Although Scribes Cafe (820 Lomax St., 904/738-7999, www.scribescafe.com, 7:30 a.m.–4 p.m. daily) may be best known for its signature dish—the “carrot dog”—this vegetarian-leaning café offers coffee and pastries in the morning along with a small selection of sandwiches. And yes, the carrot dog is indeed a cooked carrot, topped with cole slaw and plopped onto a whole wheat bun. In keeping with its name, every table at Scribes has a pen and pad for you to jot down your carrot-inspired revelations, as well as Wi-Fi for the more technologically inclined.
A preferred destination for the many bankers and brokers who inhabit Jacksonville’s skyscrapers by day, Chew (117 W. Adams St., 904/355-3793, www.chewrestaurant.com, lunch 10:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Mon.–Fri., dinner 5:30–9:30 p.m. Tues.–Sat., lunch main courses from $7, dinner main courses from $15) is also one of the city’s few foodie destinations. Unafraid to employ a daring ingredients list, many of Chew’s dishes challenge diners’ predispositions; the braised pork belly appetizer, the duck-leg salad, and even sides like a beet risotto are masterfully prepared and a bit pricey, but well worth stepping out of the steak-and-potato comfort zone. The atmosphere at Chew is far from stuffy, as its stark, high-contrast, and defiantly modern style is balanced by a friendly and knowledgeable waitstaff.
With comfortable semiprivate booths and Bollywood videos on the TVs, Cilantro (9825 San Jose Blvd., 904/262-9577, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, main courses from $9) provides an ideal setting to linger over an extended Indian meal. Lunch buffets are offered, but dinner provides a more extensive experience. With all the standard north Indian bases covered (tandoori, curry, biryani), a few interesting specialties pop up on Cilantro’s menu. In addition to a full selection of goat dishes and a tart pickled paneer, Cilantro also has a handful of seafood dishes that nod to south Indian tastes.
With locations in both the Riverside and San Marco areas, Sake House (1478 Riverplace Blvd., 904/306-2188; 824 Lomax St., 904/301-1188, www.sakehousejax.com, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Mon.–Wed., 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., noon–9 p.m. Sun., main courses from $14) has a rather standard selection of sushi rolls along with teppanyaki, tempura, and katsu dishes. Everything is well-prepared and reasonably priced, if unspectacular.
La Cena Ristorante (211 N. Laura St., 904/633-9255, 6–11 p.m. Tues.–Sat., main courses from $22) is a recent addition to the Jacksonville dining scene, but it has already become a date-night institution. With only 14 tables tucked into a warm luxurious environment, La Cena strives to provide a unique dining experience based on high-end ingredients and chef-centric preparation. Focused on top-shelf Italian cuisine, the menu features over 30 homemade pasta dishes and specialties like veal saltimbocca rather than meatballs and marinara. Reservations are essential, and be advised that the service is measured and deliberate, so prepare to carve out a chunk of your evening.
The Mossfire Grill (1537 Margaret St., 904/355-4434, www.mossfire.com, 11 a.m.–late, main courses from $9) has become something of a Riverside institution since it opened a decade ago. With contemporary Southwestern-inspired dishes and a casual environment, it’s a perfect fit with the laid-back vibe of the neighborhood. Few of the dishes here are daring or innovative, but with fresh ingredients and a menu that not only includes a number of Tex-Mex dishes but also seafood and even meatloaf, Mossfire is a solid choice. The upstairs lounge has an extensive tequila selection, and happy hour kicks off at 3 p.m.
Giovanni’s (1151 Beach Blvd., 904/249-7787, www.giovannirestaurant.com, 5–9 p.m. Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun., main courses from $18) offers an upscale and elegant Italian dining experience among the pizza joints and fried seafood shacks that dominate the Jax Beach dining scene. Super-attentive service makes for an exquisite night out, and though the prices are a bit steep, it’s worth noting that if you choose to forgo the dining room experience and eat at the bar, half-sized and half-priced portions are available. Giovanni’s has an emphasis on fresh seafood dishes, with nearly a quarter of the menu given over to preparations of fish and shellfish; lamb, veal, and poultry are also well-represented.
What better way is there to close out a day at the beach than with some beer, barbecue, and blues? Mojo Kitchen (1500 Beach Blvd., 904/247-6636, http://mojobbq.com, 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Sun.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Fri.–Sat., main courses from $8) features live music on Friday and Saturday nights and dishes up top-shelf barbecue for lunch and dinner every day of the week. Smoked-meat connoisseurs will find much to love here, as Mojo features Texas- and North Carolina–style preparations, along with country-kitchen fare like chicken fried steak and catfish platters.
For meat cooked in a way that’s a different sort of Southern, Tento Churrascaria (528 N. 1st St., 904/246-1580, http://tentochurrascaria.com, 5–10 p.m. Tues.–Sat., 4–9 p.m. Sun., main courses $20) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse where guests serve themselves sides and salad buffet-style, and waiters bring out freshly-grilled meat on skewers from the kitchen and circle the room. Ten different meats—from tenderloin and beef ribs to sausages and chicken breasts—will come your way, and will keep coming unless you ask them to stop.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition