by Lori Allen
My Wandering Fork; foodie blog
Ember & Iron
60 Shoppes Boulevard, #80
St. Johns, Fl 32259
We've got a new place in town and boy have they stepped it up a notch! Ember& Iron is a must-try! Chef Mike and wife Brittany have created a restaurant that I like to refer to as Casual Chic. This is a restaurant where you can feel the cool vibe but yet it's not overly formal. It has a bar area that is lively and filled with unanticipated bar brands. It’s a place where you can share laughter, friendship, sumptuous meals, amazing hand-crafted cocktails all within a stylish comfortable atmospheric surrounding.
So my friends and I jumped at a chance to see what all the commotion was about! Drinks first! The cocktail that caught my attention was the “Real Housewife of SJC”, named after our county! Of course, they know what they are doing because this cocktail is light and effervescent made with gin a splash of bubbly and sweetened with orange and hibiscus. It is so refreshing and makes it a perfect accompaniment to their super fresh raw oysters. These oysters have a lemon zest champagne mignonette poured over them so when slurped (yes, the only way) down you taste the saltiness of the oysters, the sour of the lemon, and when washed down with a sip of the sweet tingling RHSJC. You can’t go wrong!
Another great oyster/drink combination I tried was the Not Your Average Margarita. This delicious concoction is made with tipplers orange liqueur, hibiscus, and smoked sea salt. (Note that none of the mixers are store-bought everything is made from scratch) along with their roasted oysters topped with this ingredient they called preserved lemon which is really cool, kind of like dried lemon candied bits along with an herbal horseradish butter giving it just the right amount of bright lemony, salty, and bitterness.
We then decided to go for the cornbread because it seemed like a non-traditional kind of appetizer. And because this place is known for its rustic yet elegant fair using their custom oak burning grill, it’s got to be good right?? And it was. The cornbread came out piping hot right from the flames, served in a cast-iron skillet (which we all know keeps all the flavors within), and served with three different spreads, honey butter, pepper jelly, and a sweet jam. I slathered the honey butter on the warm cornbread and popped it into my mouth. It was the best fluffiest, sweetish cornbread with the creamiest of honey butter! Yum! The pepper jelly was equally as good, adding just the right amount of sweet heat. Of course, I did wash it all down with another one of their specialty cocktails called the ‘Honey I'm Not Coming Home’ cocktail created with Rye (I know I’m not a Rye kinda girl either, but this combination was great!) honey and cream. The cornbread was sort of like an adult milk and cake combination and who doesn’t like that??
I could not wait to try the beet salad. I am all about a beet (I used to steal all the marinated beets out of the fridge from my mom) and love to see what different twists chefs can create. This one had ember roasted beets (of course), goat cheese, and cashews- which I found very unusual all atop of some peppery arugula tossed with a tart sherry vinaigrette. So you got the earthiness of the beets, creaminess of the goat cheese, nuttiness all mixed together with the peppery tartness. Such a unique and tasty combination!
Cesar was also selected and of course, this chef knew how to amp it up a bit. The romaine is grilled on the ember fire (and if you never have had grilled romaine this is a must for you!) Garlicky dressing draped over the leaves and sundried tomato pesto on the side for dipping into. Delish!
For some reason, I was craving something from my roots so I went with the Lobster mac and cheese. Beyond creamy with its 5 cheese sauce and yet still infused with flavor from the sea. Ooey, gooey with chunks of lobster just what I was looking for. Pretty darn close to a dish made from my New England hometown.
Hanger Steak was the next thing I managed to get my wandering fork into. Coming straight off of that ember flame it had the seared charr grilled outside and yet perfectly medium-rare inside. The chimichurri served with this added that herbaceous tang to each bite and the crispy fried rosemary potatoes were so good you couldn't stop eating them!
Their signature dish buttermilk marinated roasted chicken is not your ordinary chicken. The way they marinated it makes the chicken so fork tender, yet you still have the crispy skin on the outside from the fire grill. It is then stuffed with grilled lemon, roasted pepper, and herbs which create each bite drenched in flavor. With a choice of two sides, I highly recommend the beef dripping fries. I was so surprised when I ordered these thinking that they would come with some sort of gravy on top, NOPE! These fries I am guessing are deep-fried with a combination of canola oil and beef drippings giving them extra crispiness yet a beefy flavor. Ingenious! Trust me you won’t be able to stop delving into these!
Chef Mike said he is inspired by all the memories he made cooking with his grandma and grilling over an open flame with his family. He also loves to experiment with fresh seasonal veggies. You can taste the heart and soul that he puts into each dish meanwhile enjoying Brittany’s casual chic ambiance.
by Lori Allen, Local Foodie and Author of the blog... My Wandering Fork
Photo courtesy of the Tini Martini Bar
So for our last issue of what has been an unprecedented year 2020 in our lives, I’ve chosen to share with you my special holiday traditions in our beautiful city. Over this past year, we have learned to adjust and find the little glimmers of light and hope wherever we can. St Augustine Nights of Lights is one of those wonders that provide me with that very glimmer. It is one of the most stunning and spectacular sights and I feel so very fortunate to be able to view it year after year. People in the past have come in droves from all over the world just to see what we get to see for two magical months. This year might be a year of limitations but the city will not be any less spectacular. It is not just the twinkling bright white lights that make it so wonderful but you can hear the laughter, smell the aromas and feel the holiday spirit in the air.
Christmas spirit - The code of generosity, kindness, and charity toward others is enforced by no one other than ourselves. There are places where this code is strong, and these places (or people) are said to have strong Christmas spirit.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine provides that place for me. We love to visit this church to light a candle in remembrance of our family that we have lost and say a special Christmas prayer/wish to them to let them know that they have not been forgotten. For some reason, the ritual of lighting the candle gives a tiny bit of comfort and envelops our hearts which brings on the Christmas spirit. Afterward, as we step outside of the church we are immediately immersed in all the beautiful twinkling white lights, it's breathtaking!
The next stop is the Tini Martini bar (24 Avenida Menendez St. Augustine 32084 (904) 263-4882) located on the veranda of the Casablanca Inn on the bay front. We love to take a moment and enjoy and this is the perfect spot to sit among the thousands of twinkling lights as well as sipping a martini of course. One of my favs is the Sparkling Raspberry which has raspberry vodka, Chambord, cranberry juice and LaMarca Prosecco float. The combination of raspberry and cranberry along with a little bubbly is truly a festive cocktail! My hubby loves the Tahiti Tini (I think he wishes he was in Tahiti during the holidays- don’t we all?) Between the mango vodka, banana liqueur a little grapefruit to round out the sweetness one sip of this and you are immediately taken away to the islands. I love that this place does not skimp, you get the entire shaker left with you to refill as you wish!
Dinner is at Pizzalley's Chianti Room (60 Charlotte St St. Augustine, FL 32084 P: 904-825-4100) It is one of the only 20 restaurants to receive the National Award of Excellence from the American Culinary Federation across the country. You will know you have found the right spot when your nose hits the door and all the aromas of garlic, tomato sauce, and simmering herbs and spices fill your senses. I love that you can sit right up front and watch the chefs prepare all the enticing foods. There are so many dishes to choose from, like the lobster ravioli stuffed with chunks of juicy main lobster then smothered with a creamy crabmeat roasted pepper sauce or their Mediterranean chicken topped with tangy feta, black olives, and fresh homemade bruschetta. Of course, their Pizza is excellent as well. The dining experience is so warm and friendly that it really gives you that festive holiday feeling. There can be a wait during the holiday rush so they provide you with a text when your table is ready. This always works well for us because we like to try out the next place before our meal.
The Rendezvous Restaurant - Beers of the world (106 St George St. St Augustine 904-824-1090)
This truly is a hole in the wall but such a unique gem. Any local can tell you where it's at and it is a must-stop for us on our holiday trek. They have so many unusual and exotic beers from around the world that there is no way I could name them all! They are constantly bringing in new ones so you never know what else you may want to try.
The staff is so knowledgeable and will tell you all about the beers and even pour them into the proper glass. Different beers need room to breathe to get the most hops and flavor out of them so the glass is important. Sometimes we try and find a beer that’s the furthest away like Africa and other times we let the staff know our likes and go with their suggestions. We have tried some with caramel flavor that had very little fruit from the hops but actually picks up more of the hop bitterness especially in the aftertaste. And some that had a more subtle hop flavor picking up some grapefruit tones. We even love the traditional German beers which are light and crisp. I had to laugh at this one they had on tap one time…Blue Point Toxic Sludge Black IPA but I wasn’t ambitious enough to get it…maybe you should give it a try!
