Olive on 3rd

Society Hill BYOB has heart, but lacks focus, training and verve.

By Brian Freedman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 27 | Posted Aug. 31, 2010

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Graham-y winner: Cheesecake with a ground pretzel and graham-cracker crust at Olive on 3rd

Photo by Inna Spivakova

The best neighborhood BYOBs are often casual affairs, but that doesn’t mean that serious lapses should be overlooked. Being casual means that everything hangs out—no fancy service routines or baroque presentations to cover your ass—so more things than not have to go right.

I bring this up because I wanted to like Olive on 3rd. The location, the former home of Ava, has good food karma, and the menu, at a glance, is full of appealing dishes.

But on closer inspection, that menu—like Olive pretty much in its entirety—is too eclectic for its own good. Simply put, there’s too much going on here, a lack of focus that seems to have resulted in too many dishes devoid of either personality or, worse, flavor.

Monk fish occobucco (Olive employs this less-familiar spelling of the more commonly seen osso bucco) seemed thrown together, very odd for a dish that takes some real time to prepare. The cooking liquid, dominated by the deep-green flavor of olives and capers, cast a near-obscuring shadow over the fish; and while the accompanying sauteed potatoes and broccoli were pleasant enough in a generic sort of way, they evidenced no real thought in terms of their contribution to the whole.

Shrimp scampi over linguine missed by every metric possible. A bite of the pasta revealed little more than the starchy cooking water and mediocre olive oil used to cook it, and the shrimp were cooked to the point of mealiness. Spaghetti and meatballs suffered a similarly flavorless fate, the noodles mushy and the meatballs devoid of any perceptible seasoning. They also were made with too much bread: While a tender, pillowy meatball is a beautiful thing, these carb-y orbs had a texture close to bread pudding.

Appetizers were better, though this is a matter of context. Caesar salad lacked the garlicky attack of a well-constructed example, but was otherwise nice enough. Whitefish empanadas were helped by a beautiful homemade dough, but the filling tasted of little more than some sort of indistinct ur-fish, and the advertised green olives, tomatoes, thyme, garlic and onions were perceptible nowhere but in print on the menu. Even the salsa that came with it was watery, a tiny, retirement-home-bland cup devoid of inspiration or interest.

Fried calamari was one of the few highlights: Finally, salt! Finally, creativity! The little semolina- and cornmeal-crusted rings themselves were well-fried, seasoned with a far more aggressive hand than anything else I tasted and plated with a frizzle of fried parsley whose pleasant bitterness was one of the only instances of complexity I experienced here.

Service was confused (or misinformed) from the moment I walked through the door. An otherwise thoughtful welcome gift of roasted red and yellow peppers, Mediterranean olives and cheese was straightforward and delicious, but the cheese, a smoked Gouda, was misidentified as Asiago, way on the other end of the taste spectrum.

Desserts, too, caused a fair bit of confusion. Our waitress told us that they were brought in, but later, in a follow-up call to the restaurant, I was told that they’re all made in-house—a clear example of either exceptionally poor training or staff management. Still, the house-made cheesecake joined the calamari as a success; I especially liked the homey touch of adding ground pretzels to the graham-cracker crust.

There may have been few food highlights, but manager and co-chef Christine Fischer (the other chef is Gildardo Zavala Cortes) is as welcoming as any restaurateur in town, and her earnestness is genuine and charming.

Unfortunately, she’s going to have to really think about what kind of restaurant she wants to helm, dial in on one or two cuisines beyond “that home away from home,” as she told me during a follow-up call, and focus on far more careful work in the kitchen and the dining room. (She also said that she “doesn’t want to be that froofy restaurant,” but casual and professional can and should co-exist far better than they do here.)

In the end, details matter, especially in a neighborhood like this one, which has no shortage of solid restaurants that know exactly what inspires them, and that convey that vision with every dish that’s sent out to a tableful of hopeful, hungry guests in a manner that’s both casual and competent.

518 S. Third St.

Cuisine: Homestyle cooking in a mishmash of guises.
Hours: Sun., 1-7pm; Mon.-Wed., 4-9pm; Thurs.-Sat., 4-11pm.
Price range: $5-$21.
Atmosphere: Homey and casual.
Food: Unfocused and a bit on the bland side.
Service: In desperate need of better training and management.

