Purple Olive Bistro Restaurant in St. Augustine Beach
January 2018, Old City Life Magazine
By Robert Waldner
Photos by Tammy Harrow
Sometimes all it takes is a once in a lifetime vacation to put a person’s career in perspective and to grease the wheels for a successful future. Peter Kenney’s motivating experience came during a trip to Italy with his wife Deidre, and experiencing the cuisine at local family-owned eateries. It was the inspiration he needed to open his own local family restaurant. Shortly after that once in a lifetime trip, Peter and Deidre opened Purple Olive Bistro in 2004.
As with many of the area’s more prominent chefs, Kenney’s success is predominantly St. Augustine grown. He gained a wealth of invaluable experience at popular establishments like La Parisienne and Manatee Cafe. Perhaps most notable was his time at the local landmark, Gypsy Cab Co., where he worked as Chef De Cuisine under the direct influence of the Old City’s resident celebrity restaurateur Ned Pollack. Under Pollack’s guidance, Kenney learned the ins and outs of the restaurant industry and ultimately gained the practical and culinary tools to realize his own dream of restaurant ownership. Add in the meeting of his future wife, Deidre, and you could say that his future was laid out before him at the popular Anastasia Boulevard eatery.
Now, as owner of Purple Olive Bistro, Kenney blends his colorful past experience with his own creative flair to provide a dining experience like none other in St. Augustine. Describing Purple Olive as an International Restaurant, he elaborates, “We have chefs who specialize in a variety of categories — Asian, Latin, Southern — so we have the ability to satisfy different appetites. We also make a lot of vegetarian and gluten free dishes. We are highly focused on a variety of dietary needs.”
Purple Olive’s entrees are culinary masterpieces, featuring mouthwatering beef and poultry dishes and succulent local seafood. A huge hit among return clientele is the ‘Build Your Own Plate’ menu feature, which allows diners to customize their meal from a variety of entree, condiment, and side item options. “Everybody can sit at the same table and enjoy different types of cuisine,” says Kenney of Purple Olive’s variety.
That’s not all. Purple Olive’s delectable offerings are available outside of the restaurant as well. “We are highly involved with the catering business,” states Kenney, adding, “We are available for weddings, family events, and local special events.”
As a show of their love for St. Augustine, Purple Olive adorns their eclectic walls with the work of local artists. Kenney has also extended his love of the community through philanthropic efforts such as donating more than a thousand meals to area hurricane victims and giving to non-profits such as The Boys and Girls Club. “With us not being a downtown business, we just like to remind people that we are here and we love being a part of this great community,” says Kenney.
For more information or for call-ahead seating, call (904) 461-1250, visit the Purple Olive website, or stop in at 4255 A1A South.
By Kara Pound | Correspondent, St. Augustine Record
Posted Mar 2, 2018
Family owned and operated since July of 2004, Purple Olive is an eclectic culinary mainstay featuring fresh-baked artisan breads, homemade soups, signature salad dressings and nightly dinner specials.
With Chef Peter Kenney at the helm along with his wife, Deidre, Purple Olive offers up everything from grilled stuffed eggplant and hearts-of-palm salad to blackened ahi tuna and garlic shrimp pasta. Compass caught up with Chef Kenney — who cut his teeth at St. Augustine restaurants like La Parisienne, Manatee Café and Gypsy Cab Company — to chat about his own creation, Purple Olive.
Q&A WITH OWNER AND CHEF PETER KENNEY
How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
Peter Kenney: Casual, warm and eclectic with warm hues of yellow and orange. We have 55 seats with seating for a private party of up to 25 guests.
What is your food philosophy?
P.K.: To present food that is whole and not processed or chemically altered. To be purposely rustic, so it is apparent that the food is handmade like not peeling potatoes for the mashed [potatoes], leaving bones in meat for presentation and coarse-cut vegetables.
What type of cuisine do you specialize in?
P. K.: Tuscan Italian, Asian and Floribbean. Tuscan to me is characterized by simplicity and quality ingredients. Most of the dishes will have four to six ingredients, and we use a variety of grains and vegetables on our plating. Asian is mostly Thai and Chinese influence with quick, fresh cooking procedures. Soy, ginger, lemongrass and citrus are used heavily to develop our flavors. Floribbean is the fusion of Latin, South American and Caribbean. It’s usually heavy in garlic, spices, citrus, tropical fruit and vegetables with grilling and slow-roasting as the primary cooking methods.
What is your signature dish?
P.K.: Our sesame scallops, which are sesame crusted and seared scallops finished with a sweet-chili-hot-mustard glaze and served with jasmine rice and wok-seared vegetables.
What would you recommend for a first timer?
P.K.: I recommend trying our specials. The menu is made up of specials we have had that people liked so much we put them on the menu. That being said, we are always trying new ideas and concepts.
