I’m about to let you in on some secrets. One: Until last week, I’d never experienced dim sum. (I know, right?) Two: Inside a restaurant, inside a strip mall, lies a special room that serves up Cantonese-style small plates — dim sum — that will rock your world.
Since dim sum isn’t readily available across the area, it was exciting to order a range of dishes and embark on an exploration of these new-to-me items. Dim sum is essentially Chinese tapas, served on individual small plates or in a small steamer basket. You won’t find most of these versions on a standard Chinese menu.
We started with the chicken feet ($3.75), shark’s fin dumplings ($4.25), scallop dumpling ($4.25), fried shrimp balls ($4.25), shumai ($3.75), fried taro dumpling ($3.75), steamed taro bun ($3.75) and crispy pork belly ($9.95).
So, the chicken feet? Not for the faint of heart, or me — lots of small bones, odd texture (think of the fat that surrounds your rib-eye) and generally weird because they arrive looking like little feet that are waving (or high-fiving?) at you. Since they’re mostly skin, I found them to have an extremely gelatinous mouthfeel. My tablemates loved them, so maybe it’s just not my thing.
The piping-hot oversized shrimp balls had a super-crisp, crunchy exterior akin to fried noodles, which gave way to a chewy, shrimpy interior. Along with the shark’s fin dumplings, fried taro dumplings, steamed taro buns and crispy pork, I’d definitely order them again.
Our plate of perfectly crispy pork belly, served with a side of hoisin sauce, was gigantic — more than enough for three to share. Our waitress also presented us with a diluted Hong Kong red vinegar, tangy and acidic, which we preferred to the sweet hoisin.
The steamed taro buns were tennis-ball-sized rolls of goodness of a light purple hue, and soft and fluffy in texture, imparting a subtly sweet taro flavor.
The Dim Sum Room is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and if your …
Less than a year ago, Blake Burnett revved up the engine of his new food truck — and he hasn’t looked back. The owner and chef of Chew Chew describes his truck’s menu as “fresh and eclectic.”
“I try to be playful with our food, but use quality ingredients and make everything from scratch,” he says.
Offerings change about once a week, but lucky for you (and me!) several mainstays remain due to their popularity. Top-sellers include lobster corn dogs ($10), Korean BBQ short rib melt ($8) and a newer item, goat cheese polenta fries ($6).
I’ve had the massive Korean melt on toasted sourdough several times — its tangy, salty homemade kimchi coleslaw adds another dimension to the savory shredded barbecue short ribs and melty smoked Gouda. (It’s perfect paired with the accompanying crispy homemade potato chips.) But lately my weakness has been the polenta fries, artfully arranged rectangles of polenta goodness topped with goat cheese crumbles, crisp bacon pieces and a scattering of diced scallions. The way the cheese slightly melts but doesn’t get liquid-y is what makes these so fabulous. And I could drink the creamy basil aioli dipping sauce.
As for the Maine lobster corn dogs — where else in Northeast Florida can you get skewers of tender lobster pieces, battered and fried to a golden brown and served with a lemon Dijon honey mustard dipping sauce? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
If burgers are your thing, go for the trio of BBQ slider burgers ($8), which are nicely seasoned and then piled with bacon, white cheddar, fried jalapeños and homemade barbecue sauce.
And vegetarians, don’t fret: Caprese grilled cheese ($7) on parmesan-crusted sourdough is for you. The mozzarella is marinated in a basil pesto and topped with juicy sliced tomatoes. Yum.
Most items are served with a generous portion of Chew Chew’s homemade chips, which are just the right balance of crunchy and crispy, and perfectly salted (and ridiculously …
In a former McAlister's Deli in bustling Tinseltown sits a spacious pho-friendly Vietnamese restaurant. The menu may be a bit overwhelming, so ask for recommendations if you're feeling adventurous — or stick to a standard broth-based pho soup that's loaded with noodles.
We bypassed the standard starters — edamame, dumplings and spring rolls — and went big. The thin pancake special (also known as banh uot dat biet) with minced shrimp, charbroiled pork and Vietnamese ham ($9.25) called our names. Our waitress warned us it wouldn't be like an "American pancake," and it certainly wasn't. The dish arrived unassembled, reminiscent of lettuce wraps — an interesting assortment of squishy, translucent "pancakes," pickled julienned vegetables, bean sprouts, scallions, shredded lettuce and the aforementioned meats, all accompanied by a thin, tangy fish dipping sauce. It was a fun start to the meal, and good for sharing.
