III Forks Now Open in Jax

Beasties - you know how I love a clubby steakhouse! Here's the latest to grace the Jax dining scene!
III Forks recently opened in Tapestry Park on Jacksonville’s Southside, and already they are giving back to the community - now THAT'S the holiday spirit!
They plan to help the Sulzbacher Center prepare for the holidays.

Net proceeds from holiday gift cards sold from Tuesday, Dec. 1, through Thursday Dec. 3 will go to the center - Northeast Florida’s only provider of comprehensive services for homeless men, women and children.

General Manager and proprietor Curtis Osmond along with executive chef Joe Everett aim to provide “the perfect steak, in the perfect dining room, with the perfect wine” to every guest at III Forks.
III Forks specializes in prime cuts of meats and features banquet and private rooms, patio dining, full bar, wine bar and lounge. Take out is also available.
Their staff can customize menu, wine selections, and table arrangements for special event needs.
III Forks Jacksonville is one of 87 full-service and 29 franchised locations. Other III Forks locations include Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas; Boca Raton and Palm Beach Gardens.

9822 Tapestry Park Circle
(off Southside Boulevard, just north of JTB)
Mon - Thurs 5 - 10 pm, Fri & Sat 5 – 11 pm
(904) 928-9277


Caring Chefs Congrats

Just a quick congrats to the Children's Home Society of Florida and the 50+ restaurants and food businesses who participated in the Caring Chefs event last night!

Wonderful food, a great crowd, and I hope a fundraising success for CHS!

Thanks to Jodi K of EatJax for playing wing-woman on this manic chow-a-thon! Afterwards it felt like we actually did EAT JAX.

I'm still dreaming about those escargot from Matthews - and I bet I know what Jodi's dreaming about today!

And Thank YOU Josh - for the tix! Luckily for this Beastie, you're a health nut who would rather spend the weekend RUNNING in the Marine Corps Marathon in DC instead of grazing on bite after bite of fabulous eats at Caring Chefs!


Bar Snacks Rule At Mitchell's

Quick visit to Mitchell's Fish Market after work = YUM! We always sit at the bar, but I can see how settling into one of those booths would be a great option. At the bar there is an appetizers menu - small plates of heaven - specially priced - just the right size for a snack - or get a couple and share w your friends. My fave, the crispy fried calamari.

Dan loves the Codfish Slider. MAJORLY addictive. The chicken wings are fab, and peel and eat shrimp is predictably fresh and delicious. New Zealand Mussels, California style Fish Tacos, etc. etc....

They fresh squeeze all their fruit juices, so bar drinks are amazing too. I love the grapefruit and basil martini.

Oysters are remarkable here too - an
d any of the fish or other seafood dishes are bound to be delish! We'll be back SOON to find out!


Let There Be Laughter and Sharing Of Pleasures

When out-of-town friends come to visit, where do you take them for lunch? What do they like, where will they feel comfortable?

For me, the answer often is The French Pantry.
Tucked into the front end of a venerable commercial bakery in an industrial park, it hardly looks the part from the street. A green awning atop the brick wall, a lot full of cars, happy diners grasping takeaway containers.

The menu is on chalkboards at the entrance. The Fare is sandwiches, salads, delicious desserts. Plenty to choose from. There is always a line. It files past a case of the most amazing cakes, cheesecakes, enormous muffins, brownies "blondies" and assorted cookies. This is not the place to be on a diet. Sheer lace curtains diffuse the sunlight and sturdy vintage tables fill the single room, which reminds me of a french farm-house where workers gather for lunch and to escape the sun. If you come, be prepared to share a table with strangers, or take your lunch to go. The French Pantry is only open for lunch. Their main business is a commercial bakery, supplying some of Jacksonville's finest restaurants.

The friend - visiting from Charleston. We hadn't seen one another since school days, let's just say decades ago! Facebook has reunited several of us from Lancaster High School, and we talk most every day now, exchanging witty banter, sharing the smallest of sentiments and revealing sides of ourselves we had long since forgotten.

