Delectable Beaches

An array of popular, laid-back coastal haunts exude a subtle beach vibe


A Beaches-must, Cinotti’s Bakery (1523 Penman Road, Jax Beach, 246-1728) is a fifth-generation bakery, dating back more than 65 years, arriving in Northeast Florida in 1964. Old-timers can recall its First Avenue North location, steps from the ocean. With über-popular seasonal pumpkin, maple bacon, coffee and key lime donuts, the "new" Penman Road spot serves other bakery confections and deli sandwiches on freshly baked bread. Cinotti’s cases are overflowing with trays of cookies, pastries, cupcakes and chocolate truffles. Grab a decadent donut or two and a cup of coffee — and a box of assorted goodies to keep your home team happy.

Minutes from the beach is the wildly popular TacoLu (1712 Beach Blvd., Jax Beach, 249-8226), which locals quickly dubbed “NuLu” after a recent relocation. The larger ’Lu, with additional parking and valet service, has an expanded bar area and an outdoor patio with seating for 40, complete with a colorful mural on the building's side, painted by local artist Jessica Becker. You can feel full after just looking at the menu of quesadillas, enchiladas, salads and tacos. The bangin’ shrimp taco is most popular, but the carne royale — carne asada with melted brie and grape salsa — is uniquely delicious. A relatively new weekend brunch service helps fans forgive that the ’Lu is closed on Mondays. Well, that and the impressive 120-plus choices of tequila. Even the sour mix is made in-house, with fresh-squeezed citrus and homemade simple syrup. Margarita, anyone?

For a healthful breakfast or lunch, look for the bee. At Delicomb (1131 Third St. N., Jax Beach, 372-4192), within walking distance from the beach, you’ll find menu standouts like strong iced coffee, antioxidant-packed acai bowls, vegan tempeh Reubens and spicy kim chi.

Often crowded with seafood lovers, Sliders Seafood Grille (218 First St., Neptune Beach, 246-0881) provides a relaxed atmosphere that's perfect for cracking open crab legs and throwing back raw or steamed oysters. This quintessential coastal spot is a local favorite, and with a newly constructed patio area, there’s no better place to enjoy your meal in perfect Florida weather. Thursdays are packed, for unbeatable specials like half-priced raw oysters by the dozen. And the Key lime pie is so popular, Sliders has been known to run out on occasion.

For an upscale dining experience, there’s the appropriately named Eleven South Bistro (216 11th Ave. S., Jax Beach, 241-1112). Slightly tucked away in a residential area, Eleven South changes its new American-style (with a Mediterranean twist) menu based on the seasonality of ingredients. The atmosphere seems sophisticated, not stuffy, and a covered back patio area is popular year ’round. If you’re into vino, stop by Sunday evening, when many bottles are half-price. Pair a glass with a cheese plate, and you’re on your way to a stellar date night. Order the lobster mac-and-cheese, with small, tubular-shaped ditalini pasta and truffled goat cheese and tomato cream, or the savory escargot with tarragon butter, melted reggiano cheese and served with a crisp toasted baguette.

Also worth the trek east are three spots with the same local ownership — Marker 32 (14594 Beach Blvd., Intracoastal, 223-1534), Palm Valley Fish Camp (299 Roscoe Blvd. N., Ponte Vedra, 285-3200) and newcomer North Beach Fish Camp (100 First St., Neptune Beach, 249-3474) — which offer crowd-pleasing flavors focusing on fresh ingredients and seafood. Marker 32 skews upscale. The warm spinach salad with Swiss, mushroom, bacon and a tangy honey tarragon dressing is a must (insider tip: you can order a half-portion). The bacon, corn and goat cheese beignets with a smoky tomato sauce from the appetizer menu are so good, you’ll want to order your own batch. Palm Valley is also on the ICW, but adopts a more casual tone with a creative menu and several daily specials scrawled in colorful chalk at the front door. Perennial hits are the Mayport shrimp-and-grits, broiled seafood platter, blue crab cakes with caper aioli and whole fried fish with fries. Traditional Southern tastes rule the roost here, too, with a low-country boil of shrimp, clams, crawfish and Andouille sausage, garnished with potatoes and corn on the cob. For the adventurous, a grilled octopus salad with white beans and datil vinaigrette will have your dining companions gawking. Save room for the made-to-order bread pudding with vanilla ice cream. North Beach Fish Camp occupies the former Caribbee Key spot at Beaches Town Center, where Atlantic Boulevard meets the ocean. The newly remodeled restaurant boasts bars downstairs and upstairs to serve the thirsty masses. The menu is similar to Palm Valley Fish Camp, so you can find your favorites at either location.

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