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Why is it that small towns seem to possess a sense of place and taste all their own that a big city just can’t compete with? Don’t you love it when you stroll a city’s downtown area poking your head into one place, sampling cuisine from another place …and you immediately get the feeling that you’ve arrived at a very special destination? And don’t you get a big kick out of the unique attractions that only a small town can offer? You know what I think? Hurray for small town America… and giant Diva kudos to St. Augustine, Florida, for taking small town living to a whole new fabulousity level.
Traveling so much, I appreciate a great place to stay. There are five inns (known as The Inns of Elegance) that you can trust to take care of your every whim: The Casablanca Inn, Inn on Charlotte, Bayfront Marin, Wescott House and the St. Francis Inn. This time I chose the Casablanca Inn for its central location, Tini Martini Bar, and bay views. Arriving at the Casablanca inn I was efficiently whisked away to my first floor room. I loved the elegant sitting room / bedroom combination that also offered someplace for me to work on my computer. The strong, immediate Wi-Fi connection was a BIG bonus. I treasured the neutral color palate of the room, the generous nicely equipped shower, lots of storage space, the seaside view, central location, and the Inn’s Tini Martini Bar. Inn keeper Bland Holland couldn’t have been more kind, generous and engaging during my stay. The $15 a day Martini credit gives (in conjunction with the great Wi-Fi) this Inn the Smart Cookie Award for understanding that a good Martini and strong Wi-Fi connection is the 21st century traveler’s ultimate dream date.
With a 3-day pass to the Old Town Trolley Tours, I took two complete spins around the city. I think it’s always good to get your bearings using an escorted trolley or bus on your first day in a new place, and the trolley did not disappoint. At about $20 a ticket (adults) purchased online, climb aboard to experience the humorous narrative and interesting points of interest the friendly conductors dispenses, bringing 500 years of American history to life.
A key to figuring out the best dining spots in any city is to take a foodie tour. I took The Savory Faire ($39) tour through City Walks . This tasty 2 1/2 hr walking tour explores the historical and cultural influences on the St. Augustine culinary scene. From Tapas to Desserts, I ate my way through the present day culinary offerings of the City by stopping at several restaurants to sample their signature items. My tour included a bottle of water at the start of the tour, all tastings, and a special heritage recipe gift.
There a million and one things to do in St. Augustine from discovering the unique Pirate Museum to exploring the historic fort Castillo de San Marcos, to wine tasting at San Sebastian Winery . Here are my suggestions of the best of the best for a 2-3 day stay …what to see, do, and eat in St Augustine. Be green...go carless in St. Augustine using Old Town Trolley Tours.
Avilies Street: Unique and refined shopping. Aviles Street is a narrow, brick road that is chock-full of history and unique shops. It is the oldest street in the United States. The flower packed historic building gets a special nod for its art & jewelry galleries, a clothing store, a map shop, a glass shop and a custom leather goods shop. Several great restaurants too, including the fabulous Polish cuisine favorite Gaurfés & & Goods. A special nod goes to Joel Bagnal’s jewelry. Joel's shop is located inside Dan Holiday's Leather Shop. Over 40 years of truly unique, affordable, and inspiring goldsmithing makes this a must “stop and buy spot” for jewelry lovers. I especially fell in love with his earrings. Trolley stop.
St. Augustine Eco Tours: You can tell a great deal about a water-side city by the way they treat their waterways and eco system. This dolphin, birding and nature tour is a good example of local passionate conservatorship. For about $40 (adult) interpretive naturalists and USCG licensed Captains guide you on a fun and informational 1 ½ hour trip exploring the rivers and creeks surrounding St. Augustine, dolphin and bird watching, and marine ecology, historic sights, and an amazing boat ride. A MUST do – but don’t forget a sun hat and sunscreen. Afterwards, be sure and stop for lunch or dinner at O.C. Whites restaurant – right across the street- to indulge in generous portions, killer drinks, and friendly service. Trolley stop.
