The Historic DistrictThe following eateries are clustered along the cobblestone streets of the main tourist area. Part of St. Augustine’s charm is the maze of pedestrians, live music and ambiance, so allow ample time to get lost.
The Columbia was originally founded in Tampa in 1905, when it was a casual coffee and sandwich shop. The Tampa branch is still in operation and is said to be the state’s oldest restaurant. There are several branches of this small family-run chain, and the St. Augustine outpost is a beauty. It features elegant décor and a Spanish-style menu. Limber your palate with the “1905” Salad. It’s a hearty combination of ham, olives, Swiss cheese, tomatoes, garlic and lettuce, entertainingly mixed tableside. The paella a la Valenciana is prepared in a traditional paella pan and features clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, chicken and pork, baked with Valencia rice and fresh vegetables. This is not the place to be shy, so let go of your reserve and dunk the delectable Cuban bread right in to get every last drop of flavor. The papery thin crust and soft center sops up leftovers perfectly. Portions here are gigantic, so consider sharing. The wine list is inexpensive, and the unusual white sangria made with cava is beautifully bubbly.
The Tasting Room
The Tasting Room is a must for the food obsessed. Charismatic Puerto Rican-born Chef Michael Lugo’s cuisine combine’s the best of his native island’s traditional techniques with pan-Mediterranean finesse. His new Chef’s Table menu has the town’s foodies abuzz. Book it and Lugo and his team will narrate an exquisite multi-course menu selected especially for you. In-depth descriptions, interaction with the chef and sophisticated wine pairings personalize this mouth-watering evening. Expect the meal to last for 3-4 hours, including the amuse-bouche, 4 courses plus an additional cheese course and dessert selection. The cost is $125 per person, a bargain with all of those fine wines. The experience is like an unforgettable evening of theater for your taste buds.
Join the locals on line at The Hyppo for a thirst-quenching, heat-busting ice pop. These artisan popsicles are made with all-natural Florida fruits. Try the hometown favorite, an arresting blend of datil pepper and strawberry. There are hundreds of rotating, inventive combos, so repeat customers won’t be bored.
Walking Distance from the Historic District
The Ice Plant
The Ice Plant features a farm-to-table menu and a grain-to-glass bar. This popular hipster hangout has the feel of a speakeasy, right down to the bar staff being clad in old-fashioned suspenders. Housed in a former ice manufacturing plant, they adhere to the theory that ice is an integral component to creating the perfect drink. Bartenders cut the ice to specific size to precisely and properly dilute each drink. Lovers of local should order a Florida Mule, made with vodka from the St. Augustine Distillery next-door plus fresh ginger, mint and lime. Pair your cocktail with something from the casual and inexpensive menu of bar snacks. Burgers are a treat, prepared with grass-fed Georgia beef, served alongside crispy hand-cut fries. Shrimp n’ grits is loaded with sweet Florida shrimp, the grits extra creamy. Nearly all the produce, meats, fish and spirits come from local purveyors. This is not the night to skip indulging in one of the homemade desserts.
St. Augustine Distillery
The St. Augustine Distillery just started producing premium, small batch spirits. The distillery is a locally owned business collaborative that purchases ingredients from nearby farmers. Take the free tour and watch them mix, mash, cook and distill small batch vodka, rum, gin and whiskey. They share the building with the Ice Plant, so it all takes place in a historically renovated 100-year-old ice manufacturing plant. The tour is offered daily and includes a generous tasting of vodka. It is the only spirit that is currently ready, but you can see the others resting in their barrels. The vodka is distilled with locally grown sugar cane, which imparts a distinct and delicious hint of molasses. You may purchase up to two bottles to take home.
At The Beach
If you are looking for a fish taco, burger or sandwich by the sea, you can find it at the Sunset Grille. Located across the street from St. Augustine Beach on the A1A, you can hear the surf as you kick back in this casual setting. The house specialty is the Minorcan clam chowder. Clams, conch, potatoes and assorted veggies are simmered in a tomato-based broth. The heat is thanks to the infusion of the datil pepper. This fortifying soup has won numerous local awards and cook-offs. You can’t find Minorcan Chowder anywhere else but in and around St. Augustine, so try a cup or a bowl. I got hooked on their feisty heat, and thankfully found the Hot Shot Bakery n’ Café before I headed home. They sell a range of products made with datil peppers, so be prepared to make room in your suitcase
Where to stay
If you want to stay beachside, the Hampton Inn St. Augustine Beach offers a sunny beachfront location on the A1A and excellent value. It is magically situated across the street from the Sunset Grille, so late night Minorcan chowder runs are a snap. A copious buffet breakfast is included in the room rate.
If you prefer to stay in the Historic District, there are dozens of fine B and B’s. The Bayfront Marin House is an excellent choice. Rooms have water views, fireplaces, large soaking tubs and many more amenities. The Southern-style breakfast is a treat, so your food infused day with start off on the right foot.
For helpful trip planning information, go to www.Floridashistoriccoast.com.