COVER STORY

BEST OF JAX! 2015

DINING & DRINKING

Posted

BEST BARTENDER/MIXOLOGIST
Tyler Mathes (Suite)
Finalists: Chris LaNiese (Volstead), Kurt Rogers (Sidecar)
What’s it take to make a fantastic drink? Whatever is involved, Tyler Mathes has perfected the science and craftsmanship. The University of North Florida graphic design student spends his nights crafting drinks at Suite, the sophisticated lounge in the St. Johns Town Center. Mathes has a keen eye for detail, a laudable quality since he has to handle liquid nitrogen as the Magic Mike Revue dance troupe (an actual event that happens at Suite) has the rapt attention of nearly everyone else in the place.

BEST SEAFOOD
Safe Harbor Seafood Market & Restaurant
Finalists: Singleton’s Seafood Shack, Salt Life Food Shack
It’s no secret the best seafood in the region first lands on the docks of the sleepy fishing village of Mayport. And a huge amount of that seafood — flounder, grouper, oysters, shrimp, scallops, snapper — is from Safe Harbor Seafood, which our readers deem No. 1. After 25 years of wholesale distribution, the Pack Family opened a restaurant in 2013, and has continued to serve fresh seafood locally caught on Safe Harbor’s own boats. Pick up the market’s freshest fish, eyeballs and all, or sit out on the deck with just-prepared delicacies of the deep and watch the shrimp boats dodge the pelicans and otters.

BEST COFFEE SHOP
Bold Bean Coffee Roasters
Finalists: Starbucks, Brew Five Points
Drinking a cup of joe has become one of the nation’s most serious rituals, right behind end zone dances and holy communion. And since 2011, Bold Bean’s Riverside location has been hallowed ground for this sacred act. Now with two locations and a roaster, Bold Bean continues to advance the art of coffee creations with meticulously sourced and locally roasted beans. As their motto says, “It’s all about the process.” Bold Bean knows how to get that process right with every pour. 

BEST NEW RESTAURANT
Kitchen on San Marco
Finalists: Hawkers Asian Street Fare, 904 Restaurant
Adopting current culinary trends like farm-to-table and elevated Southern cuisine, then executing them well have made Kitchen on San Marco a no-brainer for this year’s Best New Restaurant, so say FW readers. Executive Chef Ryan Randolph takes the farm-to-table movement seriously, and has crafted a menu that aligns with the area’s growing season, serving innovative regional fare in a casual, welcoming environment. In addition to supporting local craft breweries, Kitchen on San Marco welcomes the culinary students of Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College.

BEST PIZZA ON AMELIA ISLAND
BEST PIZZA IN JACKSONVILLE
Moon River Pizza
Amelia Island Finalists: Townies, Pi Infinite Combinations
Jacksonville Finalists: Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers, Al’s Pizza
Perhaps no Best of Jax category is as hotly challenged as that of Best Pizza. Just as the cheese is cooling on this one, a winner has emerged. Jacksonville and Amelia Island’s Moon River serves New York-style pizza made from scratch with fresh dough and a variety of toppings. With an emphasis on traditionally crafted pizzas, both Moon River spots (Murray Hill and Fernandina) have become faves of vegans and gluten-free fans, though the most popular pizza is probably the T-Rex, a meat lover’s treasure — not as scary as it sounds. Unless you’re a vegetarian.

BEST PIZZA IN ORANGE PARK/FLEMING ISLAND
Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers
Finalists: Al’s Pizza, Brewer’s Pizza
Orange Park and Fleming Island are small, family-oriented communities, but their denizens’ love for and admiration of a great pizza pie is nothing to underestimate. When you visit that neck of the woods, make sure to grab a slice at Mellow Mushroom, the spot the locals have voted as the Best Pizza in their neighborhood. Well-known for the many locations in Northeast Florida, the MM in OP/FI offers a wide variety of pizzas that’s 2D4, inventive salads, thick, rich calzones, and piled-high hoagies, as well as a great assortment of adult libations to compliment the fare. And make no mistake about it, the fun and funky atmosphere at MM creates a one-of-a-kind pizza night experience.

BEST PIZZA IN ST. AUGUSTINE
Al’s Pizza
Finalists: Pizzalley’s, Pizza Time
Unless you just moved to the area a hot minute ago, there’s no excuse for not knowing the legendary taste and appeal of Al’s Pizza. A perennial winner and finalist in our Best of Jax contest, Al’s is locally founded, locally owned, and powered by some of the most die-hard fans a pizza joint can have. Whether they’re down for a quick and delicious lunch slice or taking the whole family out for a great pizza-centric dinner, our readers have elected Al’s St. Augustine location as the best pizza joint in town. In a city – the nation’s oldest, BTW – that also has pizza choices like finalists Pizzalley’s and Pizza Time (both legends in their own way), that’s high praise indeed.

BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
Finalists: Daruma Japanese Steakhouse, Tomo Japanese Restaurant
For lovers of authentic Japanese cuisine in Northeast Florida, “wasabi” means more than just the popular Japanese horseradish. This year, our readers have voted Wasabi Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar in St. Johns Town Center as the very definition of their go-to hot spot for a meal of Far East delight. Whether you’re feasting on the well-cured Kobe beef steaks or keeping it light with great-tasting sashimi, you’ll be delighted by the entertaining chefs and the engaging atmosphere.

BEST SUSHI
Fuji Sushi
Finalists: Sushi Café, Sake House
Some local epicureans call it the finest of all-natural delicacies, and other Northeast Floridians call it “bait,” but without a doubt, the 904 is absolutely in love with sushi. Our readers have voted Fuji Sushi as their favorite spot to feast on this traditional delight. Whether you choose to visit them at their San Marco, West Beaches, or Mandarin location, you’ll discover creative and fresh hand-made offerings that have caught the full attention of Folio Weekly readers. Billing itself as the “Ultimate Sushi Grill,” Fuji offers a lot more than just sushi that’ll curl your toes; the full menu includes a wide variety of fare from the Orient, and the all-you-can-eat lunch special will fill your belly. And for a change of pace, sample the finalists’ cuisine at Sushi Café and Sake House.

BEST LOCAL CRAFT BREWERY
Intuition Ale Works
Finalists: Aardwolf Brewing Company, Bold City Brewery
Jack Nicholson once said, “Beer … it’s the best damn drink in the world.” Concocting everything from pale ales to porters, Northeast Florida boasts some rather impressive breweries. But when it comes to local craft suds, Intuition Ale Works has proved to be the preferred place to browse, buy or imbibe. Established in 2010 by owner and brewer Ben Davis, Intuition specializes in flavorful and creative beers, ales, stouts and IPAS, in a wide range of styles, alcohol content and IBUs. Check out their popular brewskis like Jon Boat, People’s Pale Ale, King Street Stout and I-10 IPA — all of which are also sold in cans in actual stores. Intuition makes it easy.

BEST RESTAURANT ON AMELIA ISLAND
Salt, The Ritz-Carlton
Finalists: 29 South, The Salty Pelican
There’s a lot in a name at the venue readers chose as this year’s Best Restaurant on Amelia Island. The dinner-only destination in The Ritz-Carlton gets its identity from sea creatures frolicking in salty waterways that abut the resort. The high-end dining experience features more than 40 varieties of sodium chloride (that’s salt for those of you who failed chemistry), some millions of years old, harvested from exotic, remote locations and infused with flavors and spices to give its delectable seasonal menu a distinct, flavorful edge.

BEST RESTAURANT IN JACKSONVILLE
Restaurant Orsay
Finalists: Black Sheep Restaurant, Taverna Yamas
Orsay marries French knowhow with Southern home-cooking and hospitality. Hankering for simple fare prepared with a steady hand or a complex layering of flavors? Orsay can deliver both. The seafood in the bouillabaisse is suffused with Pernod-flavored saffron tomato broth. The golden beet terrine includes orange blossom honey, goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, pickled radish, arugula and pistachios. The hamburgers don’t need a lot of fancy fixings when they’re made from top-quality, grassfed beef, and the trout has a simple lemon brown butter vinaigrette. Taken together, the offerings at Orsay make up some of Jacksonville’s best eating. It’s definitely bon appetit.

BEST RESTAURANT IN ORANGE PARK/FLEMING ISLAND
Texas Roadhouse
Finalists: Urban Bean Coffeehouse Cafe, Mojo Smokehouse BBQ & Blues
Good ol’ hearty American eats like Grandma might have made, if she wasn’t a radical Episcopalian vegetarian: The steaks are hand-cut and grilled just right, ribs are falling-off-the-bone good. Plus, there are sides like loaded baked potato and green beans flavored with bacon. Damn right. Margaritas and other mixed drinks and a passel of beers on tap complete the experience. Texas Roadhouse feeds the hunger within, keeping its customers filled up and satisfied.

BEST RESTAURANT IN ST. AUGUSTINE
The Floridian
Finalists: Columbia Restaurant, Ice Plant Bar
With a brand-spankin’-new location on Spanish Street, The Floridian is the Nation’s Oldest City’s place for house-pickled veggies, fried polenta cakes, rémoulade shrimp and local pork sausage simmered in a Datil-tomato broth. Drooling yet? It’s not just the food that keeps locals coming back. The Floridian, with owners Jeff and Genie McNally at the helm, has an eclectic aesthetic (think alligator art and vintage state souvenirs) reminiscent of the charm and simplicity that only Old Florida can display. “We are flattered and honored,” Genie told us about the FW Best of Jax readers’ poll win. “We couldn’t do it without our local supporters and incredible staff.”

BEST STEAK
Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Finalists: The Capital Grille, LongHorn Steakhouse
When the Beast in Thee needs to eat from the top of the food chain, Ruth’s Chris delivers. The cowboy ribeye is charred on the outside to a satisfying crisp, with the bone in, as though thrown over a hot open campfire … and so rare on the inside that the steer is still telling stories. Our readers have chosen Ruth’s Chris 15 times as having the Best Steak, so there’s that.

