where to eat, drink & be merry

by Erin Thursby
A friend of mine asked me a certain question upon hearing that 13 Gypsies would be featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. This question is so common, that it’s actually addressed in Guy Fieri’s fan blog:
Many people ask, “is this a diner, drive-in or dive?” And frequently the answer is none of the above. The show is looking for locally owned and operated restaurants, with only one or two locations owned by the same company. They look for places with character, history and a story to tell.–http://guyfieri.blogspot.com/
So if you were wondering if Culhane’s qualifies as a dive because it isn’t a diner or a drive-in, put your mind at ease, dear readers, it’s none of the above. Other restaurants the Guy visited in our area include the Sun Dog, Metro Diner, the Fox and Singletons’ Seafood Shack.
If you aren’t part of one these lucky eateries, but you yearn for the foodie spotlight, perhaps you should try out for the NBC reality show United Plates of America, wherein you pitch and compete for the right to launch a chain restaurant with the backing of major investors.
Jacksons (1522 King St., 384-8984) near Park and King, is having a Grand Opening Celebration on March 13th. Their cuisine features sandwiches and other casual cuisine.
Last month Leonardo’s Italian Cafe opened in Ponte Vedra Beach where Santioni’s was.
No more Smoothie King in San Marco. Instead, there’s a juice joint called Pulp (1962 San Marco Blvd.) which has reportedly cropped up there. Word is that it’s supposed to be ultra-healthy, non-artificial and eco-tastic.
Our area has received recognition from James Beard in two ways: first, Chef Ted Peters of Azurea at One Ocean, was invited to cook at the James Beard House, secondly, Tom Gray of Bistro Aix is one of the semifinalists in the Best Chef: South category for the 2nd year in a row. Crossing my fingers for Gray to bring it home for us this year!
food & drink-centric events
Friday St. Johns Towncenter Market 3 pm- 8 pm, sjtcmarket.com

Saturday Orange Park Farmers Market 10 am-2 pm www.orangeparkfarmersmarket.com

Sunday Mandarin Farmers and Arts Market Noon- 4pm, www.mandarinfarmersmarket.com

Sundays The Avenues Mall Green Market Inside the mall rather than outdoors. Noon- 6 pm

March 3 Wine Tasting Series at Zaitoon Mediterranean Grill Held on the First Wednesday of each month 6 pm- 8 pm, $15, 13475 Atlantic Blvd., Ste. 40 (located behind Fresh Market in the Harbour Village Shopping Center) www.zaitoongrill.com

March 4- 14 The Florida Strawberry Festival The biggest strawberry fest in the state, in Plant City. Arts and crafts, a ball and the crowning of the Strawberry Queen are all part of the festivities. Call (813) 752-9194 or go online www.flstrawberryfestival.com for more info. Day tickets run $4 for kids, $8 for adults and evening headline performances range from $20- 30

March 6 Riverside Arts Market Opening See story on page 13,

March 6 Maggiano’s Kids Cooking Class Come and join our Executive Chef, James Muller and see just how much passion he puts into every dish. Each child will receive an apron, chef’s hat and make our world famous Vera’s Lemon Cookies. There will be drawings for great prizes throughout the event. Afterwards, you will be able to sample some of our favorite creations. Call 380-4360 for more info or to sign up. $30 per child and one parent eats free! Additional parents or guests are $15 per person. Ages 6- 12. From 10 am- 11:30 am

March 6- 7 The Festival of Chocolate This might be worth the trip to the Orlando Science Center. Besides tasting chocolate, you can also check out an exhibition of chocolate art and history. See their site for more details. www.festivalofchocolate.com

March 9 Markham Vineyards Wine Dinner at Eleven South Join Bryan Del Bondio, President of Markham Vineyards and a winemaker with a rich family history of crushing grapes for the good stuff. You’ll enjoy dinner and wine at one of Jacksonville Beach’s finest establishments. Call 241-1112 or go to www.elevensouth.com. $99 per person, all inclusive. 6:30 pm

March 11 24th Annual Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary Celebrity Chef Tasting and Silent Auction We promise this event at the Prime Osborne won’t be as tedious as its far too lengthy name. Twelve local celebs will dish on their favorite recipes and you get to judge them for just $25. Tickets include your tasting and the privilege of participating in their silent auction. Plus, you get to take home a recipe book of all the things you’ll taste! For tickets and info, call 301-4841. Proceeds benefiting the Salvation Army. 10:30 am

March 12- 13 Gumbo Cook-Off Expect a wealth of gumbo and music at the Jacksonville Landing. This event is hosted by Parrot Heads in Natural Settings. Profits benefit the Gleaners Dispatch, which uses fresh foods that would normally be wasted to help the hungry. For more info go to www.phinsjax.org/ Tickets $10 for a taste of all the gumbo. 2 pm

March 12- 14 29th Annual Lions Club Seafood Festival A favorite throughout Northeast Florida featuring tons of delicious seafood, affordable arts & crafts and music. Admission is $2 for adults, kids 12 and under free. Proceeds go to benefit Lions Club charities. Francis Field in St. Augustine, www.lionsfestival.com/ 3- 9 pm on Friday, 10 am- 9 pm on Saturday, and 10 am- 5 pm on Sunday

March 20 Great Atlantic Seafood Festival Enjoy a great day of sunshine while gorging on Florida’s seafood, fried, boiled, grilled or blackened around the Sea Walk Pavilion in Jax Beach. Call 270-9301 for more info. Noon- 10 pm

March 26- 28 Rhythm & Ribs Festival Barbecue and festival fun at Francis Field in St. Augustine. www.rhythmandribs.net/ Admission $2, except for Saturday after 5 pm, when it is $5. Friday 5-10 pm, Saturday 11 am- 10 pm, Sunday 11 am- 5 pm.