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BITE-SIZED

Hold the steak, please — and the pulled pork sliders. And those spare ribs. Put down your forks and knives.

While not eating meat may sound borderline traumatic to many, some local carnivores have taken a pledge to say goodbye to meat for 31 days. Sponsored by The Girls Gone Green, No Meat March is celebrating its third year in Northeast Florida.

Start your day with a freshly roasted coffee from Sipper’s Coffeehouse (7643 Gate Parkway, Southside), which serves dairy-free alternatives to add to your java. The homemade chai and sugar-free chai are heavenly blended with creamy soy.

A drool-worthy brunch can be found at any of the area FirstWatch The Daytime Café locations (13470 Beach Blvd., at Hodges Boulevard; 11111 San Jose Blvd., Ste. 14, Mandarin; 5444 Marsh Landing Parkway, Ste. 4, Jacksonville Beach). Try the fresh fruit crêpes topped with low-fat organic strawberry yogurt and a dash of cinnamon and sugar. They’re served with homemade granola and the baked muffin of the day. FirstWatch’s omelets are made with cage-free eggs. The C’est la vie with roasted zucchini, onions, tomatoes and herbed goat cheese is a favorite.

For a lunch less than $10 and several veg options daily, head to Chomp Chomp (106 E. Adams St., Downtown). The tofu and pickled veggie bahn mi with a side of salad or thin-cut crispy curry potato chips are just what the doctor ordered. Or try the TMB — no bacon here — TMB stands for tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil. You can swap tofu for chicken or pork when you choose the curry of the day. One caveat – Chomp Chomp is closed Saturday through Monday for lunch.

Chamblin’s Uptown (215 N. Laura St., Downtown) offers delicious veg hot soups and wrapped specialties. They have two veggie wraps, a curry tempeh wrap and other specials that grace the chalkboard menu from time to time like vegan chili, Tofurkey and Swiss on a tomato basil wrap and VGBLT (lettuce and tomato …   More

BITE-SIZED

For 17 years, Chef Andrew Ferenc has found comfort in the kitchen. For the past two-and-a-half years, that kitchen has been one he happily calls his own — and it's on wheels.

Ferenc's popular food truck, On The Fly Sandwiches & Stuff, recently claimed three awards at the June 15 Jax Truckies Food Truck Championships in Downtown Jacksonville. Competing against 13 other trucks, Ferenc offered smaller portions of his bestselling items. (Full disclosure: I am one of the founders of Jax Truckies.)

After a blind tasting of nearly three dozen items from the competing trucks, a panel of six judges named On The Fly, or "OTF" as regulars call it, the 2013 Overall Champion.

OTF also snagged two more awards — the Sweet Tooth, for its addictive sweet-and-salty chocolate caramel peanut butter pretzel bars, and the People's Choice, as determined by fans at the event via ballot. OTF won the Overall and People's Choice awards in the 2012 inaugural competition.

OTF's bestsellers include the overloaded sweet potato planks (with melted blue cheese, braised pulled pork, sliced scallions and the signature On the Fly sauce, a sweet chili and cilantro aioli) and firecracker sesame-seared ahi tuna (over crunchy wasabi napa cabbage that's drizzled with sweet-chile-and-soy glaze and pickled ginger).

Weekdays, you can enjoy these items near the new Duval County Courthouse in a lot at the corner of Adams and Jefferson streets, where OTF parks. The area is outfitted with covered tables and chairs. When the weather's right, a line can form quickly. But be aware: It moves fast.

"Don't be intimidated by the long lunch line," Ferenc said. "We pump out orders in less than 10 minutes!" "On the fly" is restaurant lingo for creating an order fast.

Aside from a recent batch of Butterfinger crème brûlée cups, his latest hit is a sweet-and-spicy avocado tostada with shredded lettuce, sweet corn, scallions, black beans, OTF sauce and a dash of …   More

BITE-SIZED

Behind an unassuming little Murray Hill
 storefront emblazoned with "Bread" and 
 "Community Loaves" are two passionate 20-somethings crafting upward of 500 loaves of organic, hearth-baked bread each week.

In 2011, Sarah Bogdanovitch founded Community Loaves as a bread-delivery-via-bicycle service. Two years ago, she connected with fellow bread enthusiast Meredith Corey-Disch. Just two months ago, the duo opened the Community Loaves storefront.

