I spent a few days in Bethlehem in September (thankfully during tomato-growing season), and did quite a bit of "research" on restaurants. Research typically means reading some articles from traditional media outlets, and then ending up on TripAdvisor, or, God-forbid, Yelp (where I'll only read the really negative reviews, just for amusement). One place that grabbed my attention was Twisted Olive. For some reason I wasn't convinced it would be exceptional, but I kept it in the back of my mind. Eventually, we went for lunch. And boy am I glad we did.
At first glance, the menu seems unexceptional. The lunch menu has a variety of sandwiches and salads and pizza. Boring, right? But look more closely and you'll see the use of house-made corn tortillas for the fish tacos, house-smoked meats for sandwiches, and house-made syrups and infused-booze for the cocktail list. It's these little touches that illustrate to me that someone is paying attention to what they are putting on the plate and in the glass. This, alone, puts Twisted Olive in a rare league.
But first, a cocktail...
It has been several weeks since this meal, and I'd be lying if I told I remember the nuances of the cocktails that we enjoyed. But what I do know is that they were enjoyed, immensely. These were well-conceived and well-executed cocktails. If I have any criticism of the cocktail list it's the slight over-use of vodka. However, interesting spirits like tequila, gin, and whiskey were represented on the cocktail list much more than that pesky vodka.
I do recall that the rim of this cocktail had something spicy, and that was fine with me.
When the server overheard my guest express interest in my cocktail, he quickly recommended a different cocktail with the same base spirit and similar flavor profile. A server who understands cocktails? Refreshing. We ordered what he recommended.
We started with grilled octopus. Grilled, served simply over greens. The greens in this case were dressed, seasoned, and ready to be eaten. Not the "garnish" that you too often see. The octopus was expertly cooked and kissed with olive oil. This kitchen isn't afraid to season food.
As we were mulling over the menu, I noticed some sort of sandwich being delivered to the table next to us. More specifically, I noticed what appeared to be heirloom tomatoes on top of that sandwich. I asked the server what the story was, and he said that was the burger. OK, well, what about those tomatoes? "Those are tomatoes that the Chef grows."
I knew I had to have them. I could tell they were outstanding. I've been eating the crappy unexceptional "Jersey Tomatoes" all summer, which, for some reason, people think are just wonderful. Those Jersey tomatoes come from big boxes from big farms from uninteresting varieties and aren't very good. At all. The tomatoes I was about to eat were heirloom, and likely picked by hand that morning.
The Italian Pulled Pork sandwich was calling me (broccoli rabe, sharp provolone, lettuce, tomato, grilled garlic butter Kaiser roll), but I had to know if "tomato" on the pork sandwich meant those tomatoes. "Yes," said the server. "You'll get the same tomatoes." As he walked toward the kitchen he stopped and asked "Do you want me to ask them for extra tomatoes for you?" Uhhhh, yeah, I sure do.
Not only did they give me a pile of tomatoes, but since this kitchen knows what they're doing, the tomatoes were seasoned. It's the little touches, you people.
Beautiful, flavorful, fresh tomatoes. Just wonderful. I plopped a few on my guests salad, ate some on their own, and left some on my sandwich. I'd return just for the tomatoes.
The Italian Pulled Pork sandwich would give DiNic's in Philly a run for their money. If you know that I know that the Roast Pork Italian from DiNic's is far superior to the cheesesteak and pretty much any other sandwich then you'll know that's high praise indeed. Tender, moist, smoked pork, great cheese and broccoli rabe. And piled on pretty good, too. No pussyfootin'. A seriously fabulous sandwich here.
My guest ordered the Greek-Italian Chop Salad. Romaine, beans, red pepper, soppressata, French feta, and pepquinos. Pepquinos. When's the last time you saw these mini-melons on a menu? Other than Village Green in Ridgewood, NJ, I haven't seen them much at all. This Chef is thinking.
We were intent on returning for dinner, to give the much larger dinner menu a test run, but didn't get the opportunity. We'll be returning for sure. Why? Excellent service, attention to detail, the Chef's appreciation of ingredients, and the bar's interesting concoctions. What else can you ask for in a local bistro?
Twisted Olive : 51 W. Broad Street : Bethlehem, PA : 610.419.1200