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BITE-SIZED

Hold the steak, please — and the pulled pork sliders. And those spare ribs. Put down your forks and knives.

While not eating meat may sound borderline traumatic to many, some local carnivores have taken a pledge to say goodbye to meat for 31 days. Sponsored by The Girls Gone Green, No Meat March is celebrating its third year in Northeast Florida.

Start your day with a freshly roasted coffee from Sipper’s Coffeehouse (7643 Gate Parkway, Southside), which serves dairy-free alternatives to add to your java. The homemade chai and sugar-free chai are heavenly blended with creamy soy.

A drool-worthy brunch can be found at any of the area FirstWatch The Daytime Café locations (13470 Beach Blvd., at Hodges Boulevard; 11111 San Jose Blvd., Ste. 14, Mandarin; 5444 Marsh Landing Parkway, Ste. 4, Jacksonville Beach). Try the fresh fruit crêpes topped with low-fat organic strawberry yogurt and a dash of cinnamon and sugar. They’re served with homemade granola and the baked muffin of the day. FirstWatch’s omelets are made with cage-free eggs. The C’est la vie with roasted zucchini, onions, tomatoes and herbed goat cheese is a favorite.

For a lunch less than $10 and several veg options daily, head to Chomp Chomp (106 E. Adams St., Downtown). The tofu and pickled veggie bahn mi with a side of salad or thin-cut crispy curry potato chips are just what the doctor ordered. Or try the TMB — no bacon here — TMB stands for tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil. You can swap tofu for chicken or pork when you choose the curry of the day. One caveat – Chomp Chomp is closed Saturday through Monday for lunch.

Chamblin’s Uptown (215 N. Laura St., Downtown) offers delicious veg hot soups and wrapped specialties. They have two veggie wraps, a curry tempeh wrap and other specials that grace the chalkboard menu from time to time like vegan chili, Tofurkey and Swiss on a tomato basil wrap and VGBLT (lettuce and tomato …   More

BITE-SIZED

A plane trip to France may be too far away for lunch or dinner, but JJ’s Bistro, with two area locations, is a good way to get your French fix.

Upon entering the Gate Parkway location, JJ’s Bistro de Paris, my eyes grew wide as I noticed the huge dessert case. These tempting goodies, which include pastries, tarts, tortes, éclairs, cheesecakes and other sweets, are all created fresh. Breads are also baked in-house.

We were quickly greeted and seated, passing by a tall metal replica of Paris’ famous landmark Eiffel Tower. I’ve been in the real tower twice, so this was nostalgic for me. Despite being located in a strip mall, JJ’s puts great detail in its mood-setting décor: A large painted mural of a Paris city street scene spans the main wall, and high ceilings and striped awnings over the doorways further enhance the Parisian feel.

I started my lunch with a cup of JJ’s French onion soup, which didn't disappoint. Peeling back the melted cheese layer unveiled piping hot soup with thin caramelized onions and pieces of cheese-covered soaked baguette.

The menu boasts several French favorites like salad niçoise, croque-monsieur, bouillabaisse, escargot and moules provencales et frites (mussels and fries), so there’s truly something for your inner-Parisian.

Several daily specials are listed on a small chalkboard at the table. We went with two from the list: a warm turkey, brie and green apple sandwich on brioche with raspberry aioli and chicken Florentine crêpes tarragon, topped with sun-dried tomato cream sauce and almonds. Each comes with a side, so when our waiter explained that the French fries are hand-cut and made fresh, we ordered those and a side salad. The fries were thin and crispy, and we gobbled them up quickly.

The sandwich won us over: creamy brie melting over tart green apple slices on bread topped with sesame seeds and aromatic garlic. The two thinly rolled crêpes were good, but the almonds were inside (not outside as …   More

Bite-Sized

I’m a pizza snob. I’ve inhaled piping-hot slices of Grimaldi’s pizza from its coal-fired brick oven beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and I’ve worked my way through the better part of deep-dish pies from both Giordano's and Lou Malnati’s in Chicago. I’ve polished off wedges from Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizza in Denver.

Tommy’s Brick Oven Pizza earns a top-five spot in my Northeast Florida list, which includes Brewer’s Pizza, Mellow Mushroom, Pele’s Wood Fire and Perard’s.

In 2006, Tommy d’Esterhazy opened the unassuming spot in a small strip mall on Southside Boulevard. The small, casual restaurant seats about 20, including a few barstools where you can gaze at your pizza being made in the central brick oven. You can catch a glimpse of d’Esterhazy (complete with an authentic New York attitude) hand-tossing the dough.

Tommy’s New York-style pizzas are available in 12, 14 or 16 inches. Quattro Stagione is my choice: The slightly crisp prosciutto’s saltiness complements the tender artichokes and creamy goat cheese along with roasted red peppers and tomato sauce. They’re meant to be together. Hand-tossed dough cooked in the brick oven results in a crust that’s not overly thick, keeping its shape and staying crisp at the edges.

Treat your taste buds with delicious toppings like pepperoni, sausage, bacon, pineapple, salami, rock shrimp, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

Salads are made-to-order. The caprese is traditional: Soft, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, shreds of basil and a tangy balsamic reduction top a spring lettuce mix. The summery strawberry spinach salad with chevre or goat cheese is tossed with Tommy’s secret strawberry vinaigrette dressing. Tommy’s Caesar, with romaine and crunchy croutons, is also good. You can’t go wrong with any of these leafy concoctions.

I’ve yet to try one of the cold subs or hot sandwiches, but the warm roasted rosemary chicken with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes is right up my …   More

BITE-SIZED

For the past 74 years, locals have flocked (no pun intended) to this no-frills St. Nicholas hot spot. Comfortably nesting in the same location since 1939, when Atlantic Boulevard was the only road to the beach, Beach Road Chicken Dinners is truly a Southerner’s dream. (On the flip side, it is not a vegetarian’s dream.)

We kicked off our feast by devouring bite-sized fried okra and sweet corn nuggets, served with a creamy homemade ranch sauce that had a slight jalapeño kick. The breading was light, and the okra was both fresh and crisp, as if it were picked yesterday. The sweet corn nuggets were piping hot.

How could I resist ordering fried chicken? Three of my tablemates also opted for it, so I'm not exaggerating when I say a platter of strategically piled pieces of crispy, golden-brown chicken arrived at our table. The need for multiple napkins aside, the chicken was the perfect trifecta: crisp, juicy and flavorful. I also managed a bite of country-fried steak and topped it with some of the gravy from the mashed potatoes; it too was delicious. If you’re from the South like I am, you’ll certainly appreciate the authenticity. And to make Grandma proud, yes, there are gizzards and chicken livers. But that’s where I draw the line.

Served family-style, the fixins are all-you-can-eat. If you're scooping out the last heap of mashed potatoes, don't fret, y'all — just order another bowl. The table quickly became crowded with creamed peas, mini-biscuits (with butter and honey), mashed potatoes, gravy, crinkle-cut crisp French fries, white rice and creamy cole slaw. The biscuits, slaw and mashed potatoes with gravy had the most flavor; the four of us left the creamed peas practically untouched. I longed for mac ‘n’ cheese and collard greens, but they were nowhere to be found on the menu.

Eyeing the table next to us, I spotted fruit cobbler. Stuffed to the brim, I knew I couldn't hold another bite. Judging from our neighbors’ quickly …   More

BITE-SIZED

In an unassuming spot on South Third Street in Jax Beach sits Eva’s Grill & Bar. Home to several restaurants over the years, the building's interior feels dated and plain, but small windows lend a few rays of natural sunlight. It’s spacious and kid-friendly, and would work well for larger parties.

Owner Chris Wright, along with his father William, opened Eva’s in early 2012. Many of the recipes are passed down from Chris’ mother, Eva. (He also has a daughter named Eva.) The menu includes Greek, Italian and Cajun dishes, but Eva’s is traditional in its approach, not a fusion of cuisines or flavors. Everything is homemade-style, except the hamburger buns and soda rolls.

My items were plated nicely, and I noticed the portions are quite generous and prices are fair. I see many take-out boxes in my future.

I started with an Italian panzanella salad: a bountiful plate of arugula, mixed greens, tomatoes, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, red onion and herbed croutons, tossed with a flavorful housemade white balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was fresh and the flavors blended nicely.

Several small plates are available, including a Greek meze platter with spinach and feta pastries (spanakopita), fresh mint and feta pastries (tiropita), Greek salad and stuffed grape leaves (dolmades). The table next to ours had one, and my stomach growled with envy.

Feeling adventurous, I tried the beef short rib lasagna. Warm gooey mozzarella generously covered a tower of alternating lasagna noodles, ricotta, spinach, fontina and braised beef, surrounded by a mote of homemade marina sauce. I expected the dish to be heavy, but it wasn't. The sauce had a lot of flavor. I’m eager to try the calzones and pizzas next time.

Wanting to sample each culture represented on the menu, I ordered the cochon de lait, a French-sounding term with Cajun roots. The slow-roasted, seasoned pork was accompanied by buttery housemade …   More

BITE-SIZED

When I need to quiet my growling stomach, I head to a restaurant that has “Mex” as a prefix or suffix. Hightide Burrito Co. touts its “Beach Mex,” a vibe and flavors that lend themselves to Jacksonville’s ethnic and geographic diversity. The menu is inspired by owner Alejandro Juarez’s family recipes from Central Mexico.

