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It’s Pho-tastic

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


Fish Camp Without the Coast

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


Ravenous Riverside

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


Savory St. Augustine

Plan for lunch or dinner at The Floridian (39 Cordova St., 829-0655) across from Flagler College. The cozy restaurant serves generous Southern-inspired portions featuring locally sourced ingredients. Popular menu items include homemade pimento cheese, fried green tomato hoagie and shrimp with triangular polenta cakes. Some of the salads use unexpected ingredients, like black-eyed pea relish, sweet potato, quinoa and apples — and all salad dressings are made in-house. Wash it down with sweet tea served in a Mason jar.

Near the hub of the historic district tourist scene, you’ll discover Columbia Restaurant (98 St. George St., 824-3341) for a glass of red or white sangria and plates of Spanish tapas. Among the outdoor fountains and colorful Spanish tiles are Cuban and Spanish favorites like paella, empanadas, bacalla, pollo riojana and flan. The signature 1905 Salad, named for the year when the original restaurant opened in Ybor City, is prepared tableside with iceberg lettuce, Swiss cheese, baked ham, tomato, red onion, manzanilla (green) olives, garlic, lemon, Worcestershire sauce and white wine vinaigrette, and topped with Romano cheese. Make a reservation — this family-owned restaurant gets crowded quickly due to its tourist appeal and central location.

Don’t miss The Hyppo (48 Charlotte St., 217-7853) for a gourmet frozen popstick or “paleta” in its vibrant, expanded location. These pops are handcrafted onsite using fresh ingredients to create the treats ranging from the sweet and spicy datil strawberry to the refreshing, summery pineapple cilantro. The texture is not icy, like you’d expect from traditional boxed pops. Try to pick just one of the countless concoctions like horchata, pumpkin cheesecake, lavender lemonade, sangria pear, Key lime pie and creamy pistachio coconut. If you’re a “chocophile,” have your paleta dipped in chocolate for an extra dollar. And look for the adorable little …   More



In a back corner of The Lemon Bar, a popular Neptune Beach watering hole, is where Chris Dickerson's Corner Taco got its start three years ago. After succeeding in that oceanfront spot, he took the leap into the food truck scene, buying a 1965 Airstream trailer to peddle his self-proclaimed "semi-swanky tacos."

That's all history now. Dickerson's dream of opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant came true in February. Occupying the former Gina's Deli location, his 5 Points eatery touts fare made of fresh ingredients, local craft beers on draft, plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, and decorative strings of globe lights to replicate that singular food truck experience.

Every morning, the staff cranks up a tortilla maker, one of only two in the state (the other is at EPCOT), sending through a mound of fresh dough; moments later, a pile of fresh corn tortillas is born. No preservatives here, folks.

As the name suggests, get the tacos: $3.45 nabs you a carnitas (cooked for 24 hours!), crispy Dijon buttermilk-fried chicken, jerk chicken or local Artie's tempeh taco. For another buck, you can snag a semi-swanktacular taco — brisket, seared asparagus with flaked Maldon sea salt, mahi or a vegan hummus-and-tabouli taco aptly dubbed The 5 Points. Tacos come atop shredded red cabbage, sweet chile-lemon sauce and sprigs of cilantro, with lime wedges to squeeze. The portions are modest, but Corner Taco aims to leave you satisfied, not stuffed. There's also no cheese, shredded iceberg lettuce or diced pico de gallo like you find at other taco joints around town.

The Dyno-Mite ($9.95, plus $3.45 for added protein) is a hefty mound of crispy Dijon buttermilk fried chicken, marinated chicken or carnitas atop tortilla chips smothered with a homemade creamy white cheddar and brie fondue, chopped piquillo peppers, halved grape tomatoes, lime wedges and fresh cilantro. It's smart to share.

Sides clock in from $2.95 to $4.95. The Carolina rice pilaf, quinoa, and black …   More


Tiny Room, Big Flavors

Three years ago, when notorious Food Network host Guy Fieri of "Diners, 
Drive-ins and Dives" rode into historic Riverside to film an episode at already-popular 13 Gypsies, he catapulted the tiny restaurant onto the larger culinary map. Reservations are highly recommended (even for lunch), since there are only a handful of tables and just two chefs. And while the restaurant itself may be small, the tapas-style offerings are huge on variety and flavor.

