Monday, June 24, 2024

‘Keep it very Americana’: New tavern coming to S. Front District from seasoned restaurateur

Front Street Tavern will be operational by end of summer in the former Second Glass location. (Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — Once focused on fine wine and refined cuisine, the former Second Glass restaurant is going to become a more casual stop for diners in the South Front District.

South Front Tavern, owned and operated by Mark Zecher, is opening by August in the stead of the recently shuttered wine-centered restaurant. Zecher said South Front Tavern will feature elevated American cuisine, but it will be approachable.

With three decades of experience in the industry, Zecher has owned or operated multiple establishments in Long Island — Paddy McGee’s Fish House and Bridgeview Yacht Club — as well as Honu Kitchen and Cocktails in Huntington, New York.

“Very busy place,” he said of Honu. “3,500 square feet, 70 foot bar — a monster, but gorgeous, gorgeous space.”

It was voted by OpenTable as one of the Top 100 Hotspots Nationwide. 

When the pandemic hit, Zecher had been involved with Honu for a decade. He and his wife, who had frequently visited Leland due to his mother-in-law relocating there, had been considering a move out of New York —  “to stop paying all the high taxes and cost of living” — with the goal to eventually retire along the North Carolina coast. They made the plunge in 2020 and Zecher took up a management position at the Oceanic for three-and-a-half years. 

“But owner-operator is in my blood,” he said, noting he was feeling the itch to get back into a place of his own. “The restaurant business is very demanding, and when you’re passionate and working for yourself and controlling your own destiny it’s a whole other level of gratification — to conceptualize, open, and live and breathe your own inspiration.”

South Front Tavern is concept he has been mulling for years, in homage to lessons learned from youth. A chef by trade — and fresh out of college with a hotel and restaurant management degree — Zecher traveled and stopped to work in various pockets of the nation. From New Mexico to New Orleans, Denver back to New York, his palate, technique and repertoire expanded. A little bit of all his travels will be part of his new concept.

“Food is really in my heart,” he said. “And I wanted to bring in specialities from all regions of the country.”

Zecher’s personal favorite is Gumbo Ya Ya from the Big Easy, a recipe he picked up from Mr. B’s Bistro. The key, Zecher said, is the rich, dark roux quality of the Andouille sausage and freshness of the okra.

“The hardest part is it’s a very fine line between a dark roux and a burnt roux,” he said, “so it definitely takes some technique. But once you get the flavor profiles, it’s very addicting.”

Also included will be a shrimp and roasted corn bisque, poured tableside, and a Texas short-rib chili, made with five different chiles. It includes a pureed base of dried ancho chile, toasted and then rehydrated. 

“It gives it so much depth,” he said. 

The menu will consist of salads, starters, handhelds and entrees, including marinated skirt steak with chimichurri, fingerling potatoes and squash. Maryland crab cakes will be featured and littleneck clams in a white-wine sauce with crusty bread. A variety of quesadillas, such as a cilantro-lime shrimp version, also are planned, as well as burgers grilled on a plancha flat-top, which sears patties at a high temperature to extract the most flavor. It will be served with Gruyere cheese, arugula, mushrooms, crispy onions and garlic aioli.

The menu will change seasonally.

“The goal is to keep it very Americana,” he said, including an American wine list and featuring local breweries.

The cocktail program will also center on fresh juices and accouterments, including a coconut martini with toasted flakes around the rim. There will be a gin-inspired drink with butterfly pea tea and fresh basil, a Georgia-peach Old Fashioned, made with grilled peach puree, orange bitters and Luxardo cherries.

“I like balancing different profiles with cocktails and high-quality ingredients,” Zacher said.

Cocktails will be $11 to $14, with food items ranging from $14 to $32.

Zecher chose the South Front District due to its industrial vibe and architecture. Little upfit has to be done other than with aesthetics, which he is calling “industrial chic.” It will come with more angle iron, rustic corrugated tin and mini crystal chandeliers.

The layout will remain the same, sans Second Glass’ wine room, which will be opened up to allow for more seating.

The residential neighborhoods surrounding the area in a 5-mile radius was a plus.

“Also free parking was a big asset for me,” he said. “Not only for customers but for employees. It’s hard to ask an employee to pay to park — it’s kind of like taking money right out of their pocket.” 

Zecher is on the hunt now for a chef and plans to hire around 25 employees.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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