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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
fresh-tasting.

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

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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

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You can get dinner and a movie in one stop at the eclectic Five Points theater Sun-Ray Cinema. Two years ago, Tim Massett and his wife, Shana, reopened the historic 1927 theater and ramped up the menu.

For movie theater food, Sun-Ray's snack bar earns top-notch ratings. There's an emphasis on local ingredients, such as the use of freshly baked bread and hot dog buns from Bakery Moderne, beers from Bold City Brewing on tap, Bold Bean Coffee Roasters coffee, Twinn Bridges kombucha on draft and popcorn toppings from Blue Buddha Exotic Foods in Riverside.

The popcorn bar is a moviegoer's dream: more than a dozen mix-and-match, shake-it-yourself toppings like thyme, dill, hot Chinese mustard, cinnamon, nutritional yeast, zhatar and a truffle oil mist. Shana Massett stresses that you won't find any artificial ingredients. All the popcorn is popped with Himalayan sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder and annatto (for color).

The 9-inch pizzas and specialty pies are a must. Craving something sweet and spicy? Go for the Pagan Love Song: housemade crust topped with mozzarella or rinotta (vegan dairy-free cheese: instead of "ricotta," ), ham, pineapple, jalapeños and spicy sriracha. The Zaat, with salty and crunchy Korean-style kimchi and a fried egg, is equally delicious. And Shana Massett swears that the Bold New Pizza of the South — rinotta, roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, mushrooms, hummus and olives — is so good that non-vegans order it regularly. For meat lovers, there's the aptly named Uncle Meat with salami, pepperoni, ham and sausage.

In addition, Sun-Ray offers hot dogs with your choice of toppings, nachos, hummus, breadsticks and a handful of sandwiches. The Wildly Inauthentic Cuban caught my eye: pulled pork, ham, sweet pickles and Swiss cheese on fresh-pressed bread. It's tasty, but I'm still a pizza girl at heart.

Come thirsty. In addition to pitchers of soda and beer, you can order wine by the glass or bottle, bottled natural …   More

BITE-SIZED

Every season, Ovations Food Services strives to bring new food offerings to a stadium full of hungry Jaguars fans. Hot dogs and hamburgers are mainstays, but many are unaware of unique cooked-to-order, reasonably priced items available around the stadium.

Ovations General Manager Ryan Prep has announced "The Jungle," in the upper east concourse of the stadium (section 435), is launching two new concepts, Stix and The Duval Taco Company. No item costs more than $10. Executive Chef Barrie Weathersbee, who's been with the team on and off for 16 years, has been finessing her recipes in the Jaguars' test kitchen.

Stix are two wooden skewers of bite-sized pieces of meat served atop a bed of Asian noodles. With teriyaki-glazed Korean beef, sweet-and-spicy mojo-glazed pork and jerk chicken with a mango chutney glaze, there's something for all tastes. The Korean beef, studded with sesame seeds, is my favorite.

Bold flavors abound at The Duval Taco Company. Pairs of gourmet hand-held tacos (there are three varieties) are served alongside homemade salsa and wedges of freshly fried flour tortillas dusted with adobo seasoning. The chicken verde features shredded chicken braised in salsa verde, topped with pickled onion and a creamy drizzle of cilantro crema. The Big Bang taco is loaded with spicy fried shrimp, chopped pineapple, diced red pepper and jalapeño and served atop a cabbage slaw that's marinated in a cumin-lime vinaigrette. Smoky braised pulled-pork carnitas are dressed with a sautéed green-pepper-and-onion medley and cilantro lime crema. All of the tacos are served on flour tortillas but can be made gluten-free when you request corn tortillas.

Perhaps the most creative addition is the handheld chicken-and-waffle sliders, a unique twist on a Southern favorite. Scratch-made batter is first poured into hot Belgian waffle irons. The resultant golden waffles are then topped with a hunk of fried white-meat chicken breast, a sweet-and-spicy red …   More

BITE-SIZED

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

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Three years ago, when notorious Food Network host Guy Fieri of "Diners, 
Drive-ins and Dives" rode into historic Riverside to film an episode at already-popular 13 Gypsies, he catapulted the tiny restaurant onto the larger culinary map. Reservations are highly recommended (even for lunch), since there are only a handful of tables and just two chefs. And while the restaurant itself may be small, the tapas-style offerings are huge on variety and flavor.

Owner and chef Howard Kirk, who grew up in Spain, ensures that his Spanish dishes are created from scratch with quality ingredients. All of the bread is made in-house each morning. While items may be slightly pricey, it's worth the splurge for date night or a small dinner with friends. You've been warned: Popular menu items sell out. Share a carafe of fruity red wine sangria or unwind by ordering a glass of vino from the wine list.

If you order just one item (and you'll want to order several, trust me!), the risotto of the day is always a must. Made from short-grain Arborio rice, it's thick, creamy and perfectly cooked. On a recent visit, I all but licked our plate of pork shoulder risotto clean.

Another frontrunner is the Mushroom Seville. Pieces of toast topped with a light spread of goat cheese are served with a cup of creamy brandy, garlic and herb sauce chockfull of sautéed mushrooms, perfect for spooning onto the toast.

The shrimp, sautéed in olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper, proved to be a simple yet flavorful dish with a little kick. With five jumbo shrimp, there were enough to share.

