Eat Up Downtown

by LIZA MITCHELL
Just as no two diners share an identical palate, no two restaurants offer the same taste experience. Downtown Vision, Inc. is dishing up a special, two-week event that highlights the myriad of dining options offered in our city’s core.
Eat Up Downtown is held August 12-25 at participating restaurants. Menu options range from casual, comfort food to exotic, fine dining. Patrons can choose from three-course meals priced at $15, $25 and $35, all offering more bang for their buck, not just in portion size but in healthy, fresh dishes with an emphasis on local resources.
For those who hunger for a flavorful dining experience as much as the food itself, Eat Up Downtown is a delicious way to sample both the local flair and fare, while supporting small businesses. And for the restaurants opening their doors for the event, it’s not about one-upmanship but rather a collaborative effort to encourage people to venture outside the box and embrace something new.
Participating restaurants include Basil Thai & Sushi, bb’s, Benny’s Steak and Seafood, Big Pete’s Pizzeria, Brazilian Corner, Café Nola @ MOCA, Casa Dora, Chart House, Chomp Chomp, Cinco de Mayo, Fionn MacCool’s Irish Pub & Restaurant, Indochine, Juliette’s Bistro, Koja Sushi, Olio, Pho. A Noodle Bar, River City Brewing Company, The Wine Cellar, Trellises, Vito’s Italian Café and Zodiac Bar & Grill.
This year, diners can also board the Foxy Lady River Cruise for a limited, $45, dinner event and a stunning spin along the St. Johns River with panoramic views of the downtown skyline from 6-8 pm, August 16. Seating is at a premium and reservations are required. A special coupon code is available at www.eatupdowntown.com for the discounted price.
Liz Grebe, Marketing and Events Coordinator with DVI, says the event is a great tool to expose people the many downtown restaurants in a fun and inventive way while providing a financial benefit to the business owners during the slow summer season. “It’s important for the economy because it keeps the money here,” she says. “It also helps to bring the community together and realize all of the history that is downtown. Downtown is important to the whole city. When the downtown area is strong, everywhere else will be strong as well.”
Mark Lynn, a partner at the popular restaurant Chomp Chomp, says he was inspired by the success of last year’s event. He says events like Eat Up Downtown are vital to the survival of independent businesses and the continued evolution of the downtown core from the sleepy cityscape it once was to the thriving metropolis that it has become with the development of the entertainment district and growing number of restaurants sprouting into existence.
“It’s important for any up-and-coming downtown. I am reminded of last year specifically, and it was really successful, especially for us and a lot of our neighbors in the industry,” Lynn says. “It’s all about different tastes, different flavors, and that’s awesome. There are things going on outside of places like Chili’s and T.G.I. Fridays. And it supports small businesses. We wouldn’t make it if people weren’t enthusiastic about supporting the small business aspect.”
In keeping with the spirit of localism, Lynn says they are careful to hand-select as many local resources as possible to incorporate into their “chef-inspired street food.” They recognize the value of healthy options, particularly when serving their vegetarian clientele that are often overlooked or faced with limited menu options at other restaurants.
“We get all of our breads from The French Pantry, which is the best bread in town. We use all local produce from up and coming young farmers. It’s all legit. And we hand-select all of our meats and proteins,” says Lynn. “We try to maintain a certain standard, and it’s important that we are in the know about the ingredients we use and who we cater to. It’s all circular.”
Grebe says the farm-to-table movement is booming in Jacksonville, and many downtown restaurants use foods farmed locally and herbs from on-site gardens, such as BB’s and Café Nola at MOCA Jacksonville. “It’s important to know where the food is coming from,” she says. “It’s better quality, and using organically grown products is just better for you.”
Greg DeSanto, chef/owner of Olio restaurant at 301 E. Bay Street, says he is looking forward to Eat Up Downtown because it provides an opportunity to serve patrons that might not otherwise get the chance to experience any of their organic dishes due to Olio’s limited hours of operation.
“Since our appearance on the Travel Channel’s America’s Best Sandwich for our Duck Grilled Cheese, the number one comment I get from customers is that we should be open at night,” says DeSanto. “We are only open 8 am-3 pm Monday-Friday, so some people simply do not have the time during their lunch break to travel downtown and check out what Olio has to offer.”
However, DeSanto will be open from 5-10 pm on Saturday nights during Eat Up Downtown. Reservations are not accepted, and seating will be available on a first come first serve basis. “Last year, the response was great, and we expect this year to be the same,” he says.
Organizers of Eat Up Downtown are looking to social media to add extra flavor to the event with a photo contest. To participate, email a photo to [email protected] or post it on Facebook, Twitter or Instragram with the name of the restaurant in the photo. The photos will be compiled into a Facebook album, and prizes will be awarded to those who generate the most “likes.” Prizes include two $25 gift certificates to the Jacksonville Landing and passes to MOCA Jacksonville.

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