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Peter Kenney is glad he and wife Deidre opened the Purple Olive Bistro 10 years ago rather than trying it today. First, they know they’ve made it through the toughest part of establishing a business. But also, Peter said the competition in the St. Augustine Restaurant business is just getting stiffer. “There are really good chefs coming around, people who really know what they’re doing,” he said. “That makes it harder to keep yourself ahead.” The Kenneys have managed to keep themselves in the game for the past decade and have no intention of backing off. But those early years were a challenge. Peter remembers the opening night in 2004 when their dishwasher didn’t show up and they ended up using a guy who had knocked on the backdoor. Although the Kenneys were veterans in the restaurant business, they had never owned a place themselves. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, but that knowledge didn’t do much to ease the stress. “It always seemed liked every night was a make-or-break day,” Peter said. It turned out to be a make, and their cozy restaurant at St. Augustine Beach has gradually built a following by consistently producing fresh, quality meals.

What to cook In setting up the restaurant, Peter said he really didn’t want it to be categorized as a certain type of place. He didn’t want to be stereotyped or pigeon holed. “We didn’t want to get lassoed into anything,” he said. Peter and sous chef David Barrett serve traditional dishes like chicken marsala, and they also put together many options on the grill with seafood, beef, lamb, chicken, duck and even tofu. And, of course, there are always specials. “I kind of wanted it to be a mixture of the best things that I’ve picked up and things that Deidre and I liked,” Peter says of the Purple Olive menu. “I wanted a good neighborhood restaurant.” One of the ways that the Purple Olive tries to set itself apart from other eateries is by trying to use local suppliers when possible. And if there are datil peppers in a dish, it’s almost a guarantee that they were grown by the Kenneys or a member of the staff. Even if everything isn’t available locally, the Kenneys will at least try to avoid the food supply giants. “Anything that comes from smaller-production (operations), there is a huge improvement in quality,” Peter said. As an example, Peter uses beef from Seminole Pride Beef, which is a brand owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. He said he’s also very picky about the scallops, which he orders from Cape Cod, Mass., because they’re among the most popular choices on the menu — and a favorite of Peter to cook.

The choice to open. Whatever Peter’s cooking, he’s glad to be doing it in his own place. “He can be as creative as he wants to be,” Deidre said. Added Peter: “I’m as creative as my customers allow me to be.” It was a risk to start a new business, but there was no question Peter wanted to be in the restaurant industry. His experience started as a teenager, and he’s learned from some of the area’s best. Two of his biggest influences are Cheryl Crosley at Manatee Café and Ned Pollack at Gypsy Cab Co. In fact, Peter and Deidre met while he was cooking at Gypsy and she was working as a waitress. They married in 2003 and shared the dream of opening a restaurant of their own. Ten years after it became a reality, the couple knows it was the right choice, even if it hasn’t always been very easy. “That (cooking) is what he’s meant to do, and I’m happy doing it with him,” Deidre said.

By STUART KORFHAGE, stuart.korfhage@staugustine.com

A local favorite, the Purple Olive is a cozy bistro with a menu that’s sort of like one of those old Choose Your Own Adventure books in which you get to build your own plate, with more than a dozen choices of entrees, sauces, condiments, and side items. For those who’d rather leave it in the expert hands of chef/owner Peter Kenney, who may recommend starting with mussels in a fragrant coconut curry broth or a Southern-accented fresh baby-spinach salad with candied pecans, apples, crispy bacon, and warmed brie. The South is well represented in entrees too, with shrimp and grits served in a sausage ragout over grit cakes with grilled vegetables. Or you can go back to the Asian and choose a tofu, chicken, or seafood Thai curry for your main course. Speaking of tofu, even if you aren’t a vegetarian, it’s worth trying the blue-crusted corn tofu with mole sauce, avocado crema, grit cakes, and grilled vegetables. As if your choices weren’t confusing enough, the Purple Olive also features a selection of nightly specials, as well as fresh-baked artisan breads, and homemade soups, sauces, salad dressings, and desserts made from scratch.

FROMMERS.COM

In a quest for new and exciting things to do for the culinary enthusiast, First Coast Technical College’s Restaurant Tours seems to be on everyone’s “A” list. We’ve been from Ponte Vedra to downtown St. Augustine, and on Tuesday, we go to St. Augustine Beach to discover the Purple Olive Bistro. Truly a gem, tucked in the Seaside Plaza, the Purple Olive opened in June 2004 by owners Deidre and Peter Kenney, who have a long history of working at some of our best local establishments. The couple met while working together and married in May 2003. The Kenneys offer a delicious, creative dinner menu, expertly chosen wines and fresh baked artisan breads. A full-service catering menu is also available and includes homemade soups, sauces, salad dressings and mouth-watering desserts made from scratch. Purple Olive showcases local artists and their paintings, photos and stained glass artwork, making for an eclectic atmosphere. Deidre, who also is the dining manager, states, “One (or both) of us are always on site during business hours. We are family owned and operated and want to offer an exemplary dining experience.” Peter, who is also the chef, boasts of unique selections. “We’ve customized a menu specifically for the First Coast Tech Restaurant Tour on March 25. Our internationally inspired cuisine promises only the best and our staff is enthusiastic about this opportunity.”