How is the bread they bake different? First, it's organic. Second, it's sourdough, created using a process unlike that used for most other breads. No commercial yeast is used; instead, it's produced through a long fermentation of dough (hence the slightly sour taste, and the name). Sourdough stays fresher longer, retains more nutrients and has a lower glycemic index. Each day, six or so varieties are available at Community Loaves — whole wheat, country white, baguettes, rosemary and garlic, among others.

In addition to the no-frills loaves (ranging from $5-$6), there are assorted muffins, pastries and cookies, as well as various teas and Sweetwater (out of Gainesville) French press and pour-over coffee. I sipped the nettle peppermint rose hip-fermented iced tea ($2.50), which was summery and refreshing. The banana bread almond muffin ($3.20) was a winner, too. On my most recent visit, I noticed a sign for salted dark chocolate rye cookies ($1.75), but I was too late — they'd sold out already.

Once a month, Community Loaves hosts a pizza night in the garden behind the storefront. It's BYOB, and there's live music. The best part, of course, is the hearth-baked sourdough pizza crust, topped with Wainwright Dairy cheese and whatever fresh vegetables arrive from local KYV Farm and Down to Earth Farm.

Outside the Murray Hill location (which offers casual seating for about 10), Community Loaves' breads can be found all over town. Ever notice the delicious bread served at Black Sheep in 5 Points? That's …   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

Bite-Sized

A former Subway 
sandwich shop turned
 short-lived crêperie has
recently re-emerged as an inviting family-owned-and-operated bakery and bistro.

While still evolving, Corrado's Bakery 'n Bistro's menu is straightforward; a signboard in front of the restaurant entices passersby with daily specials. Inside, it's casual, comfortable, clean and well-designed.

My order of Pat's gourmet chicken salad ($8.95) arrived on a bed of arugula and crisp romaine; juicy white meat pieces were tossed with a light mayonnaise-type dressing and an assortment of diced grapes, crunchy apple pieces and colorful crisp bell peppers. A cluster of red grapes, a cantaloupe wedge, strawberries and simple slice of bread and butter accompanied the salad.

Drawn to the summer salad ($8.95; $2 more to add meat) by the combination of salty, sweet, crunchy and tangy, I began by swapping the raspberry vinaigrette dressing for balsamic, which was tangy and thin, perfect for this salad of greens topped with feta cubes, slices of strawberries, pears, cucumbers and a generous sprinkling of walnuts.

The ham, bacon and broccoli quiche ($8.95) served with a muffin and side of fruit was also a contender. Speaking of sides, the homemade broccoli salad, with bacon, golden raisins, red onion slivers and a sweet dressing, was delicious.

Offerings from the dessert case change daily; the Key lime coconut squares, chocolate raspberry brownie bites and freshly baked peach cobbler should get you started. With self-control not on the menu, I picked three: a frosted brownie, Oreo pudding cupcake and a red velvet mini-cupcake because — let's face it — lunch is better with dessert. The brownie won me over; it's magically soft in the center and slightly crispy around the edges with a not-too-sweet chocolaty frosting on top.

Currently serving lunch Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Corrado's plans to open for dinner service and in the near future, add espresso, cappuccino and latte …   More

BITE-SIZED

I recently spotted Howard Kirk, the chef at Riverside's 13 Gypsies, dining at 5 Points' Corner Taco, which prompted a question: Where do local chefs choose to eat when they're not at work devouring their own culinary creations? After all, these guys know food, so maybe their choices can inform ours.

I put the question — four questions, actually: 1.) What three restaurants do you frequent the most in Northeast Florida? 2.) What's your go-to dish at these places? 3.) Why do you eat most often at your favorite spot? 4.) What's your guilty culinary pleasure? — to four high-profile local chefs. Their answers were illuminating.

Scott Schwartz, 29 South Restaurant (Fernandina Beach), chef for 23 years

1. Taverna, Black Sheep, Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails.

2. Taverna's pasta with pork Ragu, Black Sheep's pastrami sandwich topped with chicken liver mousse, and Moxie's fried chicken livers or the short rib.

3. The restaurant I eat at most often in Northeast Florida is Taverna because I love the simple approach to classic Italian cooking.

4. Good old-school soul food at the Soul Food Bistro. My wife only lets me eat there a couple times a year, but sometimes I sneak in a lunch with the boys. Always finish the meal with a slice of hummingbird cake.

