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BITE-SIZED

When a restaurant deems the first day of the week "Moonshine Monday," it makes a favorable impression.

Riverside's Southern-style gastropub, The Salty Fig, is celebrating six months in business as a brick-and-mortar restaurant. It began amassing a following about a year ago as an upscale food truck serving Southern favorites like creole shrimp and cheese grits, ratatouille sliders and cochon de lait.

It's obvious that owners (and brothers) Jeff and John Stanford have put a lot of thought into the interior. The softly lit bar area features a long community table crafted from the restaurant's rafter wood. Exposed brick walls and high ceilings are found throughout, and there are some spots near the kitchen to watch the chefs in action.

While simple, the edamame tossed with hickory-smoked sea salt is oddly addictive, as are the crunchy homemade chips topped with a rich gorgonzola fondue, balsamic glaze and chives.

My go-to lunch is The Melt: basil pesto, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, peppery arugula and melted provolone pressed between two slices of buttered toast, accompanied by your choice of salad or fries.

Another favorite is blue pear salad: mixed greens, sweet d'anjou pear slices, juicy blueberries, Maytag blue cheese crumbles and slivered red onions, tossed in a tangy lemon thyme vinaigrette.

For dinner, start with a cup of the signature gumbo — it's thick, slightly spicy and full of okra, shrimp and Andouille sausage, then topped with rice and scallions.

Mayport shrimp, creamy stoneground goat cheese grits, Creole trinity (onions, peppers and celery) and New Orleans barbecue sauce make for a flavorful dish — and one of the best versions of this Southern specialty in town.

Consider ordering one of the daily specials Chef Jeff whips up. The recent lamb wontons were unforgettable: braised lamb shank with parsnip puree, butternut squash, shiitake mushrooms, arugula and a slightly sweet pear-port gastrique.

The …   More

BITE-SIZED

How can you not love a restaurant that shares its name with a delicious dessert made from three different milks?

Owners Eddie and Irene Sweda opened Tres Leches at the corner of Stockton and Myra streets in historic Riverside eight months ago, after relocating from Springfield.

Selling more than just sweets, Tres Leches is open for breakfast, lunch and a light dinner. The Swedas' passion for creating good food is contagious, and Irene Sweda's tried-and-true Venezuelan recipes are made from scratch.

One standout that I haven't had anywhere else in Northeast Florida is the arepa: a round hand-held corn cake that encases your choice of fixings. I've found that butter, black beans and queso blanco make for a nice light breakfast or lunch. It's a bit messy, but the outer corn cake proves sturdy enough to support the fillings. (Insider tip: You can order breakfast items like egg and cheese as fillings.) Wash it down with Tres Leches' freshly made House Lime-n-ade that's refreshing and not too sweet.

The menu features pastries, quiches, artisan breads, sandwiches, cakes and homemade soups. I stumbled upon something on my last visit that's worth sharing: On the third Saturday of each month, Tres Leches offers a $15 three-course brunch, with a choice of coffee, tea or fresh-squeezed orange juice (with complimentary refills).

I tried the brunch recently and was impressed. First up was a spreadable Mediterranean mousse with a stack of crisp crostini. The mousse reminded me of a Greek-inspired, five-layer dip that had been blended together. The feta, olives, onion, cucumber, yellow squash, sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and spices fused perfectly.

From the three entrée options, I chose the asparagus, leek and gruyere quiche, but I also snagged a few bites of the tuna and orzo salad. The tuna, flown in from the West Coast, was fresh and flavorful. Full from the first two courses, I was pleasantly surprised by the simplicity of the dessert: A trio of lemon …   More

BITE-SIZED

I think of Three f(x) as a grownup's dessert wonderland — a kid-like setting with bright décor and Asian pop music. The ice cream, made to order on a cold circular slab, is whipped up right before your eyes — talk about fresh.

Three f(x) stands for Fresh Fun Fruit treats, or three "effects." I enjoy all three. Offerings include homemade ice cream, Asian-style fish-shaped waffles called taiyaki and an assortment of hot and cold coffee beverages. Everything is made-to-order. The unique ice cream flavors include red bean, coconut, espresso, green tea, blackberry and kiwi. The smooth, refreshing green tea is one of my favorites.

Two mix-ins are included in the price of your ice cream. I'm a mochi pieces and white chocolate chips type of girl, but you can choose sprinkles, gummy bears, Oreos, fruit toppings and more.

