MERIDEN — Workers cut molding, and hung wires Wednesday, while owner Christopher Szewczyk raced through his own version of Hell’s Kitchen to open Taino Smokehouse Prime.
”We’re in the final push,” said general manager Sandra Russo-Driska. “We’re looking at maybe November.”
Crews are finalizing the wall and ceiling details, painting and staining woodwork before moving in tables, chairs, kitchen equipment and lighting fixtures.
Szewczyk met with plumbing and boiler experts and award-winning chef Van Hurd was expected later in the afternoon to discuss the menu and operating procedures.
Taino, at 1388 E. Main St., has an indoor wood-fired grill, the first in New England, Russo-Driska said. It will also have enough seating for 260 people in the marketplace, dining and bar areas.
All diners entering the front door are greeted by the marketplace. It is less formal than the other dining areas but is highlighted by the large stone fire pit, where meat is cooked and served. A large community buffet bar is also included in the space and picnic tables provide informal seating. A tribal symbol decorates the wall.
The new restaurant, like an existing Middletown location, is named after the Taino tribe, one of the indigenous people of the Caribbean and reportedly among the first to barbecue.
There are alcoves for private dining in booths in the formal dining area. The open kitchen is on display to give diners a bit of “theater” with their meal.
The bar area features stained wood cabinetry and a lounge area with couches and a large fireplace. There is room for private parties.
“He is pushing forward and they are making great progress. The interior details are in the works,” said City Planner Robert Seale.
"It will focus on hospitality, quality and theater," Russo-Driska said.
This restaurant will be dry aging prime steaks and will produce its own charcuterie, smoked meats, ice cream, canned goods, and cheese. The restaurant is expected to employ 50 plus workers when fully operational, she said.
Szewczyk said last year, his goal was to make Taino Prime "the best smokehouse in the country."
"So the vision is pretty much to make it a tri-state area destination," he said.
Chef Hurd grew up in Texas and competed in the sixth season of Gordon Ramsay's cooking competition series, Hell's Kitchen. His mother, Luna Vachon, is well-known for her time as a WWE wrestler.
Previously, Hurd has worked as executive chef of Sayulita, a popular Mexican restaurant in Glastonbury, and as chef at Riverhouse Catering in Cheshire.
Construction on the 10,000-square-foot restaurant has taken more than two years. Scheduling issues among the various contractors caused most of the delay. Plans for an outside patio, similar to the one Taino built in Middletown will have to wait until after opening.
“When you’re doing a project this massive, coordination is huge,” Russo-Driska said. “We’re really pushing hard now.”
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