Wednesday, September 23, 2009

St. Augustine Round-up Pt 4: Bars & Breweries

St. Augustine has a jumping bar scene, and on any night of the week you can find free live music.

This is the last post in a series of four that outline the restaurants and bars I’ve visited over the past months. The posts will be organized by Latino, Caribbean, and Spanish dining; casual dining; casual upscale dining; and bars and breweries. I will continue to return to these posts and update them as I visit more places – there are many many more to be savored! And, I’d love if you left any recommendations you might have in the comments section.

Everyone knows A1A Aleworks. I would highly recommend their beer tasting, which offers a sample of all six of their brews (from left to right): King Street Light Lager, Porpoise Point Pale Ale, Bridge of Lions Brown Ale, Red Brick Ale, Strange Stout, and the seasonal summer ale. My favorite is the Red Brick ale.

The food is not as stellar as the beer, but people dine here all hours of day and night. I tried a fish special that was drowning in cornbread stuffing and a crab cream sauce, and the crab didn’t taste as fresh as I would have liked.

I most enjoyed the fried mac n cheese bites that came with it – boy, you know you’re in America when this is on the menu!

Phil’s crab BLT was nothing spectacular, and again, the crab was a bit too fishy. Go for the beer, the crowd, and the views over the Bridge of Lions. 1 King St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 829-2977 A 1a Ale Works on UrbanspoonTini Martini Bar has an excellent menu of specialty martinis. They’re pricey, but just one will really get you going. The bar is located in an impressive building with impressive views. Sit outside on the front porch on a breezy night. 24 Avenida Menendez, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 829-0928

There’s always an interesting local crowd at the Milltop Tavern, and every time I’ve been there a bluegrass band has been playing. The bar is on the top floor of historic building, nestled among the branches of a sprawling old tree and seating is on the open-air decks. They have bar food. Go for at least one drink! 19 1/2 Saint George St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 829-2329 Milltop Tavern on Urbanspoon

Rendezvous has one of the best beer selections in St. Augustine. I was excited to find Chimay, Le Fin du Monde, Coopers Sparkling & Vintage, and many other favorites. Live music most nights. 106 Saint George St # H, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-1090 Rendezvous on Urbanspoon

The British Pub at the beach really does feel like a proper British pub, with foosball tables and a display case of trophies won in dart-throwing competitions. Good selection of draft beers (Guinness, Newcastle, Yuengling, among others) and British pub snacks. 213 Anastasia Blvd, St Augustine, FL 32080 (904) 810-5111 The Kings Head British Pub on Urbanspoon

Cellar 6 feels out of place in historic St. Augustine – in a good way. It has an urban feel and extremely impressive by-the-glass wine options, such as the excellent Tempranillo-Grenache blend from Spain and Argentine Malbec I tried on a recent visit. Menu includes salads, wraps, paninis, and seafood-based appetizers. On quaint Aviles Street. 6 Aviles St, Saint Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 827-9055 Cellar 6 on Urbanspoon

McLean’s friendly owner from the North of England will chat you up and enthusiastically recommend a brew and a meal. He introduced us to a Jacksonville micro brew similar to Newcastle brown and let us sample fried oreos. (! they were good!). Menu includes typical British pub food, like fish n chips, shepherd’s pie, and bangers n mash (the sausages are made specially for him by a British butcher). Nothing on the menu is over $15. Cathedral Place, St. Augustine, FL 32084

Stogie’s Jazz Club & Listening Room offers soothing live jazz every night, a spacious outdoor deck, and lots and lots of wines and ports and liquors and beers by the bottle and on tap. As the name suggests, you can smoke cigars inside. One of my favorites. 36 Charlotte St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 826-4008 Stogies Jazz Club & Listening on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 20, 2009

St. Augustine Round-Up Pt 3: Casual Upscale Dining

Saint Augustine’s fancier establishments benefit from their locations in historic renovated houses, circa nineteenth-century luxury hotels, and Old Florida buildings offering waterfront vistas. Yet, I must admit that the more expensive places I’ve tried fall short in terms of service and food when compared to their counterparts in larger cities. This post is the third in a series of four that outline the restaurants and bars I’ve visited over the past months. The posts will be organized by Latino, Caribbean, and Spanish dining; casual dining; casual upscale dining; and bars and breweries. I will continue to return to these posts and update them as I visit more places – there are many many more to be savored! And, I’d love if you left any recommendations you might have in the comments section.

