Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Floridian - St. Augustine, FL

2014 has arrived and I've resolved (among other things) to shake off the drab writing blues that plagued me during the holiday season (I think December was about my least productive month since this blog's inception) by adding a fresh posting this first week (and every subsequent week, if possible) of the new year. I feel some shame that this particular entry has been festering for about a month, but better late than never, I suppose, so here's to my rejuvenated outlook and best wishes for health/happiness to all my readers in 2014:

When Mrs. Hackknife made the decision to schedule some medical tests at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville over Thanksgiving week, I of course had to research where in the area we might be able to get some good local eats during our sojourn (Krystal burgers were not an option this time). I quickly discovered that the Spanish colonial-era city of St. Augustine was within easy reach of our hotel in the southern outskirts of Jacksonville and hosts an intriguing dining option called The Floridian, whose owners bring a farm-to-table sensibility to northeast Florida's culinary highlights, namely seafood and Minorcan cuisine (many natives of Minorca, one of Spain's Balearic Islands, arrived in St. Augustine as indentured servants and their descendants remain today). Although Hackknifette was feeling under the weather (indeed, we just managed to return to the hotel before the latest round of stomach flu hit her), the missus and I decided to make the 30-minute run down to St. Augustine for dinner.

For those of you not having been there before, St. Augustine appears on the surface to be a quirky combo of Southern charm and party atmosphere, exuding both the graceful history of Charleston and the devil-may-care vibe of New Orleans, old churches rubbing shoulders with tequila bars. The Floridian sits right in the middle of this mix, and a quick glance at the menu once we arrived immediately brought to mind another locavore eatery we'd frequented recently in Orlando called Cask & Larder, that is, if C&L had been doused with a healthy dose of teal and kitsch.

As you can see from the photo above (try to overlook the flu-ridden 4-year old in the picture - what bad parents are we), the restaurant's decor can best be described as mid-century beach house, the designer apparently having scoured every flea market in Florida for the tackiest seashells, manatee prints, and flamingo ashtrays.

There was nothing outlandish about the food offerings, however, as I found myself wishing that I could order one (or two) of everything. We started with a selection of cheeses all originating from Georgia's Sweetgrass Dairy and Flat Creek Farm, including Green Hill camembert, Thomasville tomme, Asher blue, and a couple more that escape me at the moment, all garnished with candied pecans, local honey, toasted baguette, and seasonal fruit. For my entree, I picked the shrimp and sausage pilau (see photo above), sort of a Floridian take on jambalaya with the local favorite spicy Datil pepper standing in for tabasco/cayenne (St. Augustine actually has an annual Datil pepper festival in case you're interested). A pint of Bold City Killer Whale Cream Ale (from Jacksonville) served in a Mason jar helped me take the edge off of the dish's heat, as did the sizable portion of the house cornbread, which was studded with cheddar cheese and vegetables such that it had a consistency similar to garlic bread. Large enough for leftovers, I was able to reheat the remainder of my entree the next day for lunch while we were hunkered down in our hotel room during a rainy and cool afternoon. We definitely plan on staying longer in St. Augustine next time we find ourselves in the area and it's comforting to know that we'll have no trouble getting a top-shelf Southern meal at the Floridian on our return trip...

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