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
La Nopalera
Finalists: TacoLu Baja Mexicana, Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar
According to zipwise.com, there are at least six La Nopaleras in this region. The popular spot has won Best Margarita and Best Mexican several times; this year, our readers concentrated on the authentic fare served there, like fajitas, tostadas, chimichangas, enchiladas and tacos. Many of the staff are actual Mexicans themselves (take that, DT!), so they recognize the real deal when they see it. The colors, the flavors, the aromas, the décor — everything about the restaurant is auténtico.

BEST BAGEL
Bagel Love
Finalists: Bagel World, Bagels R Us
It’s all about love of the bagel at the corner of Herschel Street and St. Johns Avenue. Satisfy your bagel urge with more than 400 variations of bagels, cream cheeses, and other spreads. Bagel Love unites herbivores and carnivores alike with the menu’s veggie and meaty options. And there are lunch salads, coffee, and muffins — but, most important, the bagel. These fresh, warm circles of dough entice even the toughest bagel-naysayer. Our readers agree: Get thee to Avondale and get you some Bagel Love.

BEST BAKERY
Sweet Theory Baking Co.
Finalists: Edgewood Bakery, Cinotti’s Bakery
It’s certainly sweet on Edgewood Avenue, where owner Katie Riehm has been pouring her love for creative baking into cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and everything in between. Sweet Theory accommodates everyone, and we mean everyone. Not only is it Riverside’s allergy-friendly bakery, Sweet Theory is a vegan bakery, so that means no dairy, eggs, soy or peanuts. They even offer gluten-free options, ensuring that they are all things to all people who like sweets (so, basically, all truthful people). And obviously our loyal readers, who chose the newish spot as the Best Bakery for 2015.

BEST BREAKFAST
Metro Diner
Finalists: Maple Street Biscuit Company, The Fox
With the down-home feel of the best greasy spoon and an old-school-meets-new-school menu guaranteed to please even the pickiest palate – um, why haven’t we been eating croissant French toast since childhood? – Metro Diner is always the right call for breakfast, as our readers see it. It’s the perfect place to gather for Grandma’s 80th birthday pancakes, a pre-church benedict-ine feast or a morning-after dish of huevos rancheros and yo hala on San Marco Square. Metro Diner also knocks out Best Breakfast at locations in Mandarin, Southside, Ortega, Orange Park, St. Augustine and Jax Beach.

BEST BRUNCH
Metro Diner
Finalists: Casa Marina, Orsay
OK, it’s déjà vu all over again. Dinner might be for dates but, dahhhling, brunch is quite simply the most sophisticated of all the meals. Thank your lucky stars: At Metro Diner, check the bad Betty Grable impressions at the door – unless that’s your thing, of course – and settle in for a delicious meal in a casual, welcoming environment. At Metro Diner’s seven Northeast Florida locations, brunch is a feast of scrumptious savories and sweets.

BEST BURGER IN JACKSONVILLE
M Shack Burgers
Finalists: The Blind Rabbit, Poe’s Tavern
The burger game is a competitive one, but it’s not hard to see why M Shack is Jacksonville’s favorite, at least as voted by FW readers. M Shack’s burgers are hormone-free, 100 percent beef, and specialty creations allow plenty of customizable options. Also serving, sammys, salads and dogs — and shakes! — M Shack has sprouted in all corners of Jacksonville, with locations in Riverside, San Marco, St. Johns Town Center, and Atlantic Beach. No matter which area of town you’re jonesin’ for the beef, the burgers are consistently juicy and flavorful all around. Plus, there are the taco fries, which we can only imagine swung the vote the M Shack way.

BEST BURGER ON AMELIA ISLAND
T-Rays Burger Station
Finalists: Tasty’s Fresh Burgers & Fries, The Salty Pelican
Driving past this former Exxon filling station in Fernandina Beach, you might feel its magnetic pull. When you stop in just once, chances are you’ll probably become a regular, and not just because T-Rays serves a tasty handmade burger. Seated together at one of the mismatched dining tables, served on shabby chic mismatched china, are tourists and locals, elbow-to-elbow with shrimpers and fancy attorneys, Amelia Island golfing aficionados and local artists — all of whom T-Ray and the rest of the Mullis family seem to know and count as friends.

BEST BURGER IN ORANGE PARK/FLEMING ISLAND
Five Guys
Finalists: The Loop, Ted’s Montana Grill
Five Guys could very well be the dominator in a delectable, affordable, and enjoyable American hamburger experience. At least that’s what Folio Weekly readers apparently think about the franchise eatery’s Orange Park/Fleming Island location. A regular Best of Jax winner, Five Guys has a no muss, no fuss menu that offers up juicy burgers, whopping orders of fries, along with bodacious hot dogs, veggie sandwiches, BLTs, and 15 free toppings so you can customize your gourmet gut bomb.