Location: 4255 State Road A1A S.
Hours: 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday | 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Contact: 461-1250 | purple-olive.com
CULINARY CHARACTER: PETER KENNEY OF PURPLE OLIVE
March 2, 2016 | Sarah Kathleen, St. Augustine Social
At Purple Olive, Owner and Chef Peter Kenney dazzles diners with a blend of international cuisine that is equal parts rustic and refined.
Nestled in the Seaside Shopping Plaza on the south end of St. Augustine Beach is Purple Olive. Since 2004, this family-owned and operated eatery has provided fresh, signature dishes to the community. This intimate bistro highlights owner Peter Kenney’s top-notch culinary skills, while inviting patrons to bring their own creativity and preferred tastes to the table when dining.
A WEALTH OF EXPERIENCES
Born in Cape Cod, Kenney’s culinary story begins when he was a child, picking raspberries in his grandparents’ yard, and then using these berries in the kitchen to make preserves.
At age 14, he found himself working in a kitchen washing dishes. “I looked on as the line cooks went through service like they were some kind of gods in motion. They had a rhythm of organized chaos I was attracted to,” said Kenney. All it took was them inviting Kenney to fry one day when they were short handed. That was it. He was hooked.
Following a move to Northeast Florida with his family, Kenney continued on to work at a mix of notable local restaurants soaking up experiences. He first worked as a saucier in Florida’s renowned La Parisianne, learning the French way of cooking. While working at the vegetarian Manatee Café, Kenney began exploring the relationship between food and health, and went on to team up with Jacksonville’s Native Sun to deliver meals to sick homebound patients. Then, at Gypsy Cab Co., Kenney not only worked in an environment where the menu changed constantly, it was here he met his wife Deidre. Together these experiences served as driving forces in Kenney’s culinary journey, and in turn, helped inspire the food that graces his restaurant’s tables today.
“Marianne Poncet at La Parisianne was very patient with me and taught me the basics of classic French Food. Cheryl Crosley at Manatee Café taught me the importance of food and health. Last but not least, Ned Pollock of Gypsy Cab was the one who got me going in my own direction and pushed me harder to become a better cook under pressure. He made me realize I could do something more,” explained Kenney.
For Kenney, this “something more” took the shape of opening his own restaurant—an infusion of his experiences. Prior to opening, he traveled to Italy with Deidre and her family during olive and grape season. During this trip, while dining at a series of unpretentious and authentic, family-owned restaurants, the concept for the eatery took its form, and the name “Purple Olive” was decided. “There was something magical in Tuscany in early fall, with all the food. We were heavily inspired by our experience,” said Kenney.
At the core of Purple Olive’s menu is food Kenney describes as approachable and handmade. “We try to be refined in our cooking methods, but purposely rustic. This is to make sure people know that our food is handmade,” he said. “We try to do as much from scratch cooking as possible, so we can tell people exactly what the ingredients are in our food.” The menu selections at Purple Olive are as diverse as the flavors and cultures represented on the menu. And menu ingredients are sourced locally and regionally when possible. “I think our food offerings are unique because of the combination of experiences we have as a team in our kitchen. My cooks have a long list of experiences that provide us with the knowledge and ability to prepare a wide variety of cuisines,” said Kenney.
At Purple Olive, options abound. Rather than choosing from a set menu, if they so choose, diners can mix and match from the Chef’s Grill selections and build their own dinner entirely—be it Herb Rubbed Tofu with Ginger Soy Sauce or Duck Breast in Blue Cheese Garlic Butter, served with a choice of sides, such as Kale with Garlic and Golden Raisins or Potato and Vidalia Onion Gratin.
“We try to incorporate menu items for all people. We know dining out is hard when there are different diets going out to eat. At Purple Olive, diners can expect to order and enjoy a steak, tofu, and fish entrée all in one spot,” said Kenney.
In addition to a full dinner menu with options ranging from plant-based to carnivore, Purple Olive offers a Gluten-Free menu. And if you opt for an early dinner, you are granted access to a special Early Bird menu available nightly. Along with the intimate brick-and-mortar restaurant on the island, with the help of a catering operation, Purple Olive is able to host guests’ special moments beyond the bistro, and by doing so, has only continued to build upon its strong reputation within the community.
Going forward, Kenney’s outlook includes maintaining the high quality he has set for Purple Olive, and remaining inspired. Ultimately Purple Olive doesn’t just tell his own culinary story, it tells the story of food from around the world. It’s only natural Kenney continues to seek inspiration everywhere he goes, be it another country, or simply having a bite of a home-cooked meal, close to home. “I am inspired by traveling—seeing how other people interpret food,” he said. “Still, I am most commonly inspired by home cooks making do with limited resources to provide for themselves and their families.”
Seaside Plaza, 4255 A1A South
Images by Rob Futrell
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, email@example.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.
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