Did someone say dessert? After admiring the sparkling beautiful lights or possibly taking a Trolley Ride we are ready for a sweet treat. Depending on our mood and if we have the time to relax and enjoy a nice glass of wine or cocktail. Old City House (115 Cordova Street St. Augustine, FL 32084T: (904) 826-0113) is where we will be. They prepare this baked Apple dessert that puts any apple pie to shame. Light flakey buttery crust wrapped around a semi-tart grannie smith apple stuffed with all the cinnamon, cloves and other holiday spices then baked and served piping hot along with some rich cream. You really will be in the Christmas spirit after one mouthful of the oozing apple goodness. Another option is their crème Brule that is so creamy it will glide across your tongue. Yum!
If we are short on time we will head over to Cousteau’s Waffle and Milkshake Bar. (15 Hypolita St, St Augustine, Fl 32084 (904) 342-5627)Their sweet and chewy waffles are made in-house from dough filled with Belgian pearl sugar, then cooked and caramelized made fresh to order on their hot cast iron press. They have some fun and flavorful toppings such as candied pecans, candied bacon, fresh berries, and homemade marshmallow fluff! My son is all about the Ping Island milkshake. It is made with vanilla soft serve, peanut butter, chocolate sauce, marshmallow fluff, and graham cracker crumbs. The smile on his face when they serve him says it all! (Merry Christmas to me!) My hubby on the other hand prefers a more “grownup” milkshake...if there is such a thing. He gets Air Kentucky. Which is made with butter pecan soft serve, real maple syrup, candied pecans topped with Bourbon whipped cream. It’s nutty and sweet all rolled into one fantastic milkshake!
So after our Christmas tour and food coma, we stumble on home. But we know that we will be back, for there are endless places to try and experience all while enjoying the stunning Nights of Lights.
Happy Holidays to you all and may you and your families be safe during the holiday season and especially safe during this pandemic. Hug your loved ones even if it’s virtually. Life is oh so short!
Now that's a stimulus package!
Social unrest, the pandemic, job losses across the state of Florida. As we get closer to the holidays, we all need something to look forward to.
That’s why Action News Jax and Bozard Ford Lincoln of St Augustine are joining forces to give you the chance to win a 2 year lease on either a Ford F-150 pickup truck, or a Lincoln Aviator SUV! “We wanted to do something big and positive, as a way to say goodbye to 2020 and welcome in 2021,” said Craig Davenport,
Director of Marketing for CBS47 and FOX30. “Bozard Ford Lincoln is one of our Family Focus community partners, and we enjoy working with them because they are so involved with giving back to the St Johns community. So, when we approached them about this idea, they were all in.”
Bozard has been busy lately, adding a new Lincoln Showroom to their St Augustine dealership, as well as opening the much anticipated new Ford’s Garage Restaurant, described as a neighborhood burger and beer joint with the vibe of a 1920’s service station complete with vintage Ford vehicles, gas pumps and fixtures. With seating inside as well as outside, it’s a dining experience everyone is talking about!
“We’re excited to be a part of this giveaway contest with Action News Jax,” said Jeff King, Vice President & General Manager of Bozard Ford Lincoln. “We understand that 2020 has been a challenging year for many, so to have the chance to drive away in a new vehicle, or to come in and have lunch or dinner with the family on us, we’re more than happy to provide that.”
In addition to the vehicle giveaway, every day on Action News Jax This Morning, two people will have a chance to win a $100 gift card and basket to Ford’s Garage!
The “Drive and Dine Giveaway” starts on Monday, October 26th and runs through November 25th. Every weekday morning, between 6:30am and 7am, watch for the “word of the day” on CBS47 and FOX30 Action News Jax and text the word to 46757 for your chance to win. For additional information and for the official rules for the contest, visit actionnewsjax.com
Safe & Delicious Dining during Covid-19
by Lori Allen, Local Foodie
Who has the best take out? Isn't that the question of the year? With Covid-19 and social distancing Take Out business is booming and rising. But who does it better? I know for myself there is nothing worse than the anticipation of arriving home with a meal you have been dreaming about all day only to end up with a flavorless, lackluster soggy mess.
During this time my experiences have varied so I'll talk about the good ones. St. Mary's seafood offered up a family meal of 50 fried shrimp along with 4 sides for $25. We found that the shrimp were crispy and plentiful. They had the ingenious idea of putting tin foil in the Styrofoam container that not only kept the shrimp warm but crispy as well. Usually the Styrofoam steams up inside when fried hot food is placed in it. Then you get the condensation which causes the fried food to become soggy. Using tin foil decreases the condensation and so you arrive home with nice crispy fried foods. The sides are all placed in individual containers and you have some great choices such as creamy coleslaw, rice pilaf and I personally love their fried squash it’s a bit more but worth it! So what have you seen as far as take out fried foods? Are there any restaurants that follow this simple but great concept??
I think Italian places like Benito’s, Maggiano's and Vito’s just to name a few are pros at getting the take out meal right. Yes the containers are not microwavable but I think that it is so worth it! The food keeps warm longer in those tins and you can easily heat them up in the oven. To me heating the food up this way makes it taste as if you were sitting in the actual restaurant but instead you are sitting in the comfort of your home. So it’s a win win situation. Maggiano's even goes as far as putting the reheating directions right on the top of the containers. Brilliant!
I recently ordered Hurricanes on County Rd 210 Taco Tuesday to go. I was pleasantly surprised that they had taken the time to separate my tacos and put the sauces on the side so that when I got home I was able to reheat and add the sauce on top. I had the Baja fish taco, and banging shrimp taco. Both had just the right amount of heat along with a cool creamy sauce and the tortilla was soft and not soggy. At a discounted price you can’t go wrong. Great job!
Have you had any take out and were pleasantly surprised?
So how about outdoor dining or as us foodies like to call it Alfresco! Isn’t the key to dining outdoors is to provide us with a safe environment as well as delicious food?? I have been searching and researching and have found a multitude of places that advertise that they are taking precautions, here just a few.
Bartram Walk is a great place to head to for outdoor dining because you have several options and you know we all like options.
Iggy’s Grill and Bar (104 Bartram Oaks Walk #101, Fruit Cove, FL 32259) I found that the servers all wear masks and use disposable utensils and cups. Their fried shrimp is always great and they have a really nice grilled Sea Bass that is worth a try as well. Their drink specials are cold and refreshing!
Moon Dog Pie House-(116 Bartram Oaks Walk, Fruit Cove, FL 32259) has a great covered outdoor area and for me one of the best slices in town. The slices are huge, crispy on the bottom, cheesy on top and the dough is so good you actually WANT to eat the crust. These are the foldable kinds of slices, come on New Yorkers you know what I'm talking about! I also love that you can get one plain slice and one loaded down with all your favorite toppings and it won't break the bank. We recently visited there and they let us take our beers outside on the walkway while we waited for our outdoor table. Talk about hospitality, we will be back!
Vito’s Italian Restaurant (116 Bartram Oaks Walk #101, Jacksonville, FL 32259) now has outdoor tables as well. I can't help but get their garlic aioli pasta every time I go! So garlicky and light it's one of the best in town. Add a glass of their Chianti and you have an I-talian meal to die for.
On an upscale note I noticed that Black fin also has dining alfresco that is a few doors down. So the area is just filled with choices!
Many waterfront restaurants have adapted Covid-19 ways of sterilizing, social distancing and mask wearing. So why not stop on by?
Caps on the water (4325 Myrtle St, St. Augustine, FL 32084) does an excellent job of keeping us safe. You are required to wear a mask upon entering as well as be temperature screened and their staff has been trained on the covid-19 sterilization process. The restaurant boasts of fresh local seafood cooked with both southern and Mediterranean flavors. I for one love their oysters and their fish dishes which are creative and so darn fresh you would swore the fish came right from their dock!
King Fish Grill (252 Yacht Club Dr, St. Augustine, FL 32084) follows the same rules and is located just under the Vilano Bridge so the views are amazing. Their sushi and shrimp and grits dishes are stuff with flavor. And with the chef being from New England you know their clam/seafood chowdah is Top-notch.
I have heard some good things about Culinary Outfitters located by the St. Augustine shipyards. The friends that have visited have raved about the crispy deviled eggs, seafood truffle pasta, smoked wings and lobster roll. I am looking forward to trying them out soon as they too follow the Covid-19 rules and have dining alfresco!
Al fresco (outdoors) is the word…So Go! Tell me where is wonderful?
