The Twisted Olive in Petoskey opens each day for the breakfast and lunch crowd, but at 3pm transitions to an elegant eatery open at 5pm.
No matter what time of day it is, it adds up to an engaging dining experience.
Twisted Olive opened in May four years ago as a breakfast and lunchtime eatery. That changed a year and a half ago when a liquor license became available. Owner Kirsten Okeefe saw it as an opportunity to expand her business, and added dinner service.
“Liquor licenses are hard to come by,” she said. “The city was granted six new licenses; I was the first to apply.”
The response from diners has made her glad she did.
“Dinner was definitely the right decision,” Okeefe said.
Okeefe was convinced from the beginning that the location, high on a hill overlooking Little Traverse Bay, was perfect for a restaurant.
When it became available, she approached the building’s owner, and Twisted Olive’s take on breakfast and lunch was an almost immediate hit.
Okeefe hired Chef Russell Miller, and together the two created a menu that expanded the restaurant’s blend of Mediterranean and American fare.
The open kitchen, located in the dining room’s middle, allows diners to watch their order evolve … that is, if they’re not too entranced by the view.
“We’re literally in the dining room,” said Okeefe, who takes her turn cooking alongside Miller and the kitchen staff. “You can hear the kitchen conversations.”
Twisted Olive’s Mediterranean-inspired menu uses many of the staples from that region, such as olive oil, pine nuts, feta cheese, and a variety of greens and vegetables.
These ingredients pop up in the restaurant’s traditional American dishes, such as grilled cheese, roasted chicken, and omelettes.
In the morning, diners can order Eggs Monaco, two basted eggs, grilled house-made challah, asparagus, and saffron hollandaise; Croque Madame with hearty bread, French baked ham, provolone cheese, béchamel, Parmesan cheese, and the egg of your choice on top; or sweet treats like vanilla-scented pancakes.
On the lunch (bistro) side, salads include the Green Goat with pine nuts, tomatoes, and goat cheese boule; and Pumpkin Salad, with roasted pumpkin, dried blueberries, candied walnuts and Gorgonzola cheese. Pasta, pizza, and sandwiches like Whitefish Puttanesca or Mediterranean Chicken Salad with pine nuts and golden raisins round out the offerings.
Dinner diners can order roasted peppers stuffed with sundried tomato quinoa, zucchini, yellow squash, snap peas, serrano peppers, and a honey balsamic glaze.
Black cod is pan-seared with the skin on and served with roasted tomato and watercress, spinach and Parmesan risotto.
Starters include Steamed Mussels with herbs, white wine, pernod cream, fire roasted tomatoes, and grilled baguette; or Yellowfin Tuna crusted with a mix of spices, seared rare, shaved fennel and arugula salad, harissa aioli, and mango relish.
Various specials make an appearance during the week.
Miller and Okeefe agree on the best dishes for dinner, though which one tops the list generates some discussion.
“It’s the scallops or rabbit,” said Okeefe. “My personal favorite is the rabbit,” Miller said. “Ours is very, very tender. We braise the rabbit whole.”
“So often rabbit can be tough,” Okeefe added.
To keep that from happening, they braise it in a mix of garlic, onion, celery, carrot, tomato, beef stock, and the secret ingredients: cola and root beer.
Starters such as the tostadas with fava bean, corn, pickled red onion, cilantro cream and the steamed mussels find favor with diners.
“The mussels are a great appetizer,” said Miller.
In the morning – or afternoon – omelettes rule, either with a Bloody Mary or the day’s selection. There are always freshly baked treats as well. If you’re into soup, the daily selection varies, and the lemon rosemary chicken with orzo is always a hit.
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The biggest surprise for Okeefe has been how busy the restaurant has become.
“I anticipated keeping it small,” she said.
“Now we have 30-plus employees.”
While the dinner business has taken off even more than she expected, Okeefe isn’t neglecting the other meals.
“It’s our breakfast that brings people in,” she said.
Many of their customers return, both later in the day and later in the week.
“We have a lot of people who come in two or three times a week for lunch,” said Miller.
Miller points again to the setting. “It’s a spectacular view,” he said. “Apart from the entry, there’s not a seat where you can’t see the water.”
Breakfasts start at $7.95. Soup starts at $3.95; sandwiches at $6.95. At dinnertime, small plates start at $11; entrees at $22.
Twisted Olive is located at 319 Bay St. in Petoskey. Phone (231) 487-1230; online visit twisted-olive.com or its Facebook page. Hours are Tuesday-Sunday 8am- 10pm; open seven days in the summer.