BEST BURGER IN ST. AUGUSTINE
BEST FRENCH FRIES
Cruisers Grill
Finalists Burger: Gas Full Service Restaurant, The Floridian
Finalists Fries: M Shack, Five Guys
For nearly 20 years, Cruisers Grill has been serving fresh fare in generous portions. Wait … that doesn’t sound appetizing. OK here goes, my honest opinion of Cruisers food … when you order a burger, cheeseburger, chipotle black bean burger or turkey burger, you get a huge burger with all kinds of stuff on it (if you wish) or just a huge patty, a bit greasy but that’s a good thing. However they grill it, it’s incredibly satisfying. Yeah, they got sandwiches and tacos and other extraneous items, but my God the burgers. Add a very cold beer and some beyond-belief award-winning cheese fries, and you’ll see why FW readers chose Cruisers for the sixth time as having the Best Burger in St. Augustine.

BEST BURRITO
Burrito Gallery, Burrito Gallery Express
Finalists: Lola’s, Chipotle
Is any bread product more diverse than the humble tortilla? It can be rolled, stuffed, fried, steamed, sautéed, baked, or toasted, filled with breakfast, lunch, dinner or dessert, made into chips, saucers, tacos, strips … OK, enough of stealing Bubba Blue’s litany about shrimp to Forrest Gump. Locally, the burrito reigns supreme, and of all the Latin-styled flatbreads, Burrito Gallery’s are our readers’ hands-down favorites. They love the tasty stuffed treats so much, this is the seventh year in a row they’ve chosen Burrito Gallery as serving the Best Burrito!

BEST CARIBBEAN RESTAURANT
Pusser’s Caribbean Grille
Finalists: Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Island Tropics Restaurant
Chef Chris DeLay has developed the menu at this Ponte Vedra favorite, based on both the flavors of the British Virgin Islands and those of his native Northeast Florida. With entrées like char-grilled salmon topped with mango corn relish and cilantro and Key lime chicken breast, the selections have a distinct island flair. There’s fish and chips by way of the Brits and Southern comfort food, like fried green tomatoes layered with pimento cheese appetizer. When our readers are there, they order a Ginger Sea Dog or Pusser’s Painkiller by the shipload, both created from the restaurant’s namesake, Pusser’s Rum.

BEST CHICKEN WINGS
Dick’s Wings & Grill
Finalists: V Pizza, Hurricane Grill & Wings
Our readers have voted, despite sticky hands, and have selected Dick’s Wings & Grill as their go-to joint for chicken wings (365 varieties!). It wasn’t a choice made cavalierly. Much research was involved, slogging from place to place, forcing poultry down their gullets, washing it down with icy-cold drafts — but they survived to reach a keyboard on phone or desktop, struggled to type in folioweekly.com, and get to the online ballot. Once there, it was straight to the Best Chicken Wings category (after having to vote for a bunch of other crap) and tapped in DICK’S WINGS, over and over (yes, one vote per person — but obviously a lot of persons).

BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT
Hawkers Asian Street Fare
Finalists: China Joy, P.F. Chang’s
While not technically a “Chinese” restaurant, it is true, folks, that Hawkers does serve Asian fare. Located in the 5 Points shopping district, this relative newcomer to the dining scene in the region has made quite an impact. Getting a table on a Friday or Saturday night is a precarious endeavor, but all the more reason to walk 5 Points and check out the rest of the scene.

BEST DELI
Pinegrove Market & Deli
Finalists: Sun Deli, Akel’s Delicatessen
They’ve got beef that’s dry-aged for about three weeks, which gives patrons just enough time to try everything on the menu, before returning for more of that delicious beef. Pinegrove Deli is easy to love; the family-owned butcher shop has been selling primo USDA Choice cuts of beef for nearly a half-century, and the addition of a deli makes it that much better. Choose from soups, salads, and sandwiches — especially the Cuban, the one that started all the excitement in the first place. Our readers chose Pinegrove as Best Deli for the third year in a row.

BEST DESSERT
Biscottis
Finalists: Cheesecake Factory, Sweet Theory
Biscottis isn’t too shy to smack customers in the face as soon as they walk inside. No violence here, but cakes upon pies upon tarts, even from behind the glass counter, assault the senses with their sweet smells and well-crafted appearances. Warming the hearts and bellies of Northeast Floridians with made-from-scratch goodies, such as bread pudding, brownies, macaroons, Rocky Road cake, and, of course, the biscotti. The cozy Avondale spot is in the business of great food, as well; try an entrée and save room for a colossal slice of moist, fluffy cake.

BEST FOOD TRUCK
The Happy Grilled Cheese
Finalists: On the Fly, Funkadelic
What do we want? CHEESE! When do we want it? ALWAYS! Clearly, Northeast Floridians can’t get enough of entrepreneur and self-described “sultan of all things cheesy” Anthony Hashem’s culinary creations, because they’ve once again crowned Happy Grilled Cheese as the Best Food Truck in all the land. With an ever-changing menu and an inspiring dedication to fresh, flavorful ingredients coupled with cheese-cheese-cheese, Happy Food Truck continues to win the race into happy bellies.