You can reply to this article at www.stjohnsmag.com/the-perfect-bite-new or visit me on Instagram at #mywanderingfork I would love to hear from you! - Lori
Stromboli, Meatballs Sicilian-Style Pizza & Nutella Gelato
12795 San Jose Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32223
by Lori Allen
Stromboli is made up of dough shaped into an elongated rectangle, then rolled to create a long skinny and cylindrical shape. It is typically made with low moisture mozzarella cheese which helps the interior dough to cook fully and you can add in any of your favorite meats and veggies or just cheese works as well. The difference between a calzone and Stromboli is that a calzone is generally a single serving, half circle shape and it contains ricotta whereas a Stromboli does not. The Stromboli was named after the Italian isle of Stromboli and on that island there is a giant volcano called Mt. Stromboli.
At Zulos their Stromboli is ginormous and comes out all ooey gooey! It is baked in a handmade customized brick oven (gas vs flame) which makes it crusty on the outside and soft and fluffy on the in. Along with this masterpiece you get a side of their homemade sauce (gravy as the Italians call it) which is made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, spices and other fresh ingredients that gives it a rich robust tomato flavor. Tear off a piece of the baked cheese dough and dip it into the “gravy” and you will have a true Italian experience!
I love meatballs and it is difficult for me to find ones that come close to my Italian roots. At Zulos I found that they were made with just the right meat combination and enough garlic to satisfy even my tastes. The key I think is that they use their custom oven to cook them in. This gave them a nice sear so they are firm on the outside and tender on the in. Mama Mia! So good.
Sicilian style pizza is also on the menu. This type of pizza is vastly different than regular pizza. The dough is made with more oil and looks fluffy and heavy like brick. The bottom technically gets fried. I found it to be light and airy on the inside and crispy on the out. If you like thick pizza you need to give this a try!
Speaking about dough, Zeppolos is what I like to call the Italian version of the New Orleans beignet. They are hand rolled made to order deep fried dough. Powdered sugar is then sprinkled gingerly adding just the right amount of sweetness to the dough. I rarely find these down south so I was delighted to try them. You can have them as an appetizer or as desert. I decided to have them to start and take the remaining ones home to my family. They came out piping hot and smelled sooooo good. I waited just a few seconds for them to cool then popped one in my mouth..the next thing I knew a second one found its way into my belly as well. I had to stop so that I didn’t eat them all before I got them home!
As everyone knows Nutella is as Italian as it gets for that rich dark creamy chocolaty hazel nutty snack. Have you ever tried Nutella Gelato? This is the best of both worlds, you have the coolness of the gelato and creaminess of the Nutella all scooped into one. And as an added bonus it's less calories than ice cream so go ahead and finish your meal with a scoop. You won’t be disappointed!
Tony and Madeline Mazulos i.e. Zulos are the real gems of this restaurant. They greet you with such genuine warmth and smiles that you instantly feel like famiglia!
*Outdoor seating is available as well as live music on Wednesdays and during the weekends.
by Lori Allen
Ok so let’s face it as much as we would like to be dining out during this time instead we are all cooking and experimenting at home. So why not try something different and exciting??! FreshJax organic spices have come up with some really great combinations of seasonings for all kinds of foods. Their seasonings are made by hand in small batches using only organic spices, herbs, and salts but more importantly it’s the incredible flavor that makes these so good. Anyone that knows me knows I love to hit the salt shaker to enhance my food but there is no need with these gems. They provide enough salt and seasoning even for me!
For my first try I was working on cooking up some “healthy baked fries”. I had researched some recipes (because what else is there to do during this stay at home time?) And all of them suggested using cayenne to give the fries that extra flavor without being fried. So I cut up some fresh potatoes, let them soak for a bit so that the starch gets removed which results in a crispier fry. Dried them off, and then tossed them in some EVO and FreshJax Peppered habanero seasoning replacing the suggested cayenne. These fries baked up crispy and the peppered habanero added just the right amount of heat …when I bit into them I for sure was thinking did these come from one of those fast food places? My son devoured them in minutes!
For my next blast of flavor I hit the grill and decided to try a multitude of FreshJax spices. I cut up some zucchini and summer squash then tossed them in a little EVO and used the Grillmaster seasoning on them. Grillmaster is a combination of cracked pepper, onion, garlic and fennel just to name a few of the spices. The seasoning brightened up the veggies and when grilled produced a nice flavorful char on them. Steak was next and I opted to use the Sunrise Cowgirls coffee rub. This seasoning has a 5 pepper blend, coffee, cherry wood sea salt, cocoa, ancho and chipotle along with others to create a sweet, savory complex flavor. I have used cocoa in my chili before but never on a steak so this proved to be a really nice combination. My last grilled item was some fish. Citrus Pepper blend was calling my name. After all, citrus and fish are no brainer! The seasoning enhanced the fish with zesty flavors of orange lemon and lime keeping it light and fresh.
Now that I have one of FreshJax 5 piece gift sets I can’t wait to see what other combination of food and flavors I can come up with! After all there’s no place like home especially right now and especially with these fun and inventive seasonings! Get some for your pantry and let’s see how creative you can be!
FreshJax® spices are handcrafted in Jacksonville, FL. They offer free shipping options within the US and are happy to send spices directly to your door. Their spice kitchen is not open to the public. For more information visit www.freshjax.com
by Lori Allen, Local Foodie
Looking for something different? Do you want to feel like you stepped into another part of the world? Are you a chocolate lover? How about just a delicious breakfast or lunch? Belgian Sweet house has got your name all over it! This hidden away gem is Julington Creek's best kept secret and now you are in the know!
My family loves breakfast so I decided to treat them to something authentic and unique. The atmosphere of this place is so warm and inviting. You couldn’t help but notice all the Belgian decor as well as the variety of tables, some communal and some individual. It really does have that true European vibe. We immediately started in with a Belgian coffee. The warm cup of joe is much smoother and richer than what we are used to and doesn’t require any cream at all. I got the truffle one which is beligian coffee with a truffle on the side that you can use to sweeten per your taste and my husband got the caramel one, equally as rich with a gentle note of caramel. We both thought ok there’s no reason to go back to American coffee after these!!
The boys opted for the waffles and Chantal Bierchen the owner of the Belgian Sweet house told us that she has her flour shipped over via a cargo ship from Europe. To her it is worth it because it has less gluten and bleach which makes the waffles so light, crispy and flaky! Of course my son had the Nutella and my husband opted for the fresh fruit. Both loved them! They were served with homemade whipping cream to top it all off. The shop offers some Belgian syrup that Chantal brings back from her many trips abroad that is worth a try. Absolutely nothing like our maple syrup, it has more of a date flavor vs maple. I went out of the box and tried what they call their Croque or hot sandwich which was a grilled ham and melty cheese, with a runny egg (Belgian style) bacon and more cheese on top. To add to it all it came with some creamy mushroom sauce to pour all over the sandwich. The cheese inside was so creamy, then the runny egg yok mixed in along with a spoon full of earthy mushroom sauce…a creation like no other!
Oh my! Let’s not forget the chocolates!! The truffle one for my coffee was rich deep and dark with just the right amount of bitter sweet. Balsamic that’s right balsamic was next. Who would have ever imagined those 2 together? It was dark chocolate with a creamy slightly acidic middle. The combination was so good! My son liked the next one..Ginger! A rich dark deep chocolate outside with a smooth ginger center. The ginger was slightly sweet which balanced off the chocolate.Such unusual combinations but really really good. We of course had to take a variety to take home with us. It for sure is a chocolate lovers delight in this little quaint shop, so many innovative and creative ideas! Valentines or anytime show up with these and they are sure to be a show stopper! And you will forever be loved!
Our Local Foodie Visits a New Market in Town with Holiday Party Time in Mind.
by Lori Allen
Earth Fare on CR 210 West
Its holiday party time and you are working on those ugly sweaters or searching for that sparkly red dress or both! Those last minute invites are rolling in and the panic of getting everything ready for the holiday is setting in. Well I did some fun foodie research and found a quick easy solution, Earthfare! They are known for their artificially free/no gmo foods but what I found was some really scrumptious quick pickups for the holidays.
Take the stress out of the holiday preparation and let Earthfare do the work!
