Northeast Florida is home to quite a few authentic Indian restaurants, so there's no shortage of places you can try.
Indian cuisine varies regionally due to a reliance on locally available spices, herbs, meat, vegetables and fruits.
In early India, the typical diet rarely included meat, instead relying heavily upon fruit, vegetables, grains, eggs, dairy and honey. Consumption of beef was taboo, as cows are considered sacred in Hinduism. Even today, beef is rare within Indian cuisine. However, chicken, followed by mutton (goat), sheep and buffalo, are frequently part of area menus. Common vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower, potato, tomato, onion, bell peppers and eggplant.
Traditional Indian flavors combine a variety of ingredients, including powdered chili pepper, black mustard seed, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ginger, tamarind, curry leaves, bay leaves, coriander, garlic and cloves. In sweeter dishes, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg and rose petal essences are used.
Dipping sauces, called chutneys, are present at almost every Indian meal and can be spicy, sweet or sour. The dominant flavor or ingredient gives the chutney its name — coconut, tamarind, mint, coriander, peanut, cumin, tomato or ginger.
Some dishes are cooked at high temperatures in an earthenware oven called a tandoor. These include tandoori chicken, which is marinated in yogurt that's been seasoned with garam masala, garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper and ginger. Another dish, called chicken tikka, is made from small pieces of boneless chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and then grilled on skewers in a tandoor. It is then typically served with green coriander chutney.
In some regions, samosas, a popular triangular-shaped snack stuffed with spiced potatoes, peas, onions, coriander and lentils, or ground lamb or chicken, are cooked in a tandoor. In other regions, they're fried.
Just like American cuisine, menus in Northern India are quite different from the food served in …
Forks. Knives. Spoons. You won't find any of these familiar items at an Ethiopian restaurant. Unlike at most dining experiences, you're encouraged to eat with your fingers. And take note: It's culturally preferred to use your right hand for eating, as the left hand is traditionally considered the appendage used for cleaning the body.
Food at an Ethiopian restaurant arrives tableside on a large family-style platter with an oversized spongy, thin, crepe-like flatbread called injera. Made with flour from a gluten-free grain called teff that's native to Northeastern Africa, injera has a slightly tangy flavor reminiscent of sourdough bread. A basketful of injera may also accompany the meal. Unroll it, rip off a piece, and use it to pinch up a scoop of food from the shared platter. Injera's porous surface is perfect for soaking up the stews and mixed vegetables.
You may notice while dining that Ethiopian cuisine closely resembles Indian cuisine. Both cultures expect food to be eaten with your fingers (Ethiopian's injera and Indian's naan), with items presented on a shared plate. Both cultures use clarified butter for cooking (niter kibbeh and ghee), which lends a complexity to dishes that regular butter or oil can't. The similarities are also apparent in spice blends — Ethiopia's berbere is much like India's garam masala. And alicha, a mild Ethiopian split pea curry with ginger, garlic and onions, bears a resemblance to some Indian curries. But the two cuisines reflect their distinct cultural heritages.
Berbere is common in many dishes. A ground powder combining chili peppers, garlic, ginger, basil, koramina and fenugreek, it has a noticeably reddish-orange hue and is mildly spicy with a hint of smokiness. Several Ethiopian stew-like sauces known as "wots" or "wats" gain their flavor from this ground powder.
Doro wat, a thick spicy chicken stew, is one of the most common foods in Ethiopia. Chicken legs are simmered in kibae, a blend of niter kibbeh, …
Just minutes from Downtown, San Marco's Green Erth Bistro is a family-owned Persian restaurant that also provides healthful vegan and vegetarian-friendly options.
When you walk inside, you see the large community table that invites strangers to sit together. There are also several four-top tables along the perimeter, creating a cozy atmosphere as natural light streams in from the front windows.
A menu board touts daily specials. Our waitress brought us out a sample of the soup of the day — vegetarian barley ash, a thick bean, barley and herb soup-like stew — and the next thing we knew, we were staring at the bottom of the cups we ordered. It was warm and hearty, with parsley, cilantro, garlic and mint providing a lot of flavor.
We also ordered the herb tray, which featured a generous heap of fresh herbs including parsley, mint, dill and basil, a block of crumbly feta, onion and wedges of lavash bread. Drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, this was a refreshing treat.
