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Serenity by the Sea: Vilano Beach, Florida
Thursday August 21, 2014 @ 5:29 pm

Serenity by the Sea: Vilano Beach, Florida

By Nancy Moreland

Ask locals and visitors what makes Vilano Beach, Florida a special place and the reply is universal: “It’s so peaceful out here. It’s an island getaway that’s close to St. Augustine.”

Crossing the Usina Bridge from mainland St. Augustine, you’re rewarded with a vast view of the Atlantic Ocean and the small village of Vilano. It’s a laid-back land wedged between the ocean and Intracoastal, where flip flops are never frowned upon and bathing suits replace business suits. It retains a relatively slow pace of life, even in the face of St. Augustine’s growing popularity.

Vilano’s golden sand beaches are prime hunting grounds for prehistoric shark’s teeth. Walking the Vilano Beach peninsula from the ocean to St. Augustine Inlet along Porpoise Point, you get some of the area’s most unique waterfront perspectives.

The 600-foot Vilano Pier is a favorite destination for fishermen and folks who want a view of St. Augustine across the Intracoastal. Prominently stationed at the entrance of the pier is the Bluebird of Happiness.  Vilano’s mascot is a nostalgic icon of an early tourist era and a great spot for photographs. The pier is free and open to the public.

Rain or shine, the first Saturday of each month, Vilano hosts a Sunset Celebration at the pier with entertainment, talent shows, cook-off competitions and food and craft vendors. It’s held from 4 p.m. to dusk during summer months; 3 p.m. to dusk during the winter.  

Tucked away under Usina Bridge, a boardwalk spans the marsh and connects the north and south ends of Vilano. There’s free parking at the north and south ends of the boardwalk and colorful mosaic murals on both sides. Part of the boardwalk mosaic is a tactile design created by students from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind.

With the addition of a Publix shopping center, Vilano’s town center is slowly but surely picking up steam. The Old Florida feel remains, thanks to vintage hotel buildings and pedestrian-friendly design. Visitors who stay on Vilano can bike or walk to local cafés and restaurants. Beaches at Vilano is a favorite, thanks to its Caribbean feel, outdoor, waterfront seating and live music on weekends.

To the north, Cap’s on the Water is one of the area’s most memorable dining experiences. The former fish camp nestled in a neighborhood along the water is known for its high-end seafood and relaxing ambience. Sitting under live oaks on the deck overlooking the water is an experience that’s not to be missed. 

If you’re up for a hike, visit Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. It has nine miles of wooded trails and five miles of undeveloped beaches. You can follow a trail past marshes and under oak trees to the water. The Reserve is also known for archaeological sites such as shell middens and an Indian burial ground. The Environmental Education Center at 505 Guana River Road, is technically considered Ponte Vedra Beach, but it’s just a bit north of Vilano and worth a visit, especially for families.


The very thing that makes Vilano special – a peaceful pace and natural beauty – makes it a great destination for locals seeking a staycation or visitors needing a vacation. The Beachcomber Cottages feel as though you’re staying at the home of a friend who’s fortunate enough to live by the beach. Each of the five cottages has its own personality, but all are renovated and decorated in a contemporary coastal style. Outside, the look is beachy chic, with Caribbean gingerbread architecture and pastel colors. Inside, these comfortable, stylish seaside retreats make you want to be an islander for life.
Tucked away just behind the dunes, the cottage compound is like living in a beachside neighborhood. Owners Mike and Sandy Wieber include all of the components for a relaxing beach vacation: private patios, outdoor showers, bikes, a grill, beach chairs and umbrellas. Two new cottages (scheduled opening: October 1, 2014) will each have a private pool.

Beachcomber guests even get free parking and complimentary breakfasts and happy hour drinks and snacks at the Wiebers’ other property, the Bayfront Marin House, an award-winning bed and breakfast inn. The B&B is 2.2 miles from the cottages, in the heart of St. Augustine’s historic downtown.

As if the cottages weren’t sufficiently indulgent, the Wiebers can arrange an in-room massage therapist for people who want to completely unwind. The Wiebers’ wedding concierge, based at the Bayfront Marin, can handle all of the arrangements for a beach wedding and honeymoon at the Beachcomber Cottages.

Regardless of your reasons – romance or relaxation – a stay at the Beachcomber Cottages will make you feel one with the village of Vilano.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Beachcomber Cottages and deck: Sandy Wieber; Pier scene: Sallie O’Hara; Caps on the Water: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau.

