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BITE-SIZED

Equal parts quirky and casual, Carmines Pie House fits perfectly into its hip Riverside
 location. Oh, and the weekday happy hour, from 2-6 p.m., is pretty sweet, too — $1.50 slices and half-priced local brews from Bold City and Intuition.

It's an inexpensive option for lunch or a laid-back dinner choice. And whoever came up with the menu descriptions and names is my hero. Reading items like "Devil Dog Frickles," "Jersey Shore Fried Calzone," "The Jerk," "The Bad Ass BLT" and "It's a Train Wreck Baby," you can't help but smile.

Speaking of train wrecks, order that one. There's more ham, beef, bacon, pepperoni, garlic (oh my!), spinach, tomato, onions, green peppers and pineapple than you could ever dream of atop this mozzarella-covered pie.

For apps, I like the shoestring zucchini fries ($7.27) with a creamy rémoulade for dipping, and the sour pot ($9.27), a tasty, though pricey, plate of sweet potato fries loaded with melted blue cheese crumbles, bacon pieces and a bourbon barbecue sauce. And don't forget those hand-breaded mozzarella planks ($7.27) — flat, rectangular slabs of cheesy goodness, served with marinara.

If you're craving an über-cheesy Chicago-style pizza ($11.57), Carmines nails it. Allow extra time, as this stuffed pie is thick and takes a while to cook, but it's so worth it.

Carmines touts 16 (!) varieties of wing sauces — take advantage and order the jumbo rooster wings ($9.37 for 11). For you herbivores, the Dy-no-myte tofu ($8.27) offers an interesting vegetarian alternative — seasoned cubes of fried tofu tossed in the sauce of your choice.

"Burning Down the House" hot lasagna ($15.57) is a towering stack of five thick, alternating layers of pasta, each topped with different deliciousness. If lasagna's your thing, this one's for you.

No matter what you choose, the portions are huge. But who am I to judge if you still have room for fried cheesecake bites ($6.77)?   More

BITE-SIZED

For more than 50 years, the Salem family has been serving breakfast and lunch at Whiteway Delicatessen, a Jacksonville institution since 1927. Sam Salem, his wife and his sister are always behind the counter, wearing both warm smiles and jovial demeanors.

Whiteway is popular among local businesspeople and politicians. You may be dining next to a congressperson or rubbing shoulders with the next City Council president.

Walk in, grab a cup and pour your drink of choice from the soda fountain, peruse several sheets of printer paper — the menu — each typed with a different offering, order, then take a seat. When it's ready, they'll bring your breakfast or lunch out to you. (You pay as you're leaving.) After my first lunch visit, I was hooked. I still have a crazy love affair with the Late Bloomer ($7.25): turkey, provolone, housemade tabouli, crisp bacon, tangy banana peppers, creamy avocado spread, all stuffed into a pita, grilled and warmed, then cut into two messy halves. I drizzle mine with the goodness from a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce, and it's perfection! Pair it with a side of kale salad or pasta salad and you're set.

Another tried-and-true option is the Tom Bishop ($7.95): ham, turkey, salami, tabouli, feta, banana peppers, avocado spread and hot sauce in a pressed pita. Similar to the Late Bloomer, it's just different enough to join your lunch rotation. Both the Falafel ($7.45), with tomato, cucumber and tahini sauce, and the 
oh-so-messy George's Special with tabouli, feta and marinated tomatoes are excellent vegetarian options.

Pita not your thing? Instead choose wheat, white or rye bread or a sub roll. There are also more traditional sandwiches, like the club, egg salad, bologna and a Reuben, if you're not feeling up to tabouli or an avocado spread.

A homemade-style side, bag of chips and drink are available for an additional charge. And brownies topped with cheesecake? A yummy double-decker dessert that's worth the …   More

BITE-SIZED

The historic tree-lined streets of Fernandina Beach have a magical charm, and Ciao effortlessly blends in. With a large open-air patio in the front, and a full dining room, its location adds to the enjoyable, laid-back dining experience.

Kick it off with arancini ($10), a traditional Sicilian staple. These oversized orbs are stuffed with rice, mozzarella, prosciutto and olives, rolled in breadcrumbs, then deep-fried, and served with a side of marinara for dipping. Bet you can't eat just one!

Craving a salad? I enjoyed the insalata de barbabietole ($10) — a colorful mix of roasted beets, Gorgonzola cheese, peppery arugula and a red onion jam.

Perhaps my favorite item of the evening was the thin (but perfectly crispy) crust margherita pizza ($14): 14 inches of doughy goodness stretched and entrenched in a fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, pesto and a shredded basil blanket. Magnifico!

