Business is Hot at Simply Tasty Thai

Recently, my sister and I set out in search of a hot lunch, and found ourselves in Mayport at one of my favorite "hidden gem" type restaurants - Simply Tasty Thai.

I've only been here five or six times over the years, but it is, in my opinion, the best Thai restaurant I've found in the Jacksonville Metro area.

Don't get me wrong, I like Lemongrass, Tuptim, the Thai Room, Lime Leaf and all of those cookie-cutter spots, but this place, Simple Tasty Thai, is one of those little indy-style places that makes me happy-happy. Real people cooking real food.

Simply Tasty Thai offers both Thai and Filipino favorites, and I noticed on this visit that they have added a few Asian restaurant staples such as Gyoza and Crab Rangoon to the menu. We couldn't resist trying a few - including the Spring Rolls, which my sister proclaimed were the best she'd ever tasted.

The next addition will debut in a couple of weeks - they've torn out the wall to the space next door and are about to expand their seating capacity by over 150%. I assume it's to handle their bustling weekday lunch crowds, because I've never had a problem stopping by on the weekend and grabbing a table for a quick bite.

Here's hoping they are successful in this endeavor - and manage to grow without losing that indy charm that makes them unique and well worth the drive to Mayport.

If you know me, you know I love Thai food. Curry, Stir-fries, Noodle Dishes - my favorite depends on the time of year. Spring Rolls are a fave any time. When the weather gets nippy (which is rare for Florida) I crave steamy-hot green curry.

I find the sweet aroma of coconut milk and Thai basil, a comforting and colorful mix of stewed vegetables, and the heat from the pretty little Thai bird chilis can really chase away the chill.

I like mine with chicken or shrimp, but since I was planning to buy shrimp at Safe Harbor after lunch, I chose chicken. My sister nearly always goes for shrimp if it's on the menu, so she chose the Shrimp in Red Curry. She opted for hot-hot - and it was - with a pleasant balance of sweet, heat and savory tastes. The shrimp were plump and fresh.

We were happy to sit and savor, and catch up on each other's busy lives. From there it was on to Safe Harbor where we scooped up a few pounds of fresh, sweet Mayport shrimp for our dinner.

Congratulations and much luck to the owners of Simply Tasty Thai on the new expansion! We'll be back for more Thai and Filipino favorites.

Simply Tasty Thai on Urbanspoon

Simply Tasty Thai
(904) 372-26002292
Mayport Rd Suite 8

, FL 32233


On the Road to Shambala - 95 Cordova

"To put it rather bluntly, I am not the type who wants to go back to the land; I am the type who wants to go back to the hotel."     ~   Fran Lebowitz

As a young woman I was fortunate to find work that allowed me to travel on the OTM plan. I've enjoyed champagne and caviar in a chic Chicago landmark, dealt with hungry packs of corporate types in Vegas, and slept at some famous hotels in the city that doesn't sleep. For the most part, however, business travel is pretty generic stuff.

Nowadays, when I travel, I seek out the unique and unusual. NOT one for over-the-top Disney-style themed resorts or thronging hot-spots, I prefer a spot off the beaten path. Somewhere with style, unpretentious elegance, and charm. 

One such spot is just down the road from our home in Florida. We're fortunate to live close enough to St Augustine for frequent day-trips - lunch at one of our favorite spots, shopping, concerts at the Amphitheatre, plays at the Limelight, visits with friends. 

Many evenings there have included a late night stop at the Cobalt Lounge at the Casa Monica Hotel. Live music, cool drinks, and an ambiance that transports you to another place and time have kept the Cobalt Lounge on my short-list of recommended spots in St Augustine. 

Recently, I was invited to return to the Casa Monica for a dinner at their flagship restaurant, 95 Cordova. A complimentary overnight stay in one of the hotel's premium guestrooms made this an even sweeter deal. 

The Casa Monica is a restored 1888 landmark hotel, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. St Augustine's only AAA Four Diamond Hotel, its location in the heart of the city makes it a great spot for a getaway OR hideaway. 

If you want to melt into a comfortable bed in a posh, quiet room overlooking the town square, or drop your bags in your suite and launch out to explore the Ancient City, Casa Monica offers the best of St Augustine. 

The Casa Monica is a member of the The Kessler Collection  – a portfolio of uniquely themed hotels and resorts. My stay was thoroughly enjoyable. The room was handsomely appointed, the view impressive, and the bed heavenly. 

What really set the experience apart, however, was the people. From the front door to the front desk, the valet parking attendant, the chef and restaurant staff, everyone made me feel like an honored guest. 

Dinner was served banquet style in the private dining room, with several fellow bloggers and members of the media joined by the food and beverage and catering managers. We were treated to several courses, some of which are available on the regular menu, some were created for the occasion by Executive Chef Harlan Walden and Executive Sous Chef Tim Haire. The starter was the hotel's signature appetizer - Kessler Calamari. Moroccan flavors make this unique preparation a standout. Topped with Asiago, fresh cilantro, tomatoes, olives and a Moroccan aioli, this dish was my favorite of the evening. Apparently every Kessler Hotel has this on the menu, so if there's one near you, go check it out for yourself. When I return to the Cobalt Lounge, it's what I'll be ordering.

