Taverna is a hidden gem in San Marco. Executive Chef Sam Efron serves some of the best handcrafted Italian dishes. I’m talking house-made pastas, ravioli, fettuccine, hand-tossed pizza, meatballs, and a killer burrata caprese that gives Bread & Board a run for their money. Sam attended the Culinary Institute of America. He developed his culinary skills at The Four Seasons Hotel in New York, the Michelin starred Gramercy Tavern, and The Mandarin Oriental Hotel in San Francisco. I sat down with Sam and his wife Kiley to talk all things Taverna.
jack: How did you know that you wanted to be a chef?
Sam Efron: I’ve always loved cooking since I was a kid. When I was 9 years old, my great aunt Bebe taught me how to cook eggs, and I thought it was the coolest thing.
jack: When your aunt was teaching you, was there something special about it? How did she teach you?
SE: It was the first time I stood by the stove, and I was just doing it.
jack: Did it taste amazing?
SE: The fact that I made it made it even taste better. I just appreciated it that much more—like, “Oh, look what I did.” My parents and everyone else had scrambled eggs for breakfast and said, “Hey, these are good.” Getting that praise, it’s a great feeling, a sense of accomplishment, and it builds your confidence.
jack: It’s like creating magic?
SE: Right, yeah. After that, I got the itch and started cooking throughout the years. My parents exposed me to really good restaurants when I was young and throughout high school. I always enjoyed good food. I liked how food brings people together. I’m always interested in different cultures and different cuisines. It’s a great way to learn about different people and different cultures through food.
SE: (cont.): Cooking always gave me a sense of purpose. The gratification that you get from making something that’s really good, that people enjoy, and being able to share that. I don’t think there’s anything else in the world that you get that experience from. I just fell in love with it.
jack: Tell me about Taverna?
Kiley Efron: It’s definitely a neighborhood restaurant, and we want it to always feel that way. We wanted it to have the sophistication of restaurants that we worked at and went to when we lived in New York and San Francisco. We wanted it to be a place where people would come in and the service staff would know who they were. They could come in on a date, they could come with their family, it could be a celebratory night, it could be just an evening where they walk from their house to grab a glass of wine, and just have good, cool ambiance. The food is really about honoring clean favors and ingredients. It is really letting the ingredients shine. It’s definitely a strong nod to traditional Italian cooking.
jack: How do you stay relevant with Town Hall and Rue Saint Marc coming in? Does it scare you?
Sam Efron: We are actually really excited. We welcome it. Our philosophy is the more good things around you, the more population, the more it’s going to bring to the square, and the better it is for everybody. The only way we will ever suffer is if our quality goes down. If we suck, we suck, and it’s on us. It’s better to be in a neighborhood where there’s lots of great establishments. It becomes known for dining, people want to live there more, and there’s more foot traffic. Really, at the end of the day, we have to always think about staying relevant. We have been open for 8 years. We expanded and we just reupholstered all of our furniture. Our biggest focus has been to just keep getting better.
jack: What new things do you have coming up?
Kiley Efron: We are working on a new concept. We would like to open another restaurant in the next couple of years. We are in the process right now of putting together a business plan. It will be under the same brand but a different cuisine than Taverna.
Sam Efron: Tuesday nights, starting May 23rd, we will be hosting Pasta Tuesdays. We are going to offer a 3-course tasting menu. It’s off the menu, hand-made pasta dishes, and we will have a wine pairing available.
jack: Anything else you want people to know?
SE: Our happy hour is from 4 – 7 p.m. All the pricing goes from $4 to $7 as well. Bites, cocktails, and wine by the glass. We also have a lunch delivery program called “Taverna on the Go.” It’s from $7 to $12. You can do a boxed lunch or a platter. We do office delivery and people can pick up as well.
Check out for Nate Mayo on Instagram @natedoesfood for his scoop on hot eats and special events on the First Coast