Let’s start with the hot platters that are so popular at all the parties. Earth Fare offers a ton of options for example you can get bacon wrapped scallops, bacon wrapped shrimp, shrimp stuffed peppers, oysters Rockefeller, coconut curry crab cakes, sweet potatoes tornado shrimp, hatch chili crab cakes all for $1each. In 30minutes you will have a feast to serve to your guests or to put on a nice Christmas platter and off you go. You will be the hit of the party! If you are in a hurry you can grab one of their self-serve trays and create an amazing olive platter. From feta stuffed olives to olives from all around the world these would not be a disappointment on any party table. How about a cheese tray? There are so many varieties of cheese and crackers all in one spot that it would only take a few minutes to create a masterpiece. What I found that was really cool is that they offer some really nice Jams of all different varieties, what a great way to step up that cheese tray a notch! Maria one of their managers told me you can order these cheese platters and others ahead of time but even if you are last minute they can help you quickly create a beautiful charcuterie board and amaze the host. If you are like me and need a quick girls Nite munchie dish there are some premade antipasto packages that include wonderful things like 4 different kinds of salami (my fav) and even ones that have cheese, meats and olives in them! So easy and convenient.
For the sweet tooth in ya, they have macaroons which are beautiful, elegant and taste so good. As wells as a big variety of specialty small bite size cookies by the pound. You could almost pass them off as homemade! (Shhhhhhh)
Last but not least but you know me I have to throw this in….they have a very nice wine and beer selection to go with any of your goodies. But best of all they have this really cool machine that is filled with fresh oranges and makes fresh squeezed juice right then and there. It’s cool because of the way it’s designed none of the bitterness from the rinds ever get into the juice…now if that doesn’t say the best Mimosas in town I don’t know what does! Cheers and have a wonderful holiday season!
4660 US Highway 1 North, Saint Augustine, 904-377-8570
by Lori Allen
Ok so I know you must have gone by this place a million times and had various thoughts of stopping by to give it a try and then thought otherwise. I know I did and I’ve been here a long time! The place I’m talking about is the building with the big red letters HONG KONG heading towards St Augustine airport if you are going north on US1 and just past the airport if you are going south. The building doesn’t appear to be much so you think I’ll just head up US1 a little further…well you just need to put on those brakes and pull on in! If this place doesn’t say China Town, I don’t know what does! When you open the door you are immediately transported to those hidden gem, really good basement restaurants in China Town, NYC. So I thought that this would be a great place to bring our 210 tasting group. As I loaded up the van I told them that we are going to try a unique place tonight so get ready to enjoy the experience!
Our group is the sharing kind so we started off with some apps or often referred in Chinese restaurants as Dim Sum….crispy Vegetable spring rolls, shrimp dumplings, crispy roasted duck dumplings, spicy steamed pork buns and skewers. Everything was a new adventure in taste and freshness. The rolls were crisp, light and filled with fresh veggies. The dumplings were soft and melted in your mouth and the skewers had so much Chinese seasoning on the meat that kept it tender and you reaching for more.
They served us Miso and Wonton soup next. The bowls were HUGE! The miso soup came highly recommended and we all could see why. It was packed full of mushrooms, seasoned tofu and herbs all in this light delicate broth. So good! And the wonton soup was stuffed full with pork wontons and scallions that brought tons of flavors to every bite.
By this time you would have thought that we would have been full but luckily we share everything so there is always plenty of room for the more. Main dishes consisted of chicken fried rice and vegetable fried rice to start. These were not your typical fried rice dishes they both were loaded with bean sprouts, shredded cabbage, carrots, green onions and even chopped peanuts in the chicken one. This gave the rice so much more depth and richness that you could easily have just eaten this and been very satisfied. Green bean and chicken dish was next and this dish had rich dark sauce flavored with ginger, hoisin garlic with crisp snappy green beans. It was very popular but probably our favorite dish of the evening was the most unusual one, it was the pumpkin chicken. That’s right pumpkin! When combined with chicken, carrots and a light sauce it takes on the likeness of maybe a turnip but has more mild sweeter taste. I think that we all need to add pumpkin to our stir fries this fall! Who knew?? So be adventurous and stop on by…try something new or stick to your staples either way you will be enjoying some really authentic Chinese cuisine. Xiǎng!
by Lori Allen, Local Foodie
200 Anastasia Blvd.,
St. Augustine, FL 32080
Odd birds you say? Odd Birds was a Pop up Bar located at 33 Charlotte Street, but has put down its roots and is here to stay. The concept of the Odd Birds bar originated during the 450th anniversary of St. Augustine celebration when the owners created a craft cocktail bar where the rule is oddness.
I have been watching this unique craft bar blossom. You probably have walked right passed it a thousand times. But if you dared to open the door you would see this quaint little patio which leads to the bar where all the magic happens. It epitomizes the hole in the wall concept along with a friendly casual vibe.
I had heard that you just need to let the spirits designer (bartender just doesn't describe the magic these guys create) talk to you for a bit and bam! He’s creating a masterpiece for your senses. So, my not so shy self… discussed with this spirit designer all my likes and dislikes and he concocted this really cool blue drink in a juice box! It wasn’t too fruity nor too sweet, it had a little tang to it (anyone that knows me knows I like my lime!) with just the right amount of all their natural syrups and juices to make it oh so good. Back off kids, this is not your average juice box!
For my next visit I started off with one of their craft cocktails on their menu. A Ganario which is made up of rum, ginger, turmeric, lemon, simply syrup and bitters. It was light and refreshing. As I enjoyed my beverage I chatted with Scott ,the spirits designer, about all the craft cocktails and how cool it is that people are coming up with such unique cocktails. He shared with me a little secret about craft bartenders and said if you are fellow craft bartender (spirit designer) you offer them a shot of Fernet to welcome them. So of course he was kind to offer me some seeing how I was talking his ear off. This was such unique liquor that it’s entirely too hard to describe. The best I can do is Yager meets something earthy meets something medicinal. It goes down smooth and leaves this weird aftertaste. I noticed that they had several drinks made with this liquor so if you are willing, give it a try!
I ended my evening with their most popular drink, the Old Fashion. I had to laugh thinking that this drink has been around for decades. Of course Odd Birds put their spin on it with the perfect glass, cool square ice cube (so not to water it down) and just a splash of this and that to make it interesting and new again. If you are an odd bird like myself, give this place a try! Its kooky and fun!
by Lori Allen
525 State Road 16, Unit 101
Saint Augustine, Florida
So the 210Tasting Group was out and about again searching for fun unique places that put a “twist” on food and we found The Press! I had heard about their award winning burger and wanted to give it a try so we packed up and headed down to the corner of a small plaza on State Rd 16. As you walked in the aromas from the grill and the friendly smiles at the bar made you feel instantly comfortable. They have a great selection of specially selected wines and hand-crafted beer so we all grabbed a drink as we waited for our table to be ready. So you get the idea, this is not a huge place but one that smells and feels very inviting.
On to their award winning “best of” burger called The Conquistador! The description reads, "a datil pepper stuffed burger topped with bacon, chorizo, manchego, onion straws, lettuce tomato raw onion, pickles and chimichurri, all on our house made bread". So to break it down; it was a fresh made to order patty stuffed with a cream cheese and datil pepper(medium spice) mixture in the center; a Spanish, not too strong, melted cheese on top; then chopped up bacon and sausage on top of that, crisp onion straws that give a little crunch but get soft when mixed with all the cheese and creaminess that add just enough onion flavor but not too harsh; some fresh veggies on top of that to lighten it up (yeah right??); some of their homemade bread and butter pickles, then homemade chimichurri sauce consisting of parsley, garlic and vinegar, among other things, which does give it a brightness from all the rich flavors. And finally it’s all stuffed into their house made bun. It is for sure more than a mouthful but I attempted to taste all of the flavors at once and it was definitely an award winning bite!
Our group tried the Datil Burger which was a made to order patty stuffed with that creamy somewhat spicy datil pepper and scallion cream cheese served on their house made bun, so if you want to try a stuffed burger that oozes out some spicy cream cheese give this a try!
A chicken sandwich was also given a shot, but it was not your ordinary bird. Pollo Rustica was its name. Blackened chicken breast, with goat cheese, roasted peppers, and balsamic onions (yes they took the onions and marinated them til they were soft from the balsamic vinegar) then topped with their house basil dressing and of course served on the bun!
One of our adventurous girls opted to try their nightly special - Mahi Mahi Francaise with a lemon, mushroom garlic and white wine butter sauce. The fish was cooked to perfection, flaky and tender and not overly battered. The garlic lemon, wine and butter sauce added a nice zing to the fish which kept you coming back for more.
We read about their house brined fried pickles so an appetizer was ordered to share. They were the bread and butter kind not dill so they had a sweet saltiness which was so good. They came with a horseradish mustard dipping sauce that brought out even more flavor.
