The Olive Branch in Bethlehem is a quaint little restaurant serving up traditional Middle Eastern cuisine that the owners grew up eating in Syria. They feature a full menu of appetizers, entrees, and desserts, with meals catering to both vegetarians and omnivores.
A salad served with each entrée is very plain with only the most basic of accoutrements. All would be well and good, however on more than one occasion the dressing used on the salad was so overpoweringly acetic one might be worried about it eating through their fork.
On weekends a dinner special features fresh grilled fish in a traditional samke harra preparation. Served with a side of spiced rice with ground beef, the dish was terribly unsightly and lacked any sort of presentation. The Lebanese meal, made with tahini sauce, lemon, onions, and various spices, was poor. The catfish was affected by Geosmin and carried an overpowering soily note to them. After some researching it looks like this dish isn’t traditionally made using catfish and is more often created with red snapper, grouper, or salmon. The tahini and spices themselves didn’t meld well and seemed unbalanced. The spiced rice was cooked well and palatable, offering the only saving grace to this meal.
The tabbouleh salad tasted bright and fresh. A great balance of flavors and ingredients made this a favorite. It was served with lightly grilled pita that brought together this simple, traditional dish very well. The falafel was delicious and true to style, if a bit dry. Hummus was served in a fairly large portion with the same grilled pita and was possibly the best you’ll find anywhere around the Lehigh Valley.
A trio of kabobs proved to be a great pick. The kofta kabob had a distinct flavor that may prove polarizing for some, yet was well made, intense, and cooked perfectly. The chicken and lamb kabobs were both minimal yet spot-on. The three kabobs made for a nice array of textures and tastes in one entrée.
Dessert-wise, a Persian rosewater pudding was mediocre. Adorned with a pistachio crust the pudding had an uneven consistency but potent flavor. The baklava was far better with quintessential flaky filo and an impossibly heavy, honey-laden bottom.
The atmosphere of the restaurant is quiet, subdued, and homely. The service was consistently unenthused and disinterested but checked back frequently for water refills and dish clearing.
All said, this isn’t the place to go to if you’re looking for anything particularly impressive. The draw here would be the unique style of food and with that it’s hit or miss. When the food was good, it was great. When it wasn’t it was mediocre (rosewater pudding) to barely palatable (samke harra). The service wasn’t stand-out in any way, so perhaps you’d be best off grabbing something for take out and enjoying it with some beverages at home.
Bethlehem, PA 18015