The Seared Duck Breast with blackberry compote and crispy Yukon gold potato hash was topped with  tender baby corn shoots, which everyone seemed to be charmed by. They were an artful addition to the composition of the plate. 

I adore rare duckbreast, but my dish was a tad undercooked - a hazard of banquet service. The fat hadn't rendered out, and the  flesh was a little too chewy. The potato hash was delightful though, and the berry compote was a lush accompaniment. 

A pineapple cucumber salad was garnished with baby cilantro and paired perfectly with a Napa Sauvignon Blanc. 

The sweet / salt flavor profile was pleasant and the cool, crisp cucumber complimented the lush, sweet pineapple nicely.

Another sweet / salty dish, an Intermezzo of  watermelon granita followed. 

Coriander crusted Sea Scallops came to the table resting on a bed of whipped black beans and roasted corn salsa. 

The scallops were plump and the black bean puree was flavorful, but I wasn't completely won over by the dish. 

I felt the fragrant coriander crust overwhelmed the scallops, and was a little heavy on the salt, but I give points for originality. 

Our final protein course was a tender Braised Pork Osso Bucco accompanied by truffled sweet mashed potatoes, roast brussels sprouts and parsnips. The enormous pork shank was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the glaze seemed to have some Asian five-spice notes. The perfect truffled mashed sweet potatoes were the essence of autumn. 

The brussels sprouts on my plate, however, and the accompanying parsnips, were disappointingly under-cooked. I love brussels sprouts, but when I popped half one into my mouth  I found it was practically raw, and tasted heavily of sterno. 

I sliced into the parsnip next, and it was almost too crunchy to bite into. I got the impression that the vegetables were being considered more photo-props than sides. 

The dish looked lovely, and I assume that under different circumstances, during a regular dinner service without our foodie-paparazzi act to consider, this would be a stellar dish.  

Dessert was a chefs creation of Earl Grey Panna Cotta, served with macaron and fresh berries. This was a winner - and I am fairly sure I lapped up every bite, despite being quite full from the previous courses. 

The view from my room!
The evening was made even more special by our gracious hosts, who gave us a reception and tour of the hotel in addition to this splendid dinner and accommodations. While some of our crowd moved on to enjoy the nightlife in St Augustine, I made a beeline to my room, and dove into the incredibly comfortable bed for a restful night's sleep. Late checkout in the morning meant time to enjoy a cup or two of Starbucks coffee in my room, then a short drive up A1A and I was home in time for lunch. Thanks again to the staff at Casa Monica, and 95 Cordova, for a most enjoyable escape. 

95 Cordova on Urbanspoon

95 Cordova

95 Cordova St
St AugustineFL 32084

I will always disclose when I have received free food or swag, but I will not allow said gift to color my opinion or reporting of the food and experience. I attempt to share in plain terms what I do and don't like, and if I like it, I will urge you to try a place for yourself and form your own opinions. I'm not a trained chef or expert in any food related field, I just appreciate the social and cultural aspects of good food and dining experiences, and I enjoy sharing them with you through my blog. Thanks for reading! 


III Forks Bar Bites Menu Returns

Once in a great while I'll sit down to a big plated restaurant meal, but my preference is to pick a couple of items from the appetizer menu, or head to a Tapas style place where everything is meant to be shared and savored over drinks and conversation. So when I heard that swellegant III Forks in Tapestry Park was re-launching their Bar Bites menu, I was a happy camper. An invite to sample (for freebies) said menu - that had me singing hallelujah!  Along with several like-minded friends, my mission was to taste every last item. Tough work, but I was up to the task!

Blue Cheese Taro (and Beet) Chips - CRAVEABLE at $6.95
What follows is my personal opinion. You should check out the menu for yourself and definitely get over there soon!

I like the social aspect of sharing food, and I guess it helps that I'm not a total germaphobe. I don't care for the double dip, however, so I'm inclined to say get your OWN BOWL of  Blue Cheese Taro Chips. You're gonna want to sop up every bite of that creamy Point Reyes Blue Cheese sauce, but share it, and you'll have room for some other stuff too. Or take them home for a midnight snack. There was a lot of coveting happening over these babies.
Duck & Waffles! - You heard me.
Don't even THINK about touching my plate.
Somewhere along the culinary trend highway, Chicken and Waffles became a thing, and as odd as that sounds, people tell me it's a killer combo. Wasn't it inevitable, then, that some clever chef would find a way to take this upscale and make it their own creation?

I guess that's what happened here, because III Forks executive chef Dylan Hauge served us this plate of Duck & Waffles - napped with creme fraiche, and studded with pistachios and port wine cherries.And let's don't forget the micro-greens. Pretty!

I went for seconds on the Duck and Waffles.. Want more now.
 Seriously, this had the sweet crunch of the gaufrette and pistachio, the rich savory note of the duck, tangy creme fraiche, and the tart, soft port wine cherries. It was, I felt, the most perfectly composed dish of the evening. I counted five to a plate - and you could nosh each one down in two or three bites. Perfect snack / light meal. I THINK they are $12.95 but the online menu says $7.95. Bargain at either price. Pair this with a classic Pinot Noir.

