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BITE-SIZED

In an unassuming spot on South Third Street in Jax Beach sits Eva’s Grill & Bar. Home to several restaurants over the years, the building's interior feels dated and plain, but small windows lend a few rays of natural sunlight. It’s spacious and kid-friendly, and would work well for larger parties.

Owner Chris Wright, along with his father William, opened Eva’s in early 2012. Many of the recipes are passed down from Chris’ mother, Eva. (He also has a daughter named Eva.) The menu includes Greek, Italian and Cajun dishes, but Eva’s is traditional in its approach, not a fusion of cuisines or flavors. Everything is homemade-style, except the hamburger buns and soda rolls.

My items were plated nicely, and I noticed the portions are quite generous and prices are fair. I see many take-out boxes in my future.

I started with an Italian panzanella salad: a bountiful plate of arugula, mixed greens, tomatoes, kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, fresh mozzarella, red onion and herbed croutons, tossed with a flavorful housemade white balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was fresh and the flavors blended nicely.

Several small plates are available, including a Greek meze platter with spinach and feta pastries (spanakopita), fresh mint and feta pastries (tiropita), Greek salad and stuffed grape leaves (dolmades). The table next to ours had one, and my stomach growled with envy.

Feeling adventurous, I tried the beef short rib lasagna. Warm gooey mozzarella generously covered a tower of alternating lasagna noodles, ricotta, spinach, fontina and braised beef, surrounded by a mote of homemade marina sauce. I expected the dish to be heavy, but it wasn't. The sauce had a lot of flavor. I’m eager to try the calzones and pizzas next time.

Wanting to sample each culture represented on the menu, I ordered the cochon de lait, a French-sounding term with Cajun roots. The slow-roasted, seasoned pork was accompanied by buttery housemade …   More

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When I need to quiet my growling stomach, I head to a restaurant that has “Mex” as a prefix or suffix. Hightide Burrito Co. touts its “Beach Mex,” a vibe and flavors that lend themselves to Jacksonville’s ethnic and geographic diversity. The menu is inspired by owner Alejandro Juarez’s family recipes from Central Mexico.

This family-friendly, seat-yourself, two-room spot is clean and modern with an abundance of seating. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the menu's straightforward and easy to read. Your toughest choice? Whether you’re up for a burrito (flour or wheat tortilla), burrito bowl, nachos, tacos (corn or flour), tortas or salad. Then determine if you’re in the mood for steak, ground beef, barbacoa, chicken, carnitas, fish, shrimp, roasted vegetables or beans and cheese.

Salsas are made in-house, and everything tastes fresh. Queso seemed like a must to kick off our lunch. We found it to be full of flavor, thick and creamy, which nicely coated our bags of homemade tortilla chips. There are few things worse than runny queso. Beware: These triangular gems are beyond addicting — super-crunchy, warm and lightly salted. Perfection.

I eyed the best-seller claim next to Lupe’s famous Baja fish tacos, and I knew what I’d be ordering. Best-seller? They must be delicious. And they were! Panko-breaded, lightly fried tilapia is generously topped with shreds of crunchy cabbage, then drizzled with a tangy white sauce and accompanied by a wedge of lime. I concurred with the claim. The fish was moist and cooked to perfection — each bite gave way to the perfect amount of crunch from the breading. I added a few generous dashes of the Peruvian sauce there on the table and some of the pico de gallo that came with my chips. I caught my boyfriend sneaking a bite on more than one occasion.

Also intriguing were the made-to-order acai bowls. I opted for the beet bowl with a blend of frozen acai …   More

BITE-SIZED

Crisp. Crunchy. Chewy. Creamy. The possibilities are endless. You’ll never think of salad the same way again. Tossgreen takes healthy to a new level by offering fresh and sustainable made-to-order salads and burritos.

Simple instruction signage guides the ordering process. The toughest part is deciding if you’re hungry for a burrito (or tortilla-less burrito bowl) or salad.

