Tag Archives: St. Augustine

Road Food: Eating outside the St. Augustine Quarter

Florida food that isn’t the same old stuff.

Hot Shot Bakery And Cafe In St Augustine
Well off the St. Augustine tourist path, Hot Shot was one of our favorite stops for grub.Cathy Salustri

In St. Augustine’s Spanish Quarter, there are no shortage of places to eat.

But I’m not a fan of the Quarter, and when we travel there I seek out non-tourist food spots. Columbia? I can get Cuban food, from the Spanish restaurant giant, here. Pizza? Sure, I guess. But what about something a little more interesting?

When I poked around St. Augustine to gather information for this month’s Road Trip, I asked my host to point me toward places to eat that wouldn’t be the typical Quarter experience. She did, with pleasure — locals love to turn tourists onto places that don’t have the big marketing budgets to reach every brochure rack in the state. While I listened to fellow guests at our inn — Casa de Suenos — complain about the Columbia Restaurant inside the Quarter, I smiled with smug satisfaction. That’s what they get, I thought, for giving in to the hype.

If you go, the only reason to venture inside the Quarter is to see the site of the lunch counter sit-in. Beyond that, here’s how you eat in St. Augustine.

Casa de Suenos OK, this isn’t really a fair suggestion because unless you’re staying here, you can’t enjoy the food. Here’s what I can say about the inn: We arrived well past any decent check-in time, but the staff left the keys hidden for us. When we arrived in our room, we found a bottle of sherry and two slices of key lime cake. The next night? Pecan cake. The breakfast at this B&B, while delicious, couldn’t hold a candle to the after-dinner sweets we found waiting for us every night. I would stay again for that key lime cake, though the oversized bathtub and in-room sherry didn’t hurt, either.

It was delicious.Cathy SalustriHot Shot Bakery and Café Well off the tourist path, across from the Lightner Museum and quite possibly the most ornate city hall in Florida, we tucked into lunch at Hot Shot. There are simple sandwiches, nothing fancy but tasty, and a robust Minorcan clam chowder that makes me think “clam gumbo.”

To understand Minorcan clam chowder, you have to understand the datil pepper. You won’t find this chowder — at least not easily and likely not as tasty — outside St. Augustine and other parts of northeast Florida since that’s where most datils grow in the U.S. If you’ve never tasted a datil, think of it as a sweet habanero pepper (the heat ranges on the Scoville scale; datils can be quite spicy or only mildly so). One theory explains northeast Florida’s abundance of datils as having come over with Minorcan indentured servants in the 1700s. I wasn’t there, but I’ll take it. The chowder — red, not cream-based — has the juxtaposition of salty and a hint of sweet, chased by a latent heat that doesn’t at all overwhelm.

Sherry, the owner, sits and talks with us for a while. She’s recently opened a second location on the outskirts of the Spanish Quarter. Although I keep my opinions on the Quarter to myself, when I see where our host has arranged for our dinner, I groan. Meehan’s Irish Pub & Seafood House fronts the water on the edge of the Quarter, but our hosts assure us we’ll have an amazing dinner.

Read more on St. Augustine eats, and see of Meehan’s lived up to its promises.

Road Food: Seafood at an unexpected place in St. Augustine

In the Spanish Quarter, Meehan’s Irish Pub & Seafood House has seafood a-plenty.

Can this Meehan’s seafood tower be my patronus? Photo byCathy Salustri

When I was invited to eat at Meehan’s Irish Pub & Seafood House, my first thought was that I didn’t want to go anywhere near the Spanish Quarter in St. Augustine. My second thought was,”Seafood at an Irish Pub? Really?”

Yep, really.

Unlike many so-called shepherd’s pies, this one has lamb in it as well as a little beef. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

The Irish family who owns this restaurant — and boy are they Irish — don’t confine themselves to shepherd’s pie (which is actually made with lamb and beef, making it one of the few shepherd’s pies that aren’t actually cottage pie) or corned beef and cabbage. Take a look at that seafood tower above. Yes, we ate everything but the ice, and, yes, it tasted amazing.

First, though, we sampled oysters. I’m a fan of raw oysters with horseradish, lemon and cocktail sauce, no cracker, but I kept an open mind with the Meehan’s preparations: oysters Meehan (roasted, topped with butter and parmesan), oysters pico (raw, pico de gallo and olive oil), oysters Johnny (baked, with shrimp/mushroom cream), and oysters Florentine (raw, fennel, spinach cream and olive oil).

Well, what’s an Irish pub without some whiskey? Photo by Cathy Salustri.

I have one complaint. While I loved the toppings, I missed the taste of the oysters, which each topping buried. However, I also understand that the majority of people — especially tourists — may not welcome the unassisted taste of raw oysters. I wouldn’t order it, but I would recommend it to my less-avowed, sort-of-oyster-loving friends.

Our large seafood tower, showcasing an abundance of unfettered offerings from the sea, more than made up for the quibble. Although I tend to wash down oysters with beer, Irish whiskey convinced me to try something different.

We spent about two hours looking out over the water from the upper deck of Meehan’s. Technically in the Spanish Quarter, we felt miles away from all the “touristy” things. Watching sailboats moored in the bay as the sun sank and the moon rose allowed our sublime meal to be a sublime experience.

Our spread of oysters. Photo by Cathy Salustri.

Dessert (really, we were full by this point, yet once we saw it, we couldn’t not eat some) came next in the form of a tasty trio: crustless key lime pie, chocolate mousse and bread pudding.

Walking back to Casa de Suenos, we were stuffed, but not so stuffed that we resisted the pecan bar waiting in our room.

Maybe, you know, just a bite.

This article originally appeared in Creative Loafing. Read the accompanying Road Trip about St. Augustine and how she found Minorcan clam chowder.

Road Trip: Lights, Lincolnville and hidden history

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 24 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa.

If all St. Augustine had going for it was “oldest city in the United States” I would never go there again. I grow weary of the Spanish Quarter. I mean, how many times can you walk through the oldest schoolhouse? Honestly, there’s more to St. Augustine than this, and I made it my mission (see what I did there?) to find it.

The bittersweet heartbreak of gentrification.

Problem is, real history — the fun stuff — doesn’t fit in boxes like the names and dates. Also, sometimes you get to watch history getting made, and it makes you cringe.

St. Augustine's Huguenot Cemetery
I see dead people.

OK, well, first things first: St. Augustine, if you can forgive it for being so damn insistent that it’s the oldest city in America (really, you can’t blame it, because those Jamestown folk totally co-opted that) has some awesome stuff. We stayed as guests of the Casa de Suenos, a funeral home turned B&B that sadly seems to have no ghosts but, happily, lies outside of the Spanish Quarter yet within walking distance of pretty much everything we wanted to see. After a late-night arrival, a hot Jacuzzi bath and a glass of in-room sherry (16th-century conquistadors had no such niceties), I collapse, exhausted, but wake determined to see something of St. Augustine that isn’t a tourist trap. Fountain of Youth? Um, no, that’s totally made up — Ponce de Leon never even believed in it.

For all its touristy history, though, St. Augustine really can’t help but ooze charm. It’s eminently walkable, and while we tend to spend our time looking at dead people (the Huguenot and yellow fever graveyards make me inordinately happy), there’s no denying later — as we sit on the upper deck of Meehan’s and work our way through a seafood tower and some superbly smooth Irish whiskey —that the old city has something special. We watch the horse-drawn carriages pull tourists in love up and down the waterfront, and we watch the sun sink into the bay over the Bridge of Lions.

The real reason I’m here, though, is the Night of Lights.

Every Christmas season, St. Augustinians light pretty much every solid surface of the city with three million twinkly lights, earning the celebration a spot on National Geographic‘s list of the world’s ten best holiday light displays. And certainly the lights impress, but to me, the reason the lights came about at all touches me more.

When St. Augustine belonged to Spain, the Brits had a lot of angst about the Spanish being so close to the colonies. The Spanish, for their part, weren’t in love with the Brits being right next door, either. Florida was then — as it is now — damn desirable, so being a Spanish sailor in Florida was not a whole lot of fun, what with tensions high and every boat maybe staging an attack on La Florida. On top of that, sailors returning home had no easy way to tell if the city remained under Spanish control or if it had fallen into enemy hands.

The people of St. Augustine had an easy workaround for this: If the city remained safe, homes facing the water burned a single candle in the window. If the ships didn’t see all the windows lit up, they knew the city was under siege or had already fallen under enemy control.

Hence, the Night of Lights.

One perspective on LIncolnville

This story remains at the forefront of my head the next day. A stop at a nondescript sandwich shop (Hot Shots) for an exquisite sandwich leads us further away from the city, this time in a car. We head into Lincolnville, an historically African-American part of town that clearly hasn’t blossomed under the same level of care and love as the Spanish Quarter.

Reading about Lincolnville does nothing to prepare me for the municipal neglect shown this historic district. Less than a mile from the gloried Spanish Quarter, the street remains desolate, except for those gathered around the Saint Francis House. Few brass plaques celebrate the Freedom Trail, although less expensive wall-mounted signs do tell the district’s history, of how St. Augustine became the heart of the Civil Rights Movement — over in the Quarter, another sign denotes the former site of a lunch counter sit-in. We see no such signs near homes, although my research tells me several homes have deep significance.

The district has two types of homes: those with restorations in media res, and those that seem unloved, save for the evidence of families trying to make a life inside their walls. And perhaps I’m reading too much into everything, but it also seems the love shown some of these homes in this historically black district doesn’t spread to any of the schools or public buildings, which quite badly need the help.

That’s when I realize: simply being an historically black neighborhood does not guarantee the future. If black opportunity in the northern reaches of the state perhaps has not kept pace with the value of homes built by freed slaves with carpentry skills, the ugly face of gentrification — not racism, not exactly, but disenfranchising all the same — shows itself.

Lincolnville in St. AugustineThe Lincolnville Museum occupies the former Excelsior High School.CATHY SALUSTRIIt is capitalism. It is how America works. I have no proof the color of the community is changing, but there’s too big a disparity between the proud history of civil rights and the Home Depot trucks unloading new fencing; too much a difference between the new hurricane-proof double-pane glass going in some homes and the mold creeping around the walls of a one-story structure near the Lincolnville Museum, the stucco building boarded and empty.

No light shines in those windows.

Next to museum, this building seems deserted. It’s not clear if this building is part of the museum.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 24, 2016 issue of Creative Loafing Tampa.