Cap’s on the Water is a well-deserved local favorite, with a picturesque Old Florida setting that offers indoor and outdoor dining and a casual raw bar where you can slurp down a pile of briny oysters over a shared bottle of champagne.The oysters Rockefeller were very luxurious, with spinach, bacon, breadcrumbs and melted Parmesan cheese.My seared tuna topped with chimichurri served on top of a black bean cake with plantains and Southwestern corn was tasty, if a bit overdone.The scallops were perfectly cooked and tasty, but the dish didn’t come with a veg or starch so my dining mate was a bit unsatisfied. (We wished the waitress would have encouraged us to order sides a la carte)Desserts are outrageous, in a good way. How about bananas foster cheesecake?Or a dense chocolate raspberry cake? A setting for any occasion, be it a fancy special occasion dinner or a bottle of beer at the sandy raw bar. 4325 Myrtle St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-8794 Cap's On The Water on UrbanspoonThe recently renovated Cortesses Bistro is big on atmosphere. There’s a dark and appropriately moody lounge that hosts live bands, a courtyard filled with fountains and private booths and creeping flowering plants, and multiple dining rooms each offering its own personality and color scheme.I’ve had mixed experiences with the service and food, but overall have enjoyed my visits here. The artichoke soup is a house specialty, rich and creamy and well seasoned. Another good appetizer is the baked brie with lingonberry sauce, fruits and crostini.I was less than impressed with the seafood crepe I ordered. It was filled with shrimp, scallops, crab and mushrooms & served with lobster champagne sauce, but unfortunately some of the seafood was very undercooked. It could have used another five minutes in the oven. However, I tried my dining mates’ mains and they were all tasty and well cooked. I also enjoyed a tomato pie for lunch in the courtyard and found it to be perfect and not too filling. 172 San Marco Ave, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 825-6775 Cortesses Bistro on UrbanspoonThe Old City House Inn & Restaurant also offers sumptuous indoor dining and a picturesque courtyard. The menu spans continents with Indian and Thai curries, South African ostrich, and dishes drawing inspiration from colder climes. Everything I tasted was good and the chef prepared all of the meats perfectly, but I did notice a sweet/savory theme that ran through the meal, sometimes with more success than others. A chicken breast stuffed with figs and brie was served with an herb sauce and asparagus over mashed potatoes.The clove and coriander-scented pork tenderloin was perfectly cooked and nestled on a bed of cinnamon-laced sweet potatoes, served with asparagus and a pomegranate demi-glace reduction.I had the pan-seared South African ostrich. It was perfectly prepared, yet I could have done without the vanilla Cape brandy sauce.The daily seafood special was spaghetti with shrimp and lobster in a tomato basil cream sauce.The menu could use a bit more focus, the wine list would benefit from some attention (the first white we ordered had an unpleasant olive brine taste), and the dishes aren’t cheap, but it’s a good place for a leisurely special occasion dinner in a beautiful setting. 115 Cordova St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 826-0184 Old City House on Urbanspoon

Café Alcazar is in one of the prettiest settings in St. Augustine. The restaurant occupies a historic former indoor swimming pool in the Lightner Museum.It’s only open for lunch, but the strumming guitar and filtered light lend an impossibly romantic vibe to the experience of dining here.I enjoyed my veggie panini with potato salad.My dining mates ordered pasta. Chicken and artichokes tossed with penne in a white wine sauce.And one of the most popular menu items, shrimp broiled with breadcrumbs and parmigiano served with pasta.Thank goodness we didn’t have anywhere to be. Our waitress forgot about us and was nowhere to be found, so we didn’t actually put in our orders until we’d been waiting for almost a half hour. Nevertheless, it deserves a visit if only for the setting. 25 Granada Street, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-7813 Cafe Alcazar on Urbanspoon

Later this week: St. Augustine Round-up Pt 4: Bars & Breweries.

Friday, September 18, 2009

St. Augustine Round-up Pt 2: Casual Dining

In St. Augustine, casual eateries rule the dining scene.This post is the second in a series of four that outline the restaurants and bars I’ve visited over the past months. The posts will be organized by Latino, Caribbean, and Spanish dining; casual dining; casual upscale dining; and bars and breweries. I will continue to return to these posts and update them as I visit more places – there are many many more to be savored! And, I’d love if you left any recommendations you might have in the comments section.

