Chef Jose Miguel Melendez applied for one of the original kitchen spots at the Ohio City Galley, making it all the way to the final round before losing out. Two years later, he’s preparing to open a restaurant there after all, one that builds upon his experience as a catering chef with Latin roots. The business, Twisted Taino
, is the first to join Victor Searcy Jr. at what is now referred to as “Sauce the City Galley” (1400 W. 25th St.) since that chef took over management of the space and reopened his signature fried chicken concept.
“It’s definitely crazy,” says Melendez. “The food wasn't as defined at the moment. I understood that I had to put more work into it. After I did a couple pop-up restaurants I was able to actually see what dishes work and what dishes didn’t.”
Opening in about two weeks, Twisted Taino is a quick-serve eatery that takes influence from various Latin cuisines, according to the chef.
“Taino is the name of the Caribbean natives, which us Puerto Ricans identify with a lot,” he explains. “Twisted because my cuisine is derived from Puerto Rican, Colombian, Mexican and some Jamaican and Cuban in there as well. It’s a combination of flavors.”
At numerous pop-up events, Melendez expanded and refined his menu to the point it is today. It ranges from smaller items like empanadas, gourmet tacos and Cuban sandwiches to “heavy hitters” like the mofongo bowl, a combination of mashed yucca and plantain stuffed with “Puerto Rican fried rice” and a choice of roast pork, chicken, steak or shrimp. The Bandeja Criolla is a hunger-slaying platter loaded with roast pork, chicharron, tostones and yucca fries.
Best-sellers, adds Melendez, are bound to be the Twisted Fries, tater tots topped with guajillo pork roast, and the mofongo burger, which swaps the bread for buns fashioned from mofongo. Twisted Taino also will prepare Puerto Rican-style tropical fruit frappes.
The chef says that the spot at the Galley is “a step to a bigger picture.” He will continue operating his successful catering company and is in the process of opening a full-service restaurant.
As for the Galley, Searcy says that he is in talks with a sushi chef to claim another spot.