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I happened upon Southern Roots while 
running lunchtime errands. It's nestled 
 between a pizzeria and a Laundromat on Riverside's bustling King Street, and is open six days a week, from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. The menu is limited but surprisingly solid, and there are coffee and espresso drinks available, all crafted from Miami's Panther coffee. Oh, and almost everything is organic, vegan and gluten-free.

Southern Roots, which got its start selling products at area farmers markets about four years ago, is run by husband-and-wife duo Mariah and JP Salvat. The storefront serves as a coffee-shop-turned-casual-lunch-stop, and features a variety of bulk items for sale and packaged edibles like granola, quinoa salad and housemade pumpkin pesto.

Specials change daily, as does the selection of baked goods. Sometimes there are lavender shortbread cookies, oat bran muffins and crumb cake. On a recent Thursday, I scored a coconut cornbread muffin with maple cardamom Earth Balance spread ($4), and was in carb heaven. It was delightfully moist and flecked with coconut, like if cornbread and coconuts had a love child and slathered it with a tasty spread.

Like deals? A thick slice of toast and a café con leche is $5. Topped with Earth Balance spread and cinnamon sugar, the toast-plus-a-coffee-with-milk-served-in-a-mason-jar was a light breakfast. I also enjoyed the sweet potato coconut butter and cinnamon sugar toast with a cortado ($6 deal) — coffee cut with steamed milk or almond milk.

After seeing a post on Facebook, I made another stop in for the portabella "philly" with greens and garlic cheese sauce ($6), atop a slice of bread or bed of greens. I opted for the greens, and I chose well — I loved it. I paired it with a spicy chai latte ($4), perfect for a chilly January day. I hope Southern Roots offers its chipotle butternut squash and bean dip with greens and sunflower "feta" crumbles ($6) again soon, because it intrigues my taste buds.

On weekends, …   More


I f you can make it past the enticing Sweet Pete's candy shop upon entering, you'll 
easily be allured by The Candy Apple Café's playful Willy Wonka-esque interior — complete with oversized lacquered cherries and playful stripes.

The historic former Seminole Club-turned-Downtown-restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, which is available all day long. It's no easy thing to find around here, so kudos to you, Candy Apple. I look forward to again consuming another fluffy bourbon pecan waffle ($10) with that delightfully sweet spiked maple syrup and whipped sweet cream soon.

First-timers may be inundated by the sheer number of sides — 13, to be exact. We tried the crispy house potatoes, which were diced and sautéed.

If you're as obsessed with runny-yolk eggs as I am, you'll be pleased to know that you can put an egg on it — fried or poached — for just a buck. Hey, YOLO!

The standout was the short rib meatloaf ($16 full/$11 half order), topped with a slightly spicy tomato jam and accompanied by a cloud of brown butter-whipped potatoes and port reduction, and tender petite carrots and green beans.

Also a must? The mac 'n' cheese with candied bacon (yes, you read that right) ($12/$8). Creamy fontina and white cheddar mingle in perfect harmony, which pairs nicely with the salty skewered bacon.

The kale-quinoa salad, with shaved red and yellow beets, crumbles of Roquefort, toasted almonds and a sweet Meyer lemon vinaigrette ($9/$6), is a straightforward lunch option, and feel free to add chicken, rock shrimp, a veggie patty or cornmeal-dusted flounder for an upcharge.

The rock shrimp and grits ($12), with creamy Greenway Farms grits and a garlicky tomato relish, were savory and hearty. I tend to prefer larger shrimp, but the small pieces were fine.

Don't skip the second-floor dessert bar, complete with an ice cream case, freshly baked cookies, brownies, truffle cake, milkshakes, cookie sundaes and more. I was drawn to …   More


When you first walk into this industrial-looking building, you'll notice Amore, San Marco and Felice. No, those aren't names of the waitresses — they're V Pizza's wood-burning ovens.

The staff at V proclaims that they use only fresh, all-natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives. It's a simple setup: Walk up to the counter, order and pay, then take a seat as your pizza is created.

After scouring the dozen styles of pies available, I selected the pizza capricciosa ($16) — there's only one size, rendering eight slices or so — with artichoke hearts, black olives, prosciutto di parma, San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mushrooms 
and egg. V's style of pizza is Neapolitan, meaning the pliable crust is made from a special type of wheat flour, yeast, salt and water. (There's an option to build your own pie, too, which starts at $13 and then tallies 
up $1.50 for each topping.)

