New Tavern chef enjoys local business

Published 9:29 pm Thursday, February 23, 2017

A popular local restaurant is booming, and its new chef is enjoying the experience.

Michael Jacinto was hired as the executive chef at the Vintage Tavern in Governor’s Pointe three months ago. Forty-three years old with more than a decade of restaurant experience, he enjoys facing the restaurant’s unique challenges with his fellow staff.

Jacinto had previously worked at Princess Anne Country Club for 11 years. Vintage Tavern General Manager Ken Dodds had worked with Jacinto before and suggested that he join their family.

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“I still think I had some ‘cheffery’ left in me,” Jacinto said.

Vintage Tavern co-owner Brian Mullins said he’s impressed with the enthusiasm and work ethic Jacinto has brought to the staff.

“He’s exceeded what we anticipated when we brought him on,” Mullins said.

Brian and Teresa Mullins brought Vintage Tavern to the Williamsburg-style Governors Pointe community in 2006. It was built in stone-house fashion with an open kitchen and porch rocking chairs. The menu is packed with southern recipes using local produce and seafood, along with an extensive wine selection.

“When we open the doors, we’re there to make memories for people,” Mullins said.

Jacinto said that he had a set audience of 1,100 people back at the country club, with familiar faces and repetitions. At the tavern, up to 150 customers can come through the restaurant on a typical busy night, and these locals represent a whole new challenge.

“We’re doing heightened versions of food they’ve been eating their entire lives,” Jacinto said. “You have to do the work, especially with the things that they love.”

This was the case on Valentine’s Day, when nearly 200 people came to the tavern to enjoy the occasion with meals such as grilled bison rib-eye, lump crabcakes, and perhaps banana pudding for dessert.

“We call that Noah’s Ark Day, because people are coming in two by two,” Mullins said.

Serving everyone on such a busy night required teamwork, Jacinto said.

“We have a family meal with crew to get us ready for the day, and once everyone is ready to go, it’s like a little magical machine that works,” Jacinto said. “We’re trying to put out perfect food.”

“Your brain doesn’t stop going over checklists. while you’re prepping as much as you possibly can, but you don’t want to over-prep. We’ve all got our heads in the game; it’s a battle.”

Along with the camaraderie, Jacinto said he enjoys the immediate feedback from the customers of the restaurant’s performance. He reads the reviews online and hears the customers’ comments in the restaurant.

“That instantaneous feedback gives you a more intimate connection with the restaurant,” he said. “You can hear it and see it in our reservations; they keep piling up.”

That enthusiasm will keep the crew going as they prepare for the restaurant’s 11th anniversary celebration in April. It will be the tavern’s version of a picnic, including an oyster bar, racks of ribs and plenty of barbecue.

“You’re building the reputation of this restaurant based on performance and the food you’re putting out,” Jacinto said. “You feel a direct connection with that; it makes you protective. It’s a good feeling.”