I know I keep talking about their bread and there is a reason. House made buns that do not get used that day are used to create this amazing white chocolate bread pudding. They serve it topped with whipped cream and a caramel sauce. It’s not the heavy kind of bread pudding you are used to, this is light and fluffy and went so fast at our table I almost didn’t get to try a bite! Luckily my wandering fork (or should I say spoon) found the last spoonful. It was the perfect bite after such a world of flavorful food!
Off The Beaten Trail
19 St George St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
by Lori Allen
I love finding off the beaten trail hidden away restaurants. Whats even more of a find is one that has been refurbished revamped and has come alive again. Milltop Tavern is just that restaurant. If you blink an eye you will pass its entrance which is right off of St. George Street in St. Augustine. Upon entering you will find a cool bar area, a place for a band and seating overlooking several courtyards. You can enjoy drinking, dining and dancing al fresco! A group of us girls tried several of their specialty drinks, the Pick me up was just that! Made with Baileys, Amaretto, half n half, coffee and all topped with whipped cream. So cool and creamy it gave you that “pick me up” to continue going the rest of the day. The other favorite was the Purple Lollipop, made with grape vodka, grenadine, blue curacao and lemonade and came with a purple sucker. So refreshing and so fun! The food has been revamped as well. The peel and eat shrimp was plump and juicy. The pretzel bites were tossed in just enough garlic and parmesan that kept you reaching for more. We were just snacking that day but my mom and I went back for dinner to give the fried shrimp a try. It had a nice light seasoned floured batter and tasted very fresh. I opted for the potato salad instead of fries and it had just the right amount of mayo, not too overpowering that you couldn’t taste the potatoes. Yum! They had a limited menu during spring break but they will have their full menu up and running in April. So if you are in the mood for some great drinks, fun, food and entertainment and want to take a break from all of the hubbub downstairs…search for the Milltop sign and head on up!
Fun facts: The Milltop was originally a gristmill, built in the 1880s. It first became a bar in the 1950s. The building was expanded in the 1970s and became known as Milltop Tavern and Listening Room. They were well known for their live music, the unique treehouse feel, and wonderful location on St. George Street. In 2016, this building required a complete renovation. Because of the historic site, the city of Saint Augustine performed an archaeological dig, and unearthed interesting items like pottery shards, a well, and even a two foot diameter gopher tortoise shell! After Hurricanes Matthew and Irma they are finally rebuilt. They were even able to salvage their Pecky Cypress paneling and reused it on the stage and bar!
by Lori Allen, Local Foodie
Here we are, out and about again and have traveled over to the Mandarin area in search of some fun food finds. Season’s Dumpling and Bakery did not disappoint. It is located in a small older shopping plaza on Old St Augustine Rd but it is relatively new and you can see at first site when entering that everything is bright, clean and modern. What first catches your eye is the dumpling making in progress right as you walk in! The kitchen is all clear glass which enables you to watch your meal making in progress. I thought it would be fun to add a twist on the Perfect Bite Foodie Blog and so the 210 Tasting Group evolved. This is a group of friends that like to eat and try new things as much as I do and give me their opinions as well. Now I get to taste even more dishes and see what other places others have found to try! This was our first adventure.
So, we all got seated and were excited to try a multitude of different things. Each girl ordered their favorite and we all shared with the group. It was a great way for everyone to try something that they may not normally try and at this place there were definitely things that I personally have not tried before!
Seeing how we are at a dumpling restaurant, the dumplings are a must of course. There were many variations to try from. So to start we ordered what they call the soup dumpling (XIAO LONG BAO). This comes in one of those metal steamer type pans and is served piping hot. So don’t be an amateur like I was and try to put one in your mouth as soon as they come out because they are hot! hot! hot!, as in heat not taste. So let them cool down just a bit before digging in. The dumpling is made out of soft wonton like dough, and there is a rich broth in there and then you have some ground pork mixed with their seasonings such as soy sauce, rice wine, cilantro, just to name a few. You just need to surrender to the aromatic symphony of the filling tickling your senses. Ok, now go ahead, slowly bite into it. An explosion of rich, steaming, hot juice oozes into the groove of your tongue, dribbling down the side of your chin, and you try to catch any escaping broth with your spoon. No, don’t just stop at one! The looks on the girls faces was priceless as they ate these. It was first curiosity then delight and then a little laugh as they wiped their chin and dug in for a second one.
On as side note, if you are curious like me…. Inside the dumpling are little pockets of gelatinized broth made from chicken, pork and cured ham. When you steam the dumpling, the broth gelatin melts which of course creates the delicious broth. Voila! Xiaolongbao, or literally, "little basket bun", is thought to have originated in Shanghai. Legend has it that its inventor was a man named Huang Mingxian, a restaurateur in Shanghai.
We also tried some of pan fried and boiled dumplings that were different than the soups ones. They did not come filled with any liquid and were created more like a pot sticker. We had some filled with pork and cabbage and beef and mushroom. Both of them had a mild seasoned meat and noodle that tasted great when dipped into some sesame oil the flavor popped. We liked the pan fried ones the best though because they came with a spicy peanut sauce over them that gave them a little extra punch.
We moved on to the buns, or Guabao. It is a flat, clam-shaped steamed white bun with soy sauce braised pork belly, pickled mustard vegetables, peanut powder, sugar, and cilantro inside. When you first bite into it you get the taste of the richness of the pork belly and the soft bun, then your taste buds move on to the brininess of the vegetables and the sweetness of the peanut powder. It’s a pretty interesting combination and works really well together.
Our favorite shareable by far was the stuffed chive pies. It took me a second to figure these out but I didn’t mind because they tasted so good! The chive that they use is much different than what we would consider a chive. The Japanese chives are big leafy greens and aren’t as bitter as our chives. They have a fresh herb taste which is tossed in some of their special spices, stuffed into some fresh wonton dough and deep fried. They kind of look like a little tart. Each mouthful is filled with the fresh herbs and seasonings and then the crunch of the wonton. Really good. We also love the Fived Spice fried Calamari. It comes tossed in a seasoned beer battered mixture then flash fried. The breading is a light and the calamari sweet and tender. They are prepared with a lot of seasoning on them so you may want to add a little duck sauce for dipping.
Veggie stir fry was the next on the menu. This is seasonal so for our dinner we got a plate of steaming baby bok choy that has been seasoned to perfection. I am not sure what their method is for adding flavor but it allows the fresh veggies to shine. This would make any vegetarian satisfied.
Even with all our appetizers and shareables we did manage to order one bowl and I was so glad we did! It was called 3 cups chicken. It was a stir fry of chicken, scallions and fresh basil. It was a bit spicy but I loved it. The chicken was coated so it held in all the different spices that they use, you could taste the sesame oil, soy sauce and some other Taiwanese spices. If I had to guess they spiced it up by using the red chili peppers that Taiwanese are famous for. When you go you will notice that there is no salt or pepper on the tables, but chili oils, sesame oils, and soy sauce to flavor and salt your dishes.
Nosey me went around and checked out several other tables and the aromas that came from all the different bowls smelled so wonderful I thought I’ll need to come back and try a rice or noodle bowl next time!
So a pleasant treat is that they have a bakery attached to their restaurant. This is so worth trying out if you want to try some authentic Japanese inspired Taiwanese-style milk toasts and buns. They only use high gluten flour to infuse protein and great texture in each loaf. Because their recipes only contain fresh ingredients it allows you to enjoy the flavor without the overpowering sense of sweetness. They use a process known as Poolish or Biga and due to their strict policies of never using chemicals or preservatives they are able to use this process to rise the dough for sixteen hours, four consecutive times, so the bread can slowly and naturally flourish. This gives the bread an incredible lightness and the soft texture and tastiness that will leave you wanting more.
Here are a few comments from The 210 Tasting group:
I loved the unique delicious flavors and extremely friendly staff, and the company of course.- Debbie G
I enjoyed trying so many different items at one time! My favorites were the soup dumplings, veggie stir fry and the stuffed chive pies!- Pat
This food was out of my comfort zone and I was pleasantly surprised with the flavors and taste. I really enjoyed the soup balls and the pork slider.- Trish
Having the opportunity to eat freshly prepared authentic Chinese cuisine is in itself a treat but nothing compares to the burst of heaven you get when you order their soup dumplings. Yum Yum!- Ali
One last thing I found very cool…they offer Dumpling classes! So you can go back and learn how to make those tasty treats all for yourself!
Just a few of our best
by Lori Allen, Local Food Blogger
Even though we may not have those freezing cold temperatures and blistery snowy we days here in Florida we still do enjoy a good cup of coffee! So I have visited a few places and thought that I would share some of them with you. I have noticed that more and more coffee houses seem to be popping up all over the place. They are also becoming more popular with the young teenager which is a great way for them to socialize in a safe environment and they really do know their coffee!