With such a large menu, it can be difficult to narrow your choices. At nearby Bowl of Pho (my personal gold standard for local pho), I love the wonton egg noodle soup with pork, so I ordered the same ($8) at Pho Today. When my colorful oversized bowl arrived, there were noticeably more pork pieces in it than at Bowl of Pho, but after a few generous slurps, it was apparent the broth was lacking — more salt, perhaps? Otherwise, it had plenty of thin noodles, baby bok choy and plump pork-filled wontons.
From the house specialties, we selected Vietnamese shaking beef ($12.95), served with a mound of rice, slices of cucumber and tomatoes, and a cup of soup. The pieces of tender beef were cut into small pieces and cooked in a sauce rich in flavor, then shaken in a wok with cooked onions and garlic. Order this.
By the time our waitress informed us that they'd run out of their two Asian desserts — a three- and five-flavored bean dessert — we were already full. I'd usually go for an iced taro boba drink, but I was …
For a finger-lickin' good barbecue experience that's off the beaten track, drive west on Interstate 10 and take the exit for Marietta — then follow your nose.
Gators BBQ owners John and Sandy Shepherd's smoker cooks the signature meats low and slow.
Located in an old house converted into a restaurant, Gators may be small and no-frills, but portions are generous, and the prices are right. Start by ordering at the counter then take a seat. With fewer than 10 tables inside and on the small front porch area, you may find yourself sharing a table with strangers — but it's worth it.
There are the requisite starters — corn nuggets, fried okra, onion rings and Brunswick stew. The menu's broken into plates (your choice of meat plus two sides and garlic bread), sandwiches (served with one side), fresh seafood (with two sides and hushpuppies), family meals, an Angus beef hamburger, a hot dog and BBQ salad. With more than eight varieties of meat, channel your inner carnivore.
The tender, moist brisket and chopped pork had a nice smoky flavor and hardly any fat, with pieces of flavorful bark mixed in. An assortment of sauces is available, but a special sweet thicker sauce is spot-on (request it from the counter). Our tablemates had the smoked pork ribs which looked — and smelled — amazing.
As for sides, I'd order the collard greens and baked beans again, but the mac 'n' cheese was nothing special. Other options include potato salad, cole slaw, macaroni salad, corn on the cob, green beans and crinkle-cut French fries. The bite-sized corn nuggets with ranch dressing were perfectly golden pockets of creamy sweet corn, and can be a side item for an upcharge.
An incredibly friendly and warm staff greeted us; one woman with a slight Southern drawl brought out complementary small cups of freshly made banana pudding for everyone. The creamy, sweet dessert was studded with chunks of banana and crisp Nilla Wafers.
Closed on Sundays, …
Mandaloun offers an authentic Lebanese culinary experience in the Baymeadows neighborhood.
For the past five years, Mandaloun has opened seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Chef Pierre Barakat usually visits each table at lunch and dinner, flashing his warm smile and speaking with a thick accent that adds to the authenticity of the experience.
If you're new to Mediterranean food, check out the expansive lunch buffet ($12.99 weekdays, $19.99 on Sunday), which offers an impressive assortment of authentic hot and chilled Lebanese delicacies.
From the cold mezze (appetizers) selections, my go-to choices are baba ganoush ($5.95), a smoky tahini, garlic and eggplant dip, and the thick, creamy hummus ($5.95) topped with a swirl of olive oil and a scattering of chickpeas. Both are served with warm pita bread.
Another favorite is the vegetarian-friendly, lemony tabouli ($6.45), a mix of finely chopped parsley, diced tomatoes, bulgur wheat, onion, lemon juice and olive oil.
If you're craving a warm starter, share an order of falafel ($5.95) — four crisp balls of gently fried ground chickpeas, herbs and spices.
For a light lunch or side item at dinner, try the fatoush salad ($6.45) — a mix of lettuce, tomato, chopped cucumber, radish, onion, mint, sumac and crispy pieces of Lebanese flatbread tossed in a dressing of olive oil, pomegranate molasses and lemon.
Entrées include kebab skewers of shish taouk (cubed spiced chicken, $12.95), kafta meshwi (minced lamb with parsley and onion, $11.95) and kafta khosh-khash (charcoal-grilled minced beef, $11.95). Each is served with sautéed mixed vegetables and a side of warm rice or salad. Seafood and vegetarian items are also available.
With indoor and outdoor seating, the restaurant is spacious and comfortable with large windows lining the perimeter. A small bar area is good for a pre-meal beer, glass of wine or cocktail.
