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Ever get a hankering for grilled meat on a skewer? Oddly enough, I occasionally do.

After recently learning about Café Kabob, tucked behind a McDonald's on a busy stretch of Baymeadows Road between Philips Highway and I-95, I knew I wanted to put their titular treats to the test.

We started with a fresh herbed hummus platter ($4), which arrived with thin, warm pita bread squares (I preferred these to the standard thick, triangular pitas most places serve). So far, so good. On to the main event.

You can choose from five kabob entrée selections, or you can order à la carte. I decided on the bone-in joojeh kabob ($12), with grilled Cornish hen marinated in saffron, then skewered, and accompanied by a generous portion of saffron basmati rice and two juicy grilled tomato wedges. It was solid.

The khoresht gheymeh bademjoon ($8) — say that three times fast — which is a Persian eggplant stew, caught my eye. It too was served with rice and arrived in a bowl: Thick pieces of sautéed eggplant, beef, yellow peas and onion mingled in a tomato-based 
sauce. I spooned it over the rice and didn't want to share.

There was also a mayo-based mixture of chicken, potato and egg salad, called Salad Olivie ($8), that I had to try. Studded with capers and green peas, and served atop organic spinach and finely sliced red peppers, it was surprisingly good. You get a little bit of the best of all three worlds, assuming you like chicken, potato and egg salad.

For dessert, we shared a triangle of traditional baklava ($2), and though it was good, 
it was a bit too sweet for my liking.

Lunch and dinner are available Monday through Saturday. When you're in the Baymeadows area, check it out. The décor is minimal and it's the type of spot where you can hear conversations from the next table over, but the service is equal parts friendly and attentive, and the menu items are reasonably priced and fresh.   More


Disclosure: The Jaxsons Night Market was founded and is run by the writer's fiancé, Mike Field, who will be turning the market over to Friends of Hemming Park in April.

As the sun starts to set, Downtown's Hemming Park transforms from blank canvas to a bustling artisan food market featuring dozens of local vendors. There's everything from live music, fashion trucks (like food trucks but with clothes; who knew?) and fresh produce to spice mixes, cheese curds, all-natural soaps and award-winning small-batch granola.

The every-third-Thursday market, which relocated to Hemming from a smaller, grassy lot at the corner of Adams and Laura streets, has spread its wings and morphed into a larger, unique foodie affair.

The beer enthusiast in me quickly detours to Intuition Ale Works' tent for a cold can of my favorite hoppy local brew, I-10 IPA. 
As I peruse the other booths, my stomach squeals with delight: Pistachio macarons? Check. Local honey? Check. Freshly baked organic sourdough bread loaves? Check. Handheld cherry-lime pies with buttery 
crust? Win.

The aroma wafting from a nearby row of food trucks is enticing. The options are seemingly endless: Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Cuban. There's also an impressive selection of vegan options.

Fusion Food Truck's banana curry is up first — a perfectly savory and sweet dish served atop rice. Next up: shrimp spring rolls from Vietnamese cuisine truck Tado Street. Don't forget the pulled-pork sliders with chili lime sauce, mac 'n' cheese and homemade pickles from the Smoke It Up Barbecue truck. And Humble Pie's crisp, cooked-onsite, wood-fired pizza, complete with blue cheese, pear, walnuts and honey drizzle, is a must.

Black Hog Farm, out of East Palatka, offers an assortment of fresh seasonal produce; I snag a few cucumbers and a bundle of mixed greens. From Murray Hill's Community Loaves, I score a hearty loaf of rosemary garlic sourdough, and from Southside's Liberty Bakery, two chocolate …   More


After learning that Let Them Eat Cake not only creates a multitude of sugary 
 confections, but also serves five styles of grilled cheese sandwich, I knew I'd be in there for lunch.

A chalkboard wall with sprawling hand-lettering (excellent penmanship, by the way) proclaiming "TREAT YOURSELF!" lists the five cleverly named offerings: Frenchy, La'Merican, Brit, Cuban-ish and Suth'ner. Each is $8 and accompanied by potato salad or tomato bisque.