This family-friendly, seat-yourself, two-room spot is clean and modern with an abundance of seating. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the menu's straightforward and easy to read. Your toughest choice? Whether you’re up for a burrito (flour or wheat tortilla), burrito bowl, nachos, tacos (corn or flour), tortas or salad. Then determine if you’re in the mood for steak, ground beef, barbacoa, chicken, carnitas, fish, shrimp, roasted vegetables or beans and cheese.

Salsas are made in-house, and everything tastes fresh. Queso seemed like a must to kick off our lunch. We found it to be full of flavor, thick and creamy, which nicely coated our bags of homemade tortilla chips. There are few things worse than runny queso. Beware: These triangular gems are beyond addicting — super-crunchy, warm and lightly salted. Perfection.

I eyed the best-seller claim next to Lupe’s famous Baja fish tacos, and I knew what I’d be ordering. Best-seller? They must be delicious. And they were! Panko-breaded, lightly fried tilapia is generously topped with shreds of crunchy cabbage, then drizzled with a tangy white sauce and accompanied by a wedge of lime. I concurred with the claim. The fish was moist and cooked to perfection — each bite gave way to the perfect amount of crunch from the breading. I added a few generous dashes of the Peruvian sauce there on the table and some of the pico de gallo that came with my chips. I caught my boyfriend sneaking a bite on more than one occasion.

Also intriguing were the made-to-order acai bowls. I opted for the beet bowl with a blend of frozen acai …   More

BITE-SIZED

Crisp. Crunchy. Chewy. Creamy. The possibilities are endless. You’ll never think of salad the same way again. Tossgreen takes healthy to a new level by offering fresh and sustainable made-to-order salads and burritos.

Simple instruction signage guides the ordering process. The toughest part is deciding if you’re hungry for a burrito (or tortilla-less burrito bowl) or salad.

Salads begin with a leafy green base: iceberg, romaine, mixed greens or spinach. I opted for half-spinach and half-mixed greens. For $5.99, you select five toppings. There are more than 50 vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, “crunch” items and various cheeses. Want more than five? Pony up 49 cents each. I enjoy a mingling of flavors and textures, so my creation included hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, crisp pita chips, julienned carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, chickpeas and herb-roasted chicken, which was moist and flavorful.

Tossgreen also offers items you may not typically find on the average bed of lettuce, like jicama (a crunchy, slightly sweet root), red grapes, wasabi peas, toasted coconut, goat cheese and white cheddar.

Adding proteins is only 99 cents to $1.99. Options include herb-roasted chicken, steak, roasted shrimp, roasted tofu, bacon, boiled eggs and avocado — we know, it's a fruit — but it has about 7 grams of protein.

Ingredients are placed in a large bowl with your choice of salad dressing, then tossed and chopped, ensuring an even distribution of dressing. With 18 choices, there’s something for the pickiest diner, including ones with food allergies (dairy, gluten, oil). There’s even a simple lime or lemon squeeze, which adds a surprising amount of flavor and minimal calories.

I sampled the carrot ginger, but found it too sweet and opted for the lemon shallot vinaigrette. A bit bland; I wouldn’t order it again. I made a mental note to try the chipotle ancho vinaigrette.

Feeling uninspired? Order a chef-designed salad. Prices vary, but these …   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

Arriving at this tucked away spot along Roscoe Road gives the feeling you have discovered a hidden gem in North Florida’s dining scene. A lengthy line of patrons eagerly awaiting a table will quickly remind you that this secret has spread quickly. Call in a reservation, and you’ll be golden.

The interior features soothing pastels, large windows that draw abundant natural lighting and a simple open layout that allows for gazing at the intracoastal waterway. This comfortable, laid-back atmosphere blends seamlessly with a menu that focuses on using simple ingredients to concoct complex flavor combinations at reasonable prices. The result is quintessential Ponte Vedra: a refined personification of traditional Coastal Florida cuisine infused with influences of the traditional farming roots of Palm Valley and a reliance on ingredients like the datil pepper.

The specials are carefully written across a blackboard in colored chalk, and several vie for attention. The fried artichoke hearts with a creamy lemony aioli and lemon wedge are a must; bite-sized with a light cornmeal crust and sprinkled generously with shaved parmesan, they're light enough not to ruin your appetite for dinner.

The grilled octopus and white bean salad with a slightly spicy but not overwhelming datil pepper vinaigrette is a flavor and texture explosion: Chewy, warm pieces of seasoned octopus contrast the creamy oversized white beans served atop mixed greens, colorful julienned carrots and chunks of tomato. If you’ve never had octopus, I urge you to give it a try. The Asian-inspired chopped tuna salad combines almond slivers, tomato, black sesame seeds and chopped seared ahi tuna drizzled with spicy Siracha and wasabi.

The pan-fried cod sandwich is a big piece of fresh flaky white fish resting between thick tomato slices, crisp lettuce and a toasted hoagie roll accompanied by a light turnip slaw and pile of seasoned wedge fries, which I enjoy dousing with tangy malt …   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

 
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