Owner and chef Howard Kirk, who grew up in Spain, ensures that his Spanish dishes are created from scratch with quality ingredients. All of the bread is made in-house each morning. While items may be slightly pricey, it's worth the splurge for date night or a small dinner with friends. You've been warned: Popular menu items sell out. Share a carafe of fruity red wine sangria or unwind by ordering a glass of vino from the wine list.

If you order just one item (and you'll want to order several, trust me!), the risotto of the day is always a must. Made from short-grain Arborio rice, it's thick, creamy and perfectly cooked. On a recent visit, I all but licked our plate of pork shoulder risotto clean.

Another frontrunner is the Mushroom Seville. Pieces of toast topped with a light spread of goat cheese are served with a cup of creamy brandy, garlic and herb sauce chockfull of sautéed mushrooms, perfect for spooning onto the toast.

The shrimp, sautéed in olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper, proved to be a simple yet flavorful dish with a little kick. With five jumbo shrimp, there were enough to share.

One unique tapas on a list of more than two dozen is the Roman-style gnocchi: Rectangular planks of flat Semolina flour gnocchi are pan-seared, then topped with a garlicky cream sauce, sautéed mushrooms and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated cheeses.

Relatively new to the menu are the savory crêpes. With five to choose from, it's hard to go wrong. We enjoyed the ham and …   More



In the heart of scenic Avondale lies a middle-of-the-road eatery that offers modern American fare, a place that has a familiar bit of everything and appeals to the masses, but in the process sometimes compromises 
on quality.

Salad aficionados will be thrilled: There are more than a dozen leafy creations on the menu. On a recent visit, I tried seared ahi tuna salad ($16) over mixed greens with alternating thick slices of ripe avocado and colorful mango. It was light yet satisfying. My favorite is the kale salad — but instead of the maple-glazed salmon ($15) it accompanies, I substituted the house-made veggie burger (sans melted provolone) and added artichoke hearts. The finely chopped kale is tossed with a tangy blend of olive oil, lemon juice and parmesan, then decorated with pine nuts. The pink-hued veggie patty is a hearty concoction of hearty brown rice, black beans, milled flax seed, quinoa, barley, beets and mushrooms. There are even charred grill marks on it, so don't knock it 'til you've tried it.

Sandwiches abound, and there's something for all palates: burgers, lump crab cake, barbecue pulled pork, mahi mahi. The bacon burger ($12) was OK for lunch — not massive, but not dainty, either — and topped with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickles, onion and crispy strips of crisscrossed bacon. Sides include a chilled couscous salad, cole slaw, fries, sweet potato fries (yes!), kale salad, loaded baked potato or the featured side of the day.

The corn-crusted tilapia fish tacos ($10) with a chipotle tartar sauce, soy ginger and shredded napa cabbage, weren't memorable. Skip these and get a sandwich.

Entrées, served with the same selection of side items, truly run the gamut — grilled salmon, shrimp and grits, sea scallops, rack of lamb (go big or go home?), filet mignon and a 16-ounce roasted prime rib. Most will reward you with leftovers.

In addition to a lengthy wine list, Brick offers a handful of desserts, along with cappuccino and …   More



En route to Chicago for Memorial Day 
 weekend, I grabbed a copy of June's Food & Wine from the airport bookshop, because this is what I do. And while thumbing though Food & Wine, I landed on a small feature called "Where to Find America's Best Biscuits," and noticed happily that our very own Maple Street Biscuit Company (410 N. Third St., Jax Beach and 2004 San Marco Blvd.) was featured alongside noteworthy spots in the Big Apple, Asheville, Portland and — hey, what do you know? — Chicago. Touted as sour cream-based biscuits that are baked hourly, Chicago's Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits was quickly added to my must-eat trip list — along with tacos at Big Star, anything and everything at Girl & the Goat, dessert at Mindy's Hot Chocolate, deep dish pizza at Pequod's and Asian fusion at Sunda.

As I waited in line for Bang Bang to open Sunday morning, the smell of butter wafted through the air. Inside, Bang Bang is small, with large windows, brick walls and an open kitchen, with seating for only about 10. A spacious backyard courtyard with two rows of white picnic tables offers another 40 seats. The spot feels rural and charming, a relaxed vibe for your pending calorie-bender.

