Gather ’round, omnivores, herbivores, and locavores: The Floridian’s got you covered. The St. Augustine restaurant is located in the heart of the historic district, which means that parking can be tricky, unless you attend Grace United Methodist Church and can use its convenient parking lot across the street. It might be worth changing your loyalties if it means easy access to this fantastic place.
The restaurant is small and has that homey feel that is particular to the South. Plants of all sizes sit on wooden shelves that encircle the dining area. In the center of the room hangs a canoe like one Huck Finn might have seen in his travels. Each table is decorated with fresh flowers set in a vase, a jar, or a cup — whatever works. The kinds of flowers are different at each table, as are the salt and pepper shakers, the chairs, and even the tables themselves. This mismatched, half-and-half mentality is evident not only in the ambience, but in the menu, too.
The Floridian boasts “innovative Southern fare” that accommodates meat lovers and vegetarians alike. It’s the sort of restaurant that will please both your grandmother and your hipster friend. This hip/Southern mixture is the brainchild of owners Jeff and Genie McNally.
The McNallys made the leap from farmers markets to brick-and-mortar in 2010. The Florida natives support the farm-to-table movement that’s spreading throughout the nation, which means the meals at The Floridian are fresh and locally sourced. A few of the McNallys’ favorite farms are Fresh Start Hydroponics, Wainwright Dairy, and Abundant Acres. Some of the restaurant’s suppliers, including CartWheel Ranch Meats, now base their produce or livestock on the current menu of The Floridian. This relationship with the farmers is symbiotic, because the menu also depends on what is in season.
“The menu changes about six times a year,” Genie tells me, “depending on the availability of certain produce.” She says that summer is the most challenging time of the year for the menu, but it’s also her favorite time. “Summer means lots of corn and tomatoes,” she says, laughing. Genie explains that she creates 99 percent of the food menu, while Jeff, her husband, crafts the drink menu.
Speaking of the menu, a must-have starter is the fried green tomato bruschetta ($9.75), a delicious pairing of cornmeal-coated green tomatoes over toasted bread from The French Pantry in Jacksonville. The four tomatoes are topped with goat feta cheese, basil, and a chili-cumin aioli. The cornmeal batter was crunchy and flavorful, and the goat cheese made a creamy, tangy finale.
The shrimp rémoulade po’ boy ($13) — local shrimp drizzled with a Creole sauce — came highly recommended. Colorful peppers, spinach, and parsley made this toasted sandwich as pretty as it was tasty. The sandwich was served with a salad and a side of The Floridian’s handmade vinaigrette.
The Southern Belle salad, another colorful meal, includes fresh fruit, sweet potatoes, candied pecans, and blue cheese straight from Georgia. The salad is tossed in a lemon-basil dressing and can be topped with tempeh, shrimp, or the catch of the day. The final touch is the local honey, which is drizzled over the salad, perfectly balancing the sweetness of the peaches and the tartness of the lemon dressing. My choice of tempeh absorbed all these flavors and made each mouthful a robust kick to the taste buds.
Chef Emeril Lagasse paid The Floridian a visit in an episode of Emeril’s Florida and was able to chat with Jeff and Genie about their food inspirations and community involvement. Chef Lagasse complemented the McNallys’ ability to match the bounty of local farmers to the restaurant’s Southern-inspired dishes. So, on behalf of my good friend Emeril (yeah, we’re on a first-name basis), the next time you’re in the Oldest City, we encourage you to pay The Floridian a visit.
Where’s Rebecca going next? You can catch up with her at Somewhere in the City Jax and check folioweekly.com each Wednesday for new reviews.