Salads begin with a leafy green base: iceberg, romaine, mixed greens or spinach. I opted for half-spinach and half-mixed greens. For $5.99, you select five toppings. There are more than 50 vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, “crunch” items and various cheeses. Want more than five? Pony up 49 cents each. I enjoy a mingling of flavors and textures, so my creation included hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, crisp pita chips, julienned carrots, sun-dried tomatoes, chickpeas and herb-roasted chicken, which was moist and flavorful.

Tossgreen also offers items you may not typically find on the average bed of lettuce, like jicama (a crunchy, slightly sweet root), red grapes, wasabi peas, toasted coconut, goat cheese and white cheddar.

Adding proteins is only 99 cents to $1.99. Options include herb-roasted chicken, steak, roasted shrimp, roasted tofu, bacon, boiled eggs and avocado — we know, it's a fruit — but it has about 7 grams of protein.

Ingredients are placed in a large bowl with your choice of salad dressing, then tossed and chopped, ensuring an even distribution of dressing. With 18 choices, there’s something for the pickiest diner, including ones with food allergies (dairy, gluten, oil). There’s even a simple lime or lemon squeeze, which adds a surprising amount of flavor and minimal calories.

I sampled the carrot ginger, but found it too sweet and opted for the lemon shallot vinaigrette. A bit bland; I wouldn’t order it again. I made a mental note to try the chipotle ancho vinaigrette.

Feeling uninspired? Order a chef-designed salad. Prices vary, but these …   More

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The diversity of ingredients and preparations in ethnic cuisines can transport you around the world with their unique flavors. And the décor can enhance the journey. That’s where Bowl of Pho comes in.

Pho is a staple in Vietnamese diets. Along with rice noodles and beef broth, traditional pho contains varieties of meat including rare beef, beef flank, brisket, tendon (connective tissue that’s cooked for a long time at a slow temperature, becoming pliable and gelatinous like beef fat), tripe (stomach of a domesticated animal) and meatballs. A large, colorful plate of garnishes is served alongside the oversized bowl. Toss in as much as you’d like of raw jalapeño slices, saw-leaf herb (leaf-like, with a flavor similar to cilantro but stronger), fragrant Thai basil, crunchy bean sprouts, chopped green onion and cilantro. Add some hot chili sauce and a squeeze of lime wedge and you’re ready to roll up your sleeves. A bib is recommended but not necessary — for some.

Warning: Bowl of Pho’s menu is expansive. I mix up my order each time I visit. At my rate, I’ll be 87 by the time I’ve worked my way through the menu.

With plenty of appetizers from which to choose, start with the light spring rolls: Shrimp and pork meet vermicelli (thin rice noodles served in many Asian cuisines, from Chinese Cantonese noodles to Filipino pancit), lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumber and cilantro. Everything is carefully tucked into pliable rice paper and rolled. It’s proper form to dip these beauties into the side of hoisin-peanut sauce. For pep, add a dash of siracha.

On a recent trip, I diverged from the pho column and ordered from the “egg/rice noodle soup” list. Unlike the beef broth in the pho varieties, these selections offer chicken and pork broth. The barbecue pork with wonton egg noodles (mi hoanh thanh, if you prefer to order in Vietnamese) was a winner: For $7.50, I counted six oversized pork wontons swimming peacefully with tender slices of …   More

BITE-SIZED

Arriving at this tucked away spot along Roscoe Road gives the feeling you have discovered a hidden gem in North Florida’s dining scene. A lengthy line of patrons eagerly awaiting a table will quickly remind you that this secret has spread quickly. Call in a reservation, and you’ll be golden.

The interior features soothing pastels, large windows that draw abundant natural lighting and a simple open layout that allows for gazing at the intracoastal waterway. This comfortable, laid-back atmosphere blends seamlessly with a menu that focuses on using simple ingredients to concoct complex flavor combinations at reasonable prices. The result is quintessential Ponte Vedra: a refined personification of traditional Coastal Florida cuisine infused with influences of the traditional farming roots of Palm Valley and a reliance on ingredients like the datil pepper.

The specials are carefully written across a blackboard in colored chalk, and several vie for attention. The fried artichoke hearts with a creamy lemony aioli and lemon wedge are a must; bite-sized with a light cornmeal crust and sprinkled generously with shaved parmesan, they're light enough not to ruin your appetite for dinner.