While noshing on the Bacon Biscuit, I had a thought: What if I pitted these two caloric champions, Bang Bang and Maple Street, against each other? How would our local fare compare to that of the Windy City, a place with (supposedly) a much richer foodie culture?

In this corner was my Maple Street go-to, the Garden Egg, made with butter only — no lard — and served stacked with collard greens, a fried egg and a drizzle of hot sauce. In the other corner was Bang Bang's Bacon Biscuit, served open-face with thick strips of candied Applewood smoked bacon, collard greens, homemade Fresno chili hot sauce and a sunny-side-up poached egg — noticeably larger and much denser (perhaps from the sour cream?) than Maple Street's Southern-style biscuit. …   More


How You'll Stuff Your Face This Year

If you're like me — and you are, right? — you spent your New Year's Day deep in thought, pondering the eternal mysteries of our existence. And if the cronut thing is here to stay. (Answer: Yes!) For my fellow foodies out there, here's a quick list of the things and trends I'm betting will go off this year. Get your taste buds ready:

Donuts. Cupcakes seem soooo 2012, right? The popularity of the donut has steadily risen (no pun intended), with even Jacksonville offering the highly sought-after cronut, a hybrid of a croissant and donut born in NYC. Cinotti's Bakery in Jax Beach does a limited run of pumpkin donuts that we all go crazy for each fall, and The Donut Shoppe on University is a Jacksonville institution. Its Apple Ugly, a misshapen donut-like fritter made from leftover dough, is worth every single delicious calorie. And at newcomer Sweet Theory Baking Co. in Riverside, the options are endless. Its unique vegan (no eggs or dairy) donut offerings include varieties like dreamsicle, root beer, banana French toast bacon and eggnog.

Biscuits. Even carb-conscious Southerners enjoy a great biscuit every now and then. (It's in your genes, people. Deal with it.) With the addition of a second Maple Street Biscuit Co. in Jacksonville Beach, the biscuit frenzy is here to stay. The Blind Fig in Riverside recently offered a spin on chicken pot pie, placing a flaky biscuit on top. Look for biscuits used in unique ways — incorporated into dishes and topped with both savory and sweet concoctions.

Unusual ingredient pairings. There's been national uproar over the arrival of the ramen burger — a burger sandwiched between a "bun" of fried noodles — and here in Jacksonville, local chefs are combining unusual ingredients, too. Five Points' Sun-Ray Cinema offers a pizza topped with a fried egg and spicy Korean kimchi, a blend of fermented cabbage and vegetables. Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails at St. Johns Town Center features popped kettle corn …   More



Monkey bread muffins. Almond croissants. Orange chocolate scones. Peach muffins. Tomato pie.

Are you drooling yet?

For more than a year, I've been devouring Adam Burnett's delectable scratch-made creations at Riverside's Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, and even included the tomato pie on my list of the top 10 things I ate in 2013. Now all of his goodies, plus a line of breakfast sandwiches and lunch items, get their turn to shine at Knead, a newly opened Murray Hill bakeshop. And since Burnett's dad Jay and brother Zack own Bold Bean, there's family reciprocity: Knead serves Bold Bean coffee.

Open Tuesday through Sunday bright and early at 7 a.m., Knead is the perfect place to grab a quick bite or score some pastries to go. The space has charm: fresh sunflowers, mint-green walls, big chalkboard menus, white picnic tables and light fixtures designed with mixer blades.

It's been open only two months, but I've already been in at least six times and enjoyed every morsel I've gotten there. The pretzel bagel ($5), with cream cheese, arugula tossed in chili oil, capers and lox, is my go-to for a weekend breakfast, and the ham, gruyere and fresh thyme croissant ($4.25) is a satisfying treat to start the workday. Knead's croissants are perfectly buttery and flaky.

From the lunch menu, choose a sandwich made with freshly baked bread, which makes them that much more devourable. I enjoyed the unique radish sandwich ($7) slathered with goat cheese, arugula, thinly sliced radishes and truffle oil. The tempeh bahn mi with pickled julienned vegetables, cilantro, and a spicy chili aioli also excels. For an über-savory choice, go with the duck confit sandwich ($9), loaded with pickled green tomato slices and homemade onion jam. Kettle chips are included, or you can upgrade to a mixed greens side salad for $2, which I recommend — the champagne vinaigrette and dried fig slices are a nice touch.

And one last thing: Ladies, be sure to check out the glittery …   More