Twisted Compass Brewing Co. 585 State Road 13, Suite 101, Fruit Cove, Florida (904) 217-0916
One that has recently opened is called the Twisted Compass Brewing Co. It is located right down the street on San Jose Blvd. It is run by some fellow neighbors who have full time jobs but decided to open up a coffee house just for fun! Lucky for us they did study up and become quite knowledgeable about what it takes to make a good cup of coffee. Their beans come from Bold Bean Coffee and if anyone has been to one of their coffee houses you know it’s the “good stuff”. So many of their coffee drinks are based on how many beans are used and how much of that is diluted with either cream, or the various types of milk, soy, almond, coconut and even oat. They have really unique choices for their coffee, anywhere from twisted drip (their brewed coffee with a shot of expresso) to their Cortado which I had to give a try. A Cortado is a Spanish term for a beverage that is made up of espresso mixed with a roughly equal amount of warm milk to reduce the acidity. The milk in a cortado is steamed, but not frothy like many Italian coffee drinks. (The word cortado is part of the Spanish verb cortar (to cut), in the sense of "dilute") I had never heard of Oat milk before so I decided to go with that. My coffee was very smooth, had a somewhat nutty flavor and was served with a glass of seltzer to cleanse your palate as you drank. When you sipped your seltzer then drank the cortado you really got that rich deep flavor of the coffee and it had a natural sweetness to it so that I didn’t even need to add any sweetener. Now this type of coffee is not for everyone, but more for someone that loves expresso but wants to try something a little out of the box. I think you will really like the bold flavor along with the natural sweetness and just enough cream to make it oh so smooth. They do offer cappuccinos and lattes that are equally as delicious so of course I had to try a latte which is frothy and opted for the coconut milk. The frothy milk added just the right sweetness and it was prepared so expertly I really do think that you could compare it to any made in Italy. Twisted compass has plenty of seating and even a cute little sitting area. Some come in from the cold (haha) and relax with a nice cup of Jo!
Crucial Coffee, 26 Charlotte Street, St. Augustine, 32084, (904) 810-2080
Being a Flaglerite I have enjoyed Crucial Coffee for many years. I always bring my out of town guests here to have a well-deserved specialty coffee after shopping up and down St. George Street. It doesn’t look like much more than a Shed but what the visitors don’t know is that these handcrafted coffees are so worth the wait. My favorites are always their specials of the day. I had one called the Milky Way and it was rich dark and creamy. It still tasted like coffee but then you get an added flavor of rich chocolate which sweetens it up then drizzled with caramel and whipped cream. I mean nothing “skinny” about this one but so worth every deep rich sip and for sure gives you that added “boost” to continue shopping in all the quaint shops! The barista can customize the perfect cup of coffee for whatever you want from something peanut buttery to just good old plain coffee. They also specialize in all types of shakes and smoothies too. I like to take a few minutes and rest my weary bones in their cute little garden and watch all the wandering travelers.
St. Augustine Coffee house, 6 St. George Street.,Suite 107 Saint Augustine, Fl 32084 (904) 819-1644
So I was surfing my FB page when I came across this little place that someone had “checked in” and mentioned frozen coffees, not iced, but frozen. So after a little Bridge of Lions 5k I did with a friend we decided we had earned a “frozen coffee’ and thought we would give this place a try. We were not disappointed. The shop is tucked away off the beaten path of St. George Street towards the end in a cute little courtyard. Their coffee beans are locally roasted by Martin Coffee Company a family owned and operated establishment. They have been called “the home of really big Chocolatey muffins and Frozen Caramel Peanut butter Mochas” but because I don’t like peanut butter with chocolate (I know, non-American if you don’t like that flavor combo) I opted to change it to hazelnut. So they mixed up the coffee with some real cream and then hazelnut flavor and blended it all up until it was smooth. The coffee mixture was creamy sweet and cold, I guess you could almost call it a coffee smoothie. The cool thing about this drink is that the ice doesn’t melt down the coffee flavor so you get you coffee fix as well as something cool to drink. This coffee house unlike others offers local beer and wine as well. They make some great sangria and mimosas. So after you get your coffee fix you can start on a mimosa…or two. Enjoy!
Nationally recognized, locally owned St. Augustine Distillery launches new bourbons and gift sets for the holidays
St. Augustine, Fla. – November 8, 2018 – St. Augustine Distillery, recently voted 2018 Best Whiskey Tour in North America, will launch the world’s first barrel-finished old fashioned bourbon, The Saint, on Friday, November 23. The Saint is a 114.4 proof, old fashioned finished bourbon. The release is limited with only two barrels and priced at $199 in a decorative 750 ml bottle.
Unfiltered and barrel strength, The Saint is created by taking three-year old stocks of bourbon and finishing the spirit in barrels which produced the distillery’s signature Old Fashioned Mix.
“This unique combination creates a barrel strength bourbon that drinks like a 90 proof and tastes like it’s 10 years old,” said CEO and co-founder Philip McDaniel. “We made only two barrels in this first release. 30 percent of the product has already been pre-ordered by our bourbon club members and we expect the remaining bottles to sell out quickly.”
The company’s first holiday gift pack, Old Fashioned Kit, will be available on Friday, November 30. The set includes a 750ml Double Cask Bourbon (93.8 proof), with one engraved 10 oz. rocks glass, two sample bottles of the distillery’s Old-Fashioned Mix, and is priced at $60.
The following week, on Friday, December 7, the distillery will release its new flagship bourbon, Florida Straight Bourbon. The bourbon is aged for a minimum of three years in 53-gallon new oak barrels and is 88 proof. The bourbon will be priced at $50.
St. Augustine Distillery is operation seven days a week with gift shop and tours open from 10am to 6pm. Free tours and tastings every half hour. Follow on Instagram @StAugustineDistillery and Facebook @StAugustineDistilleryCompany. For more information, call 904-825-4962 or visit www.staugustinedistillery.com.
by Lori Allen
Its that time of year again! Shopping for the holidays and enjoying some good food and wine! Here are a few places to check out.
Coastal Wine Market & Tasting Room
(Nocatee) 641 Crosswater Parkway b, Nocatee, FL 32081 . (904) 395-3520
So when you open the door to this ornate yet not pretentious, quaint Tasting Room you are greeted right away with warm friendly smiles and hellos. You can see all the wonderful wines displayed and a chalkboard listing all the specials. Because it was the holidays my friends and I decided to go with a little sparkling Rose seeing how it was the special of the evening. It was light and somewhat fruity with lots of bubbles, a perfect pairing for some cheese and crackers. We went with just one cheese, a nice sharp Manchego that was served with toasted bread and herbed Pecans. This set the tone right away with every bite complimenting the sparkling wine. Our next wine was a Pinot Noir and we choose some Coastal Wine Potato Wedges or as others would refer to them as loaded potato skins. They were filled with wild boar, Karst Cave Aged Cheddar and were served with a side of Lemon Chive Aioli for dipping. They were not huge, hence the name “small plates” but they were packed with flavor! You could taste the meatiness of the boar and sharpness of the cheese cooled down with the Aioli. Really good. We also tried the Rustic Stuffed Mushrooms and had to fight over who got the last one! These are filled with Italian cheese and crispy prosciutto and of course a nice tangy cabernet reduction. Swipe those thru the reduction and pop them in your mouth for a bite of rich creamy mushroom flavor with just a tad bit of “zing” from the wine. YUM! Our last bite of flavor was their market meatballs. You can order as many as you want because they are priced per piece. They come with what they call “Homemade Jersey Gravy” which is essentially a wonderful garlicky red sauce that the meatballs are simmered in and then they top it off with some fresh Basil Ricotta Cheese. You can’t stop dipping your meatball in that soft creamy cheese!
The Cellar upstairs at San Sebastian Winery
157 King St, St Augustine, FL 32084. (904) 826-1594.
The cellar upstairs at San Sebastian Winery is another great place to stop by in St. Augustine. Their food menu has grown and they have choices such as a cheese platter, meat and cheese platter, Beef Carpaccio- my favorite which is espresso rubbed shaved beef tenderloin served with a 3 pepper sauce, topped with shaved parmesan. This dish is meaty and savory but yet light because of the thinly shaved beef. It pairs well with a nice Cabernet Sauvignon. Baguettes, pretzels, sandwiches are also on the menu as well as some local craft beers. Live music can be heard most weekend afternoons and Saturday nite from the roof top bar which also boasts of a great view of the city and sunsets.
