Northeast Florida’s Fresh, Tri-City Feast
BY: Mary Luz Mejia
We know, the hot-shot chefs in the state of Florida usually make Miami and it’s party-centric South Beach their go-to destination. Tampa and Orlando get their share of the action too, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t tell you about what’s happening in Florida’s historic coast. We’re talking about the tasty trifecta of the continent’s most historic city, St. Augustine, followed by Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville. Here are some of our favorites for the entire family (imagine eating “grown up” fare with your kids and not having to go solely with Kiddie Menu options for them!) that put fresh, Florida seafood and local produce, front and center.
Candy Apple Cafe, Jacksonville
Walk into the Technicolour, wonderful world of Jacksonville’s “Best New Restaurant 2015,” and you’ll be enchanted with its Alice In Wonderland ambiance. Sit in an oversize, wing-back chair and order seasonally-fresh, comfort food like the Rock Shrimp Louie salad, complete with buttery little gem lettuce, a soft boiled egg and a scattering of sweet rock shrimp with a side of house-made Thousand Island dressing. Our little one enjoyed her grilled cheese on thick, bakery bread with veggies on the side. After lunch, head over to the co-joined Sweet Pete’s for a treat to-go.
Sweet Pete’s, Jacksonville
If time permits, take a candy making class and see how the pro’s hand craft hard candies from scratch. You’ll walk out with your own, jumbo-sized lollipop, a clutch of pillow-shaped candies and a sugar rush par excellence. Our four year old thought this was the most magnificent thing since Elsa shot ice out of her magical hands. Don’t forget to savor the Willy Wonka-like candy shop’s gourmet chocolate offerings including classic malt balls or the more adventurous chocolate dipped potato chips!
Corner Taco, Jacksonville
In Jacksonville’s Five Points neighbourhood, this former food truck now has a bricks-and-mortar home that brings in the crowds, especially at lunch time. That’s in large part due to classically trained chef Chris Dickerson’s vision. He takes his traditional culinary prowess to give his dishes what he calls “street refined” flair. Don’t miss the seared Florida grouper tacos crowned with crisp shredded cabbage, cilantro and lime crema on fresh corn tortillas. The yucca fries with their creamy dipping sauce is another must-try!
Maple Street Biscuits, Jacksonville
Nothing says southern goodness like a freshly baked biscuit. For a delicious example, order up the The Garden Bird with the southern favorite: fried chicken draped over a flaky biscuit , topped with a fried egg and accompanied by collard greens and a splash of hot sauce. Wash it down with a hot cup of Red Leaf Roaster’s Dark Bark, single origin café from Colombia, with its earthy, smoky notes. Still hungry? Don’t miss the sweet cinnamon bun-like biscuit to book end your meal. Now you’re ready for a walk in the eatery’s pretty San Marcos neighborhood.
Aviles Restaurant and Lounge at the Hilton Historic Bayfront, St. Augustine
Chef Chris Proulx is a local celebrity, winning regional food challenges and competitions with his inventive, full-flavoured takes. At the Spanish-inflected Aviles Restaurant and Lounge, you can’t go wrong with the seared scallops in a cilantro, lime vinaigrette served with crispy plantain chips. His little-neck clams steamed with Spanish brewed beer and a fresh salsa verde also hit the spot. And locally caught Florida Mahi-Mahi or the day’s freshest catch bathed in a mojo de ajo (garlic sauce) is a sure bet too!
Palm Valley Fish Camp, Ponte Vedra
Not all fish camps are created equal. This one, however, is definitely worth seeking out. Located on Marker 32 on the Intracoastal by Ponte Vedra Beach, the Groshell family welcomes locals and visitors with fresh seafood in a friendly, casual eatery with a stellar view of the water. Start with an order of Abaco conch fritters with lemon aioli and follow that up with fresh Baja style cod fish tacos topped with salsa fresca and adobe sour cream. Looking for a southern classic? Get the fish camp shrimp with the gooiest, cheesiest grits south of Mason Dixie line.
Thank us later.