Last week I was cruising the streets of San Marco and decided to revisit a place that I had previously been to as a customer, Taverna. I got lucky and found street parking a block up from the restaurant and made my way inside. The first thing I noticed was a unique interior with a design that draws your eye and visually follows like a river. The interior has a very modern look and a trendy feel. Taverna wasn’t open for business yet, but I was able to steal twenty minutes for an interview with Olivia Baker, the events and marketing manager for Taverna.
As I started talking to Olivia she informed me that the restaurant got started in 2009 by couple Sam and Kiley Wynne Efron. Kiley had worked in several five-star Italian restaurants in the San Francisco bay area and Sam who is the restaurant’s executive chef had studied the culinary arts at Florida State University and then later at the Culinary Institute of America. Olivia told me that the vision of Taverna was to create a restaurant that, “draws inspiration from the simplicity and warmth of rustic Italian kitchens.”
As the interior design had been one of the first things I noticed as I came through the doors, I started digging a little more. Olivia told me that the concept had come from Kiley who is very passionate about interior design as well as presentation, she had worked with a team of designers but that this project had been her vision.
I had previously visited the restaurant for drinks and light bites, but not for a true meal, thus I asked Olivia what some of the regulars order and what she’d recommend to a first time guest. She told me that one of their signature dishes is the “Braised Short Rib” w/ kuskus, spring peas mushrooms, and tomato. She also said that the house made fettuccine has been on menu since day one and hasn’t changed for a reason, customers love it. I kept digging, trying to get at the restaurant’s secret for success. Olivia told me that their main goal is to create food with integrity using fresh ingredients and produce, and that they try to buy from local vendors as much as possible.
Jacksonville’s residents love to explore and discover new watering-holes around town, thus I wanted to find out what Taverna had to offer the parched customer. I came to find out that they had won the Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator Magazine multiple years. They also feature a large selection of wines from Italy, France, South America, and California. “Dillon’s Cup” which is a tribute to owner’s son uses Dillion’s Gin, Pimm’s No. 1, cucumber, lemon juice, house-made ginger syrup, soda (chef Sam’s favorite drink).
Taverna cares about it’s customers and it’s San Marco neighborhood where the restaurant stays nested right in the heart of of all the action on San Marco Blvd. Sam and Kiley are a part of the San Marco Preservation Society and the San Marco Merchant’s Association. They also have water bowls on their front patio area for customers who wish to bring their four-legged friends with them.
Taverna features a happy hour every Monday through Friday 4-7 p.m. with “Happy Drinks and Happy Bites”, premium wells, draft and craft beers, signature cocktails and selected wines. The restaurant has a private dining area for special events and offers delivery through their own in-house delivery team. Taverna has a kid’s menu with favorites like the cheese and pepperoni pizza as well as grilled cheese sandwich. They also prepare daily lunch boxes for customers seeking a quick pickup and go solution that provides “Hand-crafted Convenience” for lunch time. Check them out online at www.taverna.restaurant.
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Written and published for BUZZ Magazine, April 2016.