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BITE-SIZED

In the heart of Riverside lies a casual yet 
 borderline hip café, complete with free WiFi and a self-service bottomless coffee station.

Breakfast is available even at lunchtime, which is a bonus. Sometimes you just want (OK, need) an omelet, eggs Benedict or French toast in your life after a hectic morning has passed.

In addition to a clever build-your-own omelet selection, Cool Moose's menu boasts four Benedicts — traditional, smoked bacon and tomato, smoked salmon, and veggie.

Daily specials are scrawled across a blackboard, including the homemade soup selection. A recent offering, the Desayuno de Costa Rica, caught my eye: a breakfast platter with scrambled eggs, chorizo and cheddar on a grilled corn tortilla, topped with tomatillo salsa and accompanied by sweet plantains, black beans and rice.

The lunch sandwich options run the gamut — Cuban, chicken salad croissant, ham and brie panini with maple mustard, half-pound Angus burger with sharp cheddar, a gyro with tatziki, and a classic Reuben, to name a few. The chicken salad croissant, made with all white meat, is tossed with crunchy celery, red onion, walnuts and a slightly sweet honey mayo. Complement the sweetness with a side of garlicky truffle fries.

For vegetarians, options include a veggie burger on herbed focaccia bun, a marinated grilled portobello panini with roasted red pepper, provolone and sweet basil pesto (which pairs nicely with a side of crisp sweet potato fries dusted with sugar), and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Cool Moose's buttery Texas-style toast makes for a simple yet satisfying grilled cheese. You can add slices of tomato or crisp bacon if the mood strikes. Or pair your 'wich with a cup of soup for dunking.

Open 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, Cool Moose can be counted on for an inexpensive, laidback bite. On the weekends, the outside tables fill up fast with patrons — mimosas in hand and pups …   More

BITE-SIZED

I’ve never met a sweet I didn’t like. At Sweet Theory Baking Company, I have yet to meet a sweet I don’t love.

This place is super-cool (I’d say “sweet,” but perhaps that pun is going overboard?). While there’s only room for about 12 diners, the vintage décor, chalk art and ephemera, together with a collection of blasts from the past like Alf and the California Raisins, make it seem as though it’s been in the neighborhood forever.

Sweet Theory whips up fluffy doughnuts in every flavor imaginable — egg nog, chai, French toast, cinnamon sugar, pink lemonade, chocolate peppermint, strawberry, lemon poppy, root beer, SunButter (a creamy sunflower seed alternative to peanut butter) and jelly and more. Orange creamsicle — my flavor of choice — melts in your mouth. If you’re feeling extra gluttonous, go for a doughnut sundae, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel, cookie crumbs and coconut whipped cream.

Owner Katie Riehm emphasizes quality ingredients and ensures there’s something for everyone, even those with food allergies. Her concoctions are peanut-free, dairy-free, egg-free and soy-free, thus making items vegan. And, while I feel a bit like Dr. Oz writing this, the doughnuts are even fried in heart-healthy organic, cold-pressed coconut oil — but if I didn’t know that, I’d never guess. There are no refined sugars in sight, just organic whole cane sugar and all-natural agave nectar. While the prices are steep — $3 for one donut, not a dozen — quality ingredients go a long way.

Sweet Theory also serves local Bold Bean Coffee Roasters brews and hand-crafted Brooklyn egg cream sodas made using non-dairy cream, chocolate syrup and seltzer water. Some days, there are cookies, cupcakes, shortbread cookies and whoopee pies. On one of many recent visits, I had the delightful banana-maple whoopee pie: two …   More

BITE-SIZED

Every season, Ovations Food Services strives to bring new food offerings to a stadium full of hungry Jaguars fans. Hot dogs and hamburgers are mainstays, but many are unaware of unique cooked-to-order, reasonably priced items available around the stadium.

Ovations General Manager Ryan Prep has announced "The Jungle," in the upper east concourse of the stadium (section 435), is launching two new concepts, Stix and The Duval Taco Company. No item costs more than $10. Executive Chef Barrie Weathersbee, who's been with the team on and off for 16 years, has been finessing her recipes in the Jaguars' test kitchen.

