiches, so does the meat.
Just as good is the steak fajita sandwich with nicely succulent meat, along with green pepper, onion, tomato and a little cheese.
The grilled chicken Olga is just as moist and flavorful, and the filling in the vegetarian version -- carrots, zucchini, celery, green pepper, bean sprouts, scallions and water chestnuts -- is beautifully crisp and fresh-tasting.
Sandwiches aren't the only thing Olga's does well.
The spinach pie outclasses most of the spanakopita you'll find in Greek restaurants. The phyllo pastry is a marvelous, flaky crackle that shatters at the first touch of a fork -- a good sign. And the spinach filling has just the right proportion of feta cheese to lend the proper oomph.
There are also two soups, both excellent. The cream of broccoli tastes like it's made with real cream rather than glue, and it has a lovely, delicate flavor. The peasant soup is even better, a tomato-based broth crammed with rough-ground beef, peas, carrots, green pepper and barley.
The french fries, though, are another matter. Advertised as spiral-cut and fried in vegetable oil, they turned out to be oily and limp. In any restaurant, of course, the quality of the fries depends on when you happen to arrive -- if they've just pulled a fresh basket out of the fryer, you're in luck. If not, you're not.
Remember how a partly melted Creamsicle tasted during the summers of childhood? If the thought is pleasant (it is for us), you'll enjoy Olga's special soft drink called an orange-cream cooler. It's a mixture of a noncarbonated orange drink and frozen yogurt -- if you're a kid at heart, it's a blast.
Desserts are the weakest part of the Olga menu. The frozen yogurt is unexceptional, and the optional hot fudge is oversweet and underflavored. The apple crumbler, with apples, raisins, caramel and a crumb layer, is a sticky mush that needs to be redesigned.
On the way home from Olga's, we stopped at a hamburger fast-food outlet for a quick price comparison. A deluxe burger, a large order of fries and a shake would have come to $4.
At Olga's, an original Olga sandwich, a spinach pie and an orange-cream cooler would have cost $6.85. If you can afford the difference, it's well worth it.