The wood-oven-roasted chicken wings ($12) were juicy and packed with flavor, thanks to a marinade that blended lemon juice, olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper, carmelized onion and garlic.

I also ordered a prosciutto di parma panini ($9). The rustic bread the panini arrived on was chewy yet crunchy, which made an excellent casing for the thick slab of mozzarella, juicy tomato slices, prosciutto and basil leaves. A nice drizzle of quality olive oil varnished the contents.

For the perfect ending, opt for cannoli ($4) or tiramisu ($5), traditional Italian desserts that are sweet but won't weigh you down.

Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, V Pizza runs a $9.95 lunch special from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., which includes a choice of beverage, personal pizza with two toppings, panini, chicken wings, calzone with two toppings or a salad.

Beer and wine are available, but if you've got time, head next door, through a door in the back wall, to neighboring bar Sidecar for a handcrafted cocktail.

V's owners are planning a second location in …   More


From the outside, it doesn't seem like much; inside, you'll find just a simple open space with maybe a dozen tables. Don't set your ambience expectations high, as there's not much of a vibe — just go for the food.

Some of the dishes at El Palermo could have used a bit more salt and spice, but overall the value was good for the price and abundance of food we ordered.

Our papa rellena ($2.75) arrived piping hot. We let this oblong-shaped croquette-meets-empanada cool, then eagerly devoured its contents — creamy potatoes, gently fried, surrounding wonderful seasoned ground beef.

Our trifongo mofongo with platano verde ($7.50) was a towering portion of starchy goodness. Traditional mofongo begins with mashed fried green plantains, and trifongo adds fried yucca and fried sweet plantains to the mix. Our version was accompanied by a thin, flavorful garlicky broth with pork cracklings and olive oil.

The pernil asado ($10.95) — or roast pork — is a traditional Latin American dish. Ours was served with a heaping portion of con arroz congandules (yellow rice and pigeon peas) and a small salad.

We liked our cubano sandwich with fries ($7.99). Two pressed halves made up of ham, roast pork and melted cheese were perfect for sharing. The 'wich needed a tad more mustard to balance the tangy pickle slices, and our waitress quickly brought us some upon request. If you want an upgrade, choose fried plantains instead of fries for 50 cents.

(Side note: I found it interesting that among its Latin American staples, the menu features three "Italian classics." No thanks.)

Don't forget an order of custardy, syrupy flan to complete your experience.

When you're in Orange Park and in need of a tasty Puerto Rican fix, check out El Palermo. It's open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.   More


From the red-and-white-striped Fiat out front to the sprawling murals of the Italian countryside on the interior walls, Santioni's is a marvelous strip mall find.

The space is meticulously clean and exudes a sense of calmness; soft music wafts gently through the air. Our waitress was polite and attentive, checking in often.

Yes, the menu is broad, but will surely appease all palates — veal piccata, rack of lamb, linguini with clam sauce, frutti di mare, lasagna, spaghetti carbonara, chicken scaloppini, as well as standbys like fettuccini alfredo and chicken parmesan.

Wanting one of everything, we settled on three items: lobster ravioli ($14.95), cavatelli with Bolognese ($12.95), and a small 12-inch pizza bianca ($9.95). Prices seemed reasonable and portions were hearty. Most dinner entrée items run $12.95 to $18.95.

Pasta is served with soup (minestrone or Italian wedding) or house salad. I upgraded to a Greek side salad ($1.50) and was impressed by the leafy Romaine (no lame iceberg lettuce here), feta cubes, pepperocinis, red onions and homemade vinaigrette dressing. We eagerly devoured the complimentary buttery baked rolls that arrived with our salads.

The piping-hot ravioli, drenched in a pink rosato sauce (think marinara meets cream), were perfect bite-sized pouches of flavorful lobster and cheese. The cavatelli — small, folded-over pasta pieces and meaty Bolognese — were topped with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, which worked splendidly.

Our sauceless bianca pie was generously topped with ricotta, diced tomatoes, garlic, ribbons of basil and mozzarella. Its golden crust was both chewy and crisp, and held up well. We were thrilled to have leftover slices, which I must say were superb the next morning, cold and straight out of the box.

Santioni's recently celebrated its second anniversary in Fleming Island. It's closed on Mondays, and if you're too busy to go inside the rest of the week, there's the option to call …   More


For the past six years, 20something William Jonathan Morgan has yearned to open a business. To get up and running quickly, he created a mobile coffee shop, and last month Vagabond Coffee's caravan hit the streets.