On my most recent visit, I ordered a small (I'd hate to see a large!): three generous scoops in a freshly made waffle bowl. You won't find any preservatives, powdered artificial flavors or chemicals; the owners take pride in offering natural ingredients and fresh fruit. (Watermelon ice cream didn't work out; the actual watermelon wasn't ice-creamable and they refused to use artificial watermelon flavoring.) The friendly young man who whipped up my honeydew ice cream showed me the chunks of just-cut honeydew before he began working his magic. I chose whole milk, but you can also opt for nonfat milk, lactose-free almond or soy, or yogurt. If you're with a group, share the elaborate patbingsu, a popular Korean dessert made from shaved ice, topped with an assortment of goodies.

The warm taiyaki waffles are often stuffed with sweet fillings, but there are other savory choices like ham, bacon, egg and cheese, or beef frank and string cheese. My filling of choice is Nutella … what's better than a piping- hot waffle, crispy around the edges but chewy in the center, in the shape of a fish, with a creamy hazelnut spread inside? …   More

ULTIMATE SUMMER GUIDE

SHRIMP BOIL

Sunday afternoon (live music on the deck 4-8 p.m.)

Whitey’s Fish Camp, 2032 C.R. 220, Orange Park

Price: $15.99

269-4198, whiteysfishcamp.com

Nothing quite says summer like a low-country boil on the water. With live music wafting through the air, a breeze blowing through your hair and a frosty beverage in your hand, Whitey’s is the perfect spot to unwind. Shrimp are served with pieces of potatoes, spicy sausage and corn on the cob — a finger-licking-good spread, bebe.

 

DIPPED SOFT-SERVE VANILLA ICE CREAM CONE

Dreamette, 3646 Post St., Murray Hill

Price: $2.40 for a small cone

379-4343, facebook.com/dreamette

Cones, shakes and banana splits, oh my! This neighborhood spot is perfect for cooling off on a hot summer day — good thing the cones have a little plastic drip-guard. The soft-serve vanilla is dipped in your choice of flavored coatings (butterscotch, cake batter, chocolate, etc.). For 65 years, Dreamette has doled out sweet delights to adults and children alike. Portions are generous, prices are reasonable, it’s all delicious — and because of that, you’ll usually find yourself waiting in line. Bring a wad of dollar bills: Dreamette only takes cash.

 

THE JACK DEL RIO GRANDE SUB AND LARGE SWEET TEA

Tuesdays-Saturdays

Angie’s Subs, 1436 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach

Price: $6.45 for a 10-inch sub

246-2519, facebook.com/angiessubs

Warm turkey, roast beef, crispy bacon, melted provolone, sautéed mushrooms, crunchy barbecue Frito chips and spicy ranch dressing on a toasted white or wheat hoagie roll (your choice) make for a perfect pre- or post-beach lunch. Douse it with one of the squeeze bottles of tangy Peruvian sauce and pair it with a bag of chips. Fill up your cup from an oversized vat of award-winning sweet iced tea. The atmosphere’s laid-back with mismatched tables and chairs and an authentic, casual, easy-going …   More

BITE-SIZED

For the past two months, Simply Sara's has settled into its new digs in a historic Colonial Revival building in Ortega, once home to The Village Store restaurant. After relocating from an unassuming Murray Hill strip center with no seating, the new spot offers seating for about 100 inside and outside.

Celebrating two years in business, Simply Sara's is family-owned-and-operated, and emphasizes simple Southern comfort food in a laid-back family-friendly atmosphere. Many neighborhood residents frequent the spot with kids in tow.

"We want to remember everyone's names," co-owner James Mangham said.

While you will find families, you won't find processed foods, anything dumped out of a can or anything that needs microwaving. Everything's created fresh, using Mangham's tried-and-true family recipes, like his great-aunt's barbecue sauce and his mother's pimento cheese spread. All of the salad dressings are made in-house. His wife, Sally, specializes in desserts like cookies, cakes and pies.

Intrigued by the eggplant "fries" with homemade ranch, I ordered a basket and received a heaping portion of thin, seasoned, cornmeal-dusted eggplant strips — I gobbled them in record time.

Pimento cheese sandwiches aren't an everyday menu item, so I had to have one. It was thick and flavorful, with noticeable shreds of sharp cheddar on toasted multigrain. I chose a side salad of chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes marinated in a slightly tangy yet sweet balsamic vinaigrette with honey.

The fried chicken sandwich with tomato, lettuce and mayonnaise featured a generously sized chicken breast, so juicy and tender, perched between a not-too-dense toasted Kaiser roll. For sides, we ordered crinkle-cut fries and knife-cut corn, though the fried corn on the cob and fresh pole beans were also tempting. (Note to self: Try on next visit.)