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The Ice Age Arrives in St. Augustine
Thursday June 26, 2014 @ 8:42 am

The Ice Age Arrives in St. Augustine

A Jazzy Spot for Dinner and Drinks: The Ice Plant Restaurant and Bar

By Nancy Moreland

The St. Augustine Distillery's next door neighbor, the Ice Plant restaurant and bar, maintains the vintage industrial vibe and lively atmosphere that  made the Distillery a hit with locals and tourists. Opened less than a year ago (September 2013), the Ice Plant draws crowds every weekend and recently expanded its hours to include lunch. Like the Distillery, the Ice Plant underwent an extensive renovation. "We gutted the entire building, while working to preserve the history. We wanted to create an experience that felt like walking back in time," said General Manager Patricia McLemore.

Stepping inside the Ice Plant, I was greeted by Bessie Smith’s plaintive crooning and the yin-yang aroma of spicy shrimp mingling with mild grits. Edison-style lights cast an amber hue on the exposed brick walls and pine floors worn to a patina. The wait staff, who wore their personal interpretations of early 20th century attire, served cocktails with names like Rosie the Reviver and Bees Knees.

The Jazz Age ambiance was so evocative, it made me wish I’d worn a flapper dress and left my cell phone at home.


An Icy Reception

The defining difference at this establishment may be lost on all but the most discerning tastes. True to its historic heritage, the Ice Plant makes its own ice. Using slow-frozen filtered water, the staff  chainsaws large blocks of ice into small "rocks", spheres, pebbles and shaved ice. The result is a cold, hard, diamond-clear ice that doesn't dilute the flavors of a custom cocktail. Three ice machines work 24/7 to slate the thirsts of St. Augustine. Patricia McLemore is especially proud of the Clinebell ice maker. "No one in Florida, except maybe a restaurant in Miami, has this type of machine." Why go to all the trouble of carving massive ice blocks into 1-2 inch pieces? "It makes such a difference because it doesn't dilute the flavor. The drink tastes the same, from the first to the last sip," McLemore said. 

I can vouch for two Ice Plant cocktail creations. As complex and compelling as the Sylvia Plath book of the same name, the Bell Jar is an unlikely combination of gin, strawberry rhubarb jam, lemon and cucumber. Reading the ingredients on the menu, I was skeptical. The result, however, was refreshing. It's the ideal  beverage to savor on a summer afternoon - provided you don't have to operate heavy machinery or meet a deadline. On my second visit, I sampled La Dona, the Ice Plant equivalent of a margarita. Like the Bell Jar, the beautifully pink drink packed a powerful punch. 

The Science of Good Taste

A few folks have told me they experienced inconsistency in the strength and flavor of Ice Plant cocktails. I give the establishment an A+ for effort. In this age of pre-packaged flavors and industrial food production, the Ice Plant's earnest emphasis on hand-crafted food and drink is admirable. The micro-brewed libations and fresh ingredients keep the servers on their toes. "The staff helps plan the menus and drinks. We have to be able to describe the unique flavors. We don't just open a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. There's one employee who juices all of the fruit that goes into our drinks," said server Karley Faver.

The Ice Plant is a separate entity from St. Augustine Distillery, but shares the same dedication to delicious details, starting with decor and filtering down to drinks and food. "We make everything from scratch, including our condiments," McLemore said. Cocktail recipes are created by individual bartenders, hence the initials next to each drink on the menu. That said, if you want a basic Bud or simple Sauvignon, it's available. 

Most people may come for the designer drinks, but the food is high quality, too. Intentionally small, the menu selections reflect the seasonal availability of locally-sourced ingredients. The menu features dishes such as grass-fed Georgia beef burgers and local daily catch. The previously mentioned shrimp and grits were an artful interpretation of an old classic.

Staying on top of trends, whether it's farm-to-table fare or micro-brewed beverages, motivates the staff to tweak the menu and experiment with new approaches. The long hours of launching a business haven't dimmed McLemore's enthusiasm. "We're bringing life and energy back into this building," she said.

It's ironic that McLemore and staff, who grew up in the information age, are inspired by the history and hand-crafted precision of a former era. Ironic, but fortunate for St. Augustine, that a new generation of old souls has revitalized a former factory into an inspiring dining destination.