On a recent lunch visit, I enjoyed the curry chicken salad. Chunks of white meat are tossed with a whipped mayo-less curry sauce, grapes, shallots and chives, then topped with chopped pecans. The concoction is served atop a mix of organic greens, bright red juicy tomato slices, crisp cucumbers and red onions.
Another hit was the assortment of flatbread pizzas, which were large enough for two meals. The California was topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, pressed garlic, fresh basil, balsamic glaze and sun-dried tomatoes (we subbed roasted red peppers). The crust is thin and crispy at the edges. Order a half-sized salad — I recommend the Green Erth Apple Salad with housemade sherry vinaigrette, chopped walnuts, cranberries, green onions and slices of crisp green apple — if you want to pair your pizza with something green.
You can choose from a number of kabobs, combination kabobs and skewers (along with sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, chilis and …
There's a quirky two-story bookstore nestled on Laura Street, and it's a bookworm's dream come true — and the food, drinks and atmosphere in the café are so enjoyable, you may never want to leave.
Walking by the store's outer façade, you might think it houses only piles of new and used books. Once you enter, you'll discover the café: exposed brick walls, lots of windows, free Wi-Fi, coffee and treats.
Everything on the menu is less than $10. There are wraps, salads, bagel sandwiches, homemade soups and breakfast items. While I haven't hit up Chamblin's for breakfast yet, it's quickly become one of my go-to spots for healthful weekday lunches.
With several piping-hot coffees (there are lattes and the like, too) to choose from, ask for a refillable mug if you plan to stay awhile, or you can opt for a cup to go. With almond milk, even vegans can get their caffeine fix.
A chalkboard out front advertises daily specials, which usually include a soup or two of the day. The folks behind the counter will probably offer you a sample if you can't decide. When's the last time you had spicy African peanut soup?
I go for one of several wraps. The jerk tempeh provides a bit of heat with a lot of flavor and can be ordered as a salad or wrap. And the Veggie No. 1 (how straightforward is that?) wrap is simple yet filling — a large tomato basil wrap stuffed with cucumbers, tomatoes, crisp chopped red pepper, sprouts, spring mix, creamy hummus, crunchy pumpkin seeds, almond slivers and vinaigrette dressing.
As for sandwiches, it's a toss-up: turkey croissant with brie and homemade cranberry chutney, which is pleasantly reminiscent of Thanksgiving but light enough for lunch, and the Bang Bang Bagel with melted cheddar cheese, garlicky house vinaigrette, red peppers, onions, roma tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts and spring mix on a toasted, locally made bagel.
The iced Italian sodas are a must. Create your own flavor combo from a wide …
Since 1948, a rite of passage for generations of Northeast Florida natives has included a summer afternoon spent indulging in a frosty treat from the historic Murray Hill fixture Dreamette.
With basic flavors of creamy soft-serve ice cream — vanilla, sugar-free vanilla, strawberry and chocolate (and yes, you can ask for a good ol' swirl) — the possibilities quickly become endless as you decide from among sundaes, shakes, cones, cups, banana splits and beyond. Dream up something crazy, like a cotton candy milkshake, or play it safe with a traditional favorite, like a hot fudge sundae.
A unique take on the traditional banana split is the banana split in a cup: slices of banana meet chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, strawberries, pineapple chunks, walnuts and a cherry.
Dreamette uses real pieces of Oreo cookies (instead of pre-crushed) to blend in the Oreo milkshake and real blueberries in the blueberry shake. Great ingredients equal great flavor.
Simple yet delicious is the kid's-size dipped vanilla ice cream in a crunchy, light cake cone. My go-to dip flavors vary depending on my mood. If I'm feeling nostalgic, I opt for the cake-batter dip or, as the temperature cools, I prefer butterscotch or toasted coconut to encase my vanilla soft-serve. The cones are served in a clever plastic sleeve that attempts to catch those pesky drips from ruining your day — and shirt. But if you take too long to enjoy the cool delight (especially in summer), you may lose the battle of the drip.
Dreamette is all about the experience. While there are a few small benches to sit on, most people roll down their windows and enjoy their frosty treat in the comfort of their cars. Many neighborhood regulars ride bikes; still others walk up. There's always a varied cast of characters and a handful of seemingly sugar-deprived eager children.
