Florida food that isn’t the same old stuff.
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.