Tiny TASTE has evolved from a Tapas & Wine Bar to a fine-dining destination
TASTE may have opened as a trendy tapas and wine bar, but Proprietor Brian Bridgers and Executive Chef Dave McCluskey have their sights set even higher. Much higher.
“Generally, you open a new restaurant and you begin to evolve,” McCluskey explained. “As you can see, we’re casual fine dining (and I emphasize the word ‘casual’). We’re not white tablecloths. But that’s not to say that we’re not trying to be one of the very best restaurants in the area. We most certainly are and that’s what Brian and I are both pushing for; to improve upon ourselves every day. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t, but we’re having a lot of fun.”
One look at TASTE’s menu and it’s evident how much fun the kitchen staff is having. They make their own ricotta cheese, cure and grind their own meats and experiment with molecular gastronomy. A recent weekend, TASTE offered diners a deviled egg… but not just any deviled egg.
“Tonight we’re featuring a deviled duck egg that’s a little bit spicy because it’s made with sriracha [a Thai hot sauce] and topped with duck bacon,” he explained. “The duck bacon is a smoked duck breast that is sliced and cooked like bacon. And we’re using local duck eggs from Crossed Star Farms and duck breasts from North Carolina.”
Those wishing to keep up with TASTE’s daily specials and special event dates should visit their Facebook page (TASTE), which is updated throughout the day. New diners may love the featured daily specials like the aforementioned deviled duck egg and their entrées such as the slow-cooked Heritage pork shoulder with Maker’s Mark and Kentucky sorghum molasses glaze, served with whipped Yukon potatoes and Rawls Farm sweet braised collards, but there is one dish they make a special trip for: TASTE’s House Skillet Burger.
“I can’t make enough of them,” McCluskey said of the creation. “Not to toot my own horn, but I have people telling me that it’s the best burger in town.”
The House Skillet Burger, which features fresh-ground Angus grass-fed beef from Eubank Farm and Caw Caw Creek pork shoulder on a potato bun with homemade cheese, tomato jam and crispy Vidalia onions, came about after Bridgers asked McCluskey to serve a hamburger that diners could eat at the bar.
“My dilemma in looking at that burger is I wanted to do a burger with natural, grass-fed beef,” he said. “The issue with buying grass-fed beef is it doesn’t have the marbling that we’re used to seeing in beef.”
Less marbling means less fat, and less fat often means a very dry hamburger. And the idea of serving a dry hamburger was something that didn’t appeal to McCluskey. As he was mulling over the problem, he said, he happened to be cutting up some Caw Caw Creek pork for another dish and the answer came to him: Combine the two meats for a deeper flavor and a better texture.
And it worked.
“I make 20-30 a day and it’s first come, first served,” he said of the House Skillet Burger. “It’s a top-quality product and we’re selling all of them.”
Bridgers and McCluskey recently made it a little easier for those who want to sample the elusive dish to nab it before the kitchen runs out: a couple of weeks ago, they added lunch service.
The addition of lunch is gradually taking off, but it’s not the only changes that Bridgers, McCluskey, Sous Chef Jason Rothkin and staff are making. The coming of fall means new, heartier dishes on the menu, new fall desserts from Pastry Chef Aaron Darch and a new batch of from-scratch cocktails in the works, including a spiced rum that they plan to age in a bourbon cask. McCluskey and Bar Manager Paul Covey have also re-written the wine list, a list that now boasts 100 bottles, and are preparing for a wine dinner October 9 and a beer dinner that will follow at a later date. The same care, McCluskey said, goes into the drinks TASTE serves as it does into the food.
“We have about 35 bottles of craft and import beer on what we call our Church Key beer list. Most all of them have a 90-plus rating from Beer Advocate and ratebeer.com,” he explained. “Again, kind of due to our limitations in space, my thought on doing a beer list was that I’d rather go quality rather that quantity. There’s a lot of research that goes into what we’re doing.”
And that research is paying off. Though TASTE can accommodate approximately 50 guests inside the restaurant and an additional 30 on the sidewalk patio — and don’t worry, heaters are on the way for the upcoming winter season — they’re fully booked up most weekend nights. It’s something McCluskey said is due to the creativity and unexpectedness of both the restaurant and the menu.
“Are we a small plates and tapas wine bar or are we a nice restaurant or just the right mix of each?” he rhetorically asked. “We’re still kind of feeling ourselves out, but Brian and I have a solid idea as to where we’re going with this thing. In the simplest of terms, we’re continually evolving with an eye on continuing to evolve.”
Owner Brian Bridgers added, “The unique setting we enjoy here in Hammond’s Ferry, the quaintness of the restaurant itself, the ambiance (from the art to the lighting to the music), the menu and all the other intangibles came together rather nicely. The place is simply charming. It’s chic. It’s metropolitan. It has a big city feel about it. Sometimes you forget that you’re in the Augusta area. We think we have something really unique going for us. My vision was and still is to make this place extra special.”
Hammond’s Ferry: 465 Railroad Avenue, North Augusta
Wednesday-Saturday, lunch from 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 p.m.-until
Reservations encouraged | 803-341-9881 | eatattaste.comYou Might Also Like:
Quality Over Quantity
Posted in Cuisine Scene