Chris Dickerson, Corner Taco (5 Points), chef for 8 years

1. Orsay, 13 Gypsies, Pom's.

2. Steak frites at Orsay, duck shu mai at Pom's, chorizo at 13 Gypsies.

3. The restaurant I eat at most often in Northeast Florida is Orsay because it's so solid.

4. Chocolate soufflé at Roy's.

Tom Gray, Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails (St. Johns Town Center), chef for 18 years

1. I have many favorites — too many to mention! When I'm with my family, we try to hit spots my son enjoys, so that usually means Sakura for sushi and Picasso's for the pizza.

2. Sakura's tuna salad, octopus salad and the sushi rolls. At Picasso's, Chef Chris knows I'm in the house when "The Gift" is ordered with the …   More

BITE-SIZED

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

I’m a pizza snob. I’ve inhaled piping-hot slices of Grimaldi’s pizza from its coal-fired brick oven beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and I’ve worked my way through the better part of deep-dish pies from both Giordano's and Lou Malnati’s in Chicago. I’ve polished off wedges from Marco’s Coal-Fired Pizza in Denver.

Tommy’s Brick Oven Pizza earns a top-five spot in my Northeast Florida list, which includes Brewer’s Pizza, Mellow Mushroom, Pele’s Wood Fire and Perard’s.

In 2006, Tommy d’Esterhazy opened the unassuming spot in a small strip mall on Southside Boulevard. The small, casual restaurant seats about 20, including a few barstools where you can gaze at your pizza being made in the central brick oven. You can catch a glimpse of d’Esterhazy (complete with an authentic New York attitude) hand-tossing the dough.

Tommy’s New York-style pizzas are available in 12, 14 or 16 inches. Quattro Stagione is my choice: The slightly crisp prosciutto’s saltiness complements the tender artichokes and creamy goat cheese along with roasted red peppers and tomato sauce. They’re meant to be together. Hand-tossed dough cooked in the brick oven results in a crust that’s not overly thick, keeping its shape and staying crisp at the edges.

Treat your taste buds with delicious toppings like pepperoni, sausage, bacon, pineapple, salami, rock shrimp, feta cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.

Salads are made-to-order. The caprese is traditional: Soft, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, shreds of basil and a tangy balsamic reduction top a spring lettuce mix. The summery strawberry spinach salad with chevre or goat cheese is tossed with Tommy’s secret strawberry vinaigrette dressing. Tommy’s Caesar, with romaine and crunchy croutons, is also good. You can’t go wrong with any of these leafy concoctions.

I’ve yet to try one of the cold subs or hot sandwiches, but the warm roasted rosemary chicken with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes is right up my …   More

BITE-SIZED

Much lighter on your wallet than a trip to Latin America and much closer, Puerto Plata Restaurant serves up tasty Latin American comfort food at its location near San Juan Avenue and Blanding Boulevard.

The freestanding yellow building with ample parking and a covered front patio might not look like much, but once inside, you'll find all the staples.

Start with the chicharones de pollo, Dominican-style chunks of bite-sized fried chicken. Crisp, and slightly crunchy on the outside and extremely juicy inside, these don't need a dipping sauce — they're that good. Proceed with caution: There are still a few bones.

To complement the chicharones, try an order of plátanos maduros, or sweet fried plantains, a staple of Latin American cuisine similar to bananas. These are made with very ripe plantains cut into two-inch pieces then pan-fried, forming a slightly sticky and sweet caramelized crust.

We ordered an empanada de pollo — a crescent-shaped stuffed pastry filled with seasoned chicken and then fried. Ours wasn't very full, but the handheld golden brown snack was still good and served alongside a ramekin of a spicy green jalapeño salsa.

A traditional entrée, the pernil, or roasted pork shoulder, is topped with onions and served with a heaping mound of yellow rice and a cup of black beans. The pork was tender and moist, and I could really taste the garlic and adobo seasoning.

The star of the evening was the ceviche con tostones — shrimp ceviche with mashed fried green plantains and a creamy garlicky dipping sauce. The shrimp were marinated in citrus juices with minced onion, diced tomatoes, lots of cilantro, ground black pepper and salt, resulting in a tangy dish that was served chilled. The shrimp "cook" without any heat thanks to the acid in the fresh citrus juice.

For dessert we opted for the flan, a square of creamy baked custard draped in a sweet caramel glaze.

The restaurant has a noticeably clean, …   More

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

 
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