Open seven days a week, Dreamette ensures no ice cream craving goes unfulfilled. Be sure to snag a …
Just off bustling Beach and St. Johns Bluff boulevards lies a new Vietnamese restaurant, Q-Cup Boba Tea. Upon entering the Southside spot, which formerly housed a Mexican restaurant, you'll notice a tidy interior with bright pastels, natural lighting and friendly staff. The owner is no stranger to the restaurant business — he owned nearby Vietnamese restaurant P.K. Noodles for seven years before opening Q-Cup earlier this year.
The menu is broken into specials, bahn mi sandwiches, snacks, desserts and a lengthy selection of beverages — flavored milk teas, smoothies, slushies, specialty drinks, mocha blasts and flavored teas. Color photographs help guide you through the various options.
We started with the simple shrimp and pork spring rolls, which were perfect for sharing. Accompanied by a hoisin dipping sauce, peanuts and shredded carrots, four pliable rice wrapper rolls were carefully filled with shrimp, pork, crisp lettuce, rice vermicelli noodles, cilantro and crunchy bean sprouts.
From the specials, a photo of the com thit xa xiu caught my eye: grilled red barbecue-charred pork with a fried egg, steamed white rice, crisp pickled vegetables and a slightly salty dipping sauce. Upon arriving at our table, the owner politely explained that the egg was to be broken on top of the rice, then the sauce poured over the egg-and-rice mixture. The bite-sized grilled pork pieces were tender, and the overall portion size was generous.
From the 15 different bahn mi sandwiches, I selected the bo xao cay (stir-fried spicy beef). A good bahn mi is measured by the quality of the French bread. After carefully unwrapping the paper from my sandwich, I bit into a perfect light, golden, crackly crust — and was immediately impressed. Inside the warm, fresh baguette, which was not too dense but didn't get soggy from the fillings, were pieces of spicy stir-fried beef, raw jalapeños, pickled vegetables and several sprigs of cilantro. To turn up the …
Tired of yearning for some of their favorite foods from their hometown of St. Louis, Chris Evans and Don Brindley created Picasso's to offer specialties from the Gateway to the West, like warm, toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake and square-cut, thin-crust St. Louis-style pizza.
Chef Evans grew up in St. Louis and brings his favorite hard-to-find items to Jacksonville while his pastry-chef mother whips up the post-meal treats. (Don't miss the orange crunch cake available Tuesdays and Thursdays or the sinfully good gooey butter cake.)
To start, I ordered the hearts of palm frites and the meat-filled St. Louis toasted ravioli with homemade marinara. The fry-shaped hearts of palm were served with a thick roasted garlic aioli and sprinkle of parsley — yum! The pile of warm ravioli was perfectly toasted and seasoned, then covered in freshly grated parmesan cheese. The accompanying marinara was pleasantly simple and fresh-tasting.
Although St. Louis and New York style pizzas are on the menu, the St. Louis, with cracker-thin crust and crisp edges, is a must. After devouring my first few bites topped with pancetta bacon and pepperoni discs, I put Picasso's pie on my coveted "best pizzas in town" list.
While the menu is expansive, I'd heard that the ramen noodle bowls are legit. I know what you're thinking: ramen — at a pizza place? Trust me; Picasso's has much more than pizza. The korubuta pork belly ramen bowl overflowed with color, flavor and texture: tangled noodles, savory broth, flavorful cooked mushrooms and broccoli, soft-boiled egg and crisp pickled cabbage in one bowl.
Stuffed but not stopping, I managed a few forkfuls (breakfast tomorrow?) of orange crunch cake. Again, points for uniqueness: Layers of moist, rich cake met thick swirls of orange icing and thin layers of crushed, crunchy wafers for a winning dessert experience.
The interior is open and clear, with replicas of bright Pablo Picasso paintings on the walls. In its …
Pining for a sense of nostalgia coupled with simple diner food that satisfies? Head to the Shoppes of Avondale and straight to The Fox Restaurant, a diner that exudes 1950s charm coupled with a modern hipster twist. The interior is plastered with photos, art and figurines — my favorite is a Steve Urkel doll (queue the "Did I do thaaaaat?").
Though table seating is fairly limited at The Fox, there are plenty of swivel seats at the counter with a view of the open kitchen. Watch as your eggs are scrambled or your bacon is crisped. The entire right side of the restaurant is lined with comfortable booths, but keep in mind that that no one table can seat a party larger than five.
I'm a Southern girl raised on diner-style comfort food, so the corned beef hash with egg (cooked any way you like it), homefries (or grits, or fresh fruit) and biscuit or buttered toast were calling my name. The homemade hash was flavorful and crispy — perfect for sopping up my runny egg yolk. I drizzled honey and a bit of butter on the light and fluffy biscuit that came with the dish.
