favorite food haunts - jacksonville and the beaches

Bistro Aix
Bistro Aix on Urbanspoon
Provençal bistro in San Marco. Transcendent. Seriously - their smoked tomato bisque haunts my dreams. Steak frites, lamb panini, luscious little pizzas, oak grilled fish, pastas, its all delicious. Bistro Aix is my number one restaurant pic in our adopted home town of Jacksonville, Florida (we actually live in a nearby beach town, but work in Jax).

Bb's on Urbanspoon
This industrial chic jewelbox is sister to biscotti's, and serves up comfort/fusion. My favorite, cheesy creamy hot polenta sticks stacked lincoln log style on a pool of blue cheese vinaigrette. They make some of the best salads anywhere in town. One of my standing orders is field greens with black forest ham, dates, and honey drizzled goat cheese croutons. The main room can be noisy, but the mood is upbeat, and the service is excellent. They share a phenomenal dessert menu with biscotti's. Share a slice of the nut tart - it is so incredibly rich, a mouthful is more than enough ;)

Biscotti's on Urbanspoon
Cozy neighborhood bistro in Avondale. Reminds me of some great spots in Cincinnati. Biscottis recently expanded to accommodate the constant crowds. While you wait for your table you are encouraged to peruse the dessert case - incredible, impposibly huge cakes, pies, tarts and more. My favorite from their eclectic menu is the rock shrimp pizza with goat cheese and baby spinach. Great spot for a late night apre-theater nosh - my friend Amy and I love to sit outside, savor a glass of red wine (the by the glass menu is awesome) and split a slice (ok, its more like a slab) of chocolate cake.

Blue Boy Sandwich Shop

Blue Boy Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon
Because every once in a while you want a great tasting, greasy hamburger the size of your head. This place is a working man's dream - no fuss, no frills, just standard lunch grub and plenty of it. Self serve drink refills ensure you'll always have enough soda to wash down every last bite. Jax insiders know this place is the bomb.

Cafe Nola

Cafe Nola on Urbanspoon
Delicious, innovative cuisine in a bright, contemporary gallery setting. Open for lunch Monday through Friday. Menu changes seasonally - recent favorite is the Lobster Cobb Salad.

The Casbah

The Casbah Cafe of Avondale on Urbanspoon
Middle-Eastern menu, belly dancers, hooka pipes. Nestled in a quiet courtyard in downtown Avondale. For lunch we like the swordfish kabobs with a selection of appetizers - you'll fall in love with their creamy smooth hummus, tabouleh, falafel, fried jibneh.

Cool Moose Cafe

Cool Moose Coffee Company on Urbanspoon
Chef/owner Tony Jarvis has a loyal following at his Five-points favorite spot. Serving Green Mountain Coffee, great cookies and muffins, and a sweet lunch menu with something for everyone. The Turkey sandwich with cranberry chutney is like Thanksgiving all year long. A ham sandwich with boursin cheese makes me happy-happy, and Cool Moose is one place where I will actually eat the ubiquitous pasta salad. Easy on the pocketbook, which means more money to spend while browsing through the nearby antique shops.

The French Pantry
French Pantry on Urbanspoon
French farmhouse meets California casual. The French Pantry owners Tim and Barbara Felver previously worked for Wolfgang Puck in LA. Good fortune for us, they now reign supreme over this improbable 5,000-square-foot warehouse plunk in the middle of the Powers Ave. industrial district. A wholesale bakery delivers breads, rolls and desserts to restaurants, hotels and country clubs in Jacksonville. The restaurant makes me very, very happy. Friends in the know will beat me about the head with a baguette when I tell you just how happy. The French Pantry is one of those classic "best kept secrets" - yet there is always a crowd. Come early, get in line, get your food, pick up some incredible baked goods to go, and get out! Or if you are not in any hurry, linger at one of the communal French farmhouse style tables, and munch on their mind altering bread slathered with sweet creamery butter while you wait for your salad or sandwich to arrive. Tell 'em the gang at Nourish The Beast sent you!

The Grotto
The Grotto on Urbanspoon
Wine and tapas in San Marco. Local's love the Grotto. Toney little spot with a fantastic wine list - retail wines too. Great spot for a private or semi-private party.

Harpoon Louie's
Harpoon Louie's on Urbanspoon
Burgers al-fresco rock this Avondale neighborhood joint with a blue collar bent. The Blue Cheese stuffed "squirtin'" burger is the bomb. Pin-ball, pool tables, porch. 'nuff sed.

