Springfield is budding with new life, from the recently remodeled historic homes to the ever-expanding dining scene.Tapas Old World, which opened just this last May, is close to the center of the neighborhood’s historic district. The restaurant’s Main Street spot might not be as old as Tapas’ recipes, but it’s a nice fit for cuisine with such historical roots. Tapas’ cinnamon-hued building stands with its door wide open, a friendly gesture by an owner equally as welcoming. Nadege Nicol, originally from Costa Rica, serves primarily European-inspired food, with hints of ancient Madrid and the Mediterranean. These flavors originate, in part, from Miguel, Nadege’s husband and Tapas’ cook. The stone pillars and the map of Spain on the wall, to which Miguel might gesture as he talks about his upbringing, are solid clues. Miguel grew up in Spain, and has since developed a relationship with its royal family. When in Madrid, you meet royalty, apparently.
My friend and I nibbled on Tapas’ fresh bread while listening to the tales spun by the cheerful Miguel, who moved to America 25 years ago. Miguel took a few detours before he settled on Jacksonville. He jumped around the lower 48 states, made Jax his home, then St. Augustine, and now he’s back up here again.
Miguel was drawn to the culture of Jacksonville, which he says he finds educated and tasteful. He’s excited about the growth that’s happened since his first residency in Jacksonville. “I never would have opened a restaurant in Springfield 20 years ago,” he says. “Now, I live in Springfield.”
Miguel says his favorite menu item at Tapas Old World is the paella. He is quite certain he’s cooked more than 10,000 paellas over his lifetime; needless to say, he’s perfected the art. So, naturally, I didn’t order paella. Just kidding. I ordered the Paella de la Casa, available in portion sizes for two all the way up to eight. All paellas are served with a salad tossed in house balsamic, something to munch on while waiting for the paella. Fair warning: The wait was long, though I could see why when our meal arrived. The Paella de la Casa for two ($35) could feed a small army. The giant pan of yellow saffron rice includes chicken, plus half the ocean: calamari, clams, shrimp, mussels, scallops, crab, and octopus. Lemons and red peppers garnished the dish. The rice itself was my favorite part. It’s moist and flavorful, and tastes delicious even absent any of the paella’s other proteins.
Tapas’ paella surprised me with each rich bite. After consuming half the pan, my friend and I were so stuffed, we had to box up the rest. Nadege says the paella tastes even better the second day. I’m excited to find out.
It’s hard to say no to a chocolate cake whose ingredients include hazelnuts and ganache. Old World’s chocolate cake ($7) is certainly big enough for two, though it’s rather difficult to share. The slab is an excellent choice for chocolate-lovers, with drizzles of cream and chocolate, plus strawberries on the side so we indulgent types can pretend we’re eating something good for us, gastronomically rather than spiritually.
Miguel might make some delicious paella, but he gives all the credit to his wife. “Her skill and passion in the kitchen make the restaurant a good experience for all,” he says. Awwww, what a guy!
To read more of Rebecca’s dining adventures go to somewhereinthecityjax.com