Olga, it must be understood is no mere café. Olga, which has been in the same location for 50 years, is a Tel Aviv institution par excellence. As Procope is to Paris, as Harry's Bar is to Venice and as Fink's Bar was to Jerusalem, so is Olga's to Tel Aviv. Perhaps the best way in which I can express my feelings about Café Olga and its proprietor is to reprint here the review I wrote in HaAretz in 1991.
It should be clearly understood that there is nothing fancy or pretentious about this café which, for thirty-one years the regular clientele have considered more a home away from home than a commercial establishment. The café opens at six in the morning, but by five-thirty a good many of the regulars are already seated outside (even on the coldest winter days), nearly all of them reading a copy of HaAretz. Until the cafe opens the favorite topics of discussion are about interest rates, the activity on the stock exchange and the lack of rain. When the first cups of coffee and hot rolls or croissants and butter make their way to the tables, silence falls for a short while, because at six in the morning there is nothing that could possibly be more important than coffee and hot rolls.
Later in the day, especially during the months of winter, it is goulash soup that reigns supreme. There are few things in the world that can give as much joy as Cafe Olga's goulash soup. In addition to being a great way to warm the body, fill the stomach and infuse the soul with a sense of well-being, this is truly delicious fare. In fact, this goulash soup is so good that it is capable of helping people getting over shattered love affairs and soothing the perpetual anxiety we have about the size of our overdrafts. There is very little for which Olga's goulash soup is not good for.
Served in a large, deep bowl the soup contains a generous portion of perfectly cooked, just fatty enough beef and an abundance of potatoes. There are also traces of tomatoes, onions and green peppers, all of which were first sautéed in chicken fat and then came together in a thick rich stock. Just the right amounts of black pepper, dill seed and paprika add subtly to the flavor. One also feels a hint of marjoram here, just enough to tantalize. As to the chunks of potato in the soup, those have absorbed just enough of the soup liquids and are done just to the point of being soft but still offering a bit of resistance to the teeth. To the truly old-timers who make Olga their own, this is goulash so magnificent that it is as much the heart of nostalgia as it is mere food and, as nostalgia can do, is good enough to bring a tear of joy to the eye.
Of course Olga was more than rolls, coffee and goulash. One should not, for example, ever forget the krupnik (a Polish soup made from rich chicken stock in which one will find an abundance of barley, chunks of beef and vegetables and, for those who do not observe kashrut, a generous dollup of sour cream). In addition to its splendid aromas and flavors Olga's krupnik was so filling that no known mortal would ever dream of ordering a second helping. Like the goulash soup, this too provided a full meal that brought back the days in the old country for the elders of the city who came here and as an introduction to the world of their grandparents to the young.
In recent years the regulars at Olga have grown older, so much so that the first place in the newspaper to which many have turned were the obituary notices to see who might not be making an appearance that day. And as it closes this coming Friday afternoon for the last time, Olga itself will have passed. Sic transit Gloria mundi