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There's a quirky two-story bookstore nestled on Laura Street, and it's a bookworm's dream come true — and the food, drinks and atmosphere in the café are so enjoyable, you may never want to leave.

Walking by the store's outer façade, you might think it houses only piles of new and used books. Once you enter, you'll discover the café: exposed brick walls, lots of windows, free Wi-Fi, coffee and treats.

Everything on the menu is less than $10. There are wraps, salads, bagel sandwiches, homemade soups and breakfast items. While I haven't hit up Chamblin's for breakfast yet, it's quickly become one of my go-to spots for healthful weekday lunches.

With several piping-hot coffees (there are lattes and the like, too) to choose from, ask for a refillable mug if you plan to stay awhile, or you can opt for a cup to go. With almond milk, even vegans can get their caffeine fix.

A chalkboard out front advertises daily specials, which usually include a soup or two of the day. The folks behind the counter will probably offer you a sample if you can't decide. When's the last time you had spicy African peanut soup?

I go for one of several wraps. The jerk tempeh provides a bit of heat with a lot of flavor and can be ordered as a salad or wrap. And the Veggie No. 1 (how straightforward is that?) wrap is simple yet filling — a large tomato basil wrap stuffed with cucumbers, tomatoes, crisp chopped red pepper, sprouts, spring mix, creamy hummus, crunchy pumpkin seeds, almond slivers and vinaigrette dressing.

As for sandwiches, it's a toss-up: turkey croissant with brie and homemade cranberry chutney, which is pleasantly reminiscent of Thanksgiving but light enough for lunch, and the Bang Bang Bagel with melted cheddar cheese, garlicky house vinaigrette, red peppers, onions, roma tomatoes, cucumbers, sprouts and spring mix on a toasted, locally made bagel.

The iced Italian sodas are a must. Create your own flavor combo from a wide …   More


Since 1948, a rite of passage for generations 
of Northeast Florida natives has included 
a summer afternoon spent indulging in a 
frosty treat from the historic Murray Hill 
fixture Dreamette.

With basic flavors of creamy soft-serve ice cream — vanilla, sugar-free vanilla, strawberry and chocolate (and yes, you can ask for a good ol' swirl) — the possibilities quickly become endless as you decide from among sundaes, shakes, cones, cups, banana splits and beyond. Dream up something crazy, like a cotton candy milkshake, or play it safe with a traditional favorite, like a hot fudge sundae.

A unique take on the traditional banana split is the banana split in a cup: slices of banana meet chocolate syrup, vanilla ice cream, strawberries, pineapple chunks, walnuts and a cherry.

Dreamette uses real pieces of Oreo cookies (instead of pre-crushed) to blend in the Oreo milkshake and real blueberries in the blueberry shake. Great ingredients equal great flavor.

Simple yet delicious is the kid's-size dipped vanilla ice cream in a crunchy, light cake cone. My go-to dip flavors vary depending on my mood. If I'm feeling nostalgic, I opt for the cake-batter dip or, as the temperature cools, I prefer butterscotch or toasted coconut to encase my vanilla soft-serve. The cones are served in a clever plastic sleeve that attempts to catch those pesky drips from ruining your day — and shirt. But if you take too long to enjoy the cool delight (especially in summer), you may lose the battle of the drip.

Dreamette is all about the experience. While there are a few small benches to sit on, most people roll down their windows and enjoy their frosty treat in the comfort of their cars. Many neighborhood regulars ride bikes; still others walk up. There's always a varied cast of characters and a handful of seemingly sugar-deprived eager children.

Open seven days a week, Dreamette ensures no ice cream craving goes unfulfilled. Be sure to snag a …   More


Just off bustling Beach and St. Johns Bluff boulevards lies a new Vietnamese restaurant, Q-Cup Boba Tea. Upon entering the Southside spot, which formerly housed a Mexican restaurant, you'll notice a tidy interior with bright pastels, natural lighting and friendly staff. The owner is no stranger to the restaurant business — he owned nearby Vietnamese restaurant P.K. Noodles for seven years before opening Q-Cup earlier this year.

The menu is broken into specials, bahn mi sandwiches, snacks, desserts and a lengthy selection of beverages — flavored milk teas, smoothies, slushies, specialty drinks, mocha blasts and flavored teas. Color photographs help guide you through the various options.

We started with the simple shrimp and pork spring rolls, which were perfect for sharing. Accompanied by a hoisin dipping sauce, peanuts and shredded carrots, four pliable rice wrapper rolls were carefully filled with shrimp, pork, crisp lettuce, rice vermicelli noodles, cilantro and crunchy bean sprouts.