We ordered sandwiches for our lunch, and thick slices of cake for sharing with family later. The Muffuletta was piled high with tender, salty ham, tangy olive salad and cheeses. A nostalgic choice for my friend, who was transported to New Orleans by its mere mention.
I wanted something that made use of their amazing farm loaf - the bread of my dreams. Chicken Panini filled the bill nicely - two large, hearty slices packed with fresh field greens, tender grilled chicken, pesto, thick slabs of ripe red tomato and plenty of melted cheese. The portions here are large, so ask for a takeout container if you want a nice snack for later.
Thankfully we were there late in the lunch rush, so our lingering at table wasn't a problem. Tucked away in a corner by a sunny window, our conversation bubbled like the fountain of youth - washing away the years. Joy and pain, love and loss. Life's universal lessons. Before we knew it, two and a half hours had slipped by.

"And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."

- from "The Prophet", by Kahlil Gibran

French Pantry on Urbanspoon

The French Pantry

(904) 730-8696
6301 Powers Ave
Jacksonville, FL 32217


bb's - a groovy place to b

Jacksonville’s new TasteCasting team recently assembled at one of Jacksonville’s Top 25 restaurants and perennial favorite – bb’s – where we were treated to a four course tasting menu – courtesy of owners Barbara and Karin. Our host for the evening was Executive Chef Carlos Ramirez.

Originally from Columbia and trained at Johnson and Wales, Chef Ramirez’ prowess in the kitchen is matched by his attentiveness to the restaurant’s clientele. He spent a great deal of time with our TasteCasting team, thoroughly describing each dish as it was presented and answering all of our questions.

We were treated as honored guests, and we are grateful for the special attention paid to our group by of one of Jacksonville’s premier chefs.

To begin our tasting we were treated to a Shrimp Bisque – creamy and sweet like shrimp fresh from the sea, with just enough heat.

Next up was an assortment of salads. bb’s is one of Jacksonville’s power lunch spots, and their salads are a local favorite.

Mediterranean Chicken Salad boasts shredded white meat of chicken on a bed of greens, with tender haricots vert, briny kalamata olives, sweet grape tomatoes, tangy, full flavored feta cheese and a bright, light lemon herb vinaigrette.

Pan Asian Chop Chop Salad is a study in contrasting tastes and textures – field greens with juicy grilled chicken, macadamia nuts, pickled ginger, rice noodles, sweet soy, wasabi drizzle and sesame ginger vinaigrette.

Grilled Salmon Salad reminded us of autumn – chargrilled salmon served on a bed of greens over a dried fruit and nut couscous, and topped with a dollop of pumpkinseed pesto.

A personal favorite is the Goat Cheese Salad

Field greens are tossed with sweet slivers of Medjool dates, candied walnuts and strips of Black Forest ham. Warm, tangy goat cheese is nestled in thickly sliced toasted baguette and drizzled with honey.

Crispy Fried Rock Shrimp salad was dressed with tangerine cream and a lemon herb vinaigrette. The sweet little shrimp were studded with black sesame seeds.

The entrees showcased a range of flavor profiles, while bringing into focus the Chef’s Latin heritage.

Sofrito Spiced Half Chicken was earthy and filling. Topped with fried onions and served with saffron rice pilaf, baby spinach, and drizzled with mojo infused aioli.

One taster’s Chargrilled Skirt Steak was perfectly cooked – i

t came with chorizo whipped potatoes, roasted plum tomato, caramelized onions and cilantro chimichurri She was quite taken with the addition of chorizo to the whipped potatoes. A simple pairing – almost instinctive – and brilliantly executed. Subtle touches like these define the bb’s experience.

Grilled Wahoo was topped with parmesan-peppercorn crust and served alongside a lighter than air sweet corn and shrimp fritter and haricots verte. Arugula-lemon pesto and white truffle aioli elevated the dish to something truly memorable.

Cellentani Pasta was perfectly cooked and sauced with a rustic pomodoro, studded with clams, spicy Italian sausage

, onions and zucchini, and finished with dollops of goat cheese.

One benefit to tasting size portions is that we got this far and still had room for dessert!

There is something for everyone in the dessert case at bb’s and sister restaurant Biscottis. There are ten to sixteen dessert selections on any given day, and the selection changes hourly.

Their desserts are widely considered to be some of the best in town. Desserts like these are an obligatory indulgence.

We enjoyed tasting portions of a few of the most popular selections. Dessert portions are ample, and sharing is encouraged.

