by JENNIFER EARNEST
I’ve long been a fan of Taverna. For me, it’s always been my comfortable, go-to place, whether for a glass of wine after work, a long overdue girls’ dinner, or my first date with my now-honey. But, between work and travel, I took a small hiatus from my regular dinner spot and totally missed the renovation process. I had heard they added both a full bar and quick-casual lunch service. I was intrigued as to how it all fit together.
Well, let me say, it all fits together very well. The updates are obvious from the moment you walk through the door of the new entrance. An expanded bar anchors the enlarged restaurant that now featuring an additional dining room for private events. While the space is much larger, it still feels intimate, with lots of exposed brick and natural wood. Beautiful light wood table-tops and high-backed booths create a nice contrast to the deeper earth tones.
It’s definitely a good-looking space. Yet, it’s deeper than just looks. It’s a matter of intention. And, that is what makes Taverna so special. The space, the menu, and the service all work in harmony with each other, speaking to the owners’ ethos for classic, ingredient-driven dishes with a focus on local and sustainable sourcing.
I have to say that this visit was my best experience yet. Part of this is owed to the opportunity to sit down with owners Kiley and Sam Effron and talk with them as I sipped on their newly added hand-crafted cocktails and noshed on some of their classic Taverna dishes. What I love about all of it—the food, the drink, and the décor–is the purposeful intention behind every aspect. Case in point: there are no longer white tablecloths. Just like the food, there is no unnecessary pretense, just a good, quality experience.
Nowadays, I feel like everywhere I go, food is being deconstructed, reconstructed, and reinterpreted. Don’t get me wrong, this makes for some great (and some not so great) food adventures. But classic dishes are classic for a reason: because they are so good they have stood the test of time. This is at the core of Taverna’s menu.
Most everyone knows that Taverna serves delicious food. If you don’t already know this, you are overdue for a visit. But, what you may be curious about, as was I, is how the new experience works. Essentially, it is the same Taverna that we have grown to love since 2009, just amplified with expanded dining options.
Hours remain the same, with lunch starting at 11 am. But now, you have a few lunch options. There is delivery (for a minimum or five people). If you choose to dine in, your host/hostess will ask you if you prefer full-service or quick-casual. If you prefer quick-casual, you will order from the counter, pay and then your food will be brought to you. A server will still check on you and make sure you are well taken care of, but if you need to dash back to work, you are not losing precious time waiting for your order to be taken or your bill to be delivered. Instead, you will spend the majority of your time enjoying your lunch. Prices range from $6-$17 with the majority falling between $9-$12. You need to try the Italian Sub—think of it like an antipasto platter served on delicious, crusty bread that has been brushed with a flavorful, fresh, herb-infused olive oil.
From 3-5 pm, the kitchen transitions from lunch to dinner. A Happy Hour menu is pending and should offer a nice transition between meal times. If you abide by the notion that it’s 5 o’clock somewhere, this is the perfect time to enjoy a classically-inspired cocktail. All are made using freshly squeezed juices, homemade simple syrups, and premium liquors. Their Sidecar was tasty and very nicely presented, but I LOVE the Salty Dog, which was a first for me. Having never had one before, and making my assumptions on the name alone, I was a little scared. But what I got was a totally beautiful and well balanced drink. The outside of the glass is rolled with a layer of salt and a layer of sugar, and the grapefruit and vodka base is balanced out with a house-infused simple syrup.
Dinner service remains the same (except now you can order a cocktail instead of just wine). My favorite entrée is still the half roasted chicken with that wonderfully crispy skin, and the roasted Brussel sprouts with apricots, bacon lardons, and walnuts. (These are a veritable meal, in themselves.) The chicken is a hearty entree, so if you order it, save room for the butterscotch budino. The budino is an Italian custard with a layer of creamy butterscotch, served with this chocolate brittle that is perfect for scooping up the last couple of bites. It’s quite possibly in my top five favorite desserts and will forever change the way I think of pudding. If you haven’t already, go experience the new Taverna; I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Jennifer is one half of the 2GutsyGirls duo, a food blog hosted by Sarah Choi and Jennifer Earnest Corrente. It is fueled by shared passion for great food and loving the life you have, by exploring eateries in Jacksonville and beyond with gutsiness! www.facebook.com/2GutsyGirls
by JENNIFER EARNEST