From the specials, a photo of the com thit xa xiu caught my eye: grilled red barbecue-charred pork with a fried egg, steamed white rice, crisp pickled vegetables and a slightly salty dipping sauce. Upon arriving at our table, the owner politely explained that the egg was to be broken on top of the rice, then the sauce poured over the egg-and-rice mixture. The bite-sized grilled pork pieces were tender, and the overall portion size was generous.

From the 15 different bahn mi sandwiches, I selected the bo xao cay (stir-fried spicy beef). A good bahn mi is measured by the quality of the French bread. After carefully unwrapping the paper from my sandwich, I bit into a perfect light, golden, crackly crust — and was immediately impressed. Inside the warm, fresh baguette, which was not too dense but didn't get soggy from the fillings, were pieces of spicy stir-fried beef, raw jalapeños, pickled vegetables and several sprigs of cilantro. To turn up the …   More


Tired of yearning for some of their favorite foods from their hometown of St. Louis, Chris Evans and Don Brindley created Picasso's to offer specialties from the Gateway to the West, like warm, toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake and square-cut, thin-crust
St. Louis-style pizza.

Chef Evans grew up in St. Louis and brings his favorite hard-to-find items to Jacksonville while his pastry-chef mother whips up the post-meal treats. (Don't miss the orange crunch cake available Tuesdays and Thursdays or the sinfully good gooey butter cake.)

To start, I ordered the hearts of palm frites and the meat-filled St. Louis toasted ravioli with homemade marinara. The fry-shaped hearts of palm were served with a thick roasted garlic aioli and sprinkle of parsley — yum! The pile of warm ravioli was perfectly toasted and seasoned, then covered in freshly grated parmesan cheese. The accompanying marinara was pleasantly simple and

Although St. Louis and New York style pizzas are on the menu, the St. Louis, with cracker-thin crust and crisp edges, is a must. After devouring my first few bites topped with pancetta bacon and pepperoni discs, I put Picasso's pie on my coveted "best pizzas in town" list.

While the menu is expansive, I'd heard that the ramen noodle bowls are legit. I know what you're thinking: ramen — at a pizza place? Trust me; Picasso's has much more than pizza. The korubuta pork belly ramen bowl overflowed with color, flavor and texture: tangled noodles, savory broth, flavorful cooked mushrooms and broccoli, soft-boiled egg and crisp pickled cabbage in one bowl.

Stuffed but not stopping, I managed a few forkfuls (breakfast tomorrow?) of orange crunch cake. Again, points for uniqueness: Layers of moist, rich cake met thick swirls of orange icing and thin layers of crushed, crunchy wafers for a winning dessert experience.

The interior is open and clear, with replicas of bright Pablo Picasso paintings on the walls. In its …   More


Pining for a sense of nostalgia coupled with simple diner food that satisfies? Head to the Shoppes of Avondale and straight to The Fox Restaurant, a diner that exudes 1950s charm coupled with a modern hipster twist. The interior is plastered with photos, art and figurines — my favorite is a Steve Urkel doll (queue the "Did I do thaaaaat?").

Though table seating is fairly limited at The Fox, there are plenty of swivel seats at the counter with a view of the open kitchen. Watch as your eggs are scrambled or your bacon is crisped. The entire right side of the restaurant is lined with comfortable booths, but keep in mind that that no one table can seat a party larger than five.

I'm a Southern girl raised on diner-style comfort food, so the corned beef hash with egg (cooked any way you like it), homefries (or grits, or fresh fruit) and biscuit or buttered toast were calling my name. The homemade hash was flavorful and crispy — perfect for sopping up my runny egg yolk. I drizzled honey and a bit of butter on the light and fluffy biscuit that came with the dish.

Another option guaranteed to warrant a late afternoon nap is an order of biscuits and gravy, with a side of fluffy pancakes. The gravy was thick, with plenty of sausage bits throughout.

The menu touts traditional breakfast items, like pancakes, waffles, French toast and an array of omelets, along with an assortment of lunch items including salads, sandwiches and cooked-to-order burgers. The aptly named Pittsburgher comes piled high with French fries and a mound of creamy cole slaw on top. Pair it with your choice of side item for a reasonably priced and filling lunch.

The diner is open daily, but if you're headed to The Fox on a weekend, prepare to wait — parking can be tricky and the line is often out the door. There's free coffee to pacify hungry guests as they wait, so sip some Joe and strike up a conversation with a potential new friend or two.   More


Sometimes a casual lunch calls for fine china, dainty doilies, gold-rimmed teacups and floral-print linens.

