Branching Out

S ome of the cheesiest New Haven foodies are still mourning the loss of Caseus, the popular eatery and fromagerie that served up lunch and dinner on the corner of Whitney Avenue and Trumbull Street for more than a decade. But Olmo has arrived in its place, and chefs Craig Hutchinson and Alex Lishchynsky are aiming wide, with breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner, meaty and vegan, sit-down and grab-and-go.

“Getting to know New Haven and getting to know what people want to eat in New Haven [is] really what we [have] been focused on doing,” says Hutchinson, who, along with Lishchynsky and Caseus’s Jason Sobocinski, opened Olmo in December. The name means “elm” in Italian, a nod both to the Elm City and to sprouting new branches. Olmo’s concept stretches out, too: “a restaurant that [provides] great food at all hours of the day because we wanted people to have a different experience at each time of the day that they came into our restaurant,” Lishchynsky says.

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When I arrived for my first of two visits, I found all three restaurateurs around a butcher block table in the new pasta and bread room, preparing the next morning’s bagels. As we talked, they formed flat balls from their homemade dough, which uses rye flour milled by a farm in Northfield, Massachusetts. In the morning, some of the bagels would be served up as Everything Everything Bagels loaded with lox, capers, pickled onion and seasoned with poppy seeds, sesame, onion, garlic, sea salt, Italian herbs, soy bacon bits, furikake and dehydrated cheddar cheese ($14), part of a breakfast menu that also includes simpler takeout bagels ($2.50 with a schmear) and breakfast sandwiches ($3.50-12.50) as well as—on one recent dine-in menu—Four Star Farm Grits ($10), Croque Madame ($12) and Bucatini Carbonara ($12 half portion or $22 whole). As with Caseus’s, Olmo’s menu will be constantly evolving and changing, so you can never know for sure what you’ll find.

On my second visit, I tried a few signature dishes from the dinner menu to taste the chefs’ vision for myself. I started with the Rye Fusilli ($15/$26), pasta made on the premises with the aforementioned rye flour, which served as a base for showing off eight different kinds of mushrooms, some of which I’d never seen before—like hon-shimeji mushrooms, three-legged baubles that had been smoked, then pickled, giving them a flavorful bite—and all of which were tender and meaty. This rich dish was dressed with butter and pecorino cheese and topped with ricotta.

Next up was a plate of Crispy Root Vegetables ($14), which will change with the season. I got sweet potatoes and parsnips, which were smashed, then deep fried and tossed in a spicy sticky sauce of honey, chili, shallots, parsley, lemon and oil. The presentation was beautiful: deep winter colors of gold, red and orange, served with a side of gooey honey mayo. I confess I have never been a parsnip fan, but these were delectable, with a sweet, crispy coating and a sour kick. The dish managed to be both hearty and elegant.

I finished my tasting with a dish Hutchinson referred to as “epic,” and rightly so. The 16-ounce Pork Cutlet ($38) is surely best shared, though servers told me they’d seen people order one for personal consumption. This spectacle consists of a giant pork loin tenderized, breaded and deep fried, topped with charred broccoli rabe, katsu sauce and Japanese mayo and sprinkled with sesame seeds, nori, dried shrimp and dried chilis. Though the pork was a little bit dry, the dish overall had a nice balance of textures, pairing the crunch of the broccoli and the light, fried crisp of the meat with the dueling mayo and soy. If you want to try this special, visit soon. While the other two items I sampled were signature dishes that should stick around for awhile, this one may not.

A recent Olmo dinner menu offered up other tempting items, everything from salads ($10-13) to a Rotisserie Chicken ($24/$42) and the signature Olmo Burger, an $18 affair made of “sub edge farm grass-fed beef, double patty, smoked marrow blue cheese butter, red onion, crispy potatoes.” Lunchtime sandwiches from the shop range in price from $7 to $13, or you can build your own, choosing your meat, cheese and “premium toppings,” which include surprises like carrot and craisin pickles. A recent sit-down lunch menu included a selection of soups ($7-8), salads ($10-14), sandwiches ($17) and pastas ($9-15, with larger servings up to $26).

Diners familiar with Caseus will both recognize the old space and find something new. Olmo’s street-level dining room now has an open kitchen, where Lishchynsky will cook for customers at the counter. Downstairs, there’s more seating and another kitchen, and the pasta and bread room doubles as a dining space, where meals are served up on the bread table. The former cheese shop has been converted into a takeaway area offering breakfast and lunch items; local beverages, including orange juice on tap from Fair Haven craft juice producer RIPE; New England farm products such as miso, honey, charcuterie and dried chilis; Connecticut-roasted coffee from Brioni’s; and Olmo’s own homemade pasta as well as olives, nuts, mustards, jams, preserves, crackers—“basically anything you need for a little dinner party at your house,” Lishchynsky says.

While Sobocinski still has a stake in Olmo, he’s stepped away to run some of his other projects, including Ordinary, Black Hog Brewing Company, Groton’s Mystic Cheese Company, the Caseus food truck and some new creations. But Lishchynsky and Hutchinson are confident at the helm. The two chefs first met in Boston, where they worked together at several different restaurants, including four-star Radius and popular Cambridge eatery Salts. For the past five years, they’ve been honing their skills at Caseus and dreaming up what they believe is the perfect restaurant for New Haven. “One of my favorite things about New Haven is that it’s such a small city and everybody knows everybody,” Lishchynsky says. “People want to know the farm where you got your food from, people want to know who the chef is and who the line cooks are… Everyone cares.”

They still care about their cheese, too, which is why there’s column of cheese offerings on every lunch and dinner menu ($7 for one selection; $5 for each additional). “It would be a shame,” Hutchinson says, “to spend all those years learning about cheese and not serve it.”

Olmo
93 Whitney Ave, New Haven (map)
Shop Hours: Mon-Sat 7:30am-5pm, Sun 7:30am-3pm
Dining Room Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm & 5:30-10pm; Sat 11am-3pm & 5:30-10pm; Sun 11am-3pm
(203) 624-3373
www.olmokitchen.com

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg’s associate editor. She’s also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Join her this month on Goodreads for a guided winter reading of Mary Shelley’s classic novel Frankenstein.

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