The Perfect Bite
St. Johns Magazine's exclusive reviews of Local Restaurants by Local Foodie Lori Allen
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!
St. Johns Mag
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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)