63 Sovereign is really fucking special. Pardon my french, my friend, but this is serious business and requires strong language. I’ve got a soft spot for dreamers, especially when it comes to restaurants, and the owners of 63 Sovereign—Robyn Lafferty, Ryan Truong, and Brandon Sheppard—are dreamers. I’m a tiny bit infatuated with them and what they’re doing in that sweet little blue house at 63 W. Granada. Don’t tell them I said that. They’ll think I’m weird. It started with Ryan and Brandon, who are lifelong best friends and grew up in the area. They wanted to open a restaurant and did a few pop-up dinners a couple of years ago, and showed off their food at the Taste of Ormond food fest. I went to a couple of the pop-ups, and I was impressed, and I’ve been following them religiously on social media since, waiting for them to open their own place.
Robyn grew up in Flagler, ran Virgola (in the same space that 63 Sovereign is in now), and got hooked on their food at the Taste of Ormond. Then she met Brandon. I don’t want to get cheesy here, but there was a love connection and they’re doing the thing that Robyn, in her own words, said “you are not supposed to do.” Open a restaurant with your boyfriend and his best friend. Or your best friend and his girlfriend. Or your best friend and your girlfriend. You can almost hear Gordon Ramsey yelling about idiot sandwiches in an episode of Kitchen Nightmares just picturing this scenario.
The world is filled with people who dreamed of opening a restaurant and fucked it up. These three are not those people. They are doing it as right as they possibly can, even though anyone who has ever owned a restaurant or worked in one will tell me I’m wrong. I’m not wrong. No investors. Just themselves. They all work regular jobs (I am tired just thinking about it) and also run this restaurant. They value each other and their relationships with each other as much as they value doing well at this venture. They have a schedule and they support each other and they have a massive group text thread and emails and a complicated shared Google calendar and they are getting it done. It’s goddamn inspirational. Long story short—Robyn closed Virgola, and the three of them decided to combine their visions and open 63 Sovereign together in its place.
I was alerted to this when the Instagram page devoted to the pop-up dinners changed names from Bambu to 63 Sovereign. And then I watched, from back home in Chicago where I spend the summers, as they documented the journey of changing the space to suit their vision. The late nights sanding, staining, and assembling tables. The painting of walls. The placement of the oyster bar. The installation of a kitchen that could handle what they wanted to do. The transformation of the back and side yards and front porch into a welcoming outdoor seating area.
I was first able to visit in November when I came down for Humid Being’s launch party. I had a couple friends visiting me, and we went to 63 Sovereign two nights in a row. Because the first night wasn’t enough. I literally just got halfway through this piece about a restaurant and haven’t yet mentioned the food. I should be flogged.
Y’all, the food. There’s nothing like it around here. I love coming down to Ormond Beach for about half of every year, and I’m incredibly privileged to be able to do this thing that makes most of my friends at home hate me, but aside from a handful of favorites (Rose Villa, Salty Farms, to name just a couple), I miss the incredible variety of food, of really good, imaginative, and beautifully prepared and served food I can get in Chicago.
SEASONAL MENUS, my friends! Being able to go to a place and find new things on the menu that weren’t there when you visited the month before! Vibrant, flavorful dishes prepared and plated beautifully! This is delicious art you can eat.
There are a couple holdovers from the Virgola experience. The charcuterie platter at 63 Sovereign is a dream. You could, conceivably, come here just for that and a couple glasses of wine, and plan to leave but then you will decide to stay because you’ll see someone at an adjacent table digging into the rich and meaty Ropa Vieja and you will end up staying for that. And then you’ll order some of the Bao Buns. And then the cannoli. (The desserts change a lot—but the cannoli have been on the menu every time I’ve been and you should order them. Also get the mini cheesecakes if they have them. And get the peanut-butter pie if they have that. Order all of the desserts that they have to offer. Don’t worry about being too full. You can shove more in there, I promise. Thank me later.)
The salmon carpaccio. It melts. Or a special I had on my first trip—a scallion pancake better than any scallion pancake I’ve had in Chicago’s Chinatown, transformed into a pizza of sorts with shrimp on top, and a delectable sauce. Or the Leslie Chow—a chicken and kimchi fried rice holy heaven. Get the fritters. Dig into the tuna poke. Eat all of it. The double-fried crispy chicken wings will ruin you for any other chicken wings. The eggplant sandwich will transform you, or at least your opinion of eggplant.
Have you ever been to a restaurant and been served by someone who not only loves the food, but believes in it? Have you ever had a server describe a dish to you and even though it’s something you’d never normally order, you find yourself salivating and you say “Yes, that, bring me that. I want that. Bring it now. Please.” That’s Mary Beth. Mary Beth should be serving chef Erin DiSciorio’s food in a restaurant in an expensive city that you had to get a reservation for six months in advance. Mary Beth could describe a platter of poo to me and I’d probably order it. And if Erin cooked it, I’d probably eat it.
There’s no poo on the menu at 63 Sovereign. But there are fresh vegetables and garnishes grown in Erin’s garden.
They switch things up on Test Kitchen Tuesdays, which are devoted to throwing the menu out the window and trying something even more different than what they’re already offering. They’ve done Ramen, they’ve featured dishes full of slow-roasted meat. January is Philly cheesesteak versus French Dip. In addition to the showcased item, they do five rotating appetizers.
That, my friends, is how you keep a menu fresh and exciting.
You can find 63 Sovereign at 63 W. Granada in Ormond Beach
Website is www.63Sovereign.com for more info and a peek at the menu.