Insider Tip: To avoid long wait times, visit the Ice Plant Monday-Thursday nights or during lunchtime. The best seat in the house? "At the bar, so you see how the drinks are made," said Patricia McLemore

Comments? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Ice Plant Bar: Cecile Browning-Nusbaum; all others: Nancy Moreland
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An Enlightening Experience in the Heart of St. Augustine
Thursday April 10, 2014 @ 11:11 am

An Enlightening Experience in the Heart of St. Augustine

The Lightner Museum and Reflections Bistro

By Nancy Moreland

Standing on the corner of King and Granada Streets in downtown St. Augustine, you bear witness to the magnificent obsessions of two powerful men. Both sides of King Street reveal the results of Henry Flagler’s ambition: the Ponce de Leon Hotel (now Flagler College) and the Alcazar Hotel (now the Lightner Museum). Step inside the Lightner and you enter the world of a passionate collector. Some might say that Otto Lightner’s obsession for collecting was a hobby that got out of hand. In his lifetime, the wealthy Chicago publisher acquired thousands of objects – so many, that in 1946, he purchased the Alcazar to house his collection. From the exquisite to the strange, it’s all on display in one of the Old City’s most fascinating museums. "Otto Lightner felt this would be one of the greatest museums of Americana and in a sense, it is," said Museum Director Robert Harper, adding. "It's been called the Smithsonian of Florida."

Visiting the Lightner gives you a glimpse into life in a Gilded Age resort. The opulent, light-filled lobby hints of elegant things to come. There’s a beautifully restored grand ballroom framed by arches and a mezzanine overlooking the floors below. The former health spa, with its marble seated steam bath and plunge pool are still intact.  The impressive indoor swimming pool, built in 1889, was the largest of its kind at the time. It’s long been the home of Café Alcazar, an intimate eatery featuring live music seven days a week.

Back to Otto. His collections fill four floors of the museum and include glassware, sculpture and the kind of ornate, uncomfortable furniture the Victorians made famous. It’s not all Victorian vanity, however. If there’s one word that describes the Lightner collections, it’s eclectic. “We have everything from Tiffany to toasters,” said Jennifer Jordan. And indeed, an exhibit reflecting several eras of toaster technology is just down the hall from stunning stained glass pieces by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Ms. Jordan, who serves as the museum's volunteer coordinator, is one of five staff members. The Lightner relies greatly on the kindness of volunteers. To learn how you can help, call 904-824-2874 or email visitlightner@bellsouth.net.

Strolling through the Victorian Village is like looking into the lifestyles of the late 1800s, when St. Augustine became known as a resort destination. Displays of clothing, accessories, toys and top hats bring the past into fascinating focus.


The Lightner for Little Ones

If shepherding kids through rooms filled with fragile objects seems like a reason to skip the Lightner, think again. The Museum has a kid-friendly side. Museum staff created a clever scavenger hunt questionnaire to spark the interest of elementary-age children. Somehow, they knew kids would love searching for a real Egyptian mummy, shrunken head and dinosaur egg. Those oddities are all here, as are Indian arrowheads, antique toys, a charging lion and grinning crocodile. With kids in tow, your best bet is to focus on the Science Room and Victorian Village, both on the first floor.

Older kids (including grown men) will appreciate the vintage cigar labels, Confederate army buttons and furniture made of steer horns on the “3F” floor. As a reward for good behavior, you can always promise children a chance to feed the fish in the courtyard ponds afterwards.

Timely Moments
If you visit at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m., check out the music demonstrations on the first floor. Wednesdays at 10 a.m., Barry Myers leads a Curator Tour that provides extra insights into the exhibits.

Insider Tip: Admission is free for St. Johns County residents.
 
Reflections Bistro
Even the most energetic tourists and locals appreciate a break from the hustle and bustle of downtown. Luckily, in the center of St. Augustine, there’s an oasis of serenity, where classical music, fountains, fresh flowers and excellent food restore your sanity.  Located inside the Lightner courtyard, Reflections Bistro is a refreshing recent addition to the Old City restaurant scene.

It’s owned and operated by Kristian and Laura Kohrs, familiar to Art Walk enthusiasts from their Aviles Street gallery days. The Kohrs have merged their Natural Reflections Glass art business with a café featuring indoor and outdoor dining.

Small by design, the Bistro allows the Kohrs to focus on fresh ingredients and attentive service. “We’re focusing on simple, consistently high quality food,” said Kristian.


Laura agreed, adding, “We use locally-sourced products whenever possible. About 85 percent of our produce is from the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Our coffee is roasted by Jayell’s and our bread comes from Jeffreys Bakery north of town.”

Reflections is the ideal spot for a healthy, yet satisfying meal. Breakfast, served all day, includes favorites such as the Flagler Wrap, a scrambled egg, ham and cheddar cheese concoction that will fuel you for a full day of walking around town.

