Founded in 1565, the seaside city of St. Augustine, Florida bears distinction as the oldest European-founded settlement in the continental United States. Evidence of St. Augustine’s longevity can be seen in the city’s many examples of classic Spanish architecture and in its many historical landmarks (including the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which supposedly served as the Floridian landing spot of legendary Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon). But St. Augustine also counts among the small Southern cities making distinct names for themselves in the American culinary landscape. Like Birmingham, Alabama, Asheville, North Carolina, and Lexington, Kentucky, St. Augustine enjoys under-the-radar foodie status, although its reputation continues to grow as more and more restauranteurs and bar owners stake out their claim in this scenic waterfront town. Read on for eight examples of contemporary and inventive bars and restaurants in this venerable Florida destination.
St. Augustine Distillery, a liquor-making operation producing bourbon, gin, rum, and vodka, locates its operation inside a former ice plant building … which is where the distillery’s on-site cocktail bar found its name. The Ice Plant uses fresh-pressed juices and top-quality spirits (including plenty sourced from St. Augustine Distillery) to craft flavorful cocktails like The Rising Sun (Japanese whiskey, shochu, toasted sesame, lemon, seltzer) and The Edge and Back (tequila blanco, Campari, St. Augustine-grown datil pepper, cucumber, grapefruit, lemon). The bar also specializes in ice, offering fresh-cut versions from a large master block and custom cubes. Should you work up an appetite while sampling The Ice Plant’s beverages, the bar also serves a full dinner menu, featuring items like local shrimp & okra beignets, the Ice Plant Burger made from Wagyu beef, and duck leg confit with roasted peaches.
Just a few blocks from The Ice Plant, you’ll find San Sebastian Winery, a full-scale winemaking operation using grapes grown in northern and central Florida. In addition to classic varietals like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Cabernet Sauvignon, San Sebastian’s partner vineyards grow sizable crops of Muscadine grapes, a style native to the southeastern United States and used to make the full-bodied and fruit-forward Vintners blends available at San Sebastian. In addition to tours and tastings, San Sebastian also operates an on-site wine bar and jazz club called The Cellar Upstairs, where guests can enjoy glasses of vino and small bites like cheese and charcuterie boards, street tacos, soft pretzels, and chicken wings.
Prefer a frosty beer to a glass of wine or a snifter of spirits? Luckily for you, St. Augustine has its own waterfront beer bar: A1A Ale Works. With a spacious outdoor balcony and wide windows overlooking the ocean, A1A is an ideal place to kick back, order some pub grub (like crab cakes, beer cheese soup, or Minorcan clam chowder with local datil peppers) and sample local Florida brews like a Honey Pilsner from Orange Blossom Brewing in Orlando, a Nonchalant Session IPA from Nonchalant in Jacksonville, or a Floridian Hefeweizen from Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park.
Although Florida often finds itself excluded from discussions of Southern regional cuisine, the northern areas of the state feel particular kinship with the South and its culinary traditions. In St. Augustine, residents and visitors alike can get their fill of Southern fare with a chef-driven twist at Preserved. Headed up by James Beard nominee Chef Brian Whittington, Preserve focuses its menu on locally-grown produce and locally-raised proteins, all used to prepare hearty dishes like shrimp and grits, mussels frites, bouillabaisse, and braised beef short rib with roasted mushrooms and brussels sprouts.
Thanks to its mild annual temperatures, St. Augustine is a prime locale for outdoor dining. Therefore, it makes sense that St. Augustine would join other warm-weather food cities like Austin and Los Angeles in developing a vibrant food-truck scene. The Village Garden Food Truck Park serves the valuable purpose of bringing some of the city’s most beloved food trucks together onto a single property plot, which also includes umbrella-ed tables, corn hole courts, board games, and plenty of space for visitors to spread out and get comfortable. The regular truck vendors at The Village Garden range from Big Island Bowls Hawaiian-inspired smoothies and poké to smoky ribs and pulled pork at Riptide BBQ to wood-fired pizzas at Pele’s Kitchen.
A charmingly retro space packed with reclaimed wood, rattan accents, and succulents, The Floridian offers down-home, Southern-influenced eats with equal priority given to indulgent comfort foods and lighter, more health-conscious options. Menu highlights include a House Fish Dip with local lemon and caper-seasoned fish, cream cheese, bell pepper, and red onion, a Cornbread Panzanella salad with toasted cornbread croutons, arugula, heirloom tomatoes, and pickled onions, and a Shrimp & Sausage Maque Choux with Creole risotto, fresh shrimp, and locally made sausage.
Of course, a coastal city like St. Augustine will take enormous pride in its fresh-caught seafood, and restaurants like Hurricane Patty’s build their menus around the daily catches. This laidback seafood shack is a local favorite, with St. Augustine residents flocking to the outdoor deck to nosh on Hurricane Crab Dip, fresh steamed crawfish and clams, blackened grouper and mahi-mahi, and even blackened or fried Florida gator tail.
A St. Augustine institution since 2010, The Hyppo became famous for its artisanal popsicles, which come in flavors like Apricot IPA, Avocado Mint, Datil Pepper Cheesecake, Key Lime, and Peach Ginger Bourbon. Recently, The Hyppo opened a new location in St. Augustine, offering its suite of popsicle flavors, espresso beverages, and a selection of local beers and wines. The Hyppo Coffee Bar is already a major hit with St. Augustine residents, and it provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to relax with some caffeine and a unique icy treat.
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