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Upstairs, Downstairs Olivia’s Offers a Taste of Class

by Nathan Oravec

In the four months since opening its doors, Olivia’s Restaurant - a best-of-both worlds delicatessen-slash-fine dining experience, located at 43-45 South Potomac Street in Hagerstown, has been, on several occasions, confused with its sister (or brother, as it were) business, local favorite and proven pub, known to Hagerstown diners as Oliver’s.

While the two share common ownership - in addition to the novelty name relation - Head Chef Dan Olsen says the concept is entirely different.

“The idea was that Olivia’s would be kind of a sister restaurant to Oliver’s,” says Olsen, whose father, Don, owns both enterprises. “But the atmosphere and food are completely different. Where Oliver’s is casual dining, Olivia’s is slightly more upscale. It’s difficult, because a lot of people think it’s the same thing.”

In addition to the issue of mistaken identity, Olsen notes that many patrons may be unaware of the restaurant’s duality. Perhaps its most intriguing feature is its yin-yang of a setup. While, during the day, the ground-level serves as a quaint coffeehouse-like deli, offering “fresh deli meats, sandwiches, wraps and pitas, as well as a full bar - at night, Olivia’s trades up to a classy, folded cloth napkin and candlelit niche in the basement. But while the upscale face of the restaurant is stationed underground, Olsen hopes its location doesn’t remain on the DL.

“There are still people who have no idea we’re here. When you come to the door you see the deli,” he says. “You can’t see [the dining room] from the street, but there’s a back entrance and plenty of parking.” Not to turn away any prospective patrons, entrance can also be made from upstairs, for those wishing to make their descent to fine dining.

Olsen describes dinner at Olivia’s as “basically upscale continental cuisine, using a variety of different ingredients for several different types of food.” From inventive fresh seafood dishes daily to several different cuts of meat, including veal, lamb and Black Angus beef to delectable desserts prepared by Olivia’s own pastry chef on premises, the restaurant strives to bring a unique taste of class to Hagerstown. This, in many ways, can be attributed to Olsen, who was first introduced to the culinary arts as a cook for Oliver’s. “I just kind of fell in love with it. It’s the one thing I guess I could say I know the most about.”

While Olivia’s head honcho in the kitchen never attended culinary school, he received his skills on-the-job. “I came up here from Florida. I worked under a few very good chefs down there,” he says. “I learned a great deal. My education was through the school of hard knocks. I picked it up as I went along.” The chef says he draws a lot of Olivia’s menu from his experiences in the tropics.

“It’s fun for me - I can bring some southern and tropical fare to Hagerstown - some seafood dishes that may not have been seen around here before.”
Olivia’s, actually, was Olsen’s catalyst for coming back home. He took the job, he says, sight-unseen - before he even set foot inside the kitchen - or the building itself. “I just kind of jumped into it. I’ve been at it ever since.”

Olsen has “been at it” with a staff of “about a dozen,” who hope to help to make Olivia’s a standout in the Hagerstown dining guide. “The wait staff is very friendly and caring - and they enjoy their jobs. It’s actually one of the best wait staffs I’ve ever worked with.”

The response to the hard work, Olsen says, has been - at large - positive, thus far. “Our main goal is to make people happy,” he continues. “I want to give them what they want. Myself, I’m willing to take on any request in the kitchen - be it dietary, or any special request. We’ll accommodate anybody’s needs.”

Lunch is available at Olivia’s from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, the deli’s dining area seating roughly sixty, while dinner is served from 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, the restaurant holding approximately ninety. Reservations are not necessary for dinner, but are recommended, “because you never know,” says Olsen.

The restaurant also features a dining area available for large parties or groups, such as birthdays, wedding receptions, etc. and the deli will deliver lunch orders over $50. Lunches generally run less than $7 with dinners ranging from $13-$20.

Virtually two restaurants in one, Olsen welcomes the curious to stop by for lunch - or dinner - or, ideally, to have the best of both worlds.

“We try to give the best presentation possible. As soon as people get the taste - they seem to love it.”

For more information or to make reservations, call Olivia’s at 301-766-7000.

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