Get ready to twirl those forks, as pasta dishes abound. You can't go wrong with spaghetti alle vongole ($18) — pasta topped with clams sautéed in olive oil, garlic and white wine. Also note: If you're ordering pasta, you can opt for gluten-free or whole wheat as an alternative, for an additional $2.

Meat lovers, rejoice: Ciao's veal chop parmesan ($32) — a hefty 20-ounce veal chop that's first crusted with breadcrumbs, then topped with marinara, mozzarella and parmesan, and accompanied by a side of pasta — will fill the bill.

Into sides? Italian sausage, meatballs, couscous, broccoli and spinach are all 
available ($4).

Wine (everything from sparkling prosecco to chianti and pinot noir) and beer are offered by the glass. There's a small bar area with some seating, which is nice for appetizers and a beverage at happy hour.

Ciao serves Italian favorites for dinner nightly starting at 5 p.m. and for lunch on Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.   More

BITE-SIZED

Sometimes people recommend a place to eat and encourage you to check it out — 
 but if it's inside a gas station, you might be a little reticent.

Carmelo's, in downtown St. Augustine, connected to a bustling Shell, quickly dispelled the skepticism and made me a fan. It's really more a marketplace that happens to have gas pumps outside. There's a large grab-and-go slice station and a full-service (pardon the pun) eatery.

"Pizzeria" is in the name, so I started with two slices: the stuffed meat supreme ($5.49) with ham, pepperoni, Italian sausage and meatballs, and a slice of cheese and artichoke ($2.75 plus 40¢). The hand-tossed dough was topped with homemade sauce, imported cheeses and my choice of topping, then carefully hoisted into the 500-degree brick-oven pizza. Our waitress politely warned us that we had just ordered enough to feed a large family — slices are gargantuan. When they arrived (she was right, by the way: they're huge) and we cut into the stuffed slice, we were thrilled to find lots of toppings and cheese. The top of the dough was light and golden brown, with a nice, crisp texture, and the supportive undercrust was chewy and flavorful.

In need of something green, I ordered the classic Caesar salad ($7.99), with sun-dried tomatoes, crunchy croutons and fresh Parmesan. I don't think the dressing was homemade, but it was still good.

Next up was the signature Giuseppe Italian sub ($8.29), a large number loaded with layers of Genoa salami, ham, pepperoni slices, pesto, onions, provolone, lettuce, tomato, sweet peppers, oil and vinegar. The sub's two halves were mighty, and I thoroughly enjoyed the pesto addition.

We also liked our plump non-breaded datil pepper jumbo chicken wings ($9.99 for 10), served with a side of ranch.

The interior is airy and spotless, the waitstaff friendly, and the bar ready to serve with bottles of beer and wine, and a few more beers on draft. If you're in need of carbs and don't want too …   More

BITE-SIZED

Spacious and modern, Pulp — which recently opened a second location in the historic Shoppes of Avondale — is ideal for a quick sip on the go, a post-gym beverage or a light lunch. If you're in need of java, there's also hot or iced Bold Bean coffee (available in a variety of preparations — French press, hand drip, Turkish or moka pot) for $2.50 and an assortment of tea, organic beers and wines.

This locally owned shop specializes in smoothies, juices and acai bowls. And you won't find refined sugar or any artificial sweeteners here — just organic cane sugar, raw sugar, stevia, agave and local wildflower honey.

The good news is that while these healthy concoctions may not be calorie-free, they are delicious and loaded with vitamins and antioxidants.

Each sip is like doing a sit-up, right?

Juices are concocted in front of your eyes with massive juicers, smoothies whipped up in record time via high-powered VitaMix blenders, and the do-it-yourself frozen yogurt bar ($0.49 an ounce; no fro-yo in Avondale, sadly) with a plethora of toppings is self-serve, making for a fun experience.

My go-to juice is the brightly hued Green Energy ($6.50). I enjoy the sweetness of the apples and carrots, spiciness from the fresh ginger, tanginess from the lemon and earthy boost from the spinach, parsley, kale and celery.

As for smoothies, the Nuts about Nutella (4.95 for the 16-ounce) is your best bet: It's a silky mix of soymilk, banana, creamy Nutella, peanut butter and organic vanilla frozen yogurt.

At breakfast I've been to known to order the Pulp Acai Bowl ($7.25), packed with antioxidant-rich frozen acai berries blended with your choice of milk then topped with crunchy granola pieces and freshly cut strawberries, bananas and blueberries. Honey drizzle optional. Yes, please.