Lunch selections range from light soups and salads to substantial sandwiches like the San Sebastian. Tucked inside homemade bread are Boar's Head Black Forest ham, Granny Smith apples and Brie. There's also a kid's menu. Another nice change of pace is price – there’s nothing over $10 on the menu.

Reflections Bistro provides pleasantries that are increasingly rare in larger establishments. The food is beautifully presented on colorful glass plates. Coffee is served in unique mugs Laura found in a local antique shop. The peaceful setting encourages conversation. Seated at an outdoor table, listening to classical music and surrounded by beautiful architecture, you feel transported to a time when life moved at a gentler pace. Not a bad bonus, for the price of lunch.

Reflections Bistro is open 10-5, Monday – Saturday.  

Comments? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Reflections Bistro table scene: Cecile Browning-Nusbaum; all others: Nancy Moreland.

                              




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Tasty Trysts
Wednesday February 12, 2014 @ 8:23 am


Tasty Trysts

Romance is on the Menu in St. Augustine


By Nancy Moreland
 
95 Cordova RestaurantDrive through the heart of St. Augustine, Florida, on any given day or night and you’ll see them: smiling, starry-eyed men and women, strolling along streets, even stepping into traffic at times. They’re beguiled and bewitched and St. Augustine is to blame. They have fallen in love with the Old City, a place so beautiful, it inspires a feeling of romance every day, not just on February 14th.  

Fortunately for foodies, romance is on the menu in St. Augustine, which has a generous selection of excellent eateries. As of this writing, there were a few tables available for Valentine’s Day at three of St. Augustine’s most romantic restaurants. However, you may find the night before or after the big day more relaxing. Whether for Valentine’s or another date night, the ambience and cuisine of these establishments makes every meal a special occasion.

95 Cordova
Located inside the exquisitely restored Casa Monica, a boutique hotel in St. Augustine’s historic district, 95 Cordova has all the elements of a romantic evening: candlelight, fine food, wine, intimate atmosphere. The main dining room is lovely, but two other dining areas are especially inviting. With fewer than six tables and a gated entry, the cozy Wine Room epitomizes romance. According to staff, it’s a popular spot to pop the question. Another option is the Sultan’s Room, which seats up to 25 people – two of whom could easily be Bogart and Bergman, so Casablanca-esque is the setting.

Chef Aaron Chavarria, formerly of Sarasota’s Hyatt Regency, presents a deliciously diverse array of dishes, influenced by his Nicaraguan roots and time spent living in Europe. The menu is as luxurious as the surroundings, featuring selections like Bahamian lobster tail and pan seared duck breast, with suggested wine pairings.

If 95 Cordova’s location makes it a memorable dining destination, it also presents a problem – one night may not be enough to fully savor the experience. Food and Beverage Director Scott Melton has a solution. “Casa Monica, especially with our revamped Sunday brunch, is a great place to stay for a romantic weekend,” he says. The brunch features free champagne, a chef-attended omelet station, salads, seafood and other culinary delights.  

Insider's Tip: Diners receive a discounted valet parking rate of $5.00 at the Casa Monica parking garage. Ask to have your ticket validated. Or, park in public lots near the hotel, for $1.50/hour; free after 5 p.m., on Sundays and holidays.

 

The Tasting Room

The vivid stylish flair of The Tasting Room’s interior and exterior dining areas make beautiful backdrops for cuisine reflecting St. Augustine’s Spanish heritage. Located on Cuna Street, it feels more like a private home than popular restaurant. Chef Michael Lugo's new spring menu is just in time for Valentine’s Day. The restaurant is well known for tapas and Mediterranean touches such as sun dried tomatoes, Spanish-cured meats and manchego cheese. Chef Lugo also offers innovative dishes like Moorish quinoa paella, a vegetarian version of a classic dish, with pine nuts, raisins, eggplant, tomatoes and kale. Lugo’s appreciation of Spanish cuisine includes a wine list with more than 150 Spanish wines.
 
Like many St. Augustine chefs, he uses locally-sourced, seasonal food whenever possible, including bread baked at the restaurant.