For dessert, indulge in a traditional favorite — baklava. These petite, …
The marriage of food and beer is synergistic. It opens the door to creativity on the chopping block. Multicourse dinners featuring a single brewery's curated selection of beers have been popular nationwide for years; locally, these half-liquid collaborations are taking place about once a month at Whole Foods Market in Mandarin. (Pre-sale tickets, ranging from $35-$40, include all of your food and beer.)
At the most recent dinner, Kristine Day from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Whole Foods' Rachel Deremer hosted a five-course pairing that included diverse beer selections: Sierra's robust Bigfoot Barleywine, slightly tart Brux ale, wheat Kellerweis, hoppy Ruthless Rye IPA and a collaboration ale, Ovila Abbey Quad, as well as a welcoming simple pale ale served upon arrival. All were hearty pours, and you got a logo-emblazoned keepsake pint glass.
After we were seated, Day gave an overview of Sierra Nevada and the company's history, and explained the brewing process and various components that comprise beer. For show-and-tell, a jar of Cascade finishing hops was passed from table to table.
With a warm welcome and pair of manchego cheese-stuffed prosciutto-wrapped medjool dates that were all things savory, salty and sweet, the evening took off with a pour of the deeply hued Bigfoot Barleywine. Strong, and boldly flavored, it clocked in at a hefty 9.6 percent alcohol content.
Selecting the right beer to complement a dish is like winning the food lottery. Generally speaking, beer's carbonation helps to rid the tongue of fat, readying it for the next forkful. Hop-forward beers work well with fattier foods, helping to counterbalance rich sauces and lessening the dense feeling in your mouth. Malt-forward beers are better for spicy foods, as the malt's subtle sweetness tames the heat.
Following a bouillabaisse swimming with shrimp and mussels — paired with a copper-colored American wild ale called Brux — came a simple palate cleanser, a light mix of …
It's hard to top a great meal enjoyed in a modern space with a well-curated wine list in the center of bustling, historic San Marco Square. Taverna recently expanded after four years in the former Café Carmon spot. It's evident that Executive Chef Sam Efron and wine director/wife Kiley Wynne Efron are passionate about the new environment and wider-ranging menu.
So what's new? Taverna now boasts a quick-casual lunch service along with an option for lunch delivery, a classy private dining room and the addition of craft cocktails (they'd offered only beer and wine before) to the menu.
The menu remains European-inspired, drawing from both Spain and Italy. Start with the house-made caprese ($10) with prosciutto ($6), meatballs and peasant bread ($10), sautéed calamari ($12) or citrus-marinated beet salad ($9).
The caprese's house-made cheese is amazing in and of itself, but when paired with fresh basil, juicy tomato, balsamic and olive oil, it's a huge hit. (The upcharge to add prosciutto is worth every penny.) The meatballs were also good, and the calamari served with Israeli couscous, tomatoes, garlic, capers, niçoise olives and a touch of lemon zest was just the right amount of spicy.
Speaking of great cheese, Taverna's customizable cheese-and-charcuterie plates are another smart way to start your meal. And since the selections change frequently, be sure to partake in Sweet Grass Dairy's delightfully creamy Green Hill, from Thomasville, Ga. The meat selections include popular cured meats like jamon Serrano, prosciutto di parma, hot capocollo, soppressata, Genoa salami and chorizo.
Lately, it's been hard to pass up the Monday night special — any of Taverna's signature brick-oven pizzas paired with a pint of cold Intuition Ale Works beer for $12. The pizzas usually run up to $18, and another $5 for the beer. (That's 11 bucks you can put toward dessert.) I recommend the soppressata — topped with house-made mozzarella, juicy robust San Marzano …
I love pizza. And you do, too. I mean, who doesn't? There's something intrinsically comforting and magical about the harmony of that scalding-hot gooey cheese, a proper smear of flavorful sauce, a mishmash of crazy toppings and the crisp, chewy crust.
We all have lists of our favorite pizza joints in town, but there's something to be said about a place around the corner that's good, cheap and easy. And sometimes I just like the laidback vibe, fun décor, wafting music and oversized comfortable booths at Moon River.
It's low frills: walk in, peruse the chalkboard menu, place your order, pay. You'll receive a framed postcard that's totally random (think Mr. Rogers or My Little Pony on roller skates), which will help your server know who ordered what. Grab a seat and they'll bring it to you.