NIBBLES

• San Marco’s V PIZZA is planning a second area location by the end of the year at 521 N. First St. in Jacksonville …   More

BITE-SIZED

Ever wished your pizza was topped with mashed potatoes? Yeah, me either — until I sat down and indulged in a few slices of the mashed potato pie ($10-18, depending on size) at Mama Q's. Hooked.

With only four tables, Mama Q's is best suited for takeout or delivery, but it certainly delivers (pun intended) big flavor regardless what pie you pick. On the four I shared, I found the crust to be perfect — neither too dense nor soggy, despite the multitude of unique topping offerings, and still crisp on the edges.

No skimping on the toppings either, as they are weighed to achieve a consistent pie every time. And the bacon, which comes on many of the specialty pies, is also perfectly crispy and not too fatty — kudos to Mama!

If you're craving a pre-meal snack, go for the pepperoni-stuffed bread ($7), three-cheese bread ($7), garlic knots ($5) or wings ($9). Lunch or dinner will be out shortly, as pizzas only take about six minutes to cook, at 476 degrees, after being created.

Create your own or pick a specialty pie like the Backyard BBQ (large for $16), which won me over. Loaded with grilled chicken breast, bacon, chopped red onion, cheddar cheese and a heavy-handed drizzle of smoky-yet-sweet BBQ sauce, it was surprisingly tasty for a pizza that I typically wouldn't gravitate toward.

Now, back to that mashed potato pie. The golden crust is layered with an olive oil and garlic sauce that's then topped with a layer of mashed potatoes and abundantly sprinkled with shredded cheddar, crispy bacon pieces and thinly sliced chives. (For good measure I got a side of ranch — a la potato skins — and felt like a kid on Christmas morning.)

Each month an off-menu specialty pizza is available, so get the 411 on this creative offering before you order. And at lunch there are specials like two slices and a drink for $5, which really can't be beat.

Oh, and if you've got a sweet tooth, kids and adults alike will enjoy the homemade …   More

BITE-SIZED

Don’t let the rundown strip-mall façade or the neighboring Karaoke bar fool you: World Food Mart’s hidden food corner is a treasure trove for adventure.

As you walk in, you’re surrounded by seemingly endless aisles of Asian products — canned, bagged, frozen, loose — so hang a left and walk straight back to find a cash-only lunch counter serving made-to-order Korean and Japanese specialties. You won’t be disappointed.

Peruse a straightforward menu board, wait for one of the two adorable serving ladies to greet you, then order and pay. When your tray is ready, add any sauces you’d like, and grab a seat at one of the several tables, most of which were occupied the day we went there.

We ordered the lunch special bulgogi ($6.95): strips of Korean BBQ beef mixed with white onion and a light sauce. It arrived in a bento box with a heap of steamed white rice, a simple chopped cabbage salad, crunchy pickled daikon radish and two plump fried stuffed dumplings.

Our bimimbap ($6.99), an oversized bowl full of an assortment of mixed vegetables, rice, and a sweet-and-spicy sauce, was topped with a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds and a sunny-side-up egg. Break the yolk and mix everything together — yum.

Several soups are available. I selected the udon, which was full of tangled, thick, wheat-based, long udon noodles, a fish cake, tofu pieces and some sort of seafood, but it needed a little something, so I added a few shakes of soy sauce to the light and mild broth. When I go to World Food Mart again, I want to try the jjam bbong, a red-hued spicy seafood noodle soup with mussels, shrimp, ginger, bamboo shoots, vegetables and noodles. It’s about as authentic a Korean dish as you can get — the folks dining near us had ordered it, and I was quite envious.

The Korean kimbap ($3.99) resembled Japanese sushi with its seaweed-wrapped white rice, vegetables, egg and krab, but used sesame oil …   More

BITE-SIZED

With nearly four dozen sushi rolls to choose from — classics to deep-fried treasures to vegetarian and vegan-friendly options — at Sushiko there’s something for everyone.

On a recent lunch visit, I ordered a Bento Box ($9.25). You select two items — sushi rolls or three pieces of sashimi or an assortment of tempuras, teriyakis and starters — along with a choice of fried rice or pan-fried lo mein noodles. And there’s more — miso or clear soup and a side salad with ginger dressing.

I picked the miso soup, which was loaded with seaweed and cubed tofu, a spicy white tuna and avocado roll, noodles, and the steamed-shrimp-filled shumai dumplings.

A new favorite is the Icy Veggie Roll ($6.25), which is rice-less and wrapped in rice paper instead of seaweed, then stuffed with seaweed salad, lettuce, avocado, cucumber, carrot and asparagus and served with a light ponzu sauce. It’s both healthy and refreshing, but nonetheless packs a powerful textural crunch.

