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.


Unknown said...

This is the worst write up on food I have ever read. I frequent all of these establishments. While we can all easily sit at home and claim to be a connoisseur of food and write it for all to see, this opinion is weak and is obviously full of bias. Unfortunately the only dish that was the signature dish was Osteens fried shrimp. Funny enough, this alcoholic that can't eat fried food with out a drink, just disagreed with hundreds of real food critics that have traveled world wide to find the best fried shrimp recipes. Osteens isn't just a local favorite, it is world renowned for its shrimp, not its fries. Of all the restaurants he likes, some aren't even open any longer. What a waste of a web page!Go eat and post your own opinion cause his sucked!

Cari said...

@ryan – Thank you for sharing your opinion. I moved away from St. Augustine in December and haven’t had a chance to change this entry to update establishments that have closed since I wrote the post way back in September of last year, so I appreciate you alerting me that. However, I really wish you would have taken the time to more thoroughly read my blog before bashing me and this entry. If you had read my bio or other posts, you would have learned three things. One, I am a “she,” not a “he.” Two, I have a Master of Arts in Gastronomy. That makes me more qualified than all of the people to which you refer who “easily sit at home and claim to be connoisseurs.” Also, I get paid to write restaurant reviews, so that means my opinion is valued and not “weak,” as you suggest. I’m not sure who you are talking about when you refer to the “hundreds of real food critics” who claim O’Steen’s fried shrimp is the best in the world – I never came across those articles in my research and would be interested to read them. My bio also clearly states that I indeed have “traveled world wide;” I have lived on five continents and visited over twenty-five countries, eating fried shrimp in places such as Japan, Australia, Italy, Spain, England, and across the continental United States. If you read the post closely, you would have noticed that I did say the fried shrimp was “good.” Did you expect me to just comment on the shrimp and ignore the fries on my plate? Does anyone come into the restaurant and solely order a plate of shrimp, with no accompaniments? I praised the fried okra and the hushpuppies so my job as a reviewer is to steer potential clientele towards the most enjoyable dishes so they can maximize their restaurant experience. I clearly am not bashing O’Steen’s, as you have taken the time to bash me. I have encouraged diners to eat there, taste the food, and form their own opinion. And yes, we are all entitled to our own opinion. I would also like to lament the fact that you called me an “alcoholic.” Gross generalizations, obvious biases, and blatent insults such as this immediately discredit your already flawed, inconsiderate, and thoughtless argument.

Unknown said...

I moved to the St Augustine area 2 years ago and have traveled - and dined - extensively around the globe. I've tried all the establishments discussed and found the reviews spot on and also appreciate the objective tone that was taken - wouldn't describe any of the criticism as "bashing". My family and friends and I wondered if we were the only ones who were completely unimpressed by O'Steens and Gypsy Cab. Ryan comes off as a North Florida redneck who hasn't experienced much of the world outside of Fried Shrimpdom. I mean, really, how complex is fried shrimp? or making good fresh french fries for that matter. Chill out, dude. Opinions are just that and can't really "suck" as you so intelligently put it.

ButAreTheyMadeWithRealGirlScouts? said...

@ryan - If this is the worst write up you've ever seen, I'd like to gently guide you in the direction of most of the restaurant reviews on the internet.

O'Steens is "world renowned"? Wow. Someone alert Daniel Boulud!

Opinions are much more respected when they come from someone who doesn't ramp up their disagreement to include charges of alcoholism just because the reviewer thinks beer and fried food go together. If that's the standard, most of the people in this country need to go find an AA meeting.

Setting your hair on fire because your brother-in-law washes dishes at O'Steens just makes you look like you need a hobby. (Or maybe a girlfriend.)

Katie K said...

The comments on this were almost better than the article! Great rebuttals!! I loved it! :) I enjoyed all of the sections you did on St. Augustine. As someone who moved here from Central FL and has traveled all over the world also - I enjoyed seeing what you liked and what you didn't. It has inspired me to try some places that I would never have thought to go to (Madre's!!)

Cari said...

@Katie K - yeah, the comments on this post are pretty heated! I definitely had to stick up for myself after this ryan dude bashed me, and I'm glad I had back-up! Let me know what you think of Madre's - one of the best super casual places I've ever been to!

Unknown said...

Holy Hush Puppies, Batman! That was an entertaining thread. Just brushing up on your suggestions for St Auggie restaurants as friends are coming in from out of town, and I stumbled across this ranting ryan's dissing of our girl Cari - or some guy he thought was Cari - or some alcoholic who was squatting on Cari's blog - I'm not too clear on the details - but I AM clear on this - Cari - you are 100% on the money about Osteen's. The emperor has no clothes, dude. I dined there with these same out of town friends a few years ago, because they had asked around and were told this was god's gift to fried seafood. It seemed like a tourist trap to me, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Well, doubt not. It was white bread average every day boring. Southern fried everything. I'll pass.

Anonymous said...

Just chiming in months later to say ...I wholeheartedly agree about Osteen's. I use to live across the street (8 years ago) and even then it wasn't worth walking to...not even for carryout! In a word....Overrated!

Jim Z said...

I agree with Katie K. The comments are better than Cari’s review. Ryan was a bit rough on Cari and his choice of language inappropriate, but hey, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. If Cari is the expert she claims to be with all her diplomas she ought not be so thin skin and defensive.
There are two things missing in Cari’s reviews of St. Augustine restaurants. First, there is no discussion at all of the quality and friendliness of the wait staff. I think all would agree this can make or break a meal. Cari’s right. The food at O’steen’s is good but no better than many others. What does it for me is the pleasant attitude of all the wait staff. I feel they are glad you came. The person who takes your order brings your meal. There are no “schleppers”, persons who are charged to bring the food. “Schleppers” don’t know who gets what nor do they care. I guess it’s that old fashion roadhouse feel of the place that brings me back. Second, there are no pork selections in her entire review of St. Augustine. This is Cuban restaurant country and their meat of choice is pork. A review of the best Cuban sandwich in town would have been helpful but maybe Cari’s School of Gastronomy only deals with pork at the doctoral level.
Jim Z

Cari said...
This comment has been removed by the author.