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John Amato, formerly of Park Cafe, has been tapped to lead Tim Mink and Brook Reitz's next restaurant, Little Jack's Tavern (710 King St.).
"His title is director of kitchen operations. He'll be running aspects of the business that go beyond food," says Reitz. Little Jack's isn't projected to open until early- to mid-March, but Amato is already busy in the kitchen with test dishes.
"We've had maybe six or seven test kitchen sessions. It's very much the same way we developed Leon's. Tim and I put together a menu with some non-negotiable items," says Reitz. Those include things like a burger and steak tartare." Meanwhile, Amato is playing with fleshing out the rest of the menu.
Amato got high praise when critic Allston McCrady reviewed Park Cafe. McCrady noted that the former FIG sous chef had a natural tact for making vegetables shine. "Vegetables don't require the crutch of lard, the disguise of cheese, or the crunch of the fryer. Zucchini slices bear the searing mark of the grill. Lightly charred, halved okra pods are subtly pickled (no full face pucker here), and sweet little gooseberries pop with flavor among cherry tomatoes," she wrote
Where he might fold in his produce aptitude at Little Jack's could be on the dinner menu. Unlike Mink and Reitz's Leon's Fine Poultry and Oyster Shop where there's basically one menu all day, Little Jack's Tavern will have two, one for lunch and one for dinner, and the latter will be a little more formal.
"It will feel a little more gussied up at night," Reitz says. As for the midday meal? The restaurateurs will attempt to answer the siren call of the city's power lunchers.
"I feel like there is a massive gap for a great lunch place in Charleston," says Reitz. Terrific sandwich shops not withstanding, Reitz says he wants Little Jack's to be the kind of place where you can go and be waited on. "There are all kinds of casual lunch options, but if you want to close a deal or have a nice business meeting, or enjoy one of life's great luxuries, the long boozy lunch, there aren't that many places. We want it to be nice at lunch."
To create such an atmosphere, the former home of Reitz and Mink's Saint Alban cafe is getting a facelift. If you've driven past the space recently you may have seen a new trench surrounding the building. Reitz says that's the result of a new gas line. A new grease trap has also been installed. Inside, all the trappings of the cute coffee shop have been stripped, including — gasp — that gorgeous wall paper. But Reitz promises Saint Alban fans will see the return of their favorite coffee shop and its decor soon enough.
"We've had two spaces fall through and we're now looking at a third space," he says in regards to the next Saint Alban location. Mink and Reitz had originally planned to reopen Saint Alban in the back of 721 King St. Instead, a third yet-to-be-named restaurant they have planned will go in there.
Little Jack's Tavern will be open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 10 on weekdays and 11 a.m. -11 p.m. on the weekends.