Among the selections the night we visited:

White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake Cake

PeanutButter Mousse Cake

Cappucino Mousse Cake

The Classic Carrot Cake with cream cheese frosting was a team favorite. Incredibly moist, dense and flavorful.

bb’s Chocolate Truffle Cake is legendary – this taster recommends a jammy Cabernet to sip along with it.

It would be easy to overlook the Croissant Bread Pudding with all the fancy cakes and tortes beckoning from behind the gleaming dessert case, but do yourself a favor and try it next time you’re there. It is worth every calorie. Our tasters kept coming back to it, even after tasting just about every offering in the dessert case!

bb’s is consistently voted one of the top 25 best restaurants in Jacksonville by numerous local publications, and has received the wine spectator ‘award of excellence’ year after year.

They boast an award winning wine list with over 50 wines by the glass, many $7 and under,and a full bar – they make fab martinis and mojitos! They have catering and take-out menus as well. Also worth noting is bb’s Brunch menu – served Saturdays 11am – 2pm.

A big, warm Thank You to Barbara and Karin, the staff at bb’s, and especially Chef Carlos Ramirez.

bb’s truly is a groovy place to b!

BB's on Urbanspoon

1019 Hendricks Ave. Jacksonville, Fl
904.306.0100 bbsrestaurant.com

Hours: Monday – Thursday 11am – 10:30pm

Friday and Saturday 11am – midnight

Post photos courtesy of TasteCasting team members Jodi Kasten, Stacy Starling and Nancy White.


4th Annual Lemon Bar Luau

Have a "Hula-Vuh" Good Time for a Worthy Cause!

Saturday, September 26 - 4 to 7 pm at Lemon Bar

Seahorse Inn's outdoor bar between Atlantic Boulevard and Lemon Street in Neptune Beach.

Benefitting BEAM (Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry) and THE BRC (Beaches Resource Center)

"Best of the Beaches" hors d' oeuvres, live entertainment, cash bar, a silent auction and prize drawings.

Casual Attire - it's a Luau, folks!

Tickets are $30 in advance or $40 at the door (if not sold out), with a special $50 ticket package that includes one regular admission and one ticket for a teacher.

Major event sponsors include The Players Championship, Baptist Medical Center-Beaches and the St. Paul's Thrift Store, Scott and Becky Wiley, Eleven Atlantic, True Wealth.

For ticket information call at 241-7437, ext. 1, or visit BEAM's website.


Pepe's Hacienda Brings Mexico to You

By popular demand - we visited Pepe's Hacienda Y Restaurant
the spot widely reported to be Jacksonville's best (and most authentic) Mexican restaurant.

While we don't pretend to have eaten in every single Mexican restaurant in the county, we have sampled more than the average bear, so when a claim such as this one comes along, we had to check it out!

Lo and behold - what we found at Pepe's was all that AND a bag of churros!

Pepe's is not just a restaurant, mi amigos...
It's a fiesta. A bakery, a tienda (that's a market to us gringos), certainly a taqueria, an incidental community center. Pepe's is THE destination at Dupont Station.

The tienda at Pepe's has a great selection of a variety of peppers - fresh, dried whole and ground, plus plenty of h
erbs and produce that you won't find at the local supermarket. Prices are great - in the market as well as the restaurant.

Pepe's has a decent sized dining room, and its always bustling. A family friendly place, Pepe's serves straight-forward Mexican favorites like Tacos and Burritos, Tortas, Enchiladas and Chiles Rellenos.

My favorite are the Carnitas - tender chunks of shredded pork served on a steamed corn tortilla, garnished simply with white onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.

Barbacoa (beef head) has an assertive flavor, and Pastor (marinated pork) is sligh
tly tart and not too spicy.

The Chiles Relleno are whole poblano peppers, stuffed with ch
eese, breaded and fried, then served in a red sauce. The menu calls them spicy, but really they aren't. What they are is delicious. Eggy batter gives way to a soft, slightly sweet freshly roasted pepper, and the salty tang of melted cheese. I'll never make them with Anaheim peppers again after tasting these made from poblanos. Extra sauce is served on the side so your pepper isn't too mushy when it is served.

Everything we've tasted so far has been good. The service is friendly, the food is prepared quickly and the value is out of this world good.

