Creative in the Core

Downtown lunch spot touts gourmet offerings


Olio Chef Greg DeSanto has carved out a culinary niche nestled in a hip space within the historic J.H. Churchwell building in Jacksonville’s urban core.

DeSanto’s kitchen creativity places emphasis on fresh, local ingredients, offering seasonal items in addition to Olio’s popular static menu.

For spring, several new, hunger-inducing items have appeared: cold gazpacho soup, duck wonton soup, tuna steak sandwich with carrot and fennel salad on ciabatta, housemade chicken and foie gras boudin blanc, a skirt steak bahn mi with spicy Sriracha aioli; a Monte Cristo with blackberry jam, pork belly and fried egg on ciabatta and a ground lamb burger. May I just have one of everything?

New items aside, I have some tried-and-true favorites. I’ll let you in on a secret: Olio’s fish tacos are some of the best in town. Two soft flour tortillas are piled with thick slabs of moist, blackened fish topped with a mandarin orange fruit salsa, crunchy cabbage and a cilantro-lime crème drizzle. If fish doesn’t strike your fancy, you can swap it with chicken, shrimp or carnitas instead.

Don’t eat meat? The popular falafel wrap features housemade pickles, crisp Romaine lettuce, creamy red pepper coulis and chickpea patties snuggled in a warm naan blanket.

All of Olio’s side items are a la carte. Regulars enjoy the homemade French fries and thick-cut potato chips, both served with a creamy basil aioli. Rotating sides include crispy dill potatoes, mushroom risotto, orzo salad, zucchini fries, Mediterranean couscous, mac ‘n’ cheese, three-grain salad and hummus with pita chips.

Olio also offers a wide range of deep-dish quiches: steak and bleu cheese, quiche Lorraine, chicken and bacon, mushroom, three-cheese, ham and Swiss, and smoked chicken with asparagus.

DeSanto’s popularity index shot up last year when The Travel Channel’s Adam Richman from “Man vs. Food” stopped in. Richman aired a special “Best Sandwiches in America” episode in which Olio’s duck confit grilled cheese earned a spot after being voted into a wild card slot. As DeSanto prepared the sandwich on that episode, you couldn’t help but drool as thick, buttered sourdough was loaded with duck confit, American and gruyere cheeses and green tomato slices. The sandwich didn’t snag national honors, but it put Jacksonville on the map and won over many more area sandwich fans.

What better way to wash down duck confit grilled cheese than with homemade ginger ale? Fresh-pressed ginger, simple syrup and add-your-own seltzer water with a splash of Sprite is quite a refreshing beverage.

The comfortable, fast-casual setting offers gourmet lunch at a reasonable price. Place your order and pay, then seat yourself at a booth or table. Nearby metered street parking is ample, and the entire front of the restaurant is windows, great for watching busy passersby on their lunch hour. An open kitchen, dark hardwood floors and modern furnishings add to the chic, urban ambiance.

At Olio, creativity is king, and dessert options deserve a shiny crown: chocolate rum cake, white chocolate raspberry cake, angel food cake, deep-dish apple pie, raspberry flan, coconut cream cake and pumpkin spice cake with cream cheese frosting (don’t mind if I do!). Find them posted each day on Twitter at @oliomarket

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