Stix are two wooden skewers of bite-sized pieces of meat served atop a bed of Asian noodles. With teriyaki-glazed Korean beef, sweet-and-spicy mojo-glazed pork and jerk chicken with a mango chutney glaze, there's something for all tastes. The Korean beef, studded with sesame seeds, is my favorite.

Bold flavors abound at The Duval Taco Company. Pairs of gourmet hand-held tacos (there are three varieties) are served alongside homemade salsa and wedges of freshly fried flour tortillas dusted with adobo seasoning. The chicken verde features shredded chicken braised in salsa verde, topped with pickled onion and a creamy drizzle of cilantro crema. The Big Bang taco is loaded with spicy fried shrimp, chopped pineapple, diced red pepper and jalapeño and served atop a cabbage slaw that's marinated in a cumin-lime vinaigrette. Smoky braised pulled-pork carnitas are dressed with a sautéed green-pepper-and-onion medley and cilantro lime crema. All of the tacos are served on flour tortillas but can be made gluten-free when you request corn tortillas.

Perhaps the most creative addition is the handheld chicken-and-waffle sliders, a unique twist on a Southern favorite. Scratch-made batter is first poured into hot Belgian waffle irons. The resultant golden waffles are then topped with a hunk of fried white-meat chicken breast, a sweet-and-spicy red …   More

BITE-SIZED

Ever get that yearning for pizza and need to tame your hunger ASAP? Look no further than Your Pie, a fast-casual chain with a new Fleming Island location. Custom pizzas piled high (no skimping here!) with your favorite toppings are ready in a mere five minutes, thanks to a 600-degree pizza oven and nimble staff.

It's often difficult to get a group to agree on pizza toppings: Some begrudgingly pick off mushrooms and pepperoni, while others secretly wish for garlic and pineapple. Good news, picky pizza fans: Your Pie offers personal-size 10-inch pie.

While casual, the interior feels much nicer than similar assembly-line style spots like Chipotle, Moe's and Subway. Seating is abundant, and I foresee many families stopping in after Little League games or swim practices. Grownups will appreciate beer, wine, sangria and free Wi-Fi.

With more than 40 toppings (add as many non-meat toppings as you'd like without additional cost), eight sauces and nine different kinds of cheese, Your Pie caters to the tastes of all pizza lovers. Even food allergies are given serious consideration: Gluten-free pies are cooked in their own pans, and there's an option for dairy-free vegan cheese.

The crust is light and chewy without being too thin or too thick, and the edges maintain a perfect crispness. I had trouble choosing from eight sauces, but I enjoyed the flavorful sun-dried tomato pesto. On another recent visit, I tried the pizza sauce, then added shredded mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, jalapeños for kick and bacon (because, well, it's bacon).

Not in the mood for pizza? Several paninis and bread bowl salads await. I enjoyed the caprese: slices of fresh mozzarella, leafy spinach, tomatoes and shredded basil with extra virgin olive oil and a side of balsamic dressing, served in a baked pizza dough bowl.

Your Pie touts a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, allowing for several clever soda flavor combinations, like orange vanilla Diet Coke or raspberry Sprite.

For …   More

BITE-SIZED

Know what’s comforting? A plate of piled-high barbecue — with all the fixins.

Monroe’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Q, with a location on the Westside off Cassat and Edgewood at 4838 Highway Ave., and a mobile food truck (Monroe’s On the Go), recently opened a second brick-and-mortar on bustling Beach Boulevard. The former Woody’s Bar-B-Q has been revamped, and the wood floors, country décor and picnic bench seating is apropos.

After starting with bite-sized corn nuggets <> fried okra, I ordered the pulled pork platter — a large portion of moist and flavorful meat — with two sides, and added a third. Life’s short — why not? The collard greens, with a vinegar base, won over my Southern heart. The creamy mac ‘n’ cheese and sweet potato soufflé were perfect accompaniments: cheesy goodness and a subtly sweet soufflé topped with chopped nuts.

Worth mentioning are those addictive corn nuggets: I recommend starting with a shared basket. They’re stuffed with sweet creamed corn, fried and paired with a slightly spicy homemade ranch dipping sauce.