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Comments 1 - 27 of 27
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1. Lauren Rago said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 08:57AM

“Sir your taste buds must be frozen! I stumbled upon Olive about two months ago and have made it my Sunday family dinner spot ever since. My family and I think the food is absolutely amazing! The atmosphere is charming. Christine and her family are warm and welcoming they make you really enjoy hanging out with them. My favorite is the pasta and mushroom dish and the fig salad not to mention the delicious olive bread baked daily.

My family has been in the restaurant business since the early 80's. Christine and Chef Gerardo’s style of Italian cooking reminds me of the mouth watering selections my brother-in-law would feed me on a daily basis.

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2. lilcheeze said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 09:03AM

“I agree... that the calamari is fantastic! Along with other aspects of this restaurant. I've eaten here twice for dinner since it's opening and have always left very satisfied and very full. I haven't had much of what Mr. Freedman tried, but can atest to the delishness of the chicken penne vodka, crusted roast pork tenderloin, chilled seafood salad, calamari, olive plate, filet on rosemary skewers, and the amazing homemade olive bread, served upon seating. Look for manager Christine while dining - her smile and delightfulness will tpp off your meal. And don't forget dessesrt!”

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3. Jeff S said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 09:13AM

“Aw, too bad for Olive -- guess they didn't have the right PR people. Or maybe they didn't recognize the "critic" who's plastered all over the web”

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4. Anonymous said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 09:37AM

“My wife and I have been to Olive on 3rd a few times since it has recently opened and we enjoy going everytime. This restaurant is a combination of classy yet casual and the food has been delicious on every occasion. The owner, Christine Fischer, always seems to find us and makes us feel truly welcome weather we are sitting inside in the dining room or outside where they have a few tables set up to enjoy the outdoor dining experience. Its nice to go to a restuarant where the service was good and simply make you feel at home.
Make sure you save some room for desert. Olive on 3rd has some of the best deserts I have ever tasted...ALL homemade.
I highly recommend Olive on 3rd for a great meal and good service.”

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5. Patrick said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 11:07AM

“The calamari and fried parsley is amazing and light. I've had most of the menu except the entrees that Brian had. The service is always outstanding and the management is beyond top notch. I disagree with just about everything said here, except for the positive comments. It's a friendly, quaint atmosphere with a unique menu and outstanding service. I would recomend this place to anyone and everyone!”

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6. Anonymous said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 04:02PM

“I heard about Olive by word of mouth and decided to have a farewell dinner for a co-worker there. The Taste of their dishes hit every taste bud from the entrees to their desserts. I would highly recommend them to any one.”

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7. Catherine said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 04:29PM

“Brian, while I’m sure you are quite the food connoisseur your critique was quite off the mark about Olive on 3rd. I’m sure you must have had other things on your mind while you were at Olive’s because the cuisine is quite delicious and full of robust flavor. My family and I have frequented Olive’s on many occasions and have always had a delicious meal. The ambiance is welcoming and the service was superlative. The owner Christine always finds the time to visit with us and makes us feel quite at home.
I have recommended this restaurant to all my family and friends. I urge you to give it a try!”

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8. Adam said... on Sep 1, 2010 at 04:59PM

“Who keeps giving Fischer money to open restaurants?”

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9. Anon said... on Sep 2, 2010 at 10:35AM

“Christine, stop posting positive comments about your own restaurants. It is pathetic.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Sep 2, 2010 at 04:18PM

“Brian, stop insulting your readers.”

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11. Anon said... on Sep 2, 2010 at 10:38PM

“It is you Christine!!! Hi! How are you? Trust me. I'm not Brian. He has actually been to Olive. I, however, after tasting the "Drunken Chicken" at Astral Plane Millennium, would never set foot in one of your restaurants even if it was the last place on earth to eat.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Sep 4, 2010 at 12:47PM

“Wow, you really have too much time on your hands. There is no reason to hurl invective at someone like that, especially if its just because you don't like their food.