We picked the Brit (cheddar, blue cheese, chutney and fried egg, on pumpernickel) and the Suth'ner (goat cheese, tomato marmalade and bacon, on wheat). Local bakery The Village Bread Company supplies the bread, and it's your choice of white, wheat or pumpernickel (they were out of rye).

After waiting a considerable amount of time for our two sandwiches, the woman behind the counter came up to our table and said that — and I quote — there was "an issue with the blue cheese." (I'm guessing moldy.) Equal parts sad and baffled, we subbed goat cheese in its place. I'll admit: I was worried. I love blue cheese. But the substitution worked! The egg was perfectly cooked, complete with an oozy yolk, and the goat cheese melted and played nice with the cheddar. And the Suth'ner's contrast of the sweet homemade tomato marmalade and crisp, salty bacon was a hit, too. The bread was nicely buttered and toasted, and it was just the right amount of food for lunch. Not a morsel remained 
of either.

And our sides? The tomato bisque was piping hot and flavorful, and I was pleasantly surprised to find cubed red potatoes mixed with mayo, rosemary and diced celery for potato salad.

I couldn't decide what I wanted from the dessert case, and ended up with both the salted caramel and Fat Elvis cupcakes ($3.50 each). I favored the salted caramel frosting over Elvis' thick, rich peanut butter frosting. The cake on both was good, but could have been a bit more moist.

For good measure, I grabbed a gluten-free chocolate …   More


I happened upon Southern Roots while 
running lunchtime errands. It's nestled 
 between a pizzeria and a Laundromat on Riverside's bustling King Street, and is open six days a week, from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. The menu is limited but surprisingly solid, and there are coffee and espresso drinks available, all crafted from Miami's Panther coffee. Oh, and almost everything is organic, vegan and gluten-free.

Southern Roots, which got its start selling products at area farmers markets about four years ago, is run by husband-and-wife duo Mariah and JP Salvat. The storefront serves as a coffee-shop-turned-casual-lunch-stop, and features a variety of bulk items for sale and packaged edibles like granola, quinoa salad and housemade pumpkin pesto.

Specials change daily, as does the selection of baked goods. Sometimes there are lavender shortbread cookies, oat bran muffins and crumb cake. On a recent Thursday, I scored a coconut cornbread muffin with maple cardamom Earth Balance spread ($4), and was in carb heaven. It was delightfully moist and flecked with coconut, like if cornbread and coconuts had a love child and slathered it with a tasty spread.

Like deals? A thick slice of toast and a café con leche is $5. Topped with Earth Balance spread and cinnamon sugar, the toast-plus-a-coffee-with-milk-served-in-a-mason-jar was a light breakfast. I also enjoyed the sweet potato coconut butter and cinnamon sugar toast with a cortado ($6 deal) — coffee cut with steamed milk or almond milk.

After seeing a post on Facebook, I made another stop in for the portabella "philly" with greens and garlic cheese sauce ($6), atop a slice of bread or bed of greens. I opted for the greens, and I chose well — I loved it. I paired it with a spicy chai latte ($4), perfect for a chilly January day. I hope Southern Roots offers its chipotle butternut squash and bean dip with greens and sunflower "feta" crumbles ($6) again soon, because it intrigues my taste buds.

On weekends, …   More


I f you can make it past the enticing Sweet Pete's candy shop upon entering, you'll 
easily be allured by The Candy Apple Café's playful Willy Wonka-esque interior — complete with oversized lacquered cherries and playful stripes.

The historic former Seminole Club-turned-Downtown-restaurant is open for lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, which is available all day long. It's no easy thing to find around here, so kudos to you, Candy Apple. I look forward to again consuming another fluffy bourbon pecan waffle ($10) with that delightfully sweet spiked maple syrup and whipped sweet cream soon.

First-timers may be inundated by the sheer number of sides — 13, to be exact. We tried the crispy house potatoes, which were diced and sautéed.

If you're as obsessed with runny-yolk eggs as I am, you'll be pleased to know that you can put an egg on it — fried or poached — for just a buck. Hey, YOLO!

