St. Augustine Report
Spent the weekend in St. Augustine, and I have a couple reports. First off, I've come to the conclusion that St. Augustine is a pretty lame town. Everything closes early, few restaurants are open on Sundays or Mondays. The whole old town is designed to be safe for your grandma and/or children, which isn't all bad, but beware for anyone in between those ages who might want to enjoy some night life while on vacation. A fine place for a night or two, nothing more. See the Castillo and browse the mostly lame stores, which can be accomplished in a single afternoon. Then move on to the chow, if you can find a restaurant that is actually open.
We hit town about 4pm on a saturday and pulled over when we saw O'Steens. My girlfriend and I thought it was good, and the real side dishes were welcome. The fried shrimp was good, but I've had much better. The Seabreeze here in Tampa used to bread theirs with ground saltines, which was sublime. The Minorcan clam chowder was excellent with a nice datil pepper kick. Sides ranged from the very good green beans to the gooey squash casserole to the sweet potato casserole, which was too heavy with brown sugar. The chicken and dumpling special was nice, with an excellent home made broth. would i go back to O'Steen's? You bet. Would i wait in line for 30 minutes? No. I'm still trying to figure out what all the fuss is about.
Had a late dinner at Opus 39, and the restaurant mostly delivered. Be prepared to spend a lot of time waiting for your food. The portions are small and can be eaten in a matter of minutes, but you will wait at least 20 minutes between courses. I suspect this is good for the business of their wine store, where the prices are not friendly. Cheapest bottles start at $30 and clumb steeply from there. The fixed prce 5-course dinner had climbed to $65, so expectations were high. The amusement was a nice hummus with lots of garlic. We could have used more pita, but it was a good start.
The butternut squash soup was a bit salty, but worked perfectly with the candied walnuts. The other appetizer, a green salad with hearts of palm and crab, was quite good. Both second courses were excellent: seared scallops with curried coconut sauce over jasmine rice and poached shrimp with banana sauce on a black bean cake, all cooked perfectly.
The fish courses were more uneven. The sauteed grouper with basil mashed potatoes and creamy crab cauliflower sauce was excellent, but the grilled cobia was badly overcooked and the tomato parm broth had no flavor. A regrettable dish. We told our server, who apologized.
Entrees were similarly lopsided. The braised bison short ribs were wonderful with machengo cheese polenta, arugula, and a bold ancho chile mole. This dish was superlative, but the seared duck with roasted veggies was vastly undercooked. The texture was that of raw duck and was difficult to cut or chew. Very unpleasant. The accompanying vegetables, however, were excellent.
The chocolate banana bombe with cinnamon chocolate sauce was very good, but the rustic sweet potato tart was most excellent. Housed in a baklava-style pastry and saturated in maple caramel, the chunks of sweet potato were perfectly cooked al dente for lack of a better term.
Overall, our experience was good, but my girlfriend ended up with all of the duds. Nonetheless, we had a nice time. I would go back if i felt like blowing lots of time and money.
Sadly, the beachcomber doesn't serve on sundays or mondays, so we missed it. We tried the Manatee Cafe for breakfast instead, but were disappointed. This hippie cafe has a very limited menu and the food--- although well intentioned (organic, etc) is not always well thought out. The breakfast burrito is more of a taco or wrap, and is a train wreck of ingredients: eggs (or tofu) with sweet potato, avocado, bean sprouts, and more. The accompanying grits were swimming in margarine and spiked with garlic. Egads! The menu should warn you that the grits have been adulterated. I was hungry again in an hour. My companion had a peanut butter and banana sandwich. It worked, but was not the hearty breakfast we were looking for. This cafe needs to add some food for hungry non-hippie folk. Everything seemed so self-consciously healthy and great taste had fallen by the wayside, at least for breakfast.
We had a light late lunch at A1Alehouse. Their beers were nice, and the hummus was a tasty, huge portion. The roasted veggied (zucchini and red peppers) were appreciated. The cheese and ale soup was very good and not too thick or heavy, especially nice with the brown bread. The mixed lettuce salad (with mustard vinaigrette, raisins, pine nuts, and gorgonzola) seemed to have something missing.
