Philly Chef Tom McDonough Has Taken His Sandwich Talents To Florida With Soon-to-Open Flavor Palette

How big of a place is this going to be?
The total space I’m working with is 1,500 square feet. It’s almost divided in half [between kitchen and front of house]. I’m going to put in a bar stool setup and counter like what you’d see at a Steve’s Steaks—but more of a dressed-up version of it. I’ll have thirty-five seats within the restaurant and a patio where I can sit about sixteen more.

Full bar?
I’m going to do just beer and wine. That license is pretty inexpensive down here compared to the umpteen thousands you’d need for a liquor license.

What kind of hours?
I’m gonna start off 11-8, Monday through Saturday. Originally I said I may have a partner that was coming in with me. My right hand man Ozzie Sirin (a lovable Turkish chef) who I met while working as Chef Lin’s Sous. He wasn’t gonna come in. Now he’s changing his mind. He wants to come down here and take a look at the place. Kind of grow his way into the business. If I have someone I could really lean on, it could mean longer hours. We could potentially be open seven days a week—we could watch each other and make sure we don’t burn out.

Courtesy of Tom McDonough.

Courtesy of Tom McDonough.

What type of neighborhood are you in? How will you add to it and the local food scene?
The neighborhood I’m gonna be in is called Ponte Vedra Beach. It’s a wealthy golf resort town. It’s a good clientele for a restaurant. Above where I’m at is Jackson Beach—it seems like a younger crowd. There are a lot of different foods but from St. Augustine up to Jacksonville—an hour’s distance—I’m not finding real sandwiches with substance. It’s all the same-old, same. The 50-100 people I’ve been talking to, they’re all agreeing with me and excited that I’m bringing something different. Better versions of sandwiches you may know as well as an international feel. The real good food that I’m coming across…there’s good barbecue down here, there’s good Mexican. I found one phenomenal pizza place that I was happy to find. It’s called Pizza Time. They were actually named #2 in the country on Yelp. I was worried about that [finding good pizza]. But, that’s pretty much it as far as I’ve seen up until now.

So, just bringing in quality sandwiches from a guy from Philadelphia. I think I have something to offer them. I talked to the manager [at Pizza Time]. I asked him, hey, where can I find good bread. He pulled me aside and we talked for fifteen minutes. It was a deep subject for him. It’s not easy to find. They’re doing Brooklyn style pizza. It’s the real deal.

But there’s also a farm that I’ll probably be sourcing my pork from if I can. Everyday is a new development. We were talking before [several weeks back] about the design—I’m bringing in an interior designer. I’m going bigger than I originally planned.

Have you connected with anyone else locally?

The guy who owned the place for five years—as a restaurant called Mangroves (Caribbean, new Florida cuisine)—is kind of going to be an ambassador for me of sorts. We’re kind of helping each other out. He’s going to be using my kitchen as a commissary. If he’s busy, I’ll help him. If I’m busy he’s going to help me.

And there are two brothers, Matthew and David Medure, who basically have a little empire in this area. Fine dining restaurants that have been open 16 years. They have a burger where you can put foie gras on it—a modern burger place called M Shack. Matt actually reached out to see if he could help me—a chef showing love basically. I’m only three weeks on the scene. They have a burger where you can put foie gras on it. I love cured meats, pates, terrines—all that stuff.

Are you going to be doing some curing?

Not initially. There’s this place called New York Butcher Shoppe. I was sitting there talking to the owner. They have all kinds of gourmet stuff—dry aged meats and so on. We’re starting to work out an arrangement to where I use some of their stuff and their name as well. They had a few DiBruno Bros. products in there. They had skirt steaks, hanger steaks. I can do a special on veal or sweetbreads if I want to. It’s real old school New York butcher shop feel. That’s something I’m working out with them. I’ve done curing—it’s on the backburner. I’ve made pastrami and gravlax. I will eventually start playing with that stuff.

And the quality of your sandwiches is going to speak to where you’re from?
Yeah, big-time.

You’re going to have Flyers, Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers games on, right?
We’ll give it a try [laughs].

And what are you going to have on the international bar? Everything from sauces like chimchurri to pickled things like kimchi?
Yeah, exactly. Different types of pickles like pickled carrots—all that stuff will rotate. Kimchi. One day, I might have pickled onions like how the English do it. I might bottle some of my sauces. I’ve been to a couple farmers markets. I would like to connect to the whole local food scene. It’s very big down here. There are like 27 farms within a 45-minute distance. There’s a guy that makes these awesome, complex hot sauces. I wouldn’t be against featuring him and letting him sell his product in my store. That’s kind of what I’m going for also. Supporting local food culture and acclimating myself into it.

Can you mention anything else that’s going on the international bar?
I might have hoisin sauce, sriracha, Indian hot sauces. Different options. A mango chutney or varying fruit chutneys. Flavors and condiments from around the world, essentially. It’s going to be something that’s evolving. With the condiments, I’m going to make small batches of things to where after a few days, I’ll switch to something else.

And the side salads you mentioned will match with each individual culture?
I’m going to do a take on a classic Nicoise. An Asian inspired salad, etc.—it’ll draw from the same culture [as with the sandwiches]. We’ll have four signature salads and I might have grab and go options ready. I’m going to be doing crab fries kind of like how Chickies ‘n Pete’s does them with crab spice but I’m also going to have three other spice options, including Jamaican jerk spice. And if they want to add the spices into their sandwiches, they can do that.

I’m also going to be making super thin sliced onion rings—you can add spice to those as well—and my own ice creams in pints and half pints. I’ll have some traditional flavors and I might do, say, Turkish espresso with cardamom, a bourbon chocolate, or a Jameson caramel. I’m gonna play around with that aspect [liquor based ice cream flavors].

How long have you been making ice cream for?
15 years. Ice cream is one of my favorite things to eat. That’s my weakness as far as something that’s sweet. It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed and always enjoyed making. I’ve done it at a few different establishments throughout the years. When I was working at Max & David’s, one of the main things was gelato but it was dairy free. That’s also something I know how to do—to make really good product that’s dairy-free using almond or coconut milk. That’s something that probably will be in the rotation.

 
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