The standout was the short rib meatloaf ($16 full/$11 half order), topped with a slightly spicy tomato jam and accompanied by a cloud of brown butter-whipped potatoes and port reduction, and tender petite carrots and green beans.

Also a must? The mac 'n' cheese with candied bacon (yes, you read that right) ($12/$8). Creamy fontina and white cheddar mingle in perfect harmony, which pairs nicely with the salty skewered bacon.

The kale-quinoa salad, with shaved red and yellow beets, crumbles of Roquefort, toasted almonds and a sweet Meyer lemon vinaigrette ($9/$6), is a straightforward lunch option, and feel free to add chicken, rock shrimp, a veggie patty or cornmeal-dusted flounder for an upcharge.

The rock shrimp and grits ($12), with creamy Greenway Farms grits and a garlicky tomato relish, were savory and hearty. I tend to prefer larger shrimp, but the small pieces were fine.

Don't skip the second-floor dessert bar, complete with an ice cream case, freshly baked cookies, brownies, truffle cake, milkshakes, cookie sundaes and more. I was drawn to …   More


When you first walk into this industrial-looking building, you'll notice Amore, San Marco and Felice. No, those aren't names of the waitresses — they're V Pizza's wood-burning ovens.

The staff at V proclaims that they use only fresh, all-natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives. It's a simple setup: Walk up to the counter, order and pay, then take a seat as your pizza is created.

After scouring the dozen styles of pies available, I selected the pizza capricciosa ($16) — there's only one size, rendering eight slices or so — with artichoke hearts, black olives, prosciutto di parma, San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, fresh mushrooms 
and egg. V's style of pizza is Neapolitan, meaning the pliable crust is made from a special type of wheat flour, yeast, salt and water. (There's an option to build your own pie, too, which starts at $13 and then tallies 
up $1.50 for each topping.)

The wood-oven-roasted chicken wings ($12) were juicy and packed with flavor, thanks to a marinade that blended lemon juice, olive oil, rosemary, salt, pepper, carmelized onion and garlic.

I also ordered a prosciutto di parma panini ($9). The rustic bread the panini arrived on was chewy yet crunchy, which made an excellent casing for the thick slab of mozzarella, juicy tomato slices, prosciutto and basil leaves. A nice drizzle of quality olive oil varnished the contents.

For the perfect ending, opt for cannoli ($4) or tiramisu ($5), traditional Italian desserts that are sweet but won't weigh you down.

Open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, V Pizza runs a $9.95 lunch special from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., which includes a choice of beverage, personal pizza with two toppings, panini, chicken wings, calzone with two toppings or a salad.

Beer and wine are available, but if you've got time, head next door, through a door in the back wall, to neighboring bar Sidecar for a handcrafted cocktail.

V's owners are planning a second location in …   More


From the outside, it doesn't seem like much; inside, you'll find just a simple open space with maybe a dozen tables. Don't set your ambience expectations high, as there's not much of a vibe — just go for the food.

Some of the dishes at El Palermo could have used a bit more salt and spice, but overall the value was good for the price and abundance of food we ordered.

Our papa rellena ($2.75) arrived piping hot. We let this oblong-shaped croquette-meets-empanada cool, then eagerly devoured its contents — creamy potatoes, gently fried, surrounding wonderful seasoned ground beef.

Our trifongo mofongo with platano verde ($7.50) was a towering portion of starchy goodness. Traditional mofongo begins with mashed fried green plantains, and trifongo adds fried yucca and fried sweet plantains to the mix. Our version was accompanied by a thin, flavorful garlicky broth with pork cracklings and olive oil.

The pernil asado ($10.95) — or roast pork — is a traditional Latin American dish. Ours was served with a heaping portion of con arroz congandules (yellow rice and pigeon peas) and a small salad.

We liked our cubano sandwich with fries ($7.99). Two pressed halves made up of ham, roast pork and melted cheese were perfect for sharing. The 'wich needed a tad more mustard to balance the tangy pickle slices, and our waitress quickly brought us some upon request. If you want an upgrade, choose fried plantains instead of fries for 50 cents.