Dinner entrée offerings (complete with your choice of two side items) rotate each evening. The few bites I had of the barbecue …   More

BITE-SIZED

It's 2013, and times are changing. To some, meat is out and vegetables are in. Hoping to cater to this growing demographic, Dig Foods opened its doors Downtown in mid-April.

Dig Food's first permanent spot is inside music venue Underbelly. Previously, Chef Sean Sigmon crafted his popular vegan fare on-the-go at already established venues like Intuition Ale Works, Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, CoRK Arts District and Downtown's First Wednesday Art Walk. For a while, it was rumored that Sigmon might start a food truck featuring his vegan offerings.

Sigmon's ever-changing menu focuses on organic and local ingredients. Even the bread is made locally by Community Loaves, and since everything is vegan, that means no meat, dairy or animal products are used.

At a noon Tuesday lunch, almost all of the tables were filled. You place your order, pay and seat yourself. Your food is brought out to you by a server, but it may not arrive at the same time as your companions' orders, as it's all made-to-order.

My lunch was surprisingly filling, despite being meatless. And for $13, I was able to try three different menu items. The first was a grilled kale and roasted carrot salad atop protein-packed fluffy quinoa and drizzled with a light parsley vinaigrette. I'd never had grilled kale and found it interesting in both texture and flavor. My second item was a generous portion of roasted balsamic cauliflower, which had a slight tanginess that I enjoyed. My third choice was the half-sized portion of potato gnocchi with a flavorful tomato sauce and strips of roasted butternut squash. It seemed more like a fall item than spring, but it worked.

I had a few bites of the colorful beet, grapefruit and basil side salad topped with a divine dollop of cashew cream that looked just like crème fraîche. The grapefruit segments were tart and complemented the earthy flavors of perfectly cooked red beets. Thin ribbons of fresh basil completed the dish that was simple but packed …   More

BITE-SIZED

Tucked right inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, Café Nola is a delightful modern bistro situated next to the Main Library and across the street from Hemming Plaza.

Executive Chef Kathy Collins takes great pride in sourcing fresh ingredients — even using herbs grown on the building's rooftop garden.

Café Nola, outfitted in clean white and green hues, boasts an open kitchen and a modern interior with extra high ceilings and natural light. I suggest snagging a seat by the windows facing Hemming Plaza.

On a recent dinner visit during the One Spark festival, we started with sweet potato nachos, which proved to be a unique twist on traditional nachos. The base was a generous heap of thinly cut, crispy sweet potato chips topped with a creamy and rich bleu cheese sauce, sliced scallions, salty applewood-smoked bacon and sweet and tangy balsamic reduction. I stopped short of licking the plate.

The spring lobster gnocchi was lighter than I would have imagined, but still filling. The homemade potato gnocchi were soft and delicate, paired with crisp sautéed haricot verts and halved grape tomatoes, steamed Maine lobster pieces swimming peacefully together in a corn jus — a perfect spring dish.

The varied menu includes popular entrées such as a mac 'n' cheese with black truffle shavings, goat cheese, wild mushrooms and roasted chicken — served in a cast-iron pan. Another favorite, shrimp and grits, features plump shrimp in a creamy white wine and mushroom sauce with applewood bacon atop firm smoked cheddar grit cakes. It's served with a sun-dried tomato crostini, but I'm always too full to indulge.

For lighter fare, try one of the flavorful salads. There's a Caesar with a black truffle butter-basted local fried egg (say that three times fast); a Cobb with fresh steamed Maine lobster, asparagus and blueberries; and a warm calamari and artichoke salad with roasted pepper vinaigrette over fresh baby …   More

BITE-SIZED

A question I get asked regularly: "What are your three favorite restaurants in Jacksonville?" Without missing a beat, I rattle off my favorite, Avondale's very own Orsay. (The other two require a bit more thought.) I often take out-of-town guests, co-workers and friends for there drinks, dinner or special occasions.

From the moment I walk through the door, to the last morsel of homemade ice cream I devour, Orsay never fails to provide a fantastic experience. A tough day can quickly be forgotten upon entering Orsay, with its dim lights, flickering white candles, modern wallpaper, exposed rustic wood rafters and hip music wafting through the air. Creative cocktails and a ridiculously awesome happy hour don't hurt, either.

It's rare that I order an entrée (and I can't order lunch beacause the spot's only open for dinner and weekend brunch) because I crave so many of Orsay's appetizers. Evenings begin with a cheese plate and oysters. Sometimes I opt for raw oysters, other times I gravitate toward the roasted oysters with salty bacon, spinach and melted parmigiano-reggiano cheese — perfectly smooth and smoky.