Vagabond got its start in San Marco at Aardwolf Brewery, but Morgan's heart was in Downtown Jacksonville. After securing the Laura Street Trio lot at the corner of Laura and Adams, as of Oct. 1 (coincidentally, also Morgan's birthday), Vagabond has had a place to call home on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The menu features lattes, pour-overs, Chemex (a precision brew method) and drip coffee, and Vagabond's staff does its best to concoct your coffee drink of choice — cappuccino, macchiato, cortado and beyond.

Top sellers? Chemex and the vanilla latte. I've enjoyed both, but my personal Vagabond favorite is affogato ($4), a shot of freshly 
pulled espresso with a creamy scoop of 
vanilla ice cream.

The customer base runs the gamut — you'll stand in line with Downtown locals, investment bankers, artists and performers just passing through town.

Lattes are $4 (add 50 cents for soy milk). Syrups include vanilla, agave and mocha and, occasionally, a special offering. Cold brew coffee is $4, and a cup from the Chemex is $3.50. Don't need a pick-me-up? Vagabond's got decaf, too.

For espresso drinks, the crew at Vagabond uses only single-origin espresso that can be paired with organic or soy milk. Most selections are made with locally produced beans from Bold Bean Coffee Roasters.

"We focus on quality, care and craftsmanship," Morgan says. "Bold Bean undoubtedly puts these in each roast, so there was no question about using them as our main supplier. We love supporting local businesses."

Morgan's fiancée, Samantha Friedman, bakes the scrumptious treats available onboard. I love the slabs of moist, hazelnutty Nutella banana bread ($3) and chewy molasses cookies. Currently, the duo is working on expanding the menu to …   More


Equal parts quirky and casual, Carmines Pie House fits perfectly into its hip Riverside
 location. Oh, and the weekday happy hour, from 2-6 p.m., is pretty sweet, too — $1.50 slices and half-priced local brews from Bold City and Intuition.

It's an inexpensive option for lunch or a laid-back dinner choice. And whoever came up with the menu descriptions and names is my hero. Reading items like "Devil Dog Frickles," "Jersey Shore Fried Calzone," "The Jerk," "The Bad Ass BLT" and "It's a Train Wreck Baby," you can't help but smile.

Speaking of train wrecks, order that one. There's more ham, beef, bacon, pepperoni, garlic (oh my!), spinach, tomato, onions, green peppers and pineapple than you could ever dream of atop this mozzarella-covered pie.

For apps, I like the shoestring zucchini fries ($7.27) with a creamy rémoulade for dipping, and the sour pot ($9.27), a tasty, though pricey, plate of sweet potato fries loaded with melted blue cheese crumbles, bacon pieces and a bourbon barbecue sauce. And don't forget those hand-breaded mozzarella planks ($7.27) — flat, rectangular slabs of cheesy goodness, served with marinara.

If you're craving an über-cheesy Chicago-style pizza ($11.57), Carmines nails it. Allow extra time, as this stuffed pie is thick and takes a while to cook, but it's so worth it.

Carmines touts 16 (!) varieties of wing sauces — take advantage and order the jumbo rooster wings ($9.37 for 11). For you herbivores, the Dy-no-myte tofu ($8.27) offers an interesting vegetarian alternative — seasoned cubes of fried tofu tossed in the sauce of your choice.

"Burning Down the House" hot lasagna ($15.57) is a towering stack of five thick, alternating layers of pasta, each topped with different deliciousness. If lasagna's your thing, this one's for you.

No matter what you choose, the portions are huge. But who am I to judge if you still have room for fried cheesecake bites ($6.77)?   More


For more than 50 years, the Salem family has been serving breakfast and lunch at Whiteway Delicatessen, a Jacksonville institution since 1927. Sam Salem, his wife and his sister are always behind the counter, wearing both warm smiles and jovial demeanors.

Whiteway is popular among local businesspeople and politicians. You may be dining next to a congressperson or rubbing shoulders with the next City Council president.

Walk in, grab a cup and pour your drink of choice from the soda fountain, peruse several sheets of printer paper — the menu — each typed with a different offering, order, then take a seat. When it's ready, they'll bring your breakfast or lunch out to you. (You pay as you're leaving.) After my first lunch visit, I was hooked. I still have a crazy love affair with the Late Bloomer ($7.25): turkey, provolone, housemade tabouli, crisp bacon, tangy banana peppers, creamy avocado spread, all stuffed into a pita, grilled and warmed, then cut into two messy halves. I drizzle mine with the goodness from a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce, and it's perfection! Pair it with a side of kale salad or pasta salad and you're set.