Located across the street from historic Sun-Ray Cinema, Cozy Tea's family-owned-and-operated tea room feels like it could be your grandmother's parlor: charming, familiar and cozy.

They serve several varieties of tea sandwiches including shrimp salad, smoked turkey, egg salad, cheese spread and cucumber; I enjoy the curried chicken salad on wheat with golden raisins and almonds and the vegetarian sandwich of cheese spread, organic mixed greens, English seedless cucumber, tomato and carrots. Side items are available for an additional charge.

Other lunch offerings include warm quiches, a savory lentil and vegetable pie, vegetable samosas (an Indian pastry stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas), salads and an assortment of soups — tomato herb, roasted corn with butternut squash, sour cream baked potato and spring vegetable with fresh ginger. A hot cup of soup pairs nicely with a salad or sandwich.

Portions are relatively small yet satisfying and reasonably priced. Everything is made in-house, down to the handmade gourmet truffles. Peruse the case dedicated solely to truffles, scones and dessert offerings like fluffy vanilla cake over a creamy English custard with berry compote, bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream, carrot cake with caramelized pineapple and white chocolate frosting — and several other drool-worthy choices.

The warm lemon-glazed cookie, with pieces of white chocolate and almonds, drizzled with the most perfectly citrusy lemon sauce, is sure to please. Craving something more? Try sour cream blueberry butter cake studded with blueberries throughout and dusted with powdered sugar.

Scone varieties include blueberry, pineapple lemon, cherry coconut, apricot cream, vanilla sugar and cranberry orange. Heighten your experience by asking for sides of freshly whipped cream and jam.

If you're into tea, study the …   More


The "M" in MShack is for Medure — the last name of brothers Matthew and David, who own high-end restaurants Matthews in San Marco and Medure in Ponte Vedra. In 2011, the siblings opened the fast-casual boutique burger spot in Atlantic Beach; a second MShack will open in St. Johns Town Center by the end of the year.

For minimalists there's the simple but tasty M Burger topped with melted American cheese, crisp lettuce, tomato, pickles and Shack Sauce. At $5.50, it is small but fresh — the Black Angus beef is 100 percent all-natural and ground in-house. For the uber-fancy, the specialty Medurable burger boasts savory foie gras and caramelized onions, carrying a hefty $18.95 price tag.

Even if you're not a burger lover, MShack's menu has an assortment of topped hot dogs, a grilled cheese sandwich (add applewood smoked bacon for an extra dollar), a fish sandwich, a marinated chicken breast sandwich and homemade Italian sausage topped with sautéed onions, peppers, mushrooms and melted provolone cheese.

Craving something healthy and pleasantly filling? Try the ginger-sesame dressed Super Kale Salad chock full of crisp diced apples, creamy cubes of avocado, shreds of carrots, onion, pecans and raisins. A fresh roasted beet salad comes with creamy goat cheese and raisins atop peppery arugula.

From the carb column, the house fries, queso-topped fries, sweet potato tots, truffle parmesean fries and even onion rings beg to be paired with your meaty burger or hot dog.

To complete the experience, a thick hand-spun milkshake is an absolute must. Available in small and large sizes, the pecan pie shake with chopped pecans reminded me of fall in a cup. Go simple — strawberry, vanilla or chocolate — or step it up with funky flavors like bananas foster, marshmallow brulee or peanut butter.

The separate relaxed bar area hosts happy hour 3:30-5:30 p.m. weekdays with $1 Pabst Blue Ribbon beers, $2 drafts or $3 glasses of house wine. …   More


Riverside newcomer Café Freda delivers 
 a diverse menu in a comfortable, casual setting. Prices are reasonable and Chef Brian Freda and Sous Chef Kyle Cobb's "global comfort food" draws inspiration from Asian, Indian and Mediterranean cuisine.

Creative entrées, sandwiches and salads, along with a small (but sufficient) beer and wine selection, make it a good fit for brunch or lunch with friends or a quiet date night.

On a recent lunch visit, I ordered the veggie curry ($9) — chock full of potatoes, carrots, peas and cauliflower simmered in a yellow curry sauce ladled over fluffy basmati rice and topped with toasted almonds, mango chutney and a sprinkle of scallions. Not overly spicy, the crunch of the almonds and the sweetness from the chutney added complexity to the vegetables and rice.

The Asian pork bahn mi ($8) with house pâté, pickled daikon, carrot and cucumber, Sriracha mayo spread and fresh cilantro was tasty but felt inauthentic on a soft roll instead of a traditional crunchy baguette. Since it came with no side item, I ordered the mac 'n' cheese ($3). Next time I'll try green pasta salad or maybe black beans and rice.

