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No Sad Tomato

Happy Tomato turns that frown upside-down

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Happy Tomato, a happy spot in Fernandina Beach, greets you with some smokin’ smoke and a down-to-earth crew.

I don’t know why there are so many just plain cute joints on Amelia Island. For some reason, they all ooze charm and quaint vibes, and there’s usually a calming plant element, too. Happy Tomato’s outdoor back porch is on a wooden deck, with ample seating that extends to a paved pathway. It’s tucked into a building that is home to a few other businesses, but you’ll find it with no problem. Walk with confidence!

A word of warning: This is not a neat-n-tidy place to simply ‘grab a bite.’ In no time, you will be knee-deep in barbecue sauce and go-big-or-go-home-style sandwiches. The intimate cozy restaurant specializes in barbecued meats, deli-style sammies and down-home sides.

When the counter lady told me the spare ribs were huge, that a half-order would definitely satisfy the four at our table, naturally I scoffed. How wrong I was to be disdainful–these are brontosaurus ribs, and as tender and juicy as any I’ve had. Whole rack ($28.95) or half-rack ($14.75), do not dismiss as same-old, same-old. There is a ton (or half-ton) of meat on that plate.

And now … the chicken salad sandwich ($8.50). It’s filled with chunky white meat chicken, walnuts and lots of mayo, nestled on a large lettuce leaf, topped with sliced tomato all in a flaky croissant. Yeah, it’s quite a juicy bite.

Pulled pork is popular at the Happy Tomato, so it was a no-brainer to scoop up a BBQ pork sandwich ($8.99). Again, this isn’t a run-of-the-mill item. Piled high with pulled pork, the sesame seed bun almost can’t stand up to the situation. No big deal, though. Just take a fork to that tender mountain of meat.

There are three barbecue sauce choices: sweet, spicy or mustard. Each of them was great in its own way, depending on what your flavor profile likes best. I was partial to a little bit of sweet and a little bit of spicy mixed.

The sides will stick to your ribs. The potato salad was chunky and not overly reliant on mayo. The baked beans were sweet and thick. The vinegar-based dressing the pasta salad was a nice change. (Plus, the curlicue fusilli had pickled veggies in the mix, which is an automatic blue ribbon from me.)

Happy Tomato is well-known for its housemade walnut chocolate chunk cookies. Pick up one for each diner at your table, or grab a couple or dozen for the road.

This is a downhome place, with a great staff and a menu full of good food. And The Happy Tomato can cater with the best of them. Lunch spots don’t get much tastier than this, so get there before the 4:30 p.m. closing time or pick up some à-la-carte barbecue for dinner.

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