BEST FISH CAMP
Clark’s Fish Camp
Finalists: Whitey’s Fish Camp, North Beach Fish Camp
In this part of the world, the most assured way to eat locally may be the fish camp. What could enhance an already uniquely local pescatarian experience? Well, wild game and an extensive taxidermy collection, duh. Clark’s Fish Camp on Julington Creek in Mandarin serves up the local aquatic staples — St. Augustine oysters, shrimp, and fried gator tail — with a side (or a whole meal) of exotic game meats like ostrich, yak, or camel (charred or fried to your preference). Clark’s is the self-proclaimed “people’s place” and Best of Jax voters agree.

BEST CHEF
Tom Gray (Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails)
Finalists: Josh Agan (Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar), Ian Lynch (Ovinte, Bistro AIX)
Tom Gray’s culinary inspirations spring from his Southern roots in Jacksonville. After traveling and cooking throughout New York, Napa Valley, and more, he returned to his hometown, where he mixes his traveling experiences with his childhood favorites to create the menu at his St. Johns Town Center restaurant.  Moxie’s choices range from chicken and waffles to crispy chicken livers, to seared octopus, proving that Chef Gray isn’t afraid to add an innovative twist on Southern cuisine. Since opening a few years back, Moxie has spawned a media buzz that’s been unwavering; whatever Chef Gray’s doing, it’s working. Our readers agree.

BEST SERVER
Johnny Miller (European Street Café)
Finalists: Hugo Grenada (Picasso’s), Kevin Jackson (Blind Rabbit)
Johnny Miller’s loyal admirers have again made the 2013 champion rise to the top as Best Server in Northeast Florida. A fixture at the Riverside European Street Café (E-Street to locals) for nearly a decade, Miller can credit his continued success to his regulars, his winning personality and the smiling ease with which he serves vittles and drinks. As he says, “I have a lot of fun doing my job. I really enjoy it. It’s not work to me.” Sounds like he’s not just winning at work, he’s winning at life.

BEST INDIAN RESTAURANT
India’s Restaurant
Finalists: 5th Element, Masala
The name is proof positive of the restaurant’s commitment to keep things simple. That being said, India’s, off Baymeadows, a favorite since the late ’90s, is a small and unassuming place that knows it rocks. You can tell by the way they roll out the lunch buffet, which is simply awesome, according to our readers. Then there’s the naan, which turns an otherwise moderate diner into an unabashed glutton. Many have succumbed to depression upon arriving 20 minutes too late, so be sure to get there between 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. during the week for one of the best lunch buffets around.

BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Enza’s Italian Restaurant
Finalists: Picasso’s, Carrabba’s Italian Grill
Based in Mandarin, Enza’s was opened by Enza and Mike Huff in 2004 with a menu steeped in the traditions of Palermo, Sicily (Enza’s hometown). After immigrating to America at the age of 10, she worked in the family bakery. Mike went on to become a chef and the two have created a welcoming, warm environment. Enza’s website offers, “you’re here to eat with us, drink with us, relax with us and enjoy authentic, Italian cuisine.” Sounds good to us.

BEST MIDDLE EASTERN RESTAURANT
The Casbah Café
Finalists: Hala Café & Bakery, Mandaloun Mediterranean Restaurant
What could go better with belly dancers than a mound of baba ganoush? Well, hummus and hookah, of course. Casbah Café takes top honors, yet again, for FW readers’ favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. It’s open in the heart of Avondale from 11 a.m.-2 a.m., perfect for a midday pit stop or a late-night gathering. Check out the local artwork on the walls and kick back with some chocolate shisha, as beautiful talented women skillfully tell age-old stories without speaking a word.

BEST MEDITERRANEAN RESTAURANT
Hovan Gourmet Mediterranean
Finalists: The Olive Tree Mediterranean Grille, Taverna Yamas
The white restaurant with the blue awning in 5 Points is Hovan, a Riverside favorite. Hovaness Kabbenjian opened the first Hovan in the ’80s for lovers of all things Mediterranean and delicious, and readers of Folio Weekly have responded with another Best of Jax award. Hovan’s authentic cuisine features spinakopeta, bourek, falafel, and the famous Hovan rolls — Armenian unleavened bread rolled around meats, cheeses, or veggies. Or all three.

BEST SANDWICH SHOP
Angie’s Subs
Finalists: Surfwiches Sandwiches, European Street Café
A beaches institution for years (no, owner Ed Malin has not been institutionalized for years, despite that pesky lawsuit), Angie’s has a knack for creating great big satisfying subs to sate all appetites, from soccer moms and kids, Fletcher High students on lunch, surfers just done with their morning fun, businesspersons seeking a little unbuttoned-down time. Choose from standard sub fare, or order the No. 1 seller, The Peruvian. 