For dinner, Café Freda had run out of a few items, so options were somewhat limited. The slow-roasted (in local beer, mind you) Cornish hen ($16) was a solid choice. Accompanied by a slab of moist, savory bread pudding and crisp, fresh green beans, it was quite filling.

Wanting to end on a sweet note, I ordered the fruit crisp ($5), but was tempted by the ginger snap banana pudding. The top layer in the small ramekin was not crisp or crumbly as I'd expected, but hard like a very thick cookie. After forcing my spoon through this crust, I uncovered a few bites of unimpressive chopped cinnamon apples.

Café Freda is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday for brunch. It's easily accessible by foot or bike for locals, but ample parking spots exist in …   More


Step up to The Swedish Bistro Food Truck and fall into Scandinavian culinary nirvana.

Swedish Chef Karen Asmus Herke and her husband, Andre, teamed up with former Taverna Sous Chef Johnny Lee Weeks. The Herkes have worked in restaurants in Sweden, Germany and France, and Karen owned her own eatery, Sorgardens Gastgiveri in Linkoping, Sweden.

"Even though Sweden is recognized as one of the best culinary countries in the world, the most difficult part is getting people to try Swedish food, since it is not very well known in the U.S.," Andre Herke said. "The response has been great so far. We have only been in business for a couple of months, and we have many returning customers, which is a positive sign."

Like many, I'd never experienced Swedish meatballs or gravlax outside of an IKEA store's cafeteria, but once Swedish Bistro arrived, I was ready to sample offerings not available anywhere else in Jacksonville.

The Swedish meatballs ($8) — the truck's best-selling item — are served with a flavorful brown cream sauce, a mound of mashed potatoes, tangy pickled cucumber slices and a dollop of lingonberry jam. The contrast of ingredients makes a highly satisfying dish.

Also popular is the cold salmon wrap ($8): a tortilla stuffed with cold-cured salmon called gravlax, a Swedish honey mustard dill sauce, lettuce, tomatoes and red onion served with a side of potato wedges.

The Viking dog ($7) rolls up a beef hot dog, creamy dill shrimp salad and mashed potatoes in a wrap.

Vegetarians can try the black bean veggie burger ($8) with beet slaw, lettuce, red onion, pickled cucumbers, tomatoes and a side of potato wedges. The truck recently debuted veggie rolls ($8) — a colorful ratatouille of eggplant, squash, tomatoes, onion, garlic and red peppers fried in crisp eggroll-like skins and served with a mint and cumin yogurt dipping sauce. A heap of shredded-cabbage-and-carrot salad is served alongside two rolls.

Swedish chocolate balls …   More


Surrounded by art and culture inside and out, The Café at The Cummer offers a relaxing escape from a busy day — and with the addition of an outdoor deck, dining beneath an oversized oak tree has never been easier.

The Café's menu features fare from several local purveyors, such as bread from The French Pantry, coffee from Bold Bean Coffee Roasters and vegetables from Blue Buddha.

Start with the tomato bisque ($5) with boursin cheese crouton. Also warm and comforting is mac 'n' cheese ($8), a hearty portion of elbow noodles mixed with a creamy blend of cheddar and gouda, then topped with a layer of crispy parmesan panko pieces. (For an additional $1, you can add bacon, caramelized onion or truffle.)

Use your bisque to dunk the Southern grilled cheese ($10) — a stack of thick green tomato slices and rich sheep's milk manchego cheese pressed between slices of buttery French Pantry bread.

Seafood fans will enjoy crab cakes ($10) served atop a sweet corn relish. With hardly any filler, the pair of plump cakes is drizzled with a sweet-and-spicy red pepper remoulade. (Tip: Crab cakes can be added to any salad.)

A chopped kale salad ($8) mixed with slivered Marcona almonds, red onion, golden raisins, diced bacon and goat cheese crumbles makes a colorful, tasty impression tossed in a citrusy housemade lemon-thyme vinaigrette and topped with two oversized pieces of crisp flatbread.

The massive quinoa and black bean chef's garden veggie burger ($9.50) arrives on a soft French Pantry bun, piled with sweet caramelized onions, a juicy slab of tomato, lettuce and roasted red pepper aioli. The combination of quinoa, a fluffy grain high in protein and fiber, and black beans provides a filling meal.

Sandwiches are served with orzo salad, napa cabbage slaw, house salad, chips or fruit.

Dessert options include homemade cookies ($2), a rich molten lava cake ($5) and my personal favorite, rosemary lemon squares ($4).

Perhaps most …   More