Café Atlantico
St. Augustine may be a small town, but it has a way of delighting visitors (and residents) with pleasant surprises. Café Atlantico on Anastasia Island is one such example. The 1950s architecture and beach location might fool you into thinking it’s another island restaurant serving fried seafood to folks in flip flops. Appearances are deceiving. Stepping inside, you could be in a chic Manhattan bistro. This is exactly what Chef Paolo Pece envisioned when he opened Café Atlantico in 1999. Pece teamed with architect Paul Robinson and artist Peter Leventhal to create a restaurant resembling those he remembered from his native Italy and Manhattan, where he worked as a sous chef. Pece earned his master chef degree from the Italian Culinary Institute in Naples, Italy, and worked as an executive chef at Il Ristorante in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

Seated in Pece's 10-table upscale café, diners enjoy artwork on the walls and on their plates, feeling as though they’ve been let in on a special secret. 

Like his small café, Pece’s culinary focus follows a “less is more” approach. Unlike the current trend toward complicated food, he artfully employs a few simple ingredients to highlight the flavors of fresh local seafood, meat and produce.  A new scallop dish, for example, uses just four ingredients, all of which complement each other. His wine list is likewise carefully curated, featuring around 40 Italian and Californian wines. Café Atlantico’s menu reflects all regions of Italy, but you won’t find what Pece terms “Italian-American” lasagna or spaghetti and meat balls. “Those dishes don’t exist in Italy,” he explains. Pece’s seasonal approach to cooking requires frequent menu changes, which feeds his creativity. "I love to cook. When you're happy, it's reflected in your work," he says.

Pece’s quality versus quantity approach earned him a Snail of Approval from Slow Food First Coast. According to the nonprofit organization’s website, it was founded to “counteract the effects of fast food and fast life.” Though Pece’s kitchen is fast paced, the thought he invests into each meal is not. All the small moments – whether he’s picking fresh herbs from his garden or visiting local butchers for the freshest cuts – add up to a presentation that leaves diners smitten and pining for more.

Both Café Atlantico and The Tasting Room are members of St. Augustine Independent Restaurant Association.

Questions? Comments? Please email nmoreland@OldCity.com.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog. Change is inevitable, however, so before embarking on your Old City adventure, verify hours, fees, etc. with the contact information provided above.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. W
hen sharing, please credit OldCity.com.

Photo credits: Top: 95 Cordova; Center: Paolo Pece.


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Exploring the West King Street Shopping District
Thursday January 30, 2014 @ 2:48 pm

Exploring the West King Street Shopping District

Spend an Afternoon on the Eclectic Side of St. Augustine

By Nancy Moreland

Some people recognize a great neighborhood long before it becomes popular. (Think of the Beat Generation artists and writers in San Francisco’s North Beach area.) In a picturesque town like St. Augustine, Florida, West King Street might be considered more gritty than pretty. The neighborhood hasn't really shared the spotlight with other Old City historic districts. Not yet, anyway. If you haven’t visited West King Street lately, you owe it to yourself to explore the area. The neighborhood's small, but growing contingent of entrepreneurial urban pioneers are transforming the street, one business at a time.  West King has an artistic, eclectic vibe and a refreshing authenticity.
 
Art with an Edge

It's best to explore West King is on foot. Parking isn't a problem, thanks to three free parking lots. For an an eye-opening first stop, visit the gallery at 228 West King, known as Space Eight. Plenty of St. Augustine galleries peddle pastel beachscapes and quaint street scenes. How many feature contemporary artists working in Pop Surrealism, Underground or Street Art styles?

Space Eight doesn’t shy away from the edgy or controversial. The gallery is a window into a larger national and international art scene. Owner Rob DePiazza works with an extensive network of artists who share his aesthetic vision. For more information: 904-829-2838.

Insider Tip: Space Eight is not open on weekends, except during First Friday Art Walk.

Fun and Funky

Just up the street, on the corner of Pellicer and King, is Furniture Effexx. The store sells a mix of mid-century modern, industrial and vintage furniture that could dazzle the dullest living room. Owner Nathan Toothman has assembled a whimsical collection of quirky, stylish pieces.

Toothman's flair for furniture began as an outlet to balance the demands of a job working with autistic children. As he began refurbishing vintage furniture, his design talents emerged. After falling in love with St. Augustine, he went full-time with his hobby, opening his shop at 233 West King. He’s optimistic about the neighborhood, citing the spirit of “cooperation versus competition” among businesses. “We’re bringing the street up, one shop at a time,” he says. For more information: 904-819-5450.

Vintage Values

With prices low enough to incite envy in other antique dealers, Unique Finds & Furniture at 215 W. King, Suite 2, is a boon for bargain hunters who enjoy the hunt as much as the discovery. You never know what you’ll find, but there’s an honest simplicity in the shop’s vintage accents and functional furniture. For more  information: 904-679-2081.

