As Flavor Palette approaches one year of business in Ponte Vedra Beach, Chef and Owner Tommy McDonough said his international sandwich shop has been extremely rewarding, but like any restaurant business venture, also a roller coaster ride.
“We have our ups and downs,” said McDonough, who opened the restaurant in the Ponte Vedra Pointe Shopping Center in late March 2016. “Overall, it’s been an amazing experience.”
McDonough moved from Philadelphia to the First Coast with his wife and two children to open the shop last year, which he noted has been an adjustment but also a welcome change. Instead of the aggressive, boisterous style of Philadelphia, working and living in Ponte Vedra, he said, has provided his business and his family with a more relaxed and balanced experience.
Yet that doesn’t mean McDonough has completely removed himself from his Philly roots: Flavor Palette’s number one seller, he said, is the “Philly Style” steak sandwich.
“I have it hidden in the middle of the menu, but the word’s out,” said a laughing McDonough.
Although it’s the top seller, the "Philly Style" sandwich may be the least adventurous option on McDonough’s internationally exotic menu. The Flavor Palette owner brings more than 18 years of varied cooking experience to the restaurant, working with chefs from Taiwan, India, Germany, Korea and Belgium, to formulate his style, which he calls “unpretentious, world quality fusion.”o added that he’s one of the few chefs in the area using ribeye for the sandwich.
The next most popular item on the menu, he said, is the “Moroccan Chicken” sandwich, which features a north African spice blend and preserved lemon marinade garnished with Kalamata olives, tomatoes, almonds and raisins drizzled with a harissa yogurt sauce on a pita. Other sandwiches include the “Falafel Burger,” “Korean Beef Wrap” and “The Samurai,” to name a few. Flavor Palette also serves salads and sides, with the classic Canadian french fry dish Poutine a staple at the restaurant, as well as craft beer and wine.
Since opening Flavor Palette last year, McDonough said he’s learned there are “two sides of the street,” when it comes to his customer base. There are those, he said, that are more adventurous and sophisticated, and then there are the more particular, steak sandwich sort of visitors. As a result, McDonough said he has worked to accommodate both groups, noting that his two specials the week of Feb. 13 were a chorizo fish cake with chipotle mayo, pickled red onions and cilantro; and a blackened chicken Caesar wrap topped with bacon.
“I’m basically taking the feedback from both sides of the street and just trying to find the middle ground,” said McDonough, who also cited finding consistent, dependable staff and developing a steady flow of customers as challenges throughout the year.
McDonough previously worked in a variety of culinary and executive chef positions, running kitchens of hotels, international restaurants and most recently as a personal/private chef. He also worked in catering operations, and is now doing so again in Ponte Vedra as of December. He has a few catering jobs a week, he said, which include events ranging from corporate meetings to baby showers.
McDonough added that he’s been asked to be a catering partner at the first Ponte Vedra Food, Wine and Spirits Festival, which is set to take place in early May at the Cultural Center at Ponte Vedra Beach. In addition, he said he is working with Yelp for two upcoming events at Flavor Palette to introduce the company’s most active users in the Jacksonville area to his restaurant.
Flavor Palette’s official one year anniversary of business is March 26, said McDonough, who noted it’s taken both passion and determination to get to this point.
“We made it to a year,” he said. “That’s a major milestone.”