Havana Jax Cafe
Havana Jax Café on Urbanspoon
Enjoy classic Cuban comfort food at this Best of Jax perrenial favorite, then slip next door to Cuba Libre for a cool Mojito.

Mediterranean Gourmet
Hovan Mediterranean Gourmet on Urbanspoon
Five Points lunch spot popular with students and neighboring office workers alike. Gyros, falafel, hummus, salads, the best ingredients, simply prepared and presented. Easy on the pocketbook as well as the heart. Fast service, plenty of seating, aditional parking in rear.

Joseph's Pizza

Joseph's Pizza on Urbanspoon
Joseph's Pizza rocks the Atlantic beach pizza scene. By the slice or by the box, get yours with extra garlic. Perfect end to a night of bar-hopping in AB.

Lemongrass on Urbanspoon
Thai in Baymeadows. The soothing decor and perfectly presented dishes come together to make this a favorite spot to grab lunch whenever I'm on that side of town. Shrimp in peanut sauce with broccoli is pretty awesome, but I like the soups and green curry too. Same owners as The Thai Room at Jax Beach.

London Bridge
(CLOSED) English pub and grub in downtown Jax. Go for the Bangers and Mash.

The Loop
Famous for their burgers, The Loop is anything but a burger joint. This Jacksonville based franchise takes the fast food atmosphere and stands it on its head, with great salads, pizzas, soups and sandwiches. Graze your way through the entire menu - it is all great.

Maggiano's Little Italy
Maggiano's Little Italy on Urbanspoon
Chain, yes, but it's just the kind of clubby Italian-style spot I like. Their tastes of Little Italy are served up family style - which can be a bit much for couples or solo diners, so plan on taking home some great leftovers for your lunch. I love their Chicken Parm, and the Rigatoni D takes chicken and mushrooms to a whole new level. Valet park at St Johns Town Center, you don't want to waste time looking for a parking spot. If you want to order to go you can drive around back to pick it up - Great for no-cook nights.


favorite food haunts - st louis

St Louis has a restaurant rep. The Hill is famous for great Italian food. Not a fan of the pasta and gravy, I managed to avoid making that scene in my two years in residence. Instead, I give you the best of the rest:

Blueberry Hill
THE BEST BURGERS, or so they say, but I found my thrill - their Veggie sandwich. The best ever, I dream of it to this day. Lots of other veggie and vegan offerings, too, befitting their University City locale. Plenty of plain old fried stuff, too. Blueberry Hill is just an all around great spot. On any occasion it might be hip, happening, family friendly, or neighborhood hang. Rad rock memorabilia collection. Killer Jukebox, great live music. Check them out on the web, then get your ass in there. Once you go, Blueberry Hill will be on your list too. Tell 'em Elvis sent you.

Broadway Oyster Bar
Their slogan is "Leave your attitude at home", but this quirky little spot sports more Creole 'tude than anyplace north of Mississippi. Broadway Oyster Bar is THE place to hang before, during, or after a Cards game. Enjoy Jazz, Blues, Cajun and Zydeco liive on the party patio, the funkitude of which eclipses even the kitchy interior of this local fave. Serving up some of the best Jambalaya and fresh oysters you'll ever taste this far inland. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Crazy Bowls and Wraps
Every city should have one! Yummy spot for a fast, nutritious, delicious lunch. Bowls, wraps, smoothies, etc.

Fast Eddie's Bon-Air
Ten years later, and we still tell everybody who will listen about Fast Eddie's Bon-Air. Actually over the river in Alton, IL, from the street, Fast Eddie's looks a lot like a quiet old storefront. Step inside and discover what is allegedly the largest volume bar in the world. But don't think for a minute that its all about the beer. Bulging burgers, bombastic brats, french fries, piles of boiled shrimp, my personal favorite, "Big Elwood on a Stick" tenderloin kabobs, all this and more tempt you at Fast Eddie's. And here's the deal, kids. You could fill up on ALL the above and still come out spending less than $20 on food! Load up on cold brew, then send the guys to stand in line at the "food bar" while you work your magic to find a table - a hot commodity here. Fast Eddie's is another great live music venue, too. Take my word for it, you lust have to experience Fast Eddie's.

A rambling big, comfortable place - a great spot to take friends and family. The fare at Hacienda trancends the normal Americanizing of Mexican dishes, but you can find that too if that's what satisfies you.

Seasonal Market Cuisine. Warm and welcoming upscale eatery featuring the best seasonal ingredients available. Executive Chef Stephen Gontram has crafted an ambience of warmth and comfort to showcase what he refers to as "rustic American food". It all works together beautifully. Think Valentines Day, or just any time you want to feed your soul. For an extra dash of romance, go for one of the bar tables - its quieter in there. Save room for creme brulee.