Another tried-and-true option is the Tom Bishop ($7.95): ham, turkey, salami, tabouli, feta, banana peppers, avocado spread and hot sauce in a pressed pita. Similar to the Late Bloomer, it's just different enough to join your lunch rotation. Both the Falafel ($7.45), with tomato, cucumber and tahini sauce, and the 
oh-so-messy George's Special with tabouli, feta and marinated tomatoes are excellent vegetarian options.

Pita not your thing? Instead choose wheat, white or rye bread or a sub roll. There are also more traditional sandwiches, like the club, egg salad, bologna and a Reuben, if you're not feeling up to tabouli or an avocado spread.

A homemade-style side, bag of chips and drink are available for an additional charge. And brownies topped with cheesecake? A yummy double-decker dessert that's worth the …   More


The historic tree-lined streets of Fernandina Beach have a magical charm, and Ciao effortlessly blends in. With a large open-air patio in the front, and a full dining room, its location adds to the enjoyable, laid-back dining experience.

Kick it off with arancini ($10), a traditional Sicilian staple. These oversized orbs are stuffed with rice, mozzarella, prosciutto and olives, rolled in breadcrumbs, then deep-fried, and served with a side of marinara for dipping. Bet you can't eat just one!

Craving a salad? I enjoyed the insalata de barbabietole ($10) — a colorful mix of roasted beets, Gorgonzola cheese, peppery arugula and a red onion jam.

Perhaps my favorite item of the evening was the thin (but perfectly crispy) crust margherita pizza ($14): 14 inches of doughy goodness stretched and entrenched in a fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, pesto and a shredded basil blanket. Magnifico!

Get ready to twirl those forks, as pasta dishes abound. You can't go wrong with spaghetti alle vongole ($18) — pasta topped with clams sautéed in olive oil, garlic and white wine. Also note: If you're ordering pasta, you can opt for gluten-free or whole wheat as an alternative, for an additional $2.

Meat lovers, rejoice: Ciao's veal chop parmesan ($32) — a hefty 20-ounce veal chop that's first crusted with breadcrumbs, then topped with marinara, mozzarella and parmesan, and accompanied by a side of pasta — will fill the bill.

Into sides? Italian sausage, meatballs, couscous, broccoli and spinach are all 
available ($4).

Wine (everything from sparkling prosecco to chianti and pinot noir) and beer are offered by the glass. There's a small bar area with some seating, which is nice for appetizers and a beverage at happy hour.

Ciao serves Italian favorites for dinner nightly starting at 5 p.m. and for lunch on Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.   More


Sometimes people recommend a place to eat and encourage you to check it out — 
 but if it's inside a gas station, you might be a little reticent.

Carmelo's, in downtown St. Augustine, connected to a bustling Shell, quickly dispelled the skepticism and made me a fan. It's really more a marketplace that happens to have gas pumps outside. There's a large grab-and-go slice station and a full-service (pardon the pun) eatery.

"Pizzeria" is in the name, so I started with two slices: the stuffed meat supreme ($5.49) with ham, pepperoni, Italian sausage and meatballs, and a slice of cheese and artichoke ($2.75 plus 40¢). The hand-tossed dough was topped with homemade sauce, imported cheeses and my choice of topping, then carefully hoisted into the 500-degree brick-oven pizza. Our waitress politely warned us that we had just ordered enough to feed a large family — slices are gargantuan. When they arrived (she was right, by the way: they're huge) and we cut into the stuffed slice, we were thrilled to find lots of toppings and cheese. The top of the dough was light and golden brown, with a nice, crisp texture, and the supportive undercrust was chewy and flavorful.

In need of something green, I ordered the classic Caesar salad ($7.99), with sun-dried tomatoes, crunchy croutons and fresh Parmesan. I don't think the dressing was homemade, but it was still good.

Next up was the signature Giuseppe Italian sub ($8.29), a large number loaded with layers of Genoa salami, ham, pepperoni slices, pesto, onions, provolone, lettuce, tomato, sweet peppers, oil and vinegar. The sub's two halves were mighty, and I thoroughly enjoyed the pesto addition.

We also liked our plump non-breaded datil pepper jumbo chicken wings ($9.99 for 10), served with a side of ranch.

The interior is airy and spotless, the waitstaff friendly, and the bar ready to serve with bottles of beer and wine, and a few more beers on draft. If you're in need of carbs and don't want too …   More