The escargots (yes, that's French for snails), served in the shell, with a garlicky butter and thick, sautéed portobello mushroom slices, are a savory delicacy. They're served with crusty bread, perfect for sopping up the extra garlic butter.

The crunchy haricots vert (pronounced "airicovair," not "hair-ih-cots verts") are thin French green beans. Together with roasted hazelnuts, ripe halved grape tomatoes and a tangy crème fraiche vinaigrette, they make for a light salad too good to pass up.

In my opinion, the combo of chefs Jonathan Insetta (also of Black Sheep Restaurant) and Brian Siebenschuh creates "Top Chef" quality.

The steak frites — a perfectly cooked hangar steak with a salty, seared crust, served with a tower of thinly cut crisp frites fried in duck fat for extra flavor — are an Orsay dinner …   More

BITE-SIZED

With spring in the air and summer close behind, now is the prime time to roll down the windows and head down picture-perfect Highway A1A to this casual hideaway on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Cap’s doesn’t take reservations and — like most amazing beachfront spots — the nicer the weather, the longer you may wait for a seat. Unarguably, the biggest selling point is the sprawling wooden deck under a canopy of shady trees. (The outside oyster bar’s a close second.) The deck provides views of breathtaking sunsets, flocks of seagulls and tranquil waters.

The menu is lengthy, so go with a group so you can share and experiment. It’s also kid-friendly.

Of the more than 25 appetizers, I have some recommendations. If you’re into soups, Cap’s creamy signature she-crab soup or spicy roux-based gumbo, with freshly made cornbread, will fill you up. The generously portioned, tenderized fried gator tail with a light citrus sauce is a staple. A platter with hot smoked salmon, caper cream cheese, chopped egg and diced onion is simple but nicely done. For creative presentation and texture, I recommend the flaky phyllo dough cups filled with chopped sesame soy tuna tartare. The Belgian fries are fried twice — thick, golden and beyond crisp. The best parts are the dipping sauces: curry mayo, datil and peanut sauces get my vote.

The vanilla grouper, with sweet vanilla rum sauce, is flaky, horseradish-crusted, flash-fried grouper atop mashed potatoes and fried crisp spinach. Your taste buds will dance. And you can’t go wrong with Cap’s jambalaya — shrimp, crawfish, sausage, chicken, onions and peppers meet jasmine rice.

There’s plenty of other fresh seafood, and I made a dozen oysters my entrée (I ordered an extra half-dozen). You can go raw or steamed and select from East, West or Gulf coasts. Snow crab legs, peel-and-eat Mayport shrimp and steamed clams round out the “surf” …   More

BITE-SIZED

Love enjoying your breakfast or lunch while peering into an open kitchen, using free Wi-Fi and leaving with a full stomach due to generous portions made with fresh ingredients? Then look no further than Uptown Market.

Brought to you by the same owners as downtown hot spot Burrito Gallery, Uptown Market has created a name for itself in historic Springfield by serving breakfast and lunch daily and brunch on the weekends — in a clean, fresh, modern space. And the best news of all: Dinner service should be starting in May.

Peek into the open kitchen and watch as Chef Eddy Escriba whips up clever lunch specials that are posted to Facebook every morning. Lunch is 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and the specials change daily based on what’s fresh. One day you might find a bison burger with jalapeño havarti and bacon, while on another, you’ll see anything from Cajun catfish and sweet corn grits with Creole tomato sauce to Puerto Rican-style picadillo with ground beef, peppers, raisins, capers, potatoes and onions over rice.

The menu is solid without being overly complicated. For breakfast, there’s brioche French toast, buttermilk pancakes, omelets, frittatas, eggs, crêpes and traditional breakfast specials like huevos rancheros, lox and bagel, and eggs Benedict. Insider tip: You can order a single fluffy buttermilk pancake if you desire. Best idea ever. (Well, that and those vitamin-C-packed $10 bottomless mimosas on the weekends.) With butter and a side of maple syrup, these light, spongy pancakes are the stuff breakfast dreams are made of.

That one pancake comes in handy when ordering the big-as-your-head breakfast burrito — eggs, chorizo sausage, home fries, cheddar cheese and salsa stuffed in an oversized flour tortilla — because I can hardly finish the burrito <> an entire stack of pancakes. My pick is the “ranch eggs” or huevos rancheros. This traditional Latin American dish features crispy flour …   More

 
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