CHEF DAVID BEARL, Coordinator of Business and Industry at First Coast Technical College

We started with a glass of wine and several appetizers. The first was the Assorted Olive & Cheese Plate. Chunks of smoked Gouda, Gruyere, Boursin and Fontinella surrounded a bed of olives stuffed with all sorts of treats: jalapeno peppers, feta and most interesting, a citrus zest mixture. It was a tasty beginning but took a distant second to the Garlic Shrimp. Six large, tender shrimp were pan-seared and then bathed in a gloriously rich garlic, butter, Key lime and wine sauce. The shrimp were then served over a plateful of angel hair pasta. Another winner was the Seafood Bisque, rich with Old Bay seasonings and a reduction of brandy, sherry and white wine. An in-house Cajun blend provided the kick, while a hit of tarragon cooled things off. As you can tell, we spent a lot of time analyzing that soup. The Purple Olive has Chef Peter Kenney in the back of the house while his wife, Deidre Byerly Kenney, makes sure the front runs smoothly. Both Kenneys seem to have things well in hand, with the food coming smoothly and efficiently from the kitchen and staff that was consistently well informed, enthusiastic and very pleasant. The Kenneys have long histories working in some of the best restaurants in St. Augustine (they actually met while working together) so it appears they have learned a lot along the way.

ERICA BURKS, The Florida Times Union

Peter Kenney practically grew up working in restaurants. Perhaps that is why it feels so comfortable now to have his wife Deidre, who manages the front of the house, working at his side in their family owned and operated, award winning restaurant, the locals rave about. In fact, the two met while working in one of Saint Augustine’s favorite eateries, Gypsy Cab Company. With a shared passion for great food and the dream of owning their own restaurant is what brought the winning duo together. After months of planning, once Peter and Deidre found a great restaurant location, that had been recently vacated, and was centrally located in Saint Augustine Beach, they opened Purple Olive Bistro in 2004. Their dreams quickly came to fruition. And, just as quickly, the restaurant developed a following of customers. The Kenneys welcomed their firstborn son, Hyde, making their family owned restaurant feel truly complete. Hyde frequently makes guest appearances at the restaurant and is on his way to becoming a fellow gourmand. Maybe sometime in the not-so-distant future, Hyde will lend a hand in his parent’s kitchen and become part of the next generation of proud restaurant professionals. As Kenney explains: “We found that having a family owned and operated business is essential to being true to ourselves and to our customers. This is what we were meant to do.” Kenney’s menu reflects all of the experiences and influences he had along the way of his culinary journey. The Purple Olive offers a creative full dinner menu, nightly dinner specials, freshly baked artisan breads, and all homemade soups, salads, signature salad dressings, and desserts. Kenney goes one further with a unique menu option to “build your own plate” offering more than a dozen choices of entrees, sauces, condiments, and side items for customers to mix and match to please their own tastes. Kenny’s philosophy; The possibilities are endless…It’s time to eat purple! This stylish yet casual destination that gives patrons the freedom to exercise their own culinary creativity, is located in Seaside Plaza, at 4255 A1A South in Saint Augustine, Florida. The Purple Olive also offers full service off-site catering for special events. Visit purple-olive.com for more details.

LUCY SMITH, Old City Life

While the name got us there, it’s the food that impressed us and keeps the locals coming back. The restaurant is owned by a husband-and-wife duo who complement each other perfectly. They offer a creative dinner menu featuring fresh seafood, prime cuts of beef, lamb, and pork. They offer vegetarian choices, and they are proud to support local farmers. When it came time for an entrée, I decided on a surf and turf. I didn’t go wrong with an 8-ounce filet mignon with brandy peppercorn sauce, served with mashed potatoes, and grilled veggies, with a lobster tail on the side. A friend chose the seared diver scallops with a lemon sherry cream; it was great.
SHERRY LEWIS, The Banks County News

A Weekend in…St. Augustine
Eat: Purple Olive, a family-run bistro in Seaside Plaza (4255 A1A South), serves internationally inspired entrees with fresh homemade ingredients. Entrees from $14 to $23. Early-bird entrees (smaller entrée with soup or salad and homemade bread) are $10-$12. www.purple-olive.com
-CLARA BOSONETTO MAERZ, The Atlanta Journal- Constitution

Family owned and operated since 2004, Purple Olive offers a creative dinner menu including nightly specials; local seafood; prime cuts of beef, lamb and pork loin; vegetarian choices; local produce; and an option to “create your own plate”—with a selection of entrees, sauces, and side items—all made in-house along with from-scratch breads and desserts. Full-service catering and party platters available as well as an Early Bird Menu, Kid’s Menu and private party seating for up to 25 people. The Kenneys proudly support local farmers, products, and businesses. Come see for yourself what locals rave about! It’s time to eat purple!
-THE RESTAURANT TIMES