You may be thinking this menu is all dainty bites and trendy ingredients like taro chips and duck waffles, but you'd be wrong.

VERY worth noting are two full sized and straight-forward sandwiches - both the Prime Burger and the French Dip were very satisfying dishes - served with a side of fries, Manly-man style.

Delicate and flavorful - French Dip Sandwich - $14.95
I preferred the French Dip - soft shavings of Prime Rib with balsamic glazed caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, and creamy horseradish sauce. The bakery-style roll was delicious too, not to huge - good flavor, with just the right amount of chew and a lightly crisped crust. Say THAT three times fast while slugging down a glass of your favorite Cabernet!

The burger was good too - a mountain of food. If you want beef but a lighter portion, try the III Forks Sliders - two for $8.95.

Big Honkin' USDA Prime Burger - $15.95

In addition to these items, there is a Wedge Salad Wrap which I thought was a little clunky, but then I don't usually eat salad with my bare hands.

 An Artisinal Cheese Plate looked great and featured local / regional cheeses, which I very much appreciate.

Ahi Tuna was blackened, sauced maybe a bit heavily, and served over what was billed as an Asian Slaw, but looked a lot like roughly shredded lettuce. While it was impeccable quality tuna, the preparation seemed a bit basic, as if it was just tossed in there to represent the denizens of the deep.

Ahi Tuna - $14.95
Steak Tartare ($19.95) was predictably good tenderloin tossed in a mustard aioli, served on a himalayan salt plate... which is uber-trendy but then here goes my whole "Oh, I'm not really a germaphobe" argument out the window. I would have been fine had someone not asked the question - the answer to which was that they just scrub / wash these plates off after each serving and reuse them.

I know, I know, they have natural anti-microbial qualities, they're the craze of chefs everywhere, but I am skeeved by a plate you can't boil the bejeebus out of with good old soap and hot water. I guess I like my salt in and / or on top of the food, not seeping up under it. Call me old-school that way. On the other hand, plop it on a clean white plate and I'll gladly eat raw beef, so go figure. Rant over.

Desserts got eaten - despite the sheer volume of
food we had been served up to this point!
We were served a tasting sized trio of the house desserts - which aren't on the Bar Bites menu but I'm sure if you asked you could get them. They were all sooo rich and decadent. I'm not a mega-fan of bread pudding, so I gave it a couple tentative bites, but the chocolate ganache cake was devoured, likewise the creme brulee. Momma mia!

I just want to reiterate - this was a complimentary tasting of items on the Bar Bites menu, and we were treated to stellar service from the staff, and received generous attention from General Manager Pete Nebrich, Executive Chef Dylan Hauge, Sous Chef Andrea Williams, Special Events Manager Kelley McGlynn, and III Forks charming and knowledgeable Sommelier and Assistant General Manager Jeremy Vass. Big, big thanks go out to the whole crew at III Forks for making us feel like special guests.

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon

III Forks Steakhouse

(904) 928-9277
9822 Tapestry Park Circle,
Ste 111
JacksonvilleFL 32246


I will always disclose when I have received free food or swag, but I will not allow said gift to color my opinion or reporting of the food and experience. I attempt to share in plain terms what I do and don't like, and if I like it, I will urge you to try a place for yourself and form your own opinions. I'm not a trained chef or expert in any food related field, I just appreciate the social and cultural aspects of good food and dining experiences, and I enjoy sharing them with you through my blog. Thanks for reading!


Cantina Laredo - Service With Style

A friend and I were recently invited to dine at Cantina Laredo in the St Johns Town Center. I had been a few times before, but not recently. On this occasion we were guests of the General Manager, and we were treated to a feast for the senses. I'll share a few of the highlights of this visit with you - and I hope you'll plan to see for yourself how they do the things they do! 

Happily, I was first to arrive, and since there was a space at the bar, it seemed like a great plan to start our culinary adventure there. Margaritas are an art form at Cantina Laredo. I began with a signature drink - The Casa Rita - a premier blend of Giro Silver Tequila, Cointreau  and fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juices, which rolled up in a giant glass for just $8.00. Heavenly.

If you're not a fan of the Margarita, try one of their mojitos, or sip some wine - they have a lovely selection by the glass or bottle. Slip into a top shelf Tequila, or go for one of their Mexican beers.

While I'm on about the drinks - a warning - this bar usually gets crowded with patrons waiting for their seats, so if you like the chips, dips, and 'Ritas scene, come early and camp out. When my friend arrived we were seated immediately and treated to a lovely meal, but I will confess up front, next time, my visit will begin and end at the bar. That's just how I roll.

Bring on the Queso Laredo, baby! Warm and cheesy, garnished with taco meat and pico de gallo - $9.29.

A freshmade salsa duet comes standard with the Chips and Dip - one warm, one cold. Warning - there is actual FLAVOR in these! So much so that we scarfed down something like three bowls of chips before the night was through. Definitely a hit.

This brings me to another point about Cantina Laredo. They seem to have figured out that we dine with ALL our senses. Taste has to be spot on, sure, but there's a lot more going on here than how something tastes.