BEST SMOOTHIE
Tropical Smoothie Café
Finalists: Smoothie King, Pulp
Florida heat is often oppressive. Sometimes, in the middle of a scorcher, you just need icy, blended fruit. Northeast Floridians have their pick when it comes to delicious smoothies. Tropical Smoothie has the support of this year’s Best of Jax readers poll. With more than a dozen Northeast Florida locations, Tropical Smoothie Café also offers natural, nutritious options like sandwiches, wraps, and tacos for those looking for more than just a fruit puree.

BEST TAPAS
13 Gypsies
Finalists: Tapa That, Ovinte
First come, first eat! A true gem of Jacksonville dining culture, 13 Gypsies is a family-owned-and-operated tapas restaurant in the Mediterranean tradition. While other chefs are scouring new lands of culinary passion, Chef Howard runs his kitchen with a passion for the simple and elegant — food of the Old World (They don’t even own electric mixers. All the work is done by hand every morning!). And they make their own sausage, cheese, cured meats, pickled veggies, spice blends, and fresh pastas.

BEST THAI RESTAURANT
Indochine
Finalists: Pattaya Thai, Tuptim Thai
The people want fusion. So give the people what they want. Indochine’s blend of Thai and Southeast Asian cuisine gives it an edge over the region’s many other Thai restaurants. Head to San Marco’s swanky Buddha Lounge for drinks, then mosey on upstairs for some of Indochine’s calamari and pad see ew. If you’re on Adams Street Downtown (and we are!), check out the exposed brick at Indochine digs there, above Burrito Gallery. Both locations offer a great view and even better food. So say all FW readers.

BEST VEGAN/VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
Southern Roots Filling Station
Finalists: Green Erth Bistro, Garden Truck
Southern Roots was a dream shared between owners JP and Mariah Salvat that became an awesome reality. With healthful living as a primary concern, this Riverside coffeeshop/vegan café/bulk foods store/apothecary has brought even more hungry lunch-hour office types to King Street. Southern Roots serves a fresh menu using organic and locally sourced ingredients. The selections vary according to seasonal availability, so keep up with Southern Root’s social media (@mysouthernroots on Instagram) to see what the daily special is.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR ON AMELIA ISLAND
The Salty Pelican
Finalists: Green Turtle, The Palace Saloon
The Salty Pelican is like Boston’s Cheers bar for Floridian beach towns: flipflops are part of the uniform and everybody knows your name — or they will by the shank of the evening. With two stories of that quintessential Fernandina Beach charm, it’s the kind of place Toby Keith would write songs about (and probably has).

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR IN JAX
rain dogs
Finalists: Kickbacks Gastropub, Sidecar
Perhaps Five Points’ rain dogs is so popular for the many, many options the bar presents those in search of a night of debauchery and lively conversation. The back portion hosts live music of most genres (maybe not polka) nightly — usually for $5 — while the bar presents a casual place to play a game of Connect Four and sip wine, craft beer, or 12-ounce cans of Busch ($2). The front entryway is often a magnet for those folks who want to bring their drinks, lively conversation, and cigarettes out into the dank Florida air. No matter which section of the joint they choose, it’s clear that rain dogs is the spot FW Best of Jax voters like the most.

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR IN ORANGE PARK/FLEMING ISLAND
CHEERS
Finalists: Brewer’s Pizza, Taps Bar & Grill
You know what they say: “There ain’t no party like an Orange Park Party at Cheers on Park Avenue, featuring Tuesday night ladies drink free wells, wines, and drafts, as well as Wednesday night Karaoke and DJs.” At least that’s what FW readers might say about their favorite Orange Park joint. Aside from the stuff everybody knows about, Cheers books some hard-rocking local bands and talented DJs spinning fan favorites. And the bar’s sprawling dance floor offers patrons the opportunity to get down after they’ve picked their poison from Cheers’ drink specials ($5 Jagerbombs, $3 fireball shots, $13 buckets of beer, to name a few). 

BEST NEIGHBORHOOD BAR IN ST. AUGUSTINE
Ice Plant Bar
Finalists: Dos Gatos, Tradewinds Lounge
With one of the best craft cocktail programs in the country, it’s no surprise that Ice Plant Bar has become the go-to watering hole for most of St. Augustine and surrounding areas. Opening its doors just two short years ago, and housed inside a renovated commercial ice plant dating to the early 1900s, IPB caters to the discerning palate. The bartending staff creates some fairly thirst-quenching concoctions such as Wet Hot American Summer and Day Tripper, as well as classic cocktails, including a killer Old Fashioned and one helluva Sazerac.

BEST BARBECUE
Mojo BBQ
Finalists: 4 Rivers Smokehouse, Bono’s Pit Bar-B-Q
Maurice Jones Drew is long gone, but Northeast Florida’s mojo keeps rising, thanks in no small part to five area Mojo Barbecue locations. Voters praise Mojo for its slow-cooked barbecue, as well as its distinct restaurant concepts, which differ at each location. While the Avondale spot is popular for its whiskey selection, Jax Beach’s Mojo Kitchen & Blues Bar features some of the hottest authentic blues acts currently touring the country.