Monroe’s has finger-licking-good wings (both dry and wet), sandwiches (pulled pork, chopped Carolina pork, brisket, pulled chicken and sliced turkey), salads and platters. The sides are where it’s at; secretly, I’d love to order one of each and stuff myself silly. Talk about tempting: creamy coleslaw, homemade potato salad, collard greens, mashed potatoes, baked beans, black-eyed peas, sweet yellow whole-kernel corn, simmered Southern-style green beans and red coleslaw. The standard fries and side salad are also available.

As a big dipper (no pun intended), I get my kicks by tasting all of the homemade squeezable barbecue sauces: Two sticky thumbs-up for the tangy mustard sauce. There are also sauce flavors of mustard, hot mustard, Monroe sauce, chipotle, Carolina and sweet.

In the back of the restaurant is a …   More

BITE-SIZED

Historic 5 Points has become one of the hip and happening spots in town. In addition to neighborhood favorites like The Mossfire Grill, O’Brothers Irish Pub and Sake House, a handful of new spots have opened and business is booming.

Black Sheep Restaurant (1534 Park St., 355-3793, blacksheep5points.com) is open for lunch and dinner. The spot, Orsay’s sister restaurant, serves new American favorites with a Southern twist. With the rooftop bar now open, Black Sheep will debut a brunch menu in the weeks ahead.

Black Sheep pays great attention to utilizing locally sourced ingredients and plating them beautifully. At lunch, meals arrive at your table on shiny silver retro cafeteria-style trays. The pimento cheese-stuffed fried green olives are stacked high with a creamy dipping sauce, while the Black Hog Farms Egg Toast is a sturdy rectangle of brioche topped with melted cheese and two symmetrical parallel placed eggs.

The vibe is fun and hip, with large floor-to-ceiling windows that are perfect for sunlight and people-watching.

Derby on Park (1068 Park St., 379-3343, facebook.com/DerbyOnPark) replaced the former Derby House with new owners, a new space and new menu at the corner of Park Street and Lomax. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and brunch on Sunday, Derby touts a $3 to $5 drink and appetizer special list for happy hour.

Cozy Tea Café (1023 Park St., 329-3964, cozyt.com) moved down a few storefronts to a larger space and has reinstated its celebrated Friday and Saturday Indian dinners in addition to its popular Monday-through-Saturday lunch service. Every time I stop in for lunch, I snag a warm lemon cookie. The freshly baked treat has a perfect chewy-to-crispy ratio, and the warm lemon drizzle on top sends it over the edge.

Spot 5 on Park (1020 Park St., 655-5533) recently opened and serves lunch and dinner, coffee and drinks. Spot 5’s simplistic menu includes salads, six styles of hot dogs, and …   More

BITE-SIZED

With spring in the air and summer close behind, now is the prime time to roll down the windows and head down picture-perfect Highway A1A to this casual hideaway on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Cap’s doesn’t take reservations and — like most amazing beachfront spots — the nicer the weather, the longer you may wait for a seat. Unarguably, the biggest selling point is the sprawling wooden deck under a canopy of shady trees. (The outside oyster bar’s a close second.) The deck provides views of breathtaking sunsets, flocks of seagulls and tranquil waters.

The menu is lengthy, so go with a group so you can share and experiment. It’s also kid-friendly.

Of the more than 25 appetizers, I have some recommendations. If you’re into soups, Cap’s creamy signature she-crab soup or spicy roux-based gumbo, with freshly made cornbread, will fill you up. The generously portioned, tenderized fried gator tail with a light citrus sauce is a staple. A platter with hot smoked salmon, caper cream cheese, chopped egg and diced onion is simple but nicely done. For creative presentation and texture, I recommend the flaky phyllo dough cups filled with chopped sesame soy tuna tartare. The Belgian fries are fried twice — thick, golden and beyond crisp. The best parts are the dipping sauces: curry mayo, datil and peanut sauces get my vote.