Tacos are just $1.75 each, and they are brimming with filling. Three for $4.99 and an Agua Fresca (flavored waters are a specialty of the house) for $2 make for a plentiful meal at less than eight dollars. Add a Postre (dessert) like silken, creamy flan for $1.50 and you're still getting out the door for around ten dollars.

We get ours to go and shop in the market while we wait. Its a great place to stock up on the staples of Mexican cooking. Warning - the smells emanating from that takeout container are enough to cause you to pull over in the nearest parking lot and "sample" everything before you can make it home.

The place is always buzzing with activity - so if you are in the mood for really good, simple, authentic Mexican fare served with Latin flair, or if you're looking for something kicky to wear, hit the trail and head to Pepe's Hacienda! Make sure you come hungry, and bring a friend - Nancita comes to mind!

Pepe's Hacienda & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Pepe's Hacienda & Restaurant
(904) 636-8131
3615 Dupont Ave Ste 900
Jacksonville, FL 32217


Steaking Our Claim

Morton's - the Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Morton's The Steakhouse
generously hosted Jacksonville's first official TasteCasting event earlier this week. The result of weeks and months of behind the scenes planning and organization, the event was practically flawless - with the obvious exception that Jacksonville Team's co-leader Angela (@blogbrevity) was still winging her way back to town while we were in full-on prime beef overload.

We tasted their Bar Bites - an appetizer menu consisting of classic recipes downsized and featured in the bar during "Power Hour" - Happy Hour done right!

The official account of the evening is posted on the national TasteCa
sting blog. The fun, funky, fresh accounting of the evening took place on twitter, facebook and in several first coast blogs.

Having been part of the behind the scenes planning for this event and this team, I knew what to expect from the food / service / restaurant interaction point of view. What I hadn't taken into account was how seriously cool it would be bringing all these people together.

So I found myself out to dinner with fifteen people, many of whom I knew only from their profile pics. Watching them enjoy the evening and revel in one another's company was the icing on the cupcake.

I shared with everyone that one of my goals as a team organizer was to force myself to have social life. At some point in the evening I looked around and realized that goal was coming to fruition. It was nice to meet and tweet with so many like-minded individuals.

That was an aspect of this concept that I hadn't fully appreciate
d until that moment at Morton's when we were all hitting our stride, working, visiting, eating, tweeting and repeating, as TasteCasting founder Dan Harris says.

Writing can be so rewarding, but at the same time it is isolating. The virtual worlds of Twitter, facebook et al are no match for the real thing. And this time, the real thing involved beef. Lots and lots of beef. And crab. And I seem to recall some heavenly Key Lime Pie. And so many fascinating people.

Our TasteCasting
team has grown to 29 people already, and we've only experienced one official event so far.

Next week we'll meet Barbara
Bredehoeft, owner of Biscotti's and bb's. She's got a tasting planned for us at Biscottis and I know it will be wonderful.

Jacksonville has a vibrant food scene and I'm proud to be a part of it.

Thanks to everyone for coming out to taste, and to Mary Sue and Drew at Morton's for hosting and serving us, and to St John and Partners for recommending us to them.
Thanks also to photographer / fellow TasteCaster Bassel Jadaa for many of the pics in this post.


Eat Up Downtown!

Downtown Jacksonville
Aug 17 - 23

With seven days to dine and $25 three-course meals, Downtown Jacksonville is one delicious scene!
Check out that spot you've been meaning to try, or revisit an old favorite during the third annual Eat Up Downtown dining week. Participating restaurants – from hip caf├ęs to elegant steak houses – each offer specially selected, three-course dinner menus for $25 per person. There are no coupons to clip or tickets to buy, simply view the menus and make reservations at the restaurant of your choice.


Taco Tour Goes Back To School

Just a quick shout out to UNF students going back to school and looking for a quick bite between classes - Check out Salsarita's for seriously good tacos - fast, fresh and delicious. They were a refreshing stop on the Taqueria Tour last week when we were on campus for a meeting.