A Cup of Jayells Joe

The only thing more comforting than coffee brewed from Jayells Coffee Company beans is the warmth of Lynda Fisher’s smile. The owner of Jayells, Fisher is a Nebraska native who exudes down-to-earth Midwestern charm. When it comes to coffee beans, however, she’s as sophisticated as a sommelier. Fisher began roasting coffee beans a decade ago, but her love affair with java dates to childhood. “Drinking coffee with my dad is one of my fondest memories,” she says.

Fisher can custom-roast her organic, fair trade coffee beans to suite your palate – whether your taste runs to mellow, spicy or full-bodied.  A caffeine connoisseur’s dream, Jayells isn’t a coffee shop, but you can sip samples and purchase fresh, whole beans by the pound to brew at home. Her shop is located at 215 W. King, Suite 3. For information: 904-729-6771.

Savvy Salvage

When you spend more than 20 years restoring historic properties, you amass a treasure trove of architectural salvage. That was the impetus for Elaine H. Darnold, Inc., Architectural Salvage. Darnold and her husband Kenneth have worked on some prestigious St. Augustine properties, including the Casa Monica Hotel and Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College's Ponce Hall. Her salvage collection includes antique heart pine timbers, antique doors, windows and hardware.

“We repair, restore and reuse materials in their original locations when feasible, but we also find new purposes for items that cannot be reused in our restoration or new construction projects,” Darnold says. This is Darnold's way of honoring “the spirit of the original craftsmen who contributed to our City’s architectural history.” The store also features artwork and furnishings created by Kenneth Darnold. Located at 9 Leonardi Street, the store is housed in a 1920s-era building with ironwork balconies that would be right at home in New Orleans.  For more information: 904-829-0790.

Local Eats

You don’t need to leave West King Street to fuel your explorations. Nathan Toothman recommends King’s Bistro at 6 Mackey Lane for  lunch or dinner. Like other West King businesses, the Bistro holds pleasant surprises for those willing to scratch the surface. Located in a small, unassuming house, it’s run by Chef Michael, who cooked for three different U.S. Presidents. “People return to my shop to thank me for sending them there,” Toothman says.

Cabo Taco fans will be happy to hear that the restaurant is no longer MIA. In February, Cabo Taco will begin serving breakfast and lunch at Jackson’s Garage Bar at 223 West King. Evenings, Jackson's will convert back to a bar.

Present Moment Café at 224 West King holds a special place in the hearts and stomachs of many locals. The kitchen staff transform healthy ingredients into beautifully delicious vegetarian dishes that delight the eye and taste buds. You’ll have no trouble being in the moment with their Pad Thai, a delicate blend of tastes and textures. Funky artwork and friendly servers give this neighborhood café a mellow 1970s ambience. For more information: 904-827-4499.

Insider's Tip: Many West King businesses keep unorthodox hours, so it's wise to call ahead.

Every effort is made to verify hours and important information. Please confirm hours and other pertinent information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Comments? Questions? Email nmoreland@oldcity.com.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Architectural Salvage: Elaine Darnold; All others: Nancy Moreland.



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Six Ways St. Augustine Helps You Keep New Year's Resolutions
Thursday January 9, 2014 @ 8:40 am

Six Ways St. Augustine Helps You Keep New Year's Resolutions

Enjoy a year of peace, prosperity and healthy pursuits in the Old City.

By Nancy Moreland

How many people actually keep their New Year’s resolutions? According to surveys, only eight percent of us make it through 12 months without tossing resolutions aside like last year’s holiday gift wrap.


Don't let those dismal numbers get you down. Apart from our wonderful restaurants, St. Augustine is a city where you can have fun while keeping your resolve. Here are six fun ways to stick to common resolutions.


Lose Weight


1. Think of how many pounds you could shed if you resolved to walk all 42 miles of our scenic coastline, from Ponte Vedra to St. Augustine! With wide, hard-packed sand and plenty of public access, our beaches offer the perfect reason to be an avid walker or jogger.

Insider tip: Beaches are more user-friendly during low tide, so check out the tide charts.




2. Ready to take your workout up a notch? Walk-climb the Usina Bridge. Spanning the North River and connecting mainland St. Augustine to Vilano Beach, the bridge's elevation gets your heart pumping. Bonus: Spectacular views distract you from protesting muscles. Free parking is available on the mainland and Vilano sides of the bridge.