The vanilla grouper, with sweet vanilla rum sauce, is flaky, horseradish-crusted, flash-fried grouper atop mashed potatoes and fried crisp spinach. Your taste buds will dance. And you can’t go wrong with Cap’s jambalaya — shrimp, crawfish, sausage, chicken, onions and peppers meet jasmine rice.

There’s plenty of other fresh seafood, and I made a dozen oysters my entrée (I ordered an extra half-dozen). You can go raw or steamed and select from East, West or Gulf coasts. Snow crab legs, peel-and-eat Mayport shrimp and steamed clams round out the “surf” …   More

BITE-SIZED

The diversity of ingredients and preparations in ethnic cuisines can transport you around the world with their unique flavors. And the décor can enhance the journey. That’s where Bowl of Pho comes in.

Pho is a staple in Vietnamese diets. Along with rice noodles and beef broth, traditional pho contains varieties of meat including rare beef, beef flank, brisket, tendon (connective tissue that’s cooked for a long time at a slow temperature, becoming pliable and gelatinous like beef fat), tripe (stomach of a domesticated animal) and meatballs. A large, colorful plate of garnishes is served alongside the oversized bowl. Toss in as much as you’d like of raw jalapeño slices, saw-leaf herb (leaf-like, with a flavor similar to cilantro but stronger), fragrant Thai basil, crunchy bean sprouts, chopped green onion and cilantro. Add some hot chili sauce and a squeeze of lime wedge and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves. A bib is recommended but not necessary — for some.

Warning: Bowl of Pho’s menu is expansive. I mix up my order each time I visit. At my rate, I’ll be 87 by the time I’ve worked my way through the menu.

With plenty of appetizers from which to choose, start with the light spring rolls: Shrimp and pork meet vermicelli (thin rice noodles served in many Asian cuisines, from Chinese Cantonese noodles to Filipino pancit), lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber and cilantro. Everything is carefully tucked into pliable rice paper and rolled. It’s proper form to dip these beauties into the side of hoisin-peanut sauce. For pep, add a dash of siracha.

On a recent trip, I diverged from the pho column and ordered from the “egg/rice noodle soup” list. Unlike the beef broth in the pho varieties, these selections offer chicken and pork broth. The barbecue pork with wonton egg noodles (mi hoanh thanh, if you prefer to order in Vietnamese) was a winner: For $7.50, I counted six oversized pork wontons swimming peacefully with tender slices of …   More

BITE-SIZED

Ever wished you could escape to a fish camp but don't live near the water? Step out of the suburbs and into an authentic fish market and casual dining experience. At Sid & Linda's, you'll be greeted by colorful artwork of palm trees, sailboats, scuba divers, herons and various fish in a newly expanded dining room.

Prompted by the fall weather, I started with a bowl of creamy New England clam chowder. An abundance of chewy clams reminded me of the tasty chowdah I'd experienced on a recent Boston trip.

Next I ordered two tacos — one shrimp and one fish ($2.95 each), which I upgraded to snapper for an additional $1.95. Corn tortillas contained seafood atop minced coleslaw, then sprinkled with cheese and a heavy drizzle of datil pepper sauce. Thumbs up.

Dining at a seafood market begs for a basket of comforting fried shrimp, fries and hushpuppies ($10.95). The shrimp were abundant and fresh and accompanied by a trio of sauces — a tangy rémoulade, spicy cocktail and creamy tartar. The ping-pong-sized puppies were fried golden crisp on the outside and sweet on the inside. We also ordered seafood mac — elbow pasta salad with crunchy celery, red bell pepper, red onion and diced shrimp — as an additional side ($2.95).

From the chef's specials, the Hawaiian glazed, wild-caught mahi-mahi ($14.95) is easily enough for two meals: peppery green beans tossed with diced tomatoes and sautéed onions, two hushpuppies, cole slaw and choice of side. Our waitress recommended the spinach cake — a mound of spinach mixed with asiago cheese lightly breaded then fried. It was so good I considered hugging, or perhaps high-fiving, our waitress.

Sid & Linda's serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Open since April, the restaurant expanded into the adjacent space in October, more than doubling its dining area. The fish market is roomy, and the staff is happy to cook your seafood selection before you head out the door. …   More

BITE-SIZED

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 …   More

 
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