The texture of their Top Shelf Guacamole can be experienced only after you watch your server transform fresh avocado, onion, tomato and lime - at tableside - into this luscious, creamy, chunky dip. They say it serves two or four for $9.99. Don't worry, if you can't finish it, take the rest home and mix it into some scrambled eggs the next morning. Heaven!

While we were perusing the menu deciding on our main course, a sizzling, steaming plate passed our cozy booth and was served to the folks next to us. The scent of warm butter, cinnamon, and apples filled my senses and - for just a moment - transported me back in time to my great grandma's house in Missouri - hanging out with her in the warm kitchen, waiting for the pies to bake and cool. That fiesta for the senses was their MEXICAN APPLE PIE - Sizzled in Mexican Brandy Butter and topped with your choice of cinnamon or vanilla ice cream - $6.79 - a small price to be transported into a happy place!

I soon snapped back and selected my main course. Wanting to sample it all - I chose the CANTINA LAREDO PLATTER - Oaxaca cheese chile relleno, tamale, chicken enchilada, fajita beef taco al carbon  - $17.79. While it was festive to look at, and some of the pieces were tasty, I was a little dissapointed in my selection. It's not that the platter was bad, it was just a bit bland, and seemed to have been assembled on the plate, each item perfectly rolled and decoratively sauced. And at the end of the day, that's a lot of tortilla, cornmeal, stuffed with little bits of beef and chicken.

Instead, I recommend one of the grilled meat selections - they have an awesome sounding CASCABEL RIBEYE *16 oz. Certified Angus Beef cowboy cut bone-in ribeye aged 21 days then basted with Cascabel marinade for $25.99. or the PESCADO del Dia - grilled fish of the day (market price). They have some nice-sounding chicken and shrimp options too. Word up - leave the stuffed, rolled and folded items to any of the awesome taquerias in town. They do it better and cheaper. Still, if enchiladas or tacos are your thing, they've got quite a selection.

My dining partner ordered the evening's special,  a variation on the CARNE ASADA - Grilled steak with marinated onions and chimichurri sauce, tomato, peppers, and was pleased with her choice. She ate half and took the rest home for a perfect midnight snack or accompaniment to eggs in the morning.

About now we needed some liquid refreshment, and the establishment brought us a couple of their faves. The MILAGRO BLACKBERRY SMASH- Milagro Silver, lime and mint, muddled with blackberries and agave nectar - $11.75 was a smash hit with me. Again, transported. Blackberries send me back to a time in my youth when we were frequent visitors to Knott's Berry Farm. Only this time, my favorite berry soda had some real kick to it!

Then there was this concoction - a Margarita with a corona sidecar - what the??? LOL. We had a few sips, but we were puzzled by why anyone would want to mix beer and Margarita. My friend, who has been traveling extensively in Texas lately, tells me these are quite the hit there. Her take on it is that it's an attempt to get men to order Margaritas without feeling less macho. She may be on to something, but the baby-bottle of beer would seem to negate the effect. I think Corona was trying to horn in on Margarita sales, and invented this crazy beer-holder-ring, and the rest was history. This drink cannot fade into history soon enough for me. Sorry. I like my corona ice cold with lime wedge, not diluted in my Margarita. Still, something interesting to look at - and it turned heads entering the room.

With the memory of that steaming, sweet apple pie still fresh in my mind, we moved on to the Postres. Since we were stuffed to the gills already with chips, salsa, dips, main course and drinks, we decided to share one MEXICAN BROWNIE - served with pecans and walnuts on a sizzling skillet with Mexican Brandy Butter and vanilla (or you can choose cinnamon) ice cream - $6.99. Smells like the best ever brownies baking.

Our hosts insisted we try one of their signature coffee drinks - also made tableside - the name and particulars I have forgotten, but the spectacle of them making it was something else - they pull up a tray FULL of liquors, coffee and toppings, and they do all but whip the cream at your table. Liquors are poured, then set aflame, with cinnamon tossed in to send blue sparks flying through the air while the server whirls the glass around for all to see. It was like enjoying our own private fireworks at the end of the meal! Seriously, if you like to be the center of attention a little bit when you go out, ask for that Mexican Coffee concoction they make at the table. It was so good, too. Drank every drop.

Wow - looking back on it - that was a lot of food and drink for two people! MUCHAS GRACIAS to our hosts for a lovely evening - great service - good food - and all the little touches that set Cantina Laredo apart from the crowd.

Try it for yourselves - if you've been for dinner already, maybe hit up their Sunday Brunch next time, or go for drinks and dips, or go all in Texas Hold'em style! Take los niños along - they've got a special menu complete with activities for keeping little ones busy between courses.

AND - if you go today (Sept 2, 2012) or tomorrow (Sept 3, 2012) you can shave three bucks off that Casa Rita with this coupon! Ole!

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon
Cantina Laredo
10282 Bistro Drive  JacksonvilleFL 32246
(904) 997-6110


I will always disclose when I have received free food or swag, but I will not allow said gift to color my opinion or reporting of the food and experience. I attempt to share in plain terms what I do and don't like, and if I like it, I will urge you to try a place for yourself and form your own opinions. I'm not a trained chef or expert in any food related field, I just appreciate the social and cultural aspects of good food and dining experiences, and I enjoy sharing them with you through my blog. Thanks for reading!