BEST DIVE BAR
Pete’s Bar
Finalists: Wall Street Deli & Lounge, Birdies Five Points
Full disclosure: Some Folio Weekly staffers have met some historical hookups at Pete’s Bar in Neptune Beach. Founded in 1933 on the day after Prohibition was repealed, Pete’s has been going strong ever since, pouring inexpensive drafts, liquors and wine (but DO NOT order wine spritzer or crap of that ilk) to thirsty locals and tourists, some of whom like it so much they become locals. There are pool tables, ping pong tables, foosball and a 21st-century jukebox which, IMHO, is far inferior to the one on the Hut side in 1975. Every Thanksgiving, whether the NB cops like it or not, they rope off the street in front and have a massive party. Way fun, unless you run into one of those ex-hookups. Yikes.

BEST BEER SELECTION
Kickbacks Gastropub
Finalists: World of Beer, European Street Café
If a little is good, more is better. And most will win you Best of Jax! Nestled among King Street’s slew of watering holes and a couple of breweries Kickbacks Gastropub has conquered them all. They’ve got over 180 taps (connected to real kegs of beer) and 600 bottles to choose from. If you tried one new beer a day, you wouldn’t even be ready to offer what you learned prior to Best of Jax 2017. Get to work!

BEST LATE NIGHT SPOT
Kickbacks Gastropub
Finalists: Mavericks, The Garage
After sweating out all those vodka Redbulls at any of the jillion King Street and/or Five Points watering holes, nothing says bedtime like a Double IPA! But you know what they say: “liquor before beer,” and until this old adage is disproved (and we here at Folio Weekly are hard at work testing it out), Kickbacks Gastropub on King Street – with more than 180 draft beers from which to choose – remains the go-to spot for a nightcap.

BEST HAPPY HOUR
European Street Café
Finalists: Orsay, Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers 
When it came to categories involving boozing, it was somewhat surprising to see beer spots dominating this year’s Best of Jax results of the readers’ poll. But, given its history, it’s no surprise that perennial happy hour fave European Street emerged victorious once again. Challengers can get cute with their specials if they so choose, but European Street keeps ’em coming back for more, with 2-for-1 drafts and $1.50 off bottles from 2-7 p.m. every single day of the week.

BEST MARGARITA
Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar
Finalists: La Napolera, Taco Lu
A long-time espouser of the margarita, Jimmy Buffett no longer, to the horror of many, combines sour mix with his tequila. He says the sugar gives you a hangover. Well, if you’re not a quitter like that Buffett guy, the Beaches Town Center’s Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar should be in your future. For starters, the cocktail menu features more than 100 variations of the distilled agave spirit, from the cheap (Cuervo Gold) to the reasonable (1800 Reserva) to the you’re-either-Shad-Khan-or-you’ve-had-too-much-tequila (Don Julio Real Anejo). All of these taste better, it could be argued, when combined with inventive mixers like blood orange, or cactus juice, or just a few squeezes of lime.

BEST CRAFT COCKTAIL SPOT
The Volstead Jax
Finalists: Sidecar, Dos Gatos
Aside from its inherent urban appeal, The Volstead on West Adams Street has become a favorite among Best of Jax voters for using expertly crafted traditional cocktails like Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Sazeracs, along with most of the trappings of similar bars across the country involved in the current craft cocktail movement — dim lighting, communal tables, reclaimed wood, exposed brick, bartenders dressed like they’re in the Avett Brothers — to take customers off the streets of an often-sleepy Downtown and transport them to a happening spot in the center of what was, as Volstead’s website claims, the place to be during the Jazz Age.

BEST PUB
Lynch’s Irish Pub
Finalists: Culhane’s Irish Pub, O’Brothers Irish Pub
The website has a countdown to St. Patrick’s Day (177 days, 20 hours, 15 minutes, 14 seconds … 9 seconds … 14 minutes …) so you can see Lynch’s is rabid about its authenticity. Our readers have chosen this Jax Beach place for the 14th time as the Best Pub, and you know why: Live music every night, often local bands, weekday happy hour, bingo every Wednesday — OK, not so much bingo Must be the 50 beers on tap, very cool beer flights, all manner of Irish-y cocktails, and a variety of shooters, since you’re there to HAVE FUN.

BEST SPORTS BAR
Sneakers Sports Grille
Finalists: Ale House, Time Out Sports Grill
Smackdab in the heart of Jax Beach, Sneakers has scored (haha get it? sports reference) its 17th win as FW readers’ favorite sports bar. It’s been in JB since 2001, with TVs all over the place, athletic-type memorabilia (some signed by the actual athletes, some for sale) in every corner, an arcade and trivia. The menu is hearty and diverse, and the friendly, competent waitstaff is easily recognizable, in shorts, jerseys and … yup, sneakers.