The grilled octopus and white bean salad with a slightly spicy but not overwhelming datil pepper vinaigrette is a flavor and texture explosion: Chewy, warm pieces of seasoned octopus contrast the creamy oversized white beans served atop mixed greens, colorful julienned carrots and chunks of tomato. If you’ve never had octopus, I urge you to give it a try. The Asian-inspired chopped tuna salad combines almond slivers, tomato, black sesame seeds and chopped seared ahi tuna drizzled with spicy Siracha and wasabi.

The pan-fried cod sandwich is a big piece of fresh flaky white fish resting between thick tomato slices, crisp lettuce and a toasted hoagie roll accompanied by a light turnip slaw and pile of seasoned wedge fries, which I enjoy dousing with tangy malt …   More

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I’ve never met a sweet I didn’t like. At Sweet Theory Baking Company, I have yet to meet a sweet I don’t love.

This place is super-cool (I’d say “sweet,” but perhaps that pun is going overboard?). While there’s only room for about 12 diners, the vintage décor, chalk art and ephemera, together with a collection of blasts from the past like Alf and the California Raisins, make it seem as though it’s been in the neighborhood forever.

Sweet Theory whips up fluffy doughnuts in every flavor imaginable — egg nog, chai, French toast, cinnamon sugar, pink lemonade, chocolate peppermint, strawberry, lemon poppy, root beer, SunButter (a creamy sunflower seed alternative to peanut butter) and jelly and more. Orange creamsicle — my flavor of choice — melts in your mouth. If you’re feeling extra gluttonous, go for a doughnut sundae, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, caramel, cookie crumbs and coconut whipped cream.

Owner Katie Riehm emphasizes quality ingredients and ensures there’s something for everyone, even those with food allergies. Her concoctions are peanut-free, dairy-free, egg-free and soy-free, thus making items vegan. And, while I feel a bit like Dr. Oz writing this, the doughnuts are even fried in heart-healthy organic, cold-pressed coconut oil — but if I didn’t know that, I’d never guess. There are no refined sugars in sight, just organic whole cane sugar and all-natural agave nectar. While the prices are steep — $3 for one donut, not a dozen — quality ingredients go a long way.

Sweet Theory also serves local Bold Bean Coffee Roasters brews and hand-crafted Brooklyn egg cream sodas made using non-dairy cream, chocolate syrup and seltzer water. Some days, there are cookies, cupcakes, shortbread cookies and whoopee pies. On one of many recent visits, I had the delightful banana-maple whoopee pie: two …   More

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Know what’s comforting? A plate of piled-high barbecue — with all the fixins.

Monroe’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Q, with a location on the Westside off Cassat and Edgewood at 4838 Highway Ave., and a mobile food truck (Monroe’s On the Go), recently opened a second brick-and-mortar on bustling Beach Boulevard. The former Woody’s Bar-B-Q has been revamped, and the wood floors, country décor and picnic bench seating is apropos.

After starting with bite-sized corn nuggets <> fried okra, I ordered the pulled pork platter — a large portion of moist and flavorful meat — with two sides, and added a third. Life’s short — why not? The collard greens, with a vinegar base, won over my Southern heart. The creamy mac ‘n’ cheese and sweet potato soufflé were perfect accompaniments: cheesy goodness and a subtly sweet soufflé topped with chopped nuts.

Worth mentioning are those addictive corn nuggets: I recommend starting with a shared basket. They’re stuffed with sweet creamed corn, fried and paired with a slightly spicy homemade ranch dipping sauce.

Monroe’s has finger-licking-good wings (both dry and wet), sandwiches (pulled pork, chopped Carolina pork, brisket, pulled chicken and sliced turkey), salads and platters. The sides are where it’s at; secretly, I’d love to order one of each and stuff myself silly. Talk about tempting: creamy coleslaw, homemade potato salad, collard greens, mashed potatoes, baked beans, black-eyed peas, sweet yellow whole-kernel corn, simmered Southern-style green beans and red coleslaw. The standard fries and side salad are also available.