Some of these comments may be from the owner, maybe not. In any case, there is never good reason to speak of someone in such a defamatory manner as you have done. It sounds like you have a personal grudge against the woman, or perhaps you are just a nutter.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Sep 4, 2010 at 04:15PM

“Olive hosted my party of 12 and all left with contentment. I had some of the linguini and meatballs and the meatballs were tender and delicious. The pasta was done perfectly. I also had chicken creole and the Caesar salad. Both were very tasty. This is a great and quaint spot to go especially for the price. Portion size was large too.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Oct 31, 2010 at 09:25PM

“I would not reccomend this place for catering. I was a guest at a wedding that took place this past Friday evening. Olive on 3rd catered and the food was cold. There were not burners lit. And the worst of it all is that they ran out of food for the guests. What a way to ruin a couples' special day. So please DO NOT DO NOT use this place for any of your events
See More”

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15. Anonymous said... on Nov 1, 2010 at 10:03AM

“Every time I read a positive comment about Olive on 3rd I have to take a deep breath. Not only is Brian (the writer of this article) correct but their catering is actually much, much worse. We hired them to caterer our wedding. Needless to say they RUINED our event. They ran out of food for the head count we had given them. The food they did serve was either too dry, overcooked, or cold. Not to mention the horrible staff, who acted as if the situation was not their prob. when they ran out of food. Thanks to some great friends who used the kitchen to whip up some awesome last min. stuff- w/no help from the catering staff!!!! & also delivered pizza -we made the situation as best we could. Point made: WE WERE ROBBED!!!! I am POSITIVE they didn't spend any more than a quarter of the nice budget we paid them- that they insisted to be paid before the event. I WILL NEVER EVER USE OR SPEAK TO THESE PEOPLE AGAIN!!!!”

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16. anonymously p'd off 1 said... on Nov 1, 2010 at 11:35AM

“After the display they put on-- or shall I say serious lack of display and total disrespect-- at a wedding I attending this past Friday 10/29, I am SICKENED by the positive comments for this place. They completely RUINED what is supposed to be the happiest day in a couple’s life. You couldn't pay me to step foot in this establishment or even consider them.
The situation they put this couple in is beyond anything I have ever witnessed, they put worry and guilt on their plate-- not food because they RAN out and had no explanation or even compassion for the fact that they F'd up--big time. WEDDING GUEST--WONDERFUL WEDDING GUEST/FRIENDS-- had to go out to provide food for guest because again they ***RAN OUT OF FOOD ***all within not even 15 minutes of putting out. The food which they put out was luke warm with not burners to keep it warm, and was nothing like what was discussed with the couple.
The staff that was provided was rude not to mention the fact that they were people to whom”

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17. anonymously p'd off pt 2 said... on Nov 1, 2010 at 11:36AM

“the couple had never met with and the cater wasn’t even there, when this disgrace was going on the couple tried to call and of course go no one. When asked what happened and what was going to be done, it was said that nothing could be done. Meanwhile you have wedding guest preparing food while the catering staff cleaned up what they had brought in. Then to top off the evenings events the COPS showed up…What a way to ruin a wedding. UNBELIEVIBLE!!!!!!!!!
I could go on, hopefully if you are considering this establishment, you take this couples experience into consideration…considering spending your money on someone with a heart and not just money signs in mind.

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18. Savannah said... on Nov 1, 2010 at 05:30PM

“NICE BUDGET!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
My name is Savannah i worked the wedding that we feel like we donated our day. The clients were rude and ungrateful!!!... We drove an hour to Pennsville NJ just to have police to come and have to protect us from the lunatic guests you had at your wedding... Management told us about you sob story about your dog needing some knid of surgery. and to my understanding we are not even the ones who booked this wedding. The guest pushed us aside, we never sat at the bar, (that was hilarious), one of your disgusting bartenders smacked me on my ass with a towel i feel very violated i might add. We werent able to help the guest with their fine dining of ragu they were doing because one of them physically pused one of my co workers and we were demanded to step aside so thats when we called the police. So if thats what you call a disgrace thats what we call saving our lives. I dont care if after writing this i get fired at”

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19. Savannah said... on Nov 1, 2010 at 05:39PM

“least im protecting a kick ass little gold mine on the corner of third street. For the trash that everyone wants to talk about this great little place, we only have one weekend opened to the public in december. We never brag, but we have really unbelievable things that take place in Olive. We are doing a display at the I.V.C where RACHAEL RAY will be signing her new book. I always tell management they should get a PR person because you cant imagine the clients that they have and they never publicize it. when we do little things and try to help this is the kind of kick back you get. UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE. Management just always replies... when you see the orders going out for these high rolling customers you dont seem to worry about the little people who cant sleep at night. If you want great food and great service come see me at olive my name is Savannah.”