BEST WINE LIST
Ovinté
Finalists: Orsay, The Wine Bar
As far as we’re concerned, wine is the eighth wonder of the world. That’s why the words “champagne brunch” are enough to get even the laziest couch potato dressed and out the door in five seconds flat. With more than 240 varieties from which to choose, Ovinté has a wine for every occasion: Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays. Oh, and even Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays! Did we miss any?

BEST BARISTA
Mike Ricci, Brew Five Points
Finalists: Erin Lee (Bold Bean), Brandon Hutchinson (Urban Bean)
For some, the interaction with a barista is the first human contact of each day, setting the mood, pace and, in some cases, the inspiration for the hours that lie ahead. The effect Brew’s Mike Ricci may have on the multi-roaster espresso/beer bar’s patrons may best be summed up by a submission to Folio Weekly’s ever-popular “ISU” section less than a month ago, that carried the subject line “Long-Haired, beautiful Brew Barista.” The customer crooned, “ISU pulling shots, serving beer, and grinding coffee with that beautiful smile on your face. Hoping we can do some grinding of our own soon.” Word is that slow-roasted Romeo was talking about grinding with Ricci. As for the rest of the Best of Jax voters, it’s clear they share a preference for Ricci’s shots, beers, and coffee grinding.

BEST BREWMASTER
Michael Payne, Aardwolf Brewing Company
Finalists: Sean Bielman (Engine 15), Luciano Scremin (Engine 15)
Michael Payne and the Aardwolf crew have created one of the area’s most beautiful tap rooms connected to one of the best breweries in town. Payne doesn’t cut any corners and uses the best ingredients he can find to produce a wide range of flavors and tastes. Aardwolf has come on strong in the local craft beer scene, and it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down any time soon. Both Sean Bielman and Luciano Scremin from Engine 15 were a close runners-up and deserve to be mentioned for Engine 15’s success and impact at the beaches.

BEST SOUL FOOD
Potter’s House 
Finalists: Hip Hop Fish & Chips, Soul Food Express
Potter’s House Ministries may have a large, devout following, but since moving into their sprawling 5,000-plus-square-foot space off Atlantic Boulevard, their Soul Food Kitchen has been responsible for converting countless Northeast Floridians into believing in the healing power of delicious Southern-style home cooking. Indeed, we’ve heard many compare partaking of the country-fried chicken, as well as the cheesy mac ’n’ cheese, to a religious experience.

BEST CUPCAKE
Sweet by Holly
Finalists: CamiCakes, Sweet Theory Baking Co.
Some may believe a cupcake is a cupcake is a cupcake, be it Sara Lee or Betty Crocker. Then they try a confection at Sweet by Holly, where the humble cupcake is so much more than flour and sugar. Hollis Wilder brought her baking love to the St. Johns Town Center, where her shop has had a steady flow of customers, both new and repeat. Offering 50-plus flavors of cupcakes, the bakery’s ambitions are a lot bigger than a single pleated-paper-wrapped treat. The menu has now expanded to include cookie cakes and more vegan and gluten-free options, because no one should be denied a cupcake. That would just be wrong.

BEST KOREAN RESTAURANT
Sam Won Garden
Finalists: Hon Korean, Hawkers Asian Street Fare
Korean food is an emerging taste for Jacksonville’s palate. Sam Won Garden on University Boulevard is what most people think of when they set their sights on a Korean dinner. Seasoned beef dishes, spicy soups, fermented vegetables, and a powerful punch of flavor in every bite, Sam Won Garden adds its own unique set of flavors to the Korean taste profile. It’s worth noting that finalist Hon Korean on Beach Boulevard is no slouch, either.

BEST MEAL UNDER $10
TacoLu Baja Mexicana
Finalists: Chomp Chomp, Steak ’n’ Shake
The wildly popular restaurant (you can tell by the lack of parking) has won its third Best of Jax in this revived category of Best Meal Under $10. From its semi-humble (semi because we know Don) beginnings, TacoLu Baja Mexicana offered tasty tacos for practically nothing in a small spot on Beach Boulevard. Now spread out at the former Homestead, Lu still serves tacos — bangin’ shrimp, Baja fish, brisket (our favorite) Deb’s verde and more, each for less than $5, so get two. Don’t forget Lu’s other top-seller: tequila. Buckets of tequila.

BEST FROZEN YOGURT
Sweet Frog Premium Frozen Yogurt
FINALISTS: Mochi, Yobe Frozen Yogurt
Folio Weekly readers might have picked Sweet Frog strictly by the numbers: a half-dozen locations in Northeast Florida, more than 70 regular, low-fat, nonfat, no-sugar-added flavors, as well as sorbet offerings, and 60-plus toppings to choose. Add it all together and you’ve got your own ultimate frozen yogurt concoction. Did we mention that Sweet Frog sells both Maple Donut Bacon and Very Strawberry flavors? Combine them in one cup? Ka-boom! They cancel each other out! It’s like a 21st-century diet in your mouth! Gorge onward.

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