3. A few weeks of bridge walking may prepare you for a steeper challenge. If so, climb the 219 steps of the St. Augustine Lighthouse. You'll be rewarded with a Stairmaster-worthy workout and panoramic views. Hours: 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. Admission is $9.75 for adults; $7.75 for seniors. Insider tip: St. Johns County residents can purchase a year-long tower pass for $9.75 or $7.75. You must show proof of residency.


Eat Healthy


4. Every week brings three opportunities to buy healthy, mostly-local food at St. Augustine farmer's markets. Of the three, the Saturday Old City Farmer's Market has the biggest selection, though it can be crowded and some items are pricey. Other options include the Tuesday Salt Air Farmers' Market at Marineland and the Wednesday Market at the St. Johns County Pier Park. As of this writing, the Sunday Lincolnville Farmer's Market was still searching for a new location.




Stress Less


5. Something about St. Augustine seems to attract yoginis . . . maybe it's the city's natural beauty and laidback lifestyle. At last count, there were nine St. Augustine yoga studios. With a yoga class for every seeker - from kripalu to bikram - there's plenty of places to get centered.


Save Money


6. Being stylishly frugal is easy in the Old City, where consignment and thrift shops abound. So many stores cater to bargain hunters, it's best to save that story for a future blog!



Disclaimer: While every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, we recommend that you verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.


Comments? Questions? Email: nmoreland@OldCity.com.


Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.


Photo credits: Beach Scene: Cecile Browning-Nusbaum; Usina Bridge and Farmer's Market: St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & the Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau; Lighthouse: St. Augustine Lighthouse.

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Catch the Holiday Spirit in St. Augustine
Wednesday December 11, 2013 @ 10:18 am

Catch the Holiday Spirit in St. Augustine

Five Places to Get Your Jingle On

By Nancy Moreland

In St. Augustine, like other parts of the nation, some big-box retailers began overlapping holiday inventories in September. Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations, stacked aisle-to-aisle, created a surreal display of seasonal whiplash. Next thing we knew, Christmas tunes began belting out of our radios before Turkey Day. And while most of the country was covered in snow, the Old City stayed stuck in 80 degree weather.

It's enough to make a Scrooge of anyone.

Yet, even before National Geographic ranked St. Augustine one of the top 10 places to experience holiday lights, our town was a special spot to celebrate the season. Certain aspects of St. Augustine's personality protect it from falling completely under the spell of over-zealous commercialism: a strong sense of place and history, Southern hospitality balanced by an influx of cosmopolitan residents, a multitude of small, locally-owned businesses. 

Here are five ways to boost your holiday mood, St. Augustine style:

1. Soak up the Nights of Lights on a Country Carriages tour. Viewed from a horse-drawn carriage at a 19th century pace, the display is especially magical. If the weather turns chilly, drivers provide cozy blankets. Private tours are $85/up to four people. Insider Tip: Share a carriage with another couple and you may be able to trim the cost of your fare. Ask your driver.

Nights of Lights tours run through February 2nd and depart nightly from the Bayfront. 


2. Sip a cocoa concoction. On weekends from 5:30-close, The Kookaburra hot chocolate bar allows patrons to mix and match cocoa toppings with glee. The bar includes everything from white chocolate sprinkles to caramel, cherry, blackberry and peppermint flavorings. Overlooking the Plaza, Kookaburra coffee shop is the perfect pit stop. A cup of cocoa will fuel several strolls around town to admire the lights.

Want to sample a sophisticated cocoa drink a bit closer to what the colonials imbibed? Visit Casa Maya, at 22 Hypolita Street. Your server will whip up a mixture of Abuelita brand Mexican chocolate, with just enough nutmeg and chipotle pepper to make it intriguing. It's hot cocoa for grownups, deliciously different from the instant variety.



3. Inhale the scentual delights of Southern Lights Candle Company. As the sign reads, "Come in for the smell of it," and you'll discover tapers, pillars and votives instilled with a variety of exquisite aromas. All are handcrafted onsite by owner Susan Bradley a veteran candlesmith. Housed in an 18th century cottage at 12 Cuna Street overlooking Castillo de San Marcos , the shop comes by its historic patina honestly. It's one of St. Augustine's most enjoyable shopping experiences, akin to Williamsburg's colonial ambience. Insider Tip: Susan's bayberry tapers with jaunty bows make budget-friendly hostess gifts for holiday parties.

4. Indulge your silly side. Only the most hardened of humbugs could ride the Holly Jolly Holiday Trolley without smiling. Hop on, slip into the 3D glasses that turn millions of  holiday lights into Santa's face and sing Christmas carols as you roll through a city high on holiday happiness. Fun for families, the trolley's a bargain at $9/adults Sun-Thurs; $12/adults weekends; $4/kids, 6-12. Tours run through January 4th and depart 6-8 p.m. from the Visitors Information Center, 10 Castillo Drive.

