If you ask to add a red tomato to your sandwich this month at Olio & Aceto Cafe, there’s a good chance that you won’t get one.
Restaurant owner Suzie Keenan and manager Andy Campbell make seasonal freshness and quality ingredients focal to every item on the menu. Nestled in a strip mall on South Elliott Road, everything down to the pickles is made in-house.
Campbell sees special promise in millennial palates. “We see lots of enthusiasm and willingness from UNC students to walk in and have something crafted for them by someone who knows what they’re doing,” said Campbell.
Olio & Aceto has a constantly rotating specials menu. According to Campbell, a regular customer came in a few weeks ago, ordered the special, and liked it so much that he brought his entire office the next day to try. This influx ran the restaurant out of all the ingredients for the special, and he came back two times requesting the special before a new shipment came in.
“When he walked in the restaurant the next week and saw the special back on the board, he threw his hands in the air in excitement. That’s the excitement that we work for every day,” Campbell said.
Keenan, affectionately coined as a “mad genius in the kitchen” by Campbell, said the brunch specials, which have included a Monte Cristo sandwich made with French toast and blueberry compote, have truly allowed her to exercise creativity in the kitchen.
The most popular, and challenged, dish on the menu is the Cuban sandwich. Keenan said Floridians and people of Cuban descent often come in questioning the sandwich, and leave saying it’s the best Cuban they’ve ever had.
Keenan pickles the fruits and vegetables and roasts the meats in-house, setting the sandwiches apart. “You’re not coming in and getting a deli sandwich,” said Keenan. “You’re getting something that we put a lot of love into.”
The restaurant’s name, “Olio & Aceto,” is Italian for “Oil and Vinegar.” The words are an ode to Keenan’s mother’s company — Blue Sky Oil & Vinegar Inc., which is located next door. Keenan works Blue Sky’s oil and vinegar into everything on the menu.
Keenan went to culinary school and lived in Chicago for seven years, but she advises anyone trying to break into the industry to “go straight to a restaurant and work, it’s how you learn everything you know.”
After moving back to North Carolina, Keenan opened the Olio & Aceto food truck. The truck was an instant success, and Keenan took the leap to brick and mortar after a year and a half.
At Olio & Aceto you may not get out-of-season ingredients on your plate, but you will get a meal crafted with a lot of thought, and even more love.