Cooper's Hawk Winery
& Restaurant 4850 Big Island Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32246. (904) 559-4999.
For a fun place to take a break at while shopping at the town center hit the bar at Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant where there is always something going on. Most evenings they offer wine tastings and sometimes if you are lucky free samples as you walk in the door! There is a full service restaurant but the bar area is lively and offers lots of great deals. They have what they call Dana’s Pineappletini which tastes as good as it sounds, tart and sweet all rolled into one. I like to get the Ahi Tuna Tacos blackened and Seared Rare and then topped with citrus Slaw, Pico de Gallo, Avocado, and Cilantro Wasabi Cream. The blackened tuna is so tender and the cilantro Wasabi cream adds the tang and heat. Flatbreads are on the menu and there are several choices. My favorite is the one with Italian Sausage& whipped Ricotta, Pesto, Mozzarella and grated Parmesan which goes excellent with their house red.
Cheddars Scratch Kitchen.
4954 Town Center Pkwy, Jacksonville, FL 32246
If you are thirsty and need an extra pick me up to continue on shopping at the town center stop on by Cheddars Scratch Kitchen. They have this insanely good watermelon margarita that is served with a huge slice of watermelon, so cool and refreshing. It goes great with their Spicy buffalo Cauliflower bites, just enough heat to go along with the cooling margarita. I love that they have a Spiked Cherry Limeade which brings back some old time memories. If you really want to quench your thirst try their Texas Sweet Tea made with Firefly Sweet Tea vodka, amaretto, lemonade, and more vodka. Limit 2 per guest! So don’t be trying to shop afterwards because who knows what your Visa will say in the morning!?
Palm Valley Outdoors Bar & Grill
377 South Roscoe Blvd Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida
When you are done with shopping Palm Valley Outdoors is right under the bridge heading out or coming back from Micklers. Not to be confused with another similar named restaurant (although both are good) this one is more casual and you can rent water sporting equipment from them. They have a large selection of some great wines and crafted drinks but at this place I’m all about the buckets! Anchor Bucket, Treasure Chest and my favorite Totally Crushing it! Stoli Crush Grapefruit, Pineapple, Champagne and more! It goes great with their blackened fish tacos or one of their specials of the month. I was lucky enough to get the lobster special and it was cooked to perfection along with a little Ol’bay seasoned button and beautiful sunset. Definitely a place to go and “chill”.
South Kitchen & Spirits
Ponte Vedra (Nocatee)
150 Pine Lake Drive, Suite A Ponte Vedra
Another good stop before or after the beach is South Kitchen & Spirits. You can have dinner or just a snack and drinks. The menu is seasonal so you never know what inventive and exciting new entrees or snacks will appear. They make everything in house so no matter what you try it’s gonna be good. I love their crispy chicken legs with molasses buffalo wing sauce. Sweet and heat can’t be beat! And of course their homemade blue cheese cools everything off. This goes great with a drink called the Ice Pick which is Citrus Vodka, Double Strength Tea, Lemonade served in their Mason jars. It kind of reminds you of the Long Island tea but Southern style. They also have plenty of good wine choices and serve half bottles of wine which you don’t see often. Their Happy hour is every day! And you get half off any drink (no matter what it is) and half of appetizes as well served in the bar or out on the Patio. Now that that weather is cooling off this is a great deal and a fun way to relieve the shopping stress!
Carrera Wine Cellar
35 San Marco Ave.St. Augustine
If you are heading down to Saint Augustine to find that unique gift and need a break give Carrera Wine Cellar a try. They are close to all the antique shops on San Marco so they are great spot to take in a nice glass of wine and figure out your next stop. There is a small outdoors area as well which is nice when the weather is good. They have an extensive choice of wines as well as a small snack menu. I love that they offer all kinds of fun classes and events throughout the months but what is really cool is their Enomatic. It is apparently America’s favorite Wine Sampling Machine which is a fun and interactive way to taste a variety of wines, so give it a try!
While you are in the Nocatee area don’t forget to stop by Coastal Wine Market and Tasting room. You can pick up that last minute gift (who doesn’t like a nice bottle of wine or a basket) and have a glass for yourself while you are there.
Happy Shopping and Happy Holidays!
630-14 Atlantic Boulevard
Neptune Beach Florida
So I ventured out of our 210 area to see what all the rave was about down at Atlantic Beach. That’s right, a new place in town that boasts of the best lobster rolls. So you know this New England Girl had to give them a try! Cousins Maine Lobster food truck has set up a permanent shop (and Yes these are the people that won on Shark tank!). Their menu consists of several New England favorites but I got right to the point…Lobster.
They have the Maine – with mayo and the Connecticut - with butter so of course I had to give both of them a try! The Maine- is not overpowering with mayo it is just lightly tossed in it which makes the lobster taste cool and creamy. The Connecticut- is not dressed with anything that I could taste but possibly lightly poached in butter. This roll is served with melted butter for either pouring over or dipping in so the lobster is warm and buttery. Both of these lobster rolls are served in butter toasted New England style hotdog roll. This roll is a must for us New Englanders. It is crispy on the outside and soft in the middle which makes it a perfect vessel to hold the succulent tender lobster. These rolls had nice large chunks of tender lobster meat that were perfectly cooked, fresh tasting and full of flavor. I did indulge and got the “extra meat” on the Connecticut and it was worth every bite! I have tried a few lobster rolls around town (but not all, I’m working on it) and so far this one most replicates the Lobster rolls that I’m familiar with from the North. Nothing overly fru fru just down to the lobster and the roll.
I also had to try their whole belly clams. I understand that these are an acquired taste because you are eating the entire clam, belly and all not just cut up strips. These were definitely some of the best I’ve had in Florida. They had the light flour batter (not the cornmeal that they use in the south) and were cooked to a golden brown, so crispy and briny, a true taste of the sea. Served with a house made tartar ("tada") sauce you really did feel like you were at a clam shop in Cape Cod.
My friends gave the Lobster tots a try so of course my wandering fork made it over to their plate. These tots were amazingly crunchy with all the stuff they had piled on top of them. From the Pico de gallo (tomatoes and onions) to the cilantro lime sauce and of course the tender lobster meat one forkful of these and your mouth just had a flavor explosion. So if you are tater tot fan these are definitely worth a try. My friends were also a huge fan of the lobster bisque. So creamy with a hint of Sherry and tons of lobster flavor!
For the sweet tooth in y’all give the whoopee pie a try. I grew up on this chocolate cake-like cream stuffed delightful treat. It’s not too sweet but the perfect bite after your lobster meal.
I see that I may need to go back to try their Haddock (not often found here in the south), Lobster grilled cheese and possibly their Lobster tail and tots. And of course another Lobster roll..or two. So if anyone is heading that way, give me a shout so I can tag along! YUM!
by Lori Allen, Local Foodie
150 Pine Lake Drive Suite A,
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32081
Chef Driven Southern Food Done Right!” Ted Sumner Chef de Cuisine
I don’t know about you but I’ve been looking for a fun brunch place that is close by and has great food. Well I think I found it at South Kitchen! They are not a buffet type of brunch place but they offer so many choices for breakfast and lunch (brunch) that you don’t even miss the buffet. The cool thing is that they do offer their unlimited Mimosas, Poinsettias (champagne and cranberry juice) and Bloody Mary’s that are often seen at those brunch buffets. But the difference is at South Kitchen you don’t have to choose just one…you can mix and match! Have one of each or more! Their Bloody Mary is a homemade mix which is full of spices along with a smoky flavor that I thought went nicely with one of their breakfast bowls. The one I chose was filled with creamy smoked Gouda grits topped off with some really tender pulled pork and once I stirred them all together the two flavors had a creamy cheesy meaty goodness. Add the spicy sausage gravy and top it all off with a sunny side up egg that just oozed out the rich yoke, your taste buds are in for a real treat! Along with the Smoky spicy Bloody Mary now that is some serious brunch food at its best!
Well you know I can’t order just one thing, so to start off the meal I decided to go with a southern tradition of fried oysters. These oysters are buttermilk soaked along with Sambal which I found out is a hot sauce made from a mixture of chili peppers, garlic, shallots, scallions, lime juice, rice vinegar and can be combined with several other ingredients to make this sauce unique. (Sambal is native to the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Brunei and Singapore.)