5. Attend St. Augustine's signature holiday event, The Nutcracker. Staged by the St. Augustine Ballet, this year's production features guest artists from the Royal Ballet and English National Ballet. December 21 and 22. Tickets are $25 and $30.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog. Change is inevitable, so please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photo credits: Nights of Lights: OldCity.com; Casa Maya cocoa: Nancy Moreland; Southern Lights Candles: Susan Bradley.

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Tasting Tours a Favorite with Foodies
Wednesday November 13, 2013 @ 10:21 am

Tasting Tours a Favorite with Foodies

Savoring St. Augustine history, one bite at a time

By Nancy Moreland


A city can’t survive nearly 450 years without developing some cooking skills along the way. St. Augustine’s food scene is a literal melting pot of multicultural tastes and traditions. For a community of its size, St. Augustine has a remarkably diverse selection of restaurants. A fun way to discover places you might not find on your own is by taking a food tour. There are several tours in town, including The Tasting Tours and St. Augustine Historic Walking Tours that combine food, libations and learning. This month, we're featuring the Savory Faire Food Tour a 2.5 hour walking tour of four Old City eateries, with some history on the side.

Living Lessons

It’s one thing to experience the past through mind-numbing textbooks. It’s entirely different to stand in the spot where history happened. Even if you slept through American History class in high school, you’ll enjoy this tour. Affable guide Alan Hudson presents a narrative of historical high points – from the Menendez landing to Flagler's Gilded Age. Strolling through downtown, Hudson’s bite-sized history lessons are more like listening to a well-informed friend than a guide who has memorized all the spark out of his spiel. Hudson encourages questions and strives to present an accurate picture of St. Augustine's complex history while reminding tour-goers that, “History is a living, breathing thing,” with multiple perspectives.


Casual and Convivial

Fortunately, you won’t be quizzed on dates and battles at tour’s end. Your biggest challenge is pacing yourself as you taste and sip your way through four restaurants and a couple “bonus stops” at food specialty shops. Routes change throughout the year to keep the tour fresh for repeat customers and to suit the season (summertime gelato stops are popular). And although you’re dining next to people you’ve never met before, the atmosphere is casual and convivial.

Sipping and Sampling

On my tour, the first stop was Old City House Inn and Restaurant, a 19th century horse stable turned B&B and restaurant.
Under new ownership, the establishment has retained its intimate ambiance and attention to detail in each dish. Next, our group headed to Athena Greek Restaurant, overlooking Plaza de la Constitucion. Of the four tour stops, Athena’s fare seemed most closely connected to St. Augustine’s culinary history. The city’s multicultural flair was represented in the staff, including Greek cooks and a Czechoslovakian waiter who urged tour-takers to shout “OPA!” as he set Saganaki (Greek cheese) aflame. Saganaki is actually much better than it sounds, particularly if you like tangy, tart
Mediterranean flavors.

Moving along to Meehan’s Irish Pub, we sampled a noteworthy chowder, Guinness beef sliders and a Reuben disguised as a spring roll. We also learned that the Irish had a presence in St. Augustine from the start. “The Irish came to St. Augustine in 1565 with the Spanish and five of our colonial mayors were Irishmen,” Hudson said.

Tour-goers were pleasantly satiated at this point, but the eating wasn’t over. Thankfully, our last stop, Gourmet Hut, served lighter fare – a small salad and bruschetta, followed by a tasty dessert morsel. Selections reflected Hut’s preference for farm-to-table food. Seated in the eatery’s eclectically-furnished garden overlooking Cuna Street, this spot was an appealing end to an appetizing afternoon.

The Savory Faire Food Tour departs daily from Tour Saint Augustine at 4 Granada Street. Price: $49/person; wine pairing (3-4 glasses) additional $15. (Sharing is permitted on wine pairings.)

Insider Tips: 

  • The Villa Zorayda lot at 83 King Street is the closest parking to the tour departure point. A bit farther down Granada, you’ll find cheaper parking.
  • Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress for the weather.
  • Food tours are recommended for ages 12-up. Bringing a baby? Call ahead so tour guides can accommodate you.

Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog. Change is inevitable, so please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure.

Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing.

Photos: Old City House appetizers: Stacey Sather/St. Augustine Visitors & Convention Bureau; Preparing Saganaki: Nancy Moreland.                            

 

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