Feeling healthy? Begin with a salad. I enjoy the Greek, because it's fresh and simple but not wimpy — leafy Romaine topped with sliced tomatoes, strips of green pepper, both green and black olives (olive lovers, rejoice!), fresh mushrooms, slices of onion and crumbles of feta cheese. And the accompanying creamy Caesar dressing is dreamy. (I dunk my pizza crust in it, too.)
If you're not counting calories (lucky you), start with the pesto stix ($4.75) or bread stix ($4.50), which are generously portioned and perfect for sharing.
Moon River's pizza is best when ordered as an entire pie rather than just a slice or two. My favorite is the white (large $16.50, slice $2), which is sauce-less and topped with a blend of mozzarella, feta and Parmesan, extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, oregano and a sprinkle of black pepper.
On other occasions, I'll grab a slice of the vegetarian just because it's so stacked with veggies. Like, there's literally a pile, and many of them are raw (tomatoes, onions, peppers). More cheese is then added on top and re-melted.
You can, of course, create your own pies from the list of two dozen toppings, and there's options for …
Until recently, there was only one choice for Ethiopian cuisine in town. Now there are two. That means two excuses to eat with your hands, people!
Situated in a small strip center near ethnic shops and specialty stores off Baymeadows and Old Baymeadows roads, Ibex Ethiopian Kitchen is a spacious restaurant with an assortment of tables, booths and bar seats, and a straightforward menu.
If you’ve never experienced Ethiopian cuisine, you may be surprised to find your silverware missing. Instead, you’ll use injera, a room-temperature, fermented spongy bread served in rolls. When the basket arrives, unroll, pinch off a piece and use it to pinch and pick up food.
If you have had Ethiopian fare, at Ibex you’ll find traditional favorites like sambusas, kitfo, tibs, wots and much more.
We first ordered the savory lentil, cabbage, carrot, onion and jalapeno pepper sambusas ($3.95 for two), but our server politely informed us that the kitchen had run out. Next time for sure.
Eager to try a bit of everything, we then ordered the chef’s special combination platter ($29.95). Ideal for two; with an appetizer, three people could easily share this. It arrived nicely plated in a rainbow-like assortment. There was a good bounty of mostly vegetarian items: cabbage, collard greens, lentils, green beans, split peas and kitfo (minced steak tartare with an herbed butter sauce and spiced chili powder). There were also three individual bowls of various meat-filled stews — chicken doro wat, beef alicha and key wot, a stew of beef cubes with onions, cooked in a bright red bebere (a spice mixture including chili peppers, garlic, ginger and fenugreek) butter sauce.
Our server helped us select a good Ethiopian beer to complement our selections. Even the chef came out to introduce herself and make sure everything was to our liking.
Prices for signature meat entrées, served with your choice of vegetarian sides, range from $11.95 …
With nearly four dozen sushi rolls to choose from — classics to deep-fried treasures to vegetarian and vegan-friendly options — at Sushiko there’s something for everyone.
On a recent lunch visit, I ordered a Bento Box ($9.25). You select two items — sushi rolls or three pieces of sashimi or an assortment of tempuras, teriyakis and starters — along with a choice of fried rice or pan-fried lo mein noodles. And there’s more — miso or clear soup and a side salad with ginger dressing.
I picked the miso soup, which was loaded with seaweed and cubed tofu, a spicy white tuna and avocado roll, noodles, and the steamed-shrimp-filled shumai dumplings.
A new favorite is the Icy Veggie Roll ($6.25), which is rice-less and wrapped in rice paper instead of seaweed, then stuffed with seaweed salad, lettuce, avocado, cucumber, carrot and asparagus and served with a light ponzu sauce. It’s both healthy and refreshing, but nonetheless packs a powerful textural crunch.
And I tried something new (to me) — uni ($3.25), aka sea urchin. It arrived over rice and had a burnt-orange hue. It was creamy and custard-like, and briney, which reminded me of the ocean.
The fried sweet potato roll ($4.25) proved to be simple yet satisfying. And for heat-seekers, the Diablo ($8.75), with tuna, salmon, yellowtail and krab, fried and then topped with scallions, shrimp sauce and hot sauce, was a hit.
The interior space offers natural light flooding in from large windows, soothing peach-colored walls and dark wood tables and chairs. Our server was friendly and attentive, always a winning combination in my book.
Open seven days a week for dine-in lunch and dinner or carry-out, Sushiko also serves beer, wine and sake if you’re thirsty.
BlackFinn has changed names. Now BLACKFINN AMERIPUB, the St. Johns Town Center eatery has remodeled and shifted its focus to a more casual dining experience, with a new menu and …