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Chef John Amato Discusses the Menu at Upcoming Little Jack's Tavern

The latest project from restaurant group Neighbourhood.

John Amato
John Amato
Erin Perkins is the editor of Eater Carolinas, covering the food and restaurant scene across North and South Carolina.

While restaurateurs Tim Mink and Brooks Reitz already had the concept in mind for Little Jack's Tavern, they still needed a chef to make their menu ideas happen. Reitz recruited former Park Cafe chef John Amato to join the team. Reitz and Amato previously worked together at FIG, when Reitz was the general manager and Amato was the sous chef. Amato, Mink, and Reitz are currently in testing mode to bring the idea of "a classic tavern serving familiar but smart pub standards" to life.

Eater asked Amato how he prepared a menu for a concept already in place, and he responded, "I know they had this vision, so as a chef, I think it's important to cook for yourself, but more important to cook for your customers. This group knows their customers really well. I've been asking lots of questions." For example, with the Little Jack's burger, he wanted to know what Mink and Reitz thought about the bun, the meat texture, and customer modifications — it's been a collaborative effort.

Amato explains that he likes to think of the restaurant as an American tavern with refined, classic dishes or really, really good home cooking. He says some of the dishes he has tested remind him of his mother's cooking, but more refined — for example, a brick chicken, but with Marsala jus over mushrooms, onions and green beans. He says his mom is a great cook, and she's really inspired him. "Growing up, five to six days out of the week, she was cooking."

The chef couldn't share more specifics about the food at the time, but says they are "drawing influence from tried-and-true recipes." Little Jack's will open at 710 King St. this March.