Celebrations - Julia Child's 100th

Local fave Bistro AIX is one of 100 restaurants across the country who were invited to participate in Julia Child Restaurant Week - celebration of the cultural icon and culinary legend's 100th Birthday on August 15th.

From August 7th – 15th, Bistro AIX will feature a special menu with dishes inspired by 100 of Julia’s most cherished recipes, handpicked from a list of 3,417 by a jury of culinary luminaries such as her longtime editor and close friend, Judith Jones, Jacques Pepin, Thomas Keller, Ruth Reichl and Danny Meyer.  Coincidentally, the JC100 menu coincides with Bistro AIX’s 13-year anniversary. 

“When selecting the menu, the sous chefs and I first looked to those that were appealing to our own tastes,” explained Tom Gray, Executive Chef / Operating Partner of Bistro AIX.  “Secondly, and as importantly, we chose items where the majority of ingredients could be sourced locally and sustainably, just as we do for our regular seasonal menus.” 

Bistro AIX’s Julia Child Restaurant Week menu includes her favorite cocktail, the Upside-Down Martini, made with vermouth and a splash of gin ($9); two starters: Chicken Liver Pâté - Ashley Farms chicken liver pâté with cornichons, coarse mustard and toast ($11), and Vichyssoise - cold potato and leek soup ($9); two entrées: Supremes de Volaille Archiduc - Ashley Farms roasted chicken with house-made noodles, pearl onions, Black Hog Farm spinach and paprika-cream sauce ($23), and Bouillabaisse with Maine lobster, oak-fired fish, shrimp, and Blue Hill Bay mussels served over French bread ($34); and two desserts:  Charlotte Malakoff au Chocolat with ladyfingers, almond cream and chocolate ($8), and Crème Brûlée ($8).

Bon Appetit!


GAS - Family Friendly Fuel

A trip to Mayport yields a home-made seafood feast.
"Blessed are we to live by the sea." ~ anon. 

We are doubly blessed this summer as we host visiting family members between their days at the beach and trips to Orlando's theme parks. My niece and her brood of four are visiting us in Ponte Vedra for two weeks, which gives us plenty of time to catch up on all that has been happening in their lives, and to witness how the next generation of our family are growing into fine young girls and boys. 

We've been taking day trips to parks, museums, the zoo and historic St Augustine. During day excursions we've found time to duck into some restaurants that offer kid-friendly options - with no evil clowns, pizza slinging mice, or demonic koalas in the mix. At dinner,  family favorites - classic and splurge versions - have graced our home table.

She's not sure where to begin. GAS, St Augustine, FL
Admittedly, I'm outside my field of expertise when it comes to rating kid-friendly spots, but after this week I have some casual observations to share with any of you who may one day find yourself - as I did - childless in a sea of children.

My first rule for a kid-friendly restaurant - or any restaurant, really - is no sticky surfaces. PLEASE let it be clean and bright, preferably with natural light.

Quiet is too much to expect, as you'll be bringing your own noisemakers to the party. Decibel levels should be such that you can hear adult conversation over the din of happy chatter from the kids.

Easy-Squeezy Grilled Cheesy  - GAS, St Augustine, FL
The adult menu should offer more selections than the kids' menu. I used to wonder why kids menus often have no more than four selections. Now that I have seen the decision making process first hand, I get it. Do you want chicken, hamburger, hot dog or grilled cheese? Decide while you're still young. You're only going to eat four bites of it anyway, the last two of which will only be ingested under threat of you being dismembered and bludgeoned with the offending limb.

Also - it helps if the adult selections somewhat mirror the kids. No need to be jealous of your nephew's grilled cheese sandwich when you can enjoy a grown-up one of your very own.

Grown-up sized burger plate - GAS, St Augustine, FL. 
GAS "Full Service Restaurant" in St Augustine, FL does the grown-up grilled cheese one better, putting it in artisan bread and giving diners a plethora of cheeses to select from to create their own signature blend. Add-in options include applewood smoked bacon and fresh-sliced locally grown tomatoes. Its playful name increases the grown-up kid indulgence factor.

Portion sizes are a tricky one. Kids come in all sizes, and so do their appetites. Make it too small, the grownups will grumble at paying $4 or more for it. Too large, the child will not know where to begin, and instead be rendered helpless worrying that they won't be able to finish, or even take a bite out of the gargantuan sandwich looming on their plate. Pizza seems to be the exception to this rule. One mahoja-big slice and a soda makes a great lunch.

Grilled chicken - a fresh alternative
to breaded, fried chicken "fingers"
Service should be tableside and infinitely patient. Here's one situation where a perky server is a plus. Waiting on kids and their tired, frustrated adult dining companions is an under-appreciated skill. A restaurant that makes all feel welcome and special is one you'll return to and recommend to similarly situated friends. GAS made us happy to have some time together, and gave us just enough attention and space to make it memorable.

It should be noted, GAS doesn't exactly bill itself as a kid-friendly place. It seems more like a cool neighborhood hang, where some of the cool neighbors just happen to be younger than the rest. Add to that the novelty of the setting - an old reclaimed gas station. Shout out to friend and GS sister Nicole for suggesting we should fill up at GAS.