It gave the oysters a nice what I like to call “back heat” you can taste the heat after you have eaten the food not before. They also came with some made-to-order coleslaw that had Napa cabbage tossed in a homemade Greek yogurt ranch which was tangy and cooled off some of the heat from the Sambal. Then there was this cocktail sauce for dipping. The cocktail sauce itself is worth mentioning. This sauce comes from homemade ketchup (yes none of that store bought stuff for them) along with other spices but what is interesting is that the recipe came from an 1803 cookbook from the White Star liner Titanic, so it is no joke. The mixture of sweetness from the homemade ketchup, spicy from the horseradish and tang from the other ingredients makes it all that more special. I could just eat it alone on a cracker and be happy!
My friends (you know I like to eat in numbers so I can taste everything) totally enjoyed their biscuits and gravy scramble as well as bacon egg and cheese benedicts. Along with Mimosas and Poinsettias of course! The menu has many choices to choose from savory to sweet. So if you are looking for fun place to have brunch on BOTH Saturday and Sunday (which is awesome) South Kitchen is your place to be!
by Lori Allen
Memphis Jax BBQ
Shoppes of St Johns
10870 US1, Ponte Vedra FL 32081
Prime Rib dinner at a BBQ place…Say What?? Yup it’s true and I got to try it out for myself and it was Delicious! I personally like all my red meat rare as rare can be. I know I know a lot of people are like “How can you even eat that??” So I thought how are they going to make my prime rib rare in a smoker? It was not rare but was served medium rare (which still shocked me because I thought all meat was well done when smoked.. Who knew? ) But the flavor was just smoky enough that made you feel like you are at a BBQ place but not so smoky that it overpowered the juicy, fatty Prime Rib beef flavor. I was not the least bit disappointed that it wasn’t rare. I think it had something to do with the way it was smoked that made medium rare work out perfectly. The beef also came with a side of Au Jus for dipping along with some really rich and creamy (a little bit hot from the horseradish) sauce…it really was the Perfect Bite!
So besides the smoky delicious prime rib I tried their creamed peas (kind of reminded me of a place on beach blvd if you know what I mean) which were sweet and creamy just like you want them. I also had to try their deviled Eggs...that’s right deviled eggs…I have not seen deviled eggs on many menus before (at Easter dinner, yes, at a restaurant not so much)so I thought it was a pretty cool side dish to try out. They had the mixture down pat! It had just the right amount of mayo, mustard and pickle to balance out the creamy egg yolk. I plopped it in my mouth for a creamy tangy eggy bite. So good.
We decided to try one of their appetizers because it intrigued me. It was a Memphis sausage and cheese plate. I thought that it was interesting that they have a Charcuterie Tray at a barbecue joint. So this tray came with some smokes sausage with just the right amount of spice to give it a little heat, pepper jack cheese, cheddar cheese, and some nice sour dill pickles all of which went perfect with a nice cold beer! What a great way to start a meal.
So knowing me you know I had brought some friends along to give it a try as well along with my never ending wondering fork so that I can taste too! The combo plate was ordered and boy was it a combo! You can choose from ribs, brisket, chicken, pulled pork sausage, turkey or even fried catfish! My friend opted for the ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. The ribs have this great rub on them, kinda sweet, salty and peppery that gives the ribs a lot of flavor in every bite. My son even had them for the kid’s meal and even though there were plenty of them he ate every finger licking rib! But based on our opinion we think that that the beef brisket was the star. It was served up differently than most barbeque places, sliced instead of chopped up. This made you feel like you were having some sort of steak but once you cut into the tender smoked meat you knew it was darn good beef brisket. Serving it this way to us seemed to dry out the meat less which was a win win situation. Being the friendly sort that we are one of us went and complimented the chef. Well the owner Kyle came out and gave us a bit of history of the place and even shared that he worked on this brisket for weeks to get it to perfection. Well it was well worth it! So tender meaty and full of flavor!
Last but certainly not the least was the pulled pork. We laughed about how to describe this because it was so juicy and light and there were other descriptive words I won’t mention said but it was just hard to find the perfect words to describe it. Light seemed like a funny adjective to give to pork, but that’s exactly what it was. Thinly sliced, smoky juiciness and so when you douse it in some of their Memphis Barbecue sauce, stuffed it in your mouth… you are like where did it go? You got the nice pork flavor with a little bit of fattiness to it along with the tang of vinegar based barbecue sauce. Yum!
Here is a little fun fact about Memphis barbecue vs traditional or what commonly referred to as Kansas City style barbecue…
Memphis barbecue is distinguishably different from Kansas City style barbecue. When preparing or eating Memphis style barbecue the first thing you will notice is that the sauce isn’t as sweet as Kansas City style sauce and actually may have a bit more “spiciness” to it. The other thing you’ll notice is that your ribs don’t have any sauce on them at all and the sauce is on the side. That’s because Memphis style barbecue focuses on barbecuing the meat dry – only with a spice rub that is done before cooking the meat. A Memphis style barbecue rub usually has far less sugar than a Kansas City style sauce or rub. The sauce, which is usually served on the side for dipping or pouring onto meat, is generally thinner than a Kansas City style sauce and typically is tangier and spicier than a Kansas City style sauce. But the sauce is more than a just a condiment and provides a good compliment to all of the meats!
So go see Kyle and Katy and check out their Memphis barbecue. I am sure you will enjoy every bite!
by Lori Allen, Local Foodie
152 Capital Green #18
Ponte Vedra, FL
So if you are anything like me after being out in the fresh beach air with all the sand and salt I am craving some seafood and looking for someplace casual. Well I found a place for you that is close to the beach, quick, casual and good! Timoti’s Seafood Shak has opened their 3rd location right down the street in Nocatee. The atmosphere is bright, clean and family friendly. With their community high top tables, a fenced in wooden playground so the kids can play, it’s a perfect spot to enjoy a nice cold beverage and fresh seafood. This is a counter service type of restaurant and serves most of its foods in baskets and throw away containers so it makes it nice and easy.
I gave the New England Style clam chowder a try for a start which was I found to be nice and rich and creamy. I had to give the Lobster rolls a try being from New England after all. These were what us New Englanders refer to as finger rolls, soft buttered and grilled then filled with a rich lobster salad made with lobster, celery and just the right amount of mayo. The cool thing is that these come in twos so they are good for sharing unless of course you want to try one of their great sides and a make it a meal! For my main course I went for the traditional Fried Shrimp basket which had a good amount of plump flavorful shrimp along with crispy fries and really creamy coleslaw. I loved the coleslaw because it reminded me of home because it had some kind of seeds in there. Maybe celery, maybe poppy not sure but it tasted really fresh and good!
My son decided to step out of the box (pun intended) and order one of their rice boxes. The one he chose had coconut rice, avocado, greens, Pico fresco (seasoned tomatoes, onions, etc.) black sesame seed and T’s Poke Sauce. He had a choice of shrimp, fish chicken or tofu, he went with the fish. All of the flavors combined in the box were light and fresh and the Pico and poke sauce (made up of soy sauce and other spices) added just the right amount of seasoning. So if you are looking for something a little lighter this is the way to go.
The owners at Timoti’s believe that “Local food makes stronger communities” and that they strive to use local seafood whenever they can. And they say that wild-caught seafood is better for our oceans so that’s a good thing! They also like to play it a little risky when it comes to different flavor combinations so it makes the food interesting and something new to try.
So when you are headed home from the beach or looking for a quick bite and are ready for some fresh local seafood give them a try!
by Lori Allen
There are so many wines and some craft beers to choose from and the staff is so helpful, knowledgeable and super friendly so don’t hesitate to ask. They encourage you to tell them what you are looking for or want to try. I am sure that they will be able to find a great wine for any palate. They also have this incredible charcuterie (Cheese/meat boards) to pair with those wines. There are so many different varieties to choose from…goat cheese, soft blue, aged cheddar, spicy Edam to name a few. Then you can add ham, pepperoni, dry salami, even Texas wild boar, along with some seasoned nuts and unusual crackers and maybe even a spread of jam. You won’t be disappointed. And the coolest thing is that they offer these boards TO-GO which comes in a handy portable box so you can take that short drive down to the ocean plop yourself down on a towel with your box of treasures and enjoy a beautiful sunset! Ahhhhh the Florida life!
by Lori Allen
St. Johns Mag
Guest blogger and foodies looking exploring local restaurants.
Lori Allen is a local who moved from the Boston area to attend Flagler College and never left. She is a family person that loves the beach, football, working out and finding new places to try. Her love for food comes from her northern background and her love of cooking as well as meeting new and interesting people. She has never met a stranger nor has she ever been afraid to try an intriguing place. (Check out all her reviews on stjohnsmag.com)
Lori now has her own instagram page -check it out at mywanderingfork