One unique tapas on a list of more than two dozen is the Roman-style gnocchi: Rectangular planks of flat Semolina flour gnocchi are pan-seared, then topped with a garlicky cream sauce, sautéed mushrooms and a generous sprinkling of freshly grated cheeses.

Relatively new to the menu are the savory crêpes. With five to choose from, it's hard to go wrong. We enjoyed the ham and …   More

BITE-SIZED

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

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Just minutes from Downtown, San Marco's Green Erth Bistro is a family-owned Persian restaurant that also provides healthful vegan and vegetarian-friendly options.

When you walk inside, you see the large community table that invites strangers to sit together. There are also several four-top tables along the perimeter, creating a cozy atmosphere as natural light streams in from the front windows.

A menu board touts daily specials. Our waitress brought us out a sample of the soup of the day — vegetarian barley ash, a thick bean, barley and herb soup-like stew — and the next thing we knew, we were staring at the bottom of the cups we ordered. It was warm and hearty, with parsley, cilantro, garlic and mint providing a lot of flavor.

We also ordered the herb tray, which featured a generous heap of fresh herbs including parsley, mint, dill and basil, a block of crumbly feta, onion and wedges of lavash bread. Drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, this was a refreshing treat.

On a recent lunch visit, I enjoyed the curry chicken salad. Chunks of white meat are tossed with a whipped mayo-less curry sauce, grapes, shallots and chives, then topped with chopped pecans. The concoction is served atop a mix of organic greens, bright red juicy tomato slices, crisp cucumbers and red onions.

Another hit was the assortment of flatbread pizzas, which were large enough for two meals. The California was topped with mozzarella, goat cheese, pressed garlic, fresh basil, balsamic glaze and sun-dried tomatoes (we subbed roasted red peppers). The crust is thin and crispy at the edges. Order a half-sized salad — I recommend the Green Erth Apple Salad with housemade sherry vinaigrette, chopped walnuts, cranberries, green onions and slices of crisp green apple — if you want to pair your pizza with something green.

You can choose from a number of kabobs, combination kabobs and skewers (along with sandwiches, wraps, salads, soups, chilis and …   More

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Next time you're considering international standbys for Chinese or Japanese, try branching out to Korean fare. With some subtle similarities to those other Asian cuisines, Korean food has its own flavor profiles. Go as a group, so everyone can pick an appetizer or entrée to share.

For an appetizer, start with haemul pajeon, a savory seafood pancake served with a tangy and spicy soy dipping sauce. Packed with scallions and an array of seafood — octopus, squid, shrimp, oysters and clams — folded into the batter, the slightly spongy haemul pajeon is lighter than an omelet but denser than a traditional American pancake. Savory, slightly sweet and salty combine for one flavorful dish.

Korean cuisine centers around the trifecta of rice, vegetables and meat. However, the rice and a wide range of vegetables take center stage. Veggies are often uncooked, in salads or pickled, or incorporated into soups, stews and stir-fried dishes.

Meals are served with a slew of side dishes called banchan, which arrive in small bowls intended for sharing and can be refilled upon request. Ingredients vary depending on the availability and seasonality of produce: pickled vegetables, cubed radishes, green onion salad, mung bean sprouts and mung bean jelly. Items may be raw, boiled, fried, sautéed, fermented, dried or steamed. The number of side dishes presented is based on the number of table guests and the importance of the occasion. For a casual table of four, roughly six items are served.

The traditional side dish kimchi — fermented cabbage mixed with Korean radish, and sometimes cucumber, along with ginger, scallions, garlic and chili pepper — mixes spicy, sweet, salty and sour sensations.

Originating almost 4,000 years ago in ancient Korea, kimchi is served in both Korea and Japan. Recipes vary by region and by seasonality of ingredients.

Originally, making kimchi was a community event, drawing families together for several days to …   More

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Northeast Florida is home to quite a few authentic Indian restaurants, so there's no shortage of places you can try.

Indian cuisine varies regionally due to a reliance on locally available spices, herbs, meat, vegetables and fruits.

In early India, the typical diet rarely included meat, instead relying heavily upon fruit, vegetables, grains, eggs, dairy and honey. Consumption of beef was taboo, as cows are considered sacred in Hinduism. Even today, beef is rare within Indian cuisine. However, chicken, followed by mutton (goat), sheep and buffalo, are frequently part of area menus. Common vegetables include cabbage, cauliflower, potato, tomato, onion, bell peppers and eggplant.

Traditional Indian flavors combine a variety of ingredients, including powdered chili pepper, black mustard seed, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ginger, tamarind, curry leaves, bay leaves, coriander, garlic and cloves. In sweeter dishes, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg and rose petal essences are used.

Dipping sauces, called chutneys, are present at almost every Indian meal and can be spicy, sweet or sour. The dominant flavor or ingredient gives the chutney its name — coconut, tamarind, mint, coriander, peanut, cumin, tomato or ginger.

Some dishes are cooked at high temperatures in an earthenware oven called a tandoor. These include tandoori chicken, which is marinated in yogurt that's been seasoned with garam masala, garlic, cumin, cayenne pepper and ginger. Another dish, called chicken tikka, is made from small pieces of boneless chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and then grilled on skewers in a tandoor. It is then typically served with green coriander chutney.

In some regions, samosas, a popular triangular-shaped snack stuffed with spiced potatoes, peas, onions, coriander and lentils, or ground lamb or chicken, are cooked in a tandoor. In other regions, they're fried.

Just like American cuisine, menus in Northern India are quite different from the food served in …   More

 
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