Pastries of Denmark
Best kept secret in Creve Couer. WOW! This little shop has the BEST sandwiches EVER. GREAT authentic danish pastries, outstanding cakes, breads, bite size cheesecakes, I could go on and on. I miss this place every day.

Provisions Gourmet Market
Grab gourmet goods or complete meals on the go. Ultimate gourmet one stop shopping.

St Louis Bread Co.
Locations all around town. Bought by Panera, which is basically the same great menu with frilly post-modern decor. I'm here to tell ya, SLBC is (was?) da real 'ting.

Wild Oats Natural Marketplace
Another natural foods and specialty grocer that serves food on site. Great place to spend a few hours, shopping then noshing. Take a sandwich to go if you'd rather get back to your desk. It's all good.

I'm sure there are more places to explore here, but I was just there for two years. Not goin' back any time soon, either, so lucky for me my good friends Alison, Dan and Lorna come to Florida to visit once in a while, and we share some of my favorite places in the next stop on our culinary tour - Jacksonville Fl.


favorite food haunts - charlotte

When I first came to Charlotte, ordering a salad invariably resulted in a bowl of iceburg lettuce, tomato wedge and an onion slice materializing at the table. The only decent uptown eatery was closing for lack of business. Thank god for good friends who shared all their favorite haunts, many of which are listed here. Five years later we were in the midst of a cultural boom, and the local cuisine kept the pace. Charlotte just keeps getting better. A truly lovely city, great people, and many, many great food finds. This list will get you started, but it doesn't begin to cover it, since I haven't been in something like ten years. Jeez, where does the time go? I'm overdue for a visit.

300 East
Charming eclectic bistro in an old house (another theme forming). Brunch beats all in Charlotte, but go anytime, you'll want to linger, but get out and get shopping, Charlotte!

Alexander Michael's
Only don't call it that - Al Mike's will do. Fourth Ward fave is always hopping. Excellent beer selection. Crab Quesadillas are the bomb, but everything they make is great. Meet you at Al Mikes next time I'm in town.

Charlotte, NC
"World Famous Pecan Pie" or so they say. Hole in the wall diner with character to spare. Hats off to Marie, the world's most hardworking waitress, may she rest in peace.

Anntony's Carribean Cafe
Island style chicken, they call it. I call it heaven. Dine in or take out, and buy the sauce, you'll be dreaming about it later. Thanks, Anntony's for getting your sauce carried in Harris Teeter - now I can enjoy it at home here in Ponte Vedra.

Bayou Kitchen
Plaza-Midwood/Elizabeth area neighborhood joint is my go to spot for Cajun and Creole faves, cold beer and casual surroundings. Virtual N'awlins museum inside, spool tables and picnic atmosphere outside. Love, Love, Love Bayou Kitchen.

Cajun Queen
New Orleans style cajun, creole fare with live jazz seven nights a week. You can't go wrong here. The big easy meets the queen city.

El Cancun
Mexican - not so authentic as they say, but good just the same. This one's for my good friend and Charlotte's finest actress, Jill Bloede. Hands down the BEST place for cold beer, margaritas, cheese dip and good times with great friends.

Frankie's Italian Grille
Clubby Italian eatery paying homage to Frank Sinatra. Larger than life Italian. 50's style clubby atmosphere. Sinatra tunes, martinis with the business suit set. Date night.

Hotel Charlotte
Best beer selection in town, home to the "Around the World Club" International beer lovers. Good food, great prices, nice atmosphere. They say it was modeled after a speakeasy, and I guess that makes sense now that I think about it. Fried artichokes are a must try.

Key West
Yeah. All that the name implies, only in Charlotte. Service was never all that, but still we kept coming back. Great bar, gotta love the shrimp, conch fritters, and of course that Key Lime Pie.

Lupie's Cafe
Dig in to the best burgers, or go for the chili cheese dog - its bigger than your head! Locals and loyal regulars line up for Lupie's simple, satisfying comfort food. One of a kind.

Pasta and Provisions
Become a great cook with a trip to this Italian grocery with the best pasta made fresh daily on site. Great sauces, tapanade, pestos, you name it. They used to send your pasta order out of the prep area on a string. I hope they still do that. It was almost as much fun as eating the stuff. I said almost.

