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!
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