As a big dipper (no pun intended), I get my kicks by tasting all of the homemade squeezable barbecue sauces: Two sticky thumbs-up for the tangy mustard sauce. There are also sauce flavors of mustard, hot mustard, Monroe sauce, chipotle, Carolina and sweet.

In the back of the restaurant is a …   More

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Historic 5 Points has become one of the hip and happening spots in town. In addition to neighborhood favorites like The Mossfire Grill, O’Brothers Irish Pub and Sake House, a handful of new spots have opened and business is booming.

Black Sheep Restaurant (1534 Park St., 355-3793, blacksheep5points.com) is open for lunch and dinner. The spot, Orsay’s sister restaurant, serves new American favorites with a Southern twist. With the rooftop bar now open, Black Sheep will debut a brunch menu in the weeks ahead.

Black Sheep pays great attention to utilizing locally sourced ingredients and plating them beautifully. At lunch, meals arrive at your table on shiny silver retro cafeteria-style trays. The pimento cheese-stuffed fried green olives are stacked high with a creamy dipping sauce, while the Black Hog Farms Egg Toast is a sturdy rectangle of brioche topped with melted cheese and two symmetrical parallel placed eggs.

The vibe is fun and hip, with large floor-to-ceiling windows that are perfect for sunlight and people-watching.

Derby on Park (1068 Park St., 379-3343, facebook.com/DerbyOnPark) replaced the former Derby House with new owners, a new space and new menu at the corner of Park Street and Lomax. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday, and brunch on Sunday, Derby touts a $3 to $5 drink and appetizer special list for happy hour.

Cozy Tea Café (1023 Park St., 329-3964, cozyt.com) moved down a few storefronts to a larger space and has reinstated its celebrated Friday and Saturday Indian dinners in addition to its popular Monday-through-Saturday lunch service. Every time I stop in for lunch, I snag a warm lemon cookie. The freshly baked treat has a perfect chewy-to-crispy ratio, and the warm lemon drizzle on top sends it over the edge.

Spot 5 on Park (1020 Park St., 655-5533) recently opened and serves lunch and dinner, coffee and drinks. Spot 5’s simplistic menu includes salads, six styles of hot dogs, and …   More

BITE-SIZED

It sat vacant for quite some time, so I was thrilled to hear that a San Marco storefront would soon be a source for buttery biscuits. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a hot, flaky, not-too-doughy-but-still-delightful biscuit?

The new space feels much more warm, cozy and inviting than it did with the two previous inhabitants (The Black Bean, Moe’s), with the addition of wood panels to the open layout, calming colors and a self-service coffee area. Faux chalkboard menus sport a list of all things biscuit-like. And how do you know your order is ready? They yell out the name of your favorite band or favorite childhood TV show — nuggets of your life revealed when you ordered.

On my first visit, I quickly loosened my waistband and ordered The Loaded Goat (with fried chicken breast and a fried goat cheese medallion) and The Sticky Maple (with fried chicken breast, pecan bacon topped with real maple syrup) and two sides that piqued my interest: grits and Smoky Mountain Mac-N-Cheese.
 The signature biscuit sandwiches range from $4 to $7 and are filling. Sauces and other sides (sweet potato fries, collards, black-eyed peas, salad, pepper jelly, butter, cheese, honey, apple butter, maple syrup, etc.) are additional. And for you true Southerners, I hear the sausage gravy is to die for.

The biscuits were good, but not overly fluffy. They were sturdy enough to support the generous piece of moist fried chicken, which wasn’t the slightest bit greasy. The creamy melted goat cheese edged out the Sticky Maple. The Mac-N-Cheese was decent and I enjoyed my creamy grits, which I doused with Louisiana hot sauce.

On my second visit, I went simple: a biscuit with seasonal pumpkin butter and a coffee. Of the several varieties offered, I preferred the slightly sweet Maple Tap coffee, roasted specially for the restaurant. My biscuit was flaky and delicious, and the pumpkin butter had tons of flavor.

Maple Street’s hours of operation …   More

 
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