photography by Kim Billingsley
Food lovers with voracious appetites are always on the lookout for new restaurants, hungry for dishes that excite the palate but also ring familiar. At Tapas on York, a hidden gem in Jamison, Chef Ernie Pio and partner Tina Kelly offer an American interpretation of Spanish tapas-style dining that offers the best of both worlds. There, guests can partake in the “small plates” trend, exploring a host of delicious dishes that are often made with only a few simple ingredients.
Pio is no stranger to the art of crafting impeccable culinary creations. Between his 15-year former ownership of the Twisted Gourmet in Fort Washington and his formal training from the Culinary Institute of America in all global cuisines, it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about fine dining. Kelly has also established her roots in the culinary industry as a self-trained chef and under the meticulous guidance of Pio. More so, she brings to the table— both figuratively and literally—her catering expertise from her self-started company, Lynchino’s Catering. Together, she says, they are a “food force to be reckoned with.”
When they opened Tapas on York, Pio and Kelly sought to fill a void in the community, catering to the demands of the ever-changing American diet. The menu items range from Pio’s famous Jambalaya- inspired meatballs to seared tuna medallions to vegetable-based dishes for those who follow a meatless diet. Although it has long been known as a destination for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the restaurant also expands its offerings to include an extensive Sunday brunch.
“Chef Pio envisioned the restaurant, and he wanted to establish something different in the area that didn’t already exist,” Kelly notes. “Jamison didn’t have anything of this sort. We’re a community with a lot of pizza restaurants and places for quick dinners. Chef Pio wanted to design a restaurant that was a little more upscale, but also casual and comfortable.”
All About Variety
Tapas-style cuisine dates back to the 13th Century, to the days of Spain’s King Alfonso X of Castile, though it has evolved considerably in the years since. Pio and Kelly have continued this tradition of evolution by putting an Americanized twist on tapas: filet tips wrapped in bacon; creamy apple onion soup; and Cajun mushroom caps, to name just a few of Tapas on York’s signature dishes. All dishes are made from scratch, and Kelly says the restaurant uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.
When asked how Kelly and Pio decided on Americanized tapas as their cuisine of choice, Kelly puts it this way: “We wanted to bring a new concept to Jamison, without focusing on Spanish-style cuisine. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to one area of cuisine.”
While most tapas restaurants focus on a certain region or style, Tapas on York likes to break past those boundaries. With Pio’s expertise in Southern and Southwestern cuisine and Kelly’s reputation for crafting homemade gnocchi, guests find abundant options from around the globe.
“Both myself and Pio enjoy a dining experience where we can share food and sample a variety of things, and at Tapas on York, you can sample a variety of cuisines from different regions,” Kelly says. “Our goal was to create an atmosphere where people could come in and try different foods, instead of being committed to one entrée. Here, they can order three or four tapas plates.”
In addition, the restaurant offers an experience guests aren’t likely to find elsewhere— namely, taking a seat at a communal table that ensures patrons leave with much more than just a full belly.
“Those who’ve sat at our communal table generally leave as friends at the end of the night, or have even made a future business connection, but we also get to know the people because of our open kitchen layout,” Kelly says. “With the whole idea of sharing, people seem to have gravitated towards that idea of being able to share and sample multiple plates, at an affordable price.”
Above and Beyond
At its core, Tapas on York is a community that extends beyond the walls of their quaint Jamison restaurant. Kelly, who forged a career in catering prior to joining forces with Pio, has brought her passion for hosting large events into the mix at Tapas on York. From intimate weddings and birthdays to larger corporate happenings, Kelly foresees a bright future in catering.
“There’s a common misconception that with tapas-style cuisine, you’ll be hungry an hour later due to the smaller portions,” Kelly explains. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. With us, we go overboard on the food no matter what event we do. We find that our customers are thrilled at the end of their event because they had something that they really loved, and we came up with highly unique ways to display and prepare the food.”
Unlike most other restaurants that offer catering services, Kelly says there’s one aspect in particular that differentiates Tapas on York from the rest: There’s no set menu.
“We want to cater to your event and want it to be about what you want,” she adds. “Most caterers will provide only a few set options—rather, we ask what it is you would like and more importantly, what your budget is. Surprisingly, most people have an idea of what it is that they want.”
While prospective clientele can peruse a generalized catering menu online—Kelly says it’s strictly for generating ideas and to estimate the quantity of food needed per event—the cuisine can be tailored to nearly any dietary preference and budget. For those seeking out specialized options, Kelly often suggests to clients that they offer several “outside of the box” food stations.
“For instance, we offer a Mediterranean station for Mediterranean cuisine, and a seafood station, which has a variety of seafood available to patrons,” she adds. “The crab cake sauté station has been a huge hit as well.”
When guests take a seat at Tapas on York, they can feel, see and taste the devotion Pio and Kelly have given to the art of tapas. Whether they’re out for a night with close friends or planning an upcoming group celebration, Tapas on York welcomes guests to participate in what is likely to be a truly unique experience.
“Our willingness to go above and beyond is evident in every dish or event that we do; we can adapt an existing recipe, if need be,” Kelly says. “Our clientele inspires us to always take on the challenge.”
Tapas on York
2244 York Road | Jamison, Pa.