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20. Anonymous said... on Jan 30, 2011 at 11:15PM

“I saw one of her kids stirring a pitcher of water with her sausage fingers.”

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21. neighbor said... on Feb 5, 2011 at 11:27PM

“You are all nuts the owners children dont even work their ...... they come to see their mother after school I am so sick of people bothering this woman she works so hard and is such a great person and loving mother and does very well for herself Iam a neighbor of Gaskill street and see this family each day and happy I do. this is a great place in our neighborhood Society hill .... A neighbor of Olive. oh they dont even have pitchers lol they bring water in glasses to the table filled so if you dined there you would know.I think people are just so simple minded.Grow up ..... One day i did asked Christine if she ever reads what people write and she replied, "I have no need or time just happy to see people enjoy what we present to our tables."”

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22. Anonymous said... on Mar 3, 2011 at 11:36AM

“1. christine, seriously, stop trying to post positive comments about your sorry excuse of a business as a "neighbor"
2. yes, water is served in glasses...POURED FROM A PITCHER
3. even if her children dont work there now, they did at one point..and they did use their sausage link fingers to stir the water.
4. this place is a joke.”

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23. Anonymous said... on Mar 5, 2011 at 04:34PM

“I am one of the daughters at Olive on third, and I am here to tell you that even if we did work there we would have enough common sense to NOT do something that stupid, and idiotic as to stick our "sausage linked fingers in the water pitchers". You might do that at your personal home, but we don't. And I think this is kind of funny. Picking on children to make sure you feel better! Making false accusations is called slander. Do you know what slander means....? Well let me tell you, Dictionary :


a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report: a slander against his good name.


Law . defamation by oral utterance rather than by writing, pictures, etc.

LOOK IT UP!!!!!!!!!

My mom has better things to do than read and COMMENT on the stupid, unnecessary remarks people (like you) have to say about her. Obviously you do not know her at all. THIS IS A RESTAURANT!! We are not running for president or anything like that. We are a place where people can feel comfor”

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24. Lisa said... on Jul 15, 2011 at 05:30PM

I have a gift certificate for this restaurant from restaurant.com. I really wanted to try this restaurant once i saw the menu. I've never used restaurant.com before and was wondering this restaurant's policy about the certificates. I tried calling the listed phone number but it was never answered and there was no voicemail. I was wondering if anyone knows why this is? I've read good and bad reviews for this restaurant, but one of the ones mentioning that couple's wedding said that they were unable to contact the restaurant. I'm going to check out the location tomorrow because i've never really hung out in that area, but if anyone has another number for the restaurant it would be greatly apreciated. If not, then i only lose $2(the discounted price i paid for a $25 gift certidicate)


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25. supercook said... on Aug 30, 2011 at 08:01PM

“if u want to say something about a place dont be annonomous then maybe it will hjave merit but the place and the management are great”

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26. phillybride09 said... on Sep 28, 2011 at 08:54AM

“I have not been to Olive but I must warn against using Christine Fischer as a caterer. Athough I see some positive reviews on their food, I have to chime in with the comments about the wedding. I was not at this particular wedding, but Christine (Chrisstevens Catering) ruined my wedding too. She made grandiose promises for my event and failed to come through on numerous things. Mainly the food, flowers and decor. Food was cold, she ran out of food (even though she promised to cook for double the head count), she made the WRONG cake so when my husband and I cut into our anniversary cake top it was not what we had asked for. She put out pathetic and cheap flowers atop of the windowsills (in the plastic flower pots), she never passed out the champagne toasts (and we spent plenty on champagne that we never used), she told us if we bought box wine it would not be seen but all the guests saw it stocked under the "bar" (that she had staffed by a tattooed punk looking girl). BEWARE!”

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27. Tommy said... on Nov 29, 2011 at 11:15AM

“But the owner is very cute.”


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