I usually skip dessert in St Augustine, in favor of a side-trip to The Hyppo for gourmet paletas, or Kilwin's for a scoop of ice cream. GAS serves some seriously great-sounding dessert, though, so I'll be back to sample one (or two) another time.

What's on your checklist for picking family friendly spots?

GAS Full Service Restaurant on Urbanspoon
GAS - A Full Service Restaurant 
9 Anastasia Blvd
St Augustine, FL 32080


Foodfight Ticket Giveaway

OK Jax area peeps - Here's one way to help end hunger locally and have a great night out as well.

Up for grabs are two regular admission tickets to the 22nd Annual Jacksonville Foodfight - Thursday June 7 from 6:30 - 9 pm at the Touchdown Club East at Everbank Field. Face value is$60 each ($70 if you purchase at the door). 

All you need to do to enter is leave a comment telling us your favorite local restaurant dish.  No worries if you can't pick just one fave - tell us your top three to five!

 One randomly selected entry will get both tickets. One entry per person, but if you link to this post in a tweet with the hashtag #nourishthebeast you'll automatically get a second chance entry.

By the way - good luck figuring out what your favorite dishes are - I'm still thinking about mine. 

Contest ends Monday at 8 pm. The winner will be announced Tuesday. 

AND if you don't win the tix - there's still time to get to Foodfight - it's for a good cause - The event has raised more than $1 million to help fight hunger in Jacksonville over the last 20 years and hopes to raise at least $100,000 in 2012 - with all proceeds benefiting Second Harvest North Florida.



Chef Brian brings it at FoodFight
The biggest foodie party in town takes place Thursday, June 7, 2012 from 6:30-9 pm at the EverBank Field Touchdown Club East. 

The 22nd Annual Jacksonville FOODFIGHT  brings together more than 60 of the First Coast's finest restaurants, caterers and beverage wholesalers for a friendly competition. 

How best to sum it up? Think: eat, drink, repeat - it's a two story food and drink fest, friends. Jacksonville's top culinary talents will be on hand with samples of their wares.

Jacksonville's FOODFIGHT has raised more than $1 million to help fight hunger in Jacksonville over the last 20 years - and hopes to raise at least $100,000 in 2012 - with all proceeds benefiting Second Harvest North Florida.

General Admission tickets are $60 - 

VIP tickets are $100 and include access 
to the Jaguar Suite level and exclusive food offerings

Raffle tickets to win a Yamaha V Star 950 or $5,000 cash are $100

For every $1 donated to Second Harvest, it can generate seven meals for families in need. If you can't attend - consider making a donation - any amount would be appreciated. To learn more about the issue of hunger and Second Harvest North Florida, visit WeNourishHope.org. 


Saturday Afternoon Chicken and Green Chile

I used to make these delicious southwestern style chicken roll thingies - pounded chicken breast filled with cornbread stuffing (Stovetop brand, probably), cheese and green chiles, rolled and baked in a casserole with chicken stock, more chiles and cheese. They were pretty darn tasty, even though I don't usually care for cornbread.

Now that I'm trying to lighten up a little - or a lot - I decided to re-engineer this comfort classic to keep all the flavor (and more)  but ditch some of the fat and carbs. Basically I replaced the stuffing with sauteed vegetables, cut back on the cheese and made a couple of other deletions and substitutions. Since a couple of friends have asked for the recipe I'm sharing it here.

FIRST let me say - you can make any substitutes / additions / omissions you want, just don't over-salt the filling and don't overcook the chicken and this thing is going to taste great. I prefer organic, locally grown produce, and I hope you do too. If you're in the Jacksonville, Florida metro area, a good source is The Veggie Bin. Anything I need that isn't in my bin on Thursday, I can usually pick up at the Beaches Green Market on Saturday afternoon.

Chicken With Green Chile 

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (or use thighs for even more flavor)
2. tsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)*
2 small zucchini
1 small sweet pepper - seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper - seeded and chopped
1 small sweet onion - peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
4-5 shiitake mushrooms (stems discarded) chopped
1 small can chopped green chilis - hot, med, mild, your call.
1/2C homemade chicken stock (or organic low sodium canned)
2 cups reduced fat cheese, shredded (I used Mexican blend pre-shredded in the bag)
1 large jar salsa verde (look for one with noticeable tomatillo, onions and chiles - it should be somewhat watery, not artificially thickened.) If you have time to make your own that's preferable - here's a great recipe.
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c freshly toasted whole grain breadcrumbs (optional)
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro
lime wedges

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare the chicken breasts by butterflying and pounding them out flat. Cut each breast half into two somewhat even pieces. Each piece should be large enough to hold 2-3T of stuffing and be folded over (like a taco). Season with salt and pepper, then saute flat chicken breast portions in heated EVOO until just lightly browned. (don't worry if they aren't cooked through - they will finish in the oven.) *If you want to avoid even more fat you can skip the saute altogether - just prep, season and fill the raw chicken.) Set the chicken aside while you prepare the filling.

Deglaze the pan with chicken stock. Add the fresh chopped vegetables, garlic and mushrooms, and stir on low-med heat until slightly softened. (Again, this will cook more in the oven, so try not to reduce it to mush here.) Remove from heat. Once it has cooled somewhat, mix in one cup of shredded cheese. The seasoning may be a little bland at this point, but you're going to add cheese and salsa, so adjust salt and pepper to taste, but be careful not to over-season it.