And I tried something new (to me) — uni ($3.25), aka sea urchin. It arrived over rice and had a burnt-orange hue. It was creamy and custard-like, and briney, which reminded me of the ocean.

The fried sweet potato roll ($4.25) proved to be simple yet satisfying. And for heat-seekers, the Diablo ($8.75), with tuna, salmon, yellowtail and krab, fried and then topped with scallions, shrimp sauce and hot sauce, was a hit.

The interior space offers natural light flooding in from large windows, soothing peach-colored walls and dark wood tables and chairs. Our server was friendly and attentive, always a winning combination in my book.

Open seven days a week for dine-in lunch and dinner or carry-out, Sushiko also serves beer, wine and sake if you’re thirsty.

NIBBLES

BlackFinn has changed names. Now BLACKFINN AMERIPUB, the St. Johns Town Center eatery has remodeled and shifted its focus to a more casual dining experience, with a new menu and …   More

BITE-SIZED

Until recently, there was only one choice for Ethiopian cuisine in town. Now there are two. That means two excuses to eat with your hands, people!

Situated in a small strip center near ethnic shops and specialty stores off Baymeadows and Old Baymeadows roads, Ibex Ethiopian Kitchen is a spacious restaurant with an assortment of tables, booths and bar seats, and a straightforward menu.

If you’ve never experienced Ethiopian cuisine, you may be surprised to find your silverware missing. Instead, you’ll use injera, a room-temperature, fermented spongy bread served in rolls. When the basket arrives, unroll, pinch off a piece and use it to pinch and pick up food.

If you have had Ethiopian fare, at Ibex you’ll find traditional favorites like sambusas, kitfo, tibs, wots and much more.

We first ordered the savory lentil, cabbage, carrot, onion and jalapeno pepper sambusas ($3.95 for two), but our server politely informed us that the kitchen had run out. Next time for sure.

Eager to try a bit of everything, we then ordered the chef’s special combination platter ($29.95). Ideal for two; with an appetizer, three people could easily share this. It arrived nicely plated in a rainbow-like assortment. There was a good bounty of mostly vegetarian items: cabbage, collard greens, lentils, green beans, split peas and kitfo (minced steak tartare with an herbed butter sauce and spiced chili powder). There were also three individual bowls of various meat-filled stews — chicken doro wat, beef alicha and key wot, a stew of beef cubes with onions, cooked in a bright red bebere (a spice mixture including chili peppers, garlic, ginger and fenugreek) butter sauce.

Our server helped us select a good Ethiopian beer to complement our selections. Even the chef came out to introduce herself and make sure everything was to our liking.

Prices for signature meat entrées, served with your choice of vegetarian sides, range from $11.95 …   More

BITE-SIZED

Looking for standout soul food? Soul Food 
 Bistro — owned and operated by Potter's 
 House International Ministries (the bistro's original location is based out of the sprawling 48-acre property that was Normandy Mall, which the church has since taken over) — is doing it right, and Chef Celestia Mobley personally sees to it. A 2002 graduate of Florida State College at Jacksonville's culinary program, her buffet-style restaurants on the Westside and now on Atlantic Boulevard in Arlington offer a seemingly endless sea of home-cooked favorites like slow-braised oxtail, candied yams, fried chicken gizzards and more.

The mac-and-cheese is some of the best I've ever eaten — and that's saying something. Mobley uses a secret blend of four cheeses that contribute to its gooey goodness. It's a must.

And while the green beans may not look like much, they're seasoned with a proprietary blend of spices and are addictive. Even kids will wolf down these veggies. The simmered collard greens and black-eyed peas are legit, too. A couple shakes of hot sauce and you'll be wishing for more.

The cornbread — magically moist and crumbly — is so very good, the folks at Soul Food Bistro call it "Slap Yo Mamma" cornbread. It pairs perfectly with the golden-brown fried chicken with hints of spiciness, the country-fried chicken, or the smothered pork chop and yellow rice.

Weekdays, you'll find daily specials at both locations, including baked spaghetti on Wednesdays and meatloaf with mashed potatoes on Thursdays.

Pastry Chef Valerie Harris whips up old favorites — classics like red velvet cake, sweet potato pie and peach cobbler, along with new hits like a dreamy coconut cheesecake — that will make you swoon.

Both locations are comfortable and feature modern décor. And, on Thursday nights at the Arlington location, there's live jazz.

NIBBLES: 

SIMPLY SOUTHERN EATERY opened at 11230 New Berlin Road on the …   More

 
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