Another option guaranteed to warrant a late afternoon nap is an order of biscuits and gravy, with a side of fluffy pancakes. The gravy was thick, with plenty of sausage bits throughout.
The menu touts traditional breakfast items, like pancakes, waffles, French toast and an array of omelets, along with an assortment of lunch items including salads, sandwiches and cooked-to-order burgers. The aptly named Pittsburgher comes piled high with French fries and a mound of creamy cole slaw on top. Pair it with your choice of side item for a reasonably priced and filling lunch.
The diner is open daily, but if you're headed to The Fox on a weekend, prepare to wait — parking can be tricky and the line is often out the door. There's free coffee to pacify hungry guests as they wait, so sip some Joe and strike up a conversation with a potential new friend or two.
Sometimes a casual lunch calls for fine china, dainty doilies, gold-rimmed teacups and floral-print linens.
Located across the street from historic Sun-Ray Cinema, Cozy Tea's family-owned-and-operated tea room feels like it could be your grandmother's parlor: charming, familiar and cozy.
They serve several varieties of tea sandwiches including shrimp salad, smoked turkey, egg salad, cheese spread and cucumber; I enjoy the curried chicken salad on wheat with golden raisins and almonds and the vegetarian sandwich of cheese spread, organic mixed greens, English seedless cucumber, tomato and carrots. Side items are available for an additional charge.
Other lunch offerings include warm quiches, a savory lentil and vegetable pie, vegetable samosas (an Indian pastry stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas), salads and an assortment of soups — tomato herb, roasted corn with butternut squash, sour cream baked potato and spring vegetable with fresh ginger. A hot cup of soup pairs nicely with a salad or sandwich.
Portions are relatively small yet satisfying and reasonably priced. Everything is made in-house, down to the handmade gourmet truffles. Peruse the case dedicated solely to truffles, scones and dessert offerings like fluffy vanilla cake over a creamy English custard with berry compote, bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream, carrot cake with caramelized pineapple and white chocolate frosting — and several other drool-worthy choices.
The warm lemon-glazed cookie, with pieces of white chocolate and almonds, drizzled with the most perfectly citrusy lemon sauce, is sure to please. Craving something more? Try sour cream blueberry butter cake studded with blueberries throughout and dusted with powdered sugar.
Scone varieties include blueberry, pineapple lemon, cherry coconut, apricot cream, vanilla sugar and cranberry orange. Heighten your experience by asking for sides of freshly whipped cream and jam.
If you're into tea, study the …
The "M" in MShack is for Medure — the last name of brothers Matthew and David, who own high-end restaurants Matthews in San Marco and Medure in Ponte Vedra. In 2011, the siblings opened the fast-casual boutique burger spot in Atlantic Beach; a second MShack will open in St. Johns Town Center by the end of the year.
For minimalists there's the simple but tasty M Burger topped with melted American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, pickles and Shack Sauce. At $5.50, it is small but fresh — the Black Angus beef is 100 percent all-natural and ground in-house. For the uber-fancy, the specialty Medurable burger boasts savory foie gras and caramelized onions, carrying a hefty $18.95 price tag.
Even if you're not a burger lover, MShack's menu has an assortment of topped hot dogs, a grilled cheese sandwich (add applewood smoked bacon for an extra dollar), a fish sandwich, a marinated chicken breast sandwich and homemade Italian sausage topped with sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms and melted provolone cheese.
Craving something healthy and pleasantly filling? Try the ginger-sesame dressed Super Kale Salad chock full of crisp diced apples, creamy cubes of avocado, shreds of carrots, onion, pecans and raisins. A fresh roasted beet salad comes with creamy goat cheese and raisins atop peppery arugula.
From the carb column, the house fries, queso-topped fries, sweet potato tots, truffle parmesean fries and even onion rings beg to be paired with your meaty burger or hot dog.
To complete the experience, a thick hand-spun milkshake is an absolute must. Available in small and large sizes, the pecan pie shake with chopped pecans reminded me of fall in a cup. Go simple — strawberry, vanilla or chocolate — or step it up with funky flavors like bananas foster, marshmallow brulee or peanut butter.
The separate relaxed bar area hosts happy hour 3:30-5:30 p.m. weekdays with $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon beers, $2 drafts or $3 glasses of house wine. …