Pussers - Pouring in Ponte Vedra

A few weeks ago we
looking for someplace fun for lunch at the beach, and a thunderstorm was headed our way, so we steered back to Ponte Vedra and ventured into Pussers. That first visit got mixed reviews from us - the crabcakes were a scorched n the outside, sloppy on the inside mess - tasty but a mess nonetheless, the special corn chowder was pedestrian at best - it struck me as being straight off the Sysco truck. M's hotly anticipated mashed potatoes came out as a globe of "Sticky Rice" - a new item they were trying out - basically oversteamed rice rolled with pineapple and scooped into a ball with an icecream scoop. By the time they could rectify the mistake she had eaten her entree - which would have been stone cold if she hadn't. Here's the upside - the drinks were heavenly. Transformative. A little sip of Caribbean sunshine on a stormy day. The service was friendly and accommodating, and the atmosphere was relaxing, so we stayed and sipped a few more glasses of sunshine before taking our leave.

My next visit
was taco time. The fish tacos there have been talked up by a number of friends, so I was happy to add them to the Taqueria Tour experience. First up was the Lava Flow - a frozen coconut concoction with rum and a strawberry slide that created the aforementioned effect. The effect on me was calming and satisfying. Tacos arrived VERY quickly, and they looked pretty good. Two large portions of fresh (so they said) Mahi, nestled in lettuce leaves and tucked inside a tortilla, with melting cheese, salsa, guacamole and sour cream on the side. AND there was the sticky rice mess. Just odd, that one. I really wanted to like the fish tacos - they looked so good. One bite, though, and I could tell the fish was just not quite fresh. Not bad, just not good. You know that slightly tinny, mineral taste fish gets when its getting ready to turn? Well these tacos had that in spades. I took four or five bites, then just moved them around on the plate for awhile. I ate the cheese and the toppings without the fish, and called it a day.


More Tacos for You!

Fiesta Central at Jacksonville Beach!

TacoLu on Urbanspoon

Baja Style tacos are the thing at TacoLu in Jax Beach, and of those I'm partial to the spicy Chingona Chicken and melt-in-your mouth Beef Brisket. Homemade tortillas and spot-on seasonings make these little gems a thing of beauty. I've loved everything I've tried here EXCEPT - Bangin' Shrimp Tacos - might be somebody's thing but they were too sweet for me - almost like candied shrimp. I wish they had an alternate shrimp taco on the menu, but no big, they have so many others to choose from.

hey rock out some awesome specialty tacos, too. My personal favorite is Grilled Lamb with feta and mint - a handful of heaven on a homemade corn tortilla.

Another sure winner is the Taco Rosa - Seared Ahi Tuna with cucumber-avocado-tomato salsa. Vegetarians - they've got you covered too - with the Veggie and the Avocado tacos.

They've also got what they call a Stacked Enchilada - layered instead of rolled. I haven't tried it yet (so many tacos, so little time) but I saw it being served at a nearby table at my last visit - and it was a MONSTER! Can you say lunch AND dinner? Speaking of that - TacoLu recently added a brunch menu for the weekend. Anyone tried it yet? Report back, please! And yes, that is Corona in the can! Thankfully our bartender offered me a glass - I can only imagine that poor lime wedge floating around in the dark...

Atomic Flying Fish

Wow - what a great little place!
Atomic Flying Fish on Urbanspoon

People kept telling me about this new taco place on Atlantic Beach, but nobody could remember its name or what it was called. I found a couple of interesting new places while I was searching, but not the taco nirvana everyone and their aunt Fannie was now raving about.

Then last weekend I was house and pet sitting for some friends in Atlantic Beach, and while looking for a spoon for my yogurt I found a menu for this place called Atomic Flying Fish Seafood... Voila - there were those awesome tacos! Armed with the name, address and the Prius' GPS I finally found it - tucked in next to a convenience store across from Al's Pizza.

Owner Buckley is friendly and earnest, and the place is clean with beach-casual decor. He tells me he first opened as a seafood shop, but the tacos were so popular he ditched the retail fish operation and focused on developing the taco stand side of things. Fish tacos are especially good here.

Grilled Grouper and Mahi were both great.
The fish is fresh and well seasoned, perfectly prepared. Prices are a little higher than some spots, but you get a good portion, with lots of extras - red peppers were crisp and sweet, black beans and crema rounded out the Mahi special. I was anxious to get back to little Grommit the beagle, so I took mine to go and enjoyed them poolside. There is a small seating area though. If you go, tell Buckley that crazy chick from Nourish The Beast says hey. I'll be back, but probably not before I finish the 2009 Jacksonville Taqueria Tour!