For breakfast, there’s the hip Cool Moose Café (2708 Park St., 381-4242), a laid-back spot serving inexpensive coffee, breakfast sandwiches (opt for the scrambled egg, apple chutney and melted cheese on croissant), omelets, eggs Benedict, pancakes and two-for-one mimosas on Sundays. When the weather’s just right, grab one of several outdoor tables.
Nearby, you’ll stumble upon Whiteway Delicatessen (1237 King St., 389-0355), a long-standing weekday breakfast and lunch locale. Owner Sam Salem likely will commit your name and order to memory if you become a regular. The no-frills spot has been around since 1927, earning it the honor of being Jacksonville’s oldest deli. The menu, crowded with quirky sandwich names, is posted on individually printed sheets of paper hung on the wall. Some are named for area professionals (Dr. Stone, Dr. Long, Tom Bishop and Anne Beard). The rider sandwiches, with the fillings spilling out of a pita, are a popular choice. Try the Late Bloomer: a pressed pita stuffed with shaved turkey, provolone, tabouli, avocado spread, banana peppers and crispy bacon. It’s named after Bloomers, a legendary lingerie store at Park and King streets. The honor system governs the Whiteway coffers: Pay at the register when you leave, and Sam will eagerly snap your picture and upload it to the deli’s Facebook page. Before the popularity of digital cameras, he’d snap your picture, develop it and post it on the wall or add it to one of many shoebox archives full of regulars.
Newbie neighbor Sweet Theory Baking Co. (1243 King St., 387-1001) creates organic and vegan — no eggs or dairy — baked treats that are also soy- and peanut-free. There are warm doughnuts in drool-worthy flavors like salted caramel, chai, strawberry, pineapple and root beer. Hand-crafted whoopie pies, cookies, frosted cupcakes, biscuits, Brooklyn egg cream sodas and local Bold Bean coffee are also on the menu.
Food Network’s Guy Fieri gave 13 Gypsies (887 Stockton St., 389-0330) the “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” stamp of approval as the “it” spot for tapas and a glass of Spanish wine or sangria. You’ll need a reservation for this extremely small dining room. The risotto of the day is a must: creamy, rich, perfectly cooked aborio rice flavored with the chef’s daily inspiration. The jibneh arabueh (pan-seared cheese with scallion oil and roasted red pepper coulis) and roman gnocchi (flat pieces of semolina and parmesan dough served with a mushroom sauce) are also attention-grabbers. For dessert, order the tres leches cake, made with evaporated milk, condensed milk and whole milk.
Nearby brick coffeehouse Bold Bean Coffee Roasters (869 Stockton St., 855-1181) is perfect for a post-meal latte (all syrups are made in-house, and coffee is roasted and ground onsite) or pour-over coffee and conversation. Java not your jive? Bold Bean also offers tea, wine and several brews on draft. On weekend nights, you’ll often hear live music wafting out its doors.
Back at Park and King, you’ll find Pele’s Wood Fire (2665 Park St., 232-8545), which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Pele’s dishes up lunch and dinner daily and brunch on weekends, in the former home of Carter’s Pharmacy. Pele’s sleek, remodeled bar offers 50 beers on tap. The wood fire ovens lend a smoky, rustic flavor to pizzas, lemoncello wings and bread. Try the creamy lavender goat cheese fonduta topped with a tomato jam and olive oil swirl or crispy artichoke hearts with pesto mayo, basil and freshly grated parmesan. Pele’s signature pizzas are cooked in the wood-fire oven at 800 degrees in less than two minutes. If you feel like splurging, Executive Chef Micah Windham makes a cast-iron lasagna with rich homemade meat sauce, sweet caramelized onions, hand-pulled mozzarella, goat cheese and provolone that's hard to pass up. And with desserts like peanut butter tiramisu and zeppoles with a trio of dipping sauces, you <> want to factor in a sugary confection.
The Salty Fig (901 King St., 337-0146) is a lively newcomer at the corner of King and College streets. Brothers Jeff and John Stanford opened the Southern-style gastropub in late 2012 after debuting as a food truck. John created the cocktail menu. Try the watermelon jalapeño margarita or a Dark Moon, a gingery moonshine concoction served in a Mason jar. The Mad Oysters appetizer won me over: fried plump oysters atop a creamy corn puree. A cup of spicy gumbo topped with rice and scallions is a thrilling prelude to a bowl of New Orleans-style shrimp and goat cheese grits with Creole trinity spices. There’s also a pork belly and fried oyster “BLT” that debuted, sans oysters, on the food truck and quickly gained popularity.