(Side note: I found it interesting that among its Latin American staples, the menu features three "Italian classics." No thanks.)

Don't forget an order of custardy, syrupy flan to complete your experience.

When you're in Orange Park and in need of a tasty Puerto Rican fix, check out El Palermo. It's open Tuesday through Saturday for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.   More


From the red-and-white-striped Fiat out front to the sprawling murals of the Italian countryside on the interior walls, Santioni's is a marvelous strip mall find.

The space is meticulously clean and exudes a sense of calmness; soft music wafts gently through the air. Our waitress was polite and attentive, checking in often.

Yes, the menu is broad, but will surely appease all palates — veal piccata, rack of lamb, linguini with clam sauce, frutti di mare, lasagna, spaghetti carbonara, chicken scaloppini, as well as standbys like fettuccini alfredo and chicken parmesan.

Wanting one of everything, we settled on three items: lobster ravioli ($14.95), cavatelli with Bolognese ($12.95), and a small 12-inch pizza bianca ($9.95). Prices seemed reasonable and portions were hearty. Most dinner entrée items run $12.95 to $18.95.

Pasta is served with soup (minestrone or Italian wedding) or house salad. I upgraded to a Greek side salad ($1.50) and was impressed by the leafy Romaine (no lame iceberg lettuce here), feta cubes, pepperocinis, red onions and homemade vinaigrette dressing. We eagerly devoured the complimentary buttery baked rolls that arrived with our salads.

The piping-hot ravioli, drenched in a pink rosato sauce (think marinara meets cream), were perfect bite-sized pouches of flavorful lobster and cheese. The cavatelli — small, folded-over pasta pieces and meaty Bolognese — were topped with a sprinkle of fresh parsley, which worked splendidly.

Our sauceless bianca pie was generously topped with ricotta, diced tomatoes, garlic, ribbons of basil and mozzarella. Its golden crust was both chewy and crisp, and held up well. We were thrilled to have leftover slices, which I must say were superb the next morning, cold and straight out of the box.

Santioni's recently celebrated its second anniversary in Fleming Island. It's closed on Mondays, and if you're too busy to go inside the rest of the week, there's the option to call …   More


For the past six years, 20something William Jonathan Morgan has yearned to open a business. To get up and running quickly, he created a mobile coffee shop, and last month Vagabond Coffee's caravan hit the streets.

Vagabond got its start in San Marco at Aardwolf Brewery, but Morgan's heart was in Downtown Jacksonville. After securing the Laura Street Trio lot at the corner of Laura and Adams, as of Oct. 1 (coincidentally, also Morgan's birthday), Vagabond has had a place to call home on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The menu features lattes, pour-overs, Chemex (a precision brew method) and drip coffee, and Vagabond's staff does its best to concoct your coffee drink of choice — cappuccino, macchiato, cortado and beyond.

Top sellers? Chemex and the vanilla latte. I've enjoyed both, but my personal Vagabond favorite is affogato ($4), a shot of freshly 
pulled espresso with a creamy scoop of 
vanilla ice cream.

The customer base runs the gamut — you'll stand in line with Downtown locals, investment bankers, artists and performers just passing through town.

Lattes are $4 (add 50 cents for soy milk). Syrups include vanilla, agave and mocha and, occasionally, a special offering. Cold brew coffee is $4, and a cup from the Chemex is $3.50. Don't need a pick-me-up? Vagabond's got decaf, too.

For espresso drinks, the crew at Vagabond uses only single-origin espresso that can be paired with organic or soy milk. Most selections are made with locally produced beans from Bold Bean Coffee Roasters.

"We focus on quality, care and craftsmanship," Morgan says. "Bold Bean undoubtedly puts these in each roast, so there was no question about using them as our main supplier. We love supporting local businesses."

Morgan's fiancée, Samantha Friedman, bakes the scrumptious treats available onboard. I love the slabs of moist, hazelnutty Nutella banana bread ($3) and chewy molasses cookies. Currently, the duo is working on expanding the menu to …   More


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