Stretching from Amelia Island through Jacksonville and down to St. Augustine, this 70 miles of coastland is steeped in history and tradition. The South is famous for its food, and on the First Coast of Florida, you’ll find both Southern and coastal influences, whether it’s a perfectly crusted grouper, shrimp fresh from the Mayport docks or local, organic produce—and you can enjoy it all right on the water.
A recipient of AAA’s Five Diamond Award of Excellence, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island’s oceanfront restaurant Salt is one of the region’s most esteemed fine dining destinations. Taking service to another level, the staff is extensively trained in their knowledge of food and wine and is intuitively prepared for your every need. The recently updated restaurant utilizes simple ingredients from the earth and sea to create elegant show-stopping masterpieces like the Chef’s signature Smoked Shrimp and Grits, presented in a cloche filled with a cloud of hickory smoke. Sip on a cocktail, dine with your date, or go all out and experience the Chef’s Adventure menu in the “Seat in the Kitchen.” The Reef in Vilano Beach is another spectacular setting, just steps from the Atlantic Ocean. A local fixture for almost 30 years, The Reef is also a hot spot for brunch.
Old Florida is alive and well at Cap’s on The Water and Aunt Kate’s. At Cap’s, you can dine alfresco under a canopy of Spanish moss in the glow of chandeliers. “It’s quite possibly the best upscale dive you’ll ever eat in,” boasts owner Bernard Deraad. Cap’s casually romantic atmosphere caters to a variety of diners both local and visiting. Enjoy coastal cuisine with hints of both Southern and European influences with the freshest local seafood and produce, raw bar, artisan cocktails and the longest wine list in North Florida. Menu “must haves” include the popular Vanilla Grouper, Sesame Seared Tuna and Fried Green Tomatoes with Burrata. Just down stream is Aunt Kate’s, which got its start roasting oysters for Henry Flagler 117 years ago. Today, visitors still flock here for amazing sunsets, an occasional dolphin encounter and steamed oysters, peel ‘n’ eat shrimp, crab cakes and Menorcan clam chowder.
A River Runs Through It
Popular for famous prime steaks broiled to perfection at 1800 degrees and the Sizzle and Swirl Happy Hour, Ruth’s Chris’ reputation proceeds itself. Nowhere is the atmosphere more inviting than at the St. Johns Riverfront location in downtown Jacksonville. Guests embrace the elegant setting to dine on favorites like the New York strip, and farm-to-table, “made from scratch” sides such as creamed spinach and potatoes au gratin. Take in the twinkling lights of the city through the wall-to-wall windows. For more casual fare, you can’t beat the atmosphere at River City Brewing Company. Sitting outside with a craft beer taking in the city sights is what a vacation should feel like.
If you travel South down the St. Johns River and make your way up Julington Creek, you’ll find your way to the docks of Clark’s Fish Camp, a bait-and-tackle shop turned family-friendly restaurant established in 1974. Clark’s serves up home-style Southern cooking to a faithful clientele of locals, regulars and tourists. Home of the largest taxidermy collection in North America, an experience at Clark’s is one-of-a-kind. Accessible by road or waterway, diners flock to the camp for fresh locally sourced seafood and fish-camp favorites. Fill up on the Swamp Platter brimming with crunchy gator tail, soft shell crab and conch or opt for the fresh catch of the day filleted and prepared by Ashlee Peoples, the owner’s granddaughter. Quench your thirst with a rum runner or brave the Swamp Water cocktail for a true fish camp experience. Don’t leave without paying a visit to Lily, the six-and-a-half-foot alligator that calls the fish camp home. One thing’s for sure: when you dine at Clark’s Fish Camp you’ll arrive with an appetite and leave with a story.