Pour 3/4 of the salsa into the bottom of a rectangular glass baking dish large enough to hold all the chicken pieces without crowding them. Working in the baking dish, lay out one piece of chicken, top it with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable mix, then fold it over (like a taco). Repeat with all the chicken pieces - keeping them a few inches apart in the dish if possible. Dont worry if the chicken won't stay folded. It's all good. If you have extra veggie mix you can stuff it in the folded chicken pieces or scatter it in the dish. Top chicken  pieces with a drizzle of the remaining salsa and a mound of the remaining cheese. Scatter breadcrumbs lightly over all and bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes - or until chicken is cooked through and toppings are toasty golden brown. Let it cool for 10 minutes before removing from the dish. Serve one or two pieces of chicken and the surrounding sauce (which is now full of cheesy veggie goodness, charlie) and a wedge of lime. For a more elegant (and easier to eat) presentation you can slice the chicken on the diagonal and serve the slices over the sauce. The chicken should be fork tender and still juicy.

Whew. It took longer to write this than it did to assemble the dish, I promise you!



Dinner Of Champions - These Guys Are Good!

Guess who just got back from a sweet gig on a guest judge panel for a chefs’ competition at TPC Sawgrass right here in Ponte Vedra? Your friendly local food bloggess, that's who!
I shared the honors with Jacksonville Magazine's Editor-in-Chief Joe White (no relation to Dan the man), Account Exec and Event Planner extraordinaire Carol Kinsey, also with Jacksonville Magazine, and Corporate Food and Bev Director for the PGA Tour, Bill DeGrafft. About 40 club members sampled and voted along with us.

Corn Crusted Halibut
Our host was TPC Sawgrass Executive Chef Hector Gonzalez. A preliminary contest among his talented team narrowed the field to three finalists. Sous Chef William Murphy, Chef Tournant Michael Tucker and Executive Sous Chef Cameron Walton battled it out in the club's Champions room for the chance to represent TPC Sawgrass as a member of Team Beaches at Great Chefs of Jacksonville II. 

Tonight's winner was Chef Murphy - whose tasty (and gluten-free) Corn Crusted Halibut, served with Roasted Tomatoes, Brussels Sprouts, and Cauliflower Puree edged out the competition - giving him something to crow about when he shows up for work tomorrow. 

Crepinette of Duck with Apples and Sweet Potatoes
While the fish dish was great, no doubt, I was also quite taken with Chef Walton's Crepinette of Duck with Apples and Sweet Potatoes. The Crepinette used the duck breast, leg and liver, and was an excellent showing of classic technique, but what really transported me on this dish was the accompanying gratin of sweet potato and apples. Think haute cuisine meets comfort food. Bonus - we walked away with recipes for all these dishes! This gratin is one I will make for sure. It MIGHT even edge out the ubiquitous sweet potato casserole at my next Winter holiday gathering.

Cinnamon Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast
Chef Tucker threw us a tasty curve ball with his Maple Glazed Cinnamon Pumpkin Stuffed French Toast served with Amaretto Pecan Ice Cream and rum laced Vermont Coffee. Decadent for dessert or breakfast, it was warm, oozy, cinnamon-sweet and oh, so good to eat.

Great Chefs of Jacksonville II takes place at TPC  Sawgrass on Thursday, April 5. Tickets are $175 per person (and must be purchased in pairs).

A very few tickets remain to be sold, so if someone out there wants to share the love with their favorite Ponte Vedra food blogger, you’d better get crackin’ on those reservations!

Event proceeds benefit one of my favorite non-profit causes - Second Harvest.  My sources me they are planning some super foodie-themed silent auction items that night, so if anyone is going and hasn’t quite picked out my birthday present for September, you’re in luck there too!

Congrats to Chef Murphy, who joins Ted Peters from Azurea, David Medure from Restaurant Medure and Danny Groshell from Ocean 60 on Team Beaches.

Team City boasts Tom Gray from Bistro Aix, Matthew Medure from Matthew’s, Dennis Chan from Blue Bamboo and Scott Ostrander from ‘Town – and they’re looking for a win after last year’s victory by the bad boys from Team Beaches!   

Thanks to Jacksonville Magazine, Chef Gonzalez, and the crew at TPC Sawgrass for a fun evening of friendly competition and great food. I’ll definitely be back soon to check out Happy Hour at Nineteen!


Renegade Resto / Legit Legends

I must admit - I'm intrigued. I purchased my ticket for The Legend Series almost two weeks ago, and tonight is the night! I've been anticipating great things since Cari Sanchez-Potter and the gang first described their concept of "a series of 'renegade' dinner events - that will include some of the Southeast’s best chefs as well as local artists, musicians and artisans."  The list of participating chefs is enough to set off Niagara Falls in your mouth. I have visions of great food and art and music weaving together to create a memorable evening. I got my email this morning revealing the uber-secret location of tonight's feast, and I'm pretty sure I should be able to sneak out a few tweets during the evening - so look for posts via Instagram, pushed to Twitter with the hashtag #Legendseriesjax - If you don't hear from me again for awhile, it could be that I dove headfirst into a vat of bouillabaisse. There are worse ways to go.