Pewter Rose Bistro / Tutto Mondo
Pewter Rose is THE place for Sunday Brunch in Charlotte, but lunch and dinner won't disappoint either. Fanciful, fun, girlie victorian tea room style in a second floor converted textile warehouse. Tutto Mondo Nightclub is a great place to hang for a few hours. Sink into a club chair and soak it all in.

Stock Car Cafe
Welcome Race Fans! Major Nascar hang, with great pub food and a family friendly atmosphere that still manages to entertain single race enthusiasts. Many a lazy afternoon melted into evening here with my friend Sandy. Decor is wall to wall Race memorabilia. Gentlemen, start your engines.

Talleys Green Grocery / Cafe Verde
shop for organic foods and grab a sandwich or salad to go (or plop down and eat it there). Mega delicious and fresh. Wash it down with some green tea and don't forget the organic brownie!

Thai Taste
Rockin' great Thai in Dilworth. I search out the best Thai anywhere I live, and this place sets the standard against which all others are compared. I ate there so often when I lived in Charlotte, I think the waitresses were beginning to think I didn't have a home to go to. After a great lunch, pop over to Paper Skyscraper and check out the great selection of architectural books, toys, games and greeting cards.

Village Tavern
Pub grub in upscale urban atmosphere. One of the few chains that makes my list, probably because the patio is so nice. Go at dusk, enjoy a nice glass of chardonnay and a salad.

Vinnies Sardine
A beach bar in Charlotte? Heck yeah there is. If you miss the big water, Vinnies will tide you over until you can get to the real thing. Raw bar, fried faves, buckets of beer and steamed oysters - plan to get messy.

Again, some places I loved dearly are missing here as they are no longer in business - shout out to Chris and Sam at The Sandwich Construction Company. New Market Grille, where I met my darling Dick, seems to have gone with the wind as well. Probably had to shutter up once Dick and I blew town. But enough with the hurricane humor.

Next stop on our culinary tour de force, St. Louis, Mo.


favorite food haunts - cincinnati

Dee Felice Cafe
My favorite Cincinnati restaurant isn't in Cincinnati at all, rather in Covington KY. Jazz, Swing, New Orleans style food. Consistently rates among the top restaurants in town - in the country for that matter. Truly unique. Don't miss the Sleepcat band and the Dee Felice Big Band.

Arnolds Bar and Grill
Oldest continuously operating pub in Cincinnati. Great food, a quirky spot with a rabbit's warren of rooms and one fantastic outdoor courtyard. Live music rounds out the total Arnolds experience. You must go.

Italian. Best freakin' sausage pizza in the universe. I'm thinking of having some shipped to me right now!

Orchids / the Grille at Palm Court
Posh Downtown spot in the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. Stunning setting, upscale but not stuffy. Great spot for Sunday Brunch.

The Blind Lemon
Tiny Mt. Adams nightspot featuring a funky fun outdoor patio complete with bonfire.

Mike Fink
Paddle-wheeler turned floating restaurant. Great raw bar, superb seafood and a not too shabby view of the Queen city from her floating dock in Covington, KY.

The Waterfront
Words cannot do it justice. Picture a floating city. Drink. Meet the Bengals. Dance the night away.

City View Tavern
Tiny Mt. Adams hole in the wall. Burgers and fries served in plastic baskets, cold brew and a killer view. Get there early for a seat on the patio
and watch the fireworks during Reds home games. For a low tech sort of place, CVT certainly has a crazy website. Click through the sign in the window for a great view of the place, only turn your sound down first! Pesky web designers.

Haps Irish Pub
The real thing in Hyde Park. Guinness on tap. Need I say more?

Mt. Adams hang with good food, cheap drinks. Sip, eat, then stroll around hip, hilly Mt. Adams.

Skyline Chili
The spot that made Cincinnati Chili famous. Go for a three, four or even five way, or just munch on their sinfully delicious chili dog, the Skyliner.

best neighborhood ice cream parlor, serving the real thing.

Grand Finale
Famous for desserts but this stellar eatery tucked away in a quaint old victorian house in Glendale is a great choice for lunch, dinner or sunday brunch. Salads, crepes, quiche and so much more.

Dean's Mediterranean Imports
Turkish, Greek, Italian, Egyptian, Moroccan, Lebanese, etc. Great grocery with fresh pita, pastries, cheeses, olives, figs, you get the picture. I credit
Linkthis shop with spawning my love for mediterranean food and expanding my culinary horizons. The friendly staff helped me select just the right ingredients for whatever adventure I had my sites set on for the week, ultimately setting me on a lifelong course of exploring multicultural cuisine. At Findlay Market in the storefronts.