We had dinner at the Columbia just before it closed at 9pm. I find it hard to believe this town goes to sleep so early. We had such a nice time at the bar the night before, we returned. Half of the town had already shut down.... yawn. Spanish bean soup, 1905 salad, scallops and shimp apps were all excellent, cooked perfectly. Of course, the toasted Cuban bread was tops. But something was amiss in the kitchen. The calamari was not cooked enough and arrived lukewarm. Our server had spilled half of the order while struggling with so many plates, but the newly-cooked half order was much better. The deviled crab croquettes were okay, but lacked panache. The worst disappointment was the snapper alicante, which was not properly adorned with almonds, eggplant, or shrimp. The kitchen had apprently run out, and replaced the eggplant with empanadas and the shrimp with chicken fingers(!). Furthermore, the dish, which featured a great piece of fish, had simply not been prepared properly. It is one of my faves, but lacked flavor. We were served the "good rice" because they had ruin out of yellow rice, but the good rice was far too salty. They shouldn't have served the snapper dish at all that night. We agreed to the substitutions, but should have just changed the order. I've had a great many excellent meals at the Columbia in Tampa. This meal began wonderfully, but ended on a bad note.
If we thought things were sedate sunday night, monday morning was a rude awakening. After searching in vain for a good breakfast, we went to Gypsy Cab Company and enjoyed a very good, reasonable lunch. The chicken enchiladas special was quite good, and the cheeseburger was good as well.
After a couple nights in the oldest city, we were very happy to return to Tampa, which has a pulse after dark and isn't so dumbed down for wholesome middle american tourists. I confess i felt like throwing bottles in the St. Augustine streets, felt like breaking into the cemetaries, which always seemed closed, felt like hijacking a trolley and raising a little hell, felt like shooting bottle rockets down the outdoor mall that is St. George street. It sure feels like the oldest city, but aside form the Castillo, doesn't feel very historic.
I think St. Augustine will be very grateful that you are back in Tampa, hijacking trolleys, shooting bottle rockets, throwing bottles and breaking into cemeteries and all the other things you do for "fun".
I'm new to this forum and have found your posts very interesting. I am a Tampa native
who moved to North Carolina ten years ago. I miss the cuban sandwiches and the deviled crabs so much. I don't have a chance to get back home very often so when
friends come to visit, they must bring cuban bread.
Would you please advise what publications you write for currently?
Also, if you can send me the recipe for the Seabreeze deviled crab.
Andy - you're a rockstar - thanks for the post on St Augustine, I was thinking of checking it out and you hit 3 of the places I had wanted to check out - was nice to read your review.
As a St. Augustinian, I have a few things to tell you, and some comments as a server/ wine steward. First, everyone drinks here(or they go to meetings and counsel the rest of us)!!! Be glad the bars close at 1 am, because it could be ugly otherwise. As for the restaurants, well, most close a little early. But, you missed some finds. Collage Restaurant, formerly La Parisienne since '83, former kitchen of Michael MacMillan of Opus 39, my place of employ, sports a fantastic local seafood oriented menu. Our chef, Melody Stewart, at the ripe age of 25, is creative and eccentric with her dishes, and the owners showed great foresight in asking her to take the position. Wine is my game, and after having been a rep for a small wine distributor and meeting Melody, Mike, and Cindy(owners), I hopped on board. www.collagestaug.com. By the way, why would you eat at our tourist trap Columbia when you have the original in your backyard? Try Casa Maya for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, down the street, no wait and damn good food. As for vegetarian, Present Moment Cafe, on west King street (1 block from my front door) is raw, vegan, and incredible. Puts Manatee Cafe to shame. Lunch and dinner Tuesday - Saturday. WINE!!! Opus 39 is king, but try The Tasting Room, their second venue, with an amazing selection and tapas, rations, and dessert. Not outrageous wine prices compared to 95 Cordova (in the Casa Monica Hotel) and their 350% mark-up. Another suggestion, go to Joyful Cork, buy your own, pay the $15 corkage. Or come see me. Where do my husband and I eat in Tampa? We have decided St Pete has more going on after our most recent trip. As for Gypsy Cab Co., I worked there through college and after, and damnit, gypsy is what it is, and that's why we love it. my e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
trevorlinc, you and I are 100% in agreement about Columbia and Collage. Columbia is an overrated tourist trap that serves fairly good, but not great food. Why so many people (tourists) rave about it is beyond me. Collage, on the other hand, is a superb restaurant. We went there several weeks ago and were so impressed with the ambiance, service and wonderfully creative menu. It is strictly a "special occasion" restaurant, but I know we'll be back.
Mmmmm . . . . Breakfast, definitely my favorite meal of the day! Never miss it. You should check out Cafe 11 (on the corner of 11th down A1A south on the beach) LOVE LOVE LOVE their breakfast. If you happen by on a weekend they do a morning brunch/buffet thing which I don't like quite as much, but is still quite tasty. :) They're also a great spot to check out for any other meal of the day.
You might have had a better experience at Saltwater Cowboys than Columbia. And should have hit the Bunnery for breakfast. a cinnamon bun or a pecan square would do it. Something more substantial you can go for their biscuits and gravy with eggs, skip the grits.