My favorite type of casual eatery down here in Florida is the kind that serves up heaps of fried gator tail, conch fritters, and a relaxed, beachy vibe. The Oasis, a place I wrote about here, is one of those places. With its tiki huts and waterfront location, the Conch House also qualifies.Their Reggae Sunday is legendary in the area, and the food is a perfect match for the chilled-out tunes. You of course can’t go wrong with the meaty gator tail…Or the conch frittersEntrees are also good, like the nut-crusted grouper salad…Or the blackened wahoo sandwich (Phil’s favorite). Don’t miss Reggae Sunday from 3-7pm; also perfect for a lazing away the afternoon with a margarita or a cold one, any day of the week. 57 Comares Ave, St Augustine, FL 32080 (904) 829-8646 Conch House Restaurant on UrbanspoonLe Café is an often overlooked diner just outside of the historic district on US1. Lunches of French melts with au jus or quiche are served up by the French owner’s daughter. Don’t miss the beignets and coffee. 415 S Ponce De Leon Blvd, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 826-1034Another diner just behind Flagler, Georgie’s Diner offers all the classic diner staples with a Greek twist in one of the coolest buildings in town.I tried the enormous Greek sampler with moussaka, grape leaves, spanokopita, and Greek salad. There was enough left over for two more lunches!The chicken fried steak with brown gravy, a fried egg, hash browns, and a biscuit was equally belly-busting, but oh-so-Southern.The classic corned beef hash was also, of course, huge and delish.Lighter fare is also available – my dad ordered a chicken wrap with sautéed Greek potatoes. But it couldn’t compare to the rest of our calorie bombs. Always busy and bumpin’ for weekend brunch. 100 Malaga St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 819-9006 Georgie's Diner on Urbanspoon

Gypsy Cab Co. is a local favorite. I found it didn’t quite live up to all the hype. The menu lacks focus, portions were ridiculously sized, and everything seemed smothered in cheese or cream yet lacked proper seasoning. Chicken and chorizo with black beans and rice was a jumbled, soupy mess.The chicken enchiladas were exactly what you would expect.And, the four-nut crusted chicken was nice and crisp before they smothered it in under-seasoned cream sauce. And, hey, what about the sauce for the pasta? It was literally boiled pasta tossed with some chopped parsley.My dining companions were very happy, for what it’s worth. Next time I’ll order a sandwich. Or go when I have a hangover and want melted cheese smothering my food beyond recognition. 828 Anastasia Blvd, St Augustine, FL 32080 (904) 824-8244 Gypsy Cab CO Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I’ve been to Madre’s on picture-perfect Aviles Street more than any other place in St. Augustine, and would definitely consider it my local haunt. They offer California cuisine in a festive surfer atmosphere.It’s the perfect feel-good place for happy hour drinks Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, when Miller High Life drafts are only $1! Warm housemade chips, salsa, and pickled carrots are complimentary whether you only come for drinks or plan to stay for a meal.The specialty is Baja fish tacos, and along with the chips and salsa, one portion of tacos is enough to share. If you ask nicely, the chef will even split one order into two plates. 8 Aviles St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 823-1371 Madre's on UrbanspoonThe Spanish Galleon Café wins awards for their freshly-brewed coffee. Nathan’s hot dogs are on the menu, you can get breakfast all day, and their special is a steak sandwich. Stop in for a coffee and a snack in the hours between lunch and dinner. 210 Saint George St, Saint Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 824-1610 ** I'VE REMOVED THE SECTION ABOUT O'STEENS BUT HERE ARE SOME PHOTOS: **

Minorcan chowder

Fried shrimp

205 Anastasia Blvd, St Augustine - (904) 829-6974 O'steen's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

On a much more upbeat note, Florida Cracker Café is another one of those places offering fried gator tail and conch fritters in a fun, unpretentious setting right on pedestrian St. George Street. During happy hour, I’ve enjoyed 6 Amber Bocks for $12, including tip. There’s live music in the courtyard – I especially like the Skinny Lizards who play every Wednesday. Stop in for a beer and a bite and take a break from all that sightseeing under the hot Florida sun. 81 Saint George St, St Augustine, FL 32084 (904) 829-0397 Florida Cracker Cafe on UrbanspoonAnd don’t forget about Stir it Up on St. Augustine Beach, which I wrote about here!

Later this week: St. Augustine Round-up Pt 3: Casual Upscale Dining.