Ring In The New

"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. Virginia Woolf

A new year has dawned. After well upwards of fifty of these I confess I'm somewhat jaded by the whole fireworks and champagne popping, Dick Clark and Lady Gaga ball-dropping business. I approach New Year's Eve as a time for personal reflection and appreciation for all the good things the passing year brought. This year was no exception. I marked midnight with friends from around the world on Instagram and Twitter, followed up with a few "likes" and comments on Facebook, all while snug in my comfortable bed. 

This time last year, I was in Ohio visiting friends and family. New Year's Day dinner with BFF Kiki was a spectacular Thai feast from Bangkok City in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. Chef-owners Danny and Molly Armonyard are so welcoming and genuinely friendly, a visit to their place has become a must-do on every Ohio road-trip. 

I have fond memories of fishing at Buckeye Lake with grandma and grandpa, my sisters, mom and dad. We'd pack the trunk and make a day of it. What little patience I now possess I learned from my grandpa Lowe - sitting on the banks of Buckeye lake, learning to catch fish. To this day, I carry a fishing pole in the trunk of my car. I haven't been fishing in years. That's not why it's there. 

A lovely jaunt to Savannah in February brought friends and family (in this case Kristeena's family) closer together. The V-Jewels painted the town pink that weekend - and we're making plans to do it again in 2012, with a few new friends sprinkled in for more flavor. Forming close bonds with old friends and meeting (virtually and IRL) so many new friends as a result of social media - these are my most pleasant memories of 2011. 

The scent wafting out from the Choucroute Royale that will feature in tonight's New Year's "Good Luck Food" dinner at our new casa reminds me of a more sophisticated version of pork belly, field peas and greens I ate at the Augustine Grille at the Sawgrass Marriott in my adopted hometown of Ponte Vedra, Florida.  I was invited there last year, along with my friend Jodi from EatJax, for a Bite Club event  where we had the pleasure of meeting and dining with Scott and Denise Francis from Twinn Bridges Farm, and other local purveyors who toil so that we can still enjoy real food with little or no chemical adulteration. I still run into Scott and Denise at the Beaches Green Market on Saturdays when I make it out there. The pork belly dish took me back to countless walks to the butcher shop with my grandma Lowe, shopping for cuts of meat few people in the Lady Gaga generation have even heard of. Fatback, salt pork, chicken gizzards and livers - my grandma made use of all of them, and my mom has faithfully adhered to her methods through the years (although I can't recall the last time she purchased a chunk of salt pork).  

Several "meet the farmer" style events made 2011 a banner year for Slow Food on the First Coast.  There was also a spectacular "Meet the Winemaker" event at Salt - the flagship restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, where I met and dined with Jed Steele of Steele Wines

The fish course at that meal had a savory lemon zabaione creme that had me wishing it was kosher to lick one's plate in polite society. I'm pretty sure I stabbed the waiter with a fork when he attempted to clear it before I could lap up the last of it. 

A special shout out is in order to Cari Sanchez-Potter of Cari-Vicarious - for all she's doing to nurture the local Slow Food movement. Expect great things from this one. Check out her recent mouthwatering culinary adventures in Spain on her blog.

We had a conversation about pork belly last night, mom and I. She didn't see the point of it. I don't see how it differs much from the aforementioned fat back, except that it comes from a different spot on the pig, so it gets less, um,  exercise during the pig's lifetime, which contributes to its melt-in-your-mouth tenderness - when properly cooked. 

I sense our friend Amie from The Veggie Bin cringing in disgust upon reading that. She's a recently reformed vegetarian, and still a little squeamish about our food-centric view of pigs, cows, delectable sea creatures and such. But we love her because she brings us all those fabulous boxes of veggies from our farming friends. 

Which brings me to my New Year's Resolutions. I only made two this year. One I carry over from year to year, and it is a reflection of where I've been and what I've done in my life. 

Enjoy Life - This is NOT a Dress Rehearsal.

The other is indicative of the dire shape my body is in due to all this excessive consumption, and it will be my philosophy for 2012: 

All Things - In Moderation. 

"I think it's time for you to start to seriously
consider salads."  ~ Tony Soprano
I plan to eat more fruits and veggies, incorporate more raw foods in my diet, and consume less fried things. Larger variety, smaller portions. STAY HYDRATED. That's a big one for me. 

I want to live a healthier life, but I don't see myself going on some dramatic food regime and obsessing over each choice, each ingredient, each pound. You won't be seeing any of those "wow - look how big my pants used to be, now I fit in one leg" kind of posts from me. 

Nor will I flood my Facebook feed with grass clipping and seaweed smoothie recipes, or videos on the dangers lurking in a can of Diet Coke or box of McDonald's French Fries. I like those things. I may, from time to time, consume them. Hopefully less often than in the past. All things in moderation. 

In 2012 I plan to focus on the things that nourish my inner beast - good friends, great food, art, nature, - and run the gamut from the grand passions to small observations about life and love that make me who I am. I hope you'll come along for the ride. Thanks for being part of my life. I wish you all the best in 2012.