Tini Martini Bar: What could be better than drinking a cool, elegant martini on the verandah of a historic Inn, while watching a street artist or to and waving at sail boats floating by? You can have it all at the Casablanca Inn. Enjoy dozens of creative martinis, 32 wines by the glass, and several fine single malt Scotch choices. Beer aficionados won't be disappointed either, with 28 distinctive brews to choose from. Just steps from a nearby trolley stop.
Lightner Museum: Relics of America's Gilded Age are elegantly exhibited on three floors of the former Hotel Alcazar. Can you say history, history and more history? Costumes, furnishings, mechanical musical instruments and other artifacts give a significant glimpse into 19th century daily life. Don’t miss the exquisite cut glass, Victorian art glass and the stained glass work of Louis Tiffany. While you’re there do lunch at Café Alcazar, or if you’re really lucky they do dinner once a month. The café sits in the same space where the hotel’s pool was located over 120 years ago. Chef Jesse has created a lunch and dinner menu you won’t soon forget. Very chic – a place to see and be seen. Trolley Stop.
Villa Zorayda: Weird, wonderful, and beautiful all at one time. Step back into time to experience one of the most magnificent examples of Moorish Architecture in the US. A 19th century masterpiece, you’ll be in awe of the family history, and their art and antique collection. Seriously took my breath away. Completely renovated – 128 years of history is right at your fingertips. Admission starts at $10, but can be offset by various discount opportunities. Trolley Stop.
Hot Shot Bakery and Café: Located in the heart of beautiful downtown Saint Augustine between the Lightner museum and the Villa Zorayda, this Bakery is open for breakfast and lunch daily, but the true attraction may be the (locally grown) datil pepper challenge. The datil has been used by the Minorcan community in St. Augustine since the 18th century, and rates from 100,000 to 300,000 on the scoville scale. Find out if you’ve got the right “hot stuff! Come eat a chocolate dipped datil pepper and make it on their Wall of Flame! One is enough for most, but the current winner stands at consuming about 32. Fun, high-spirited fun…and darn good eats as well. Across the street from a trolley stop.
Bistro de Leon: Fine French cuisine in a relaxed bistro setting. Locals love this place and I know why. -affordable, classy, personable and delicious describe this place to a tee. Owner/Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard is the master of great French sauces. A trip to Sr. Augustine would not be complete without a visit to the restaurant. If you’re like me, you’ll make time to visit several times over a 3-day period. Near the historic town square and trolley stop.
Rhett’s: An adult oasis for all of us. Check out this late night piano bar and brasserie nightclub for outstanding appetizers, desserts, a nightcap and jazz. Luxe martini’s include favorites such as a Lemon Drop Blush and the luscious Chocolate Cake. I loved the appetizers and desserts. Acutally anything you get is going to off the yum-factor scale. 27-year old Chef Barry Honan is one to watch. Creative, entertaining and invigorating are apt descriptors for this happening place. Near a trolley stop.
Athena: Get your Greek food fix here. Come try one of their fabulous Greek Salads, gyros (my personal favorite) , or flaming cheese (called spanakopita). I loved the quaint little diner located across from the historic town square featuring mural decorated walls and graceful arched ceiling. Service is exceptional. Be sure to purchase a bottle of Frixa Olive Oil. A first cold press olive oil, natural and unrefined, it has a special flavor to it that I haven’t experienced before. Rich, flavorful and aromatic, this “liquid gold” is a hit with locals and tourists.
Sara's Crepe Cafe: On the lighter side of the St. Augustine cuisine trail, Sara's is a great place to stop for a light, freshly made savory or sweet European style crepe and some people watching . Using original recipes from her grandmother (and restaurant name sake), offering a delightful courtyard area, and showcasing music every night, owner Margarita Abramov will spoil you rotten. A true indulgence for the spirit and palate.
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Laughing Shrimp on Oriental Zucchini Carpaccio
Compliments of Bistro De Leon
Chef Jean-Stephane Poinard
St Augustine, Florida
Wine Pairing Suggestion: A California Sauvignon Blanc with its vibrant, citrusy flavors will pick up the herbal notes in this fragrant dish.
PART 1: Ingredients for Zucchini Marinade
1 Cup virgin olive oil
2 T. honey
½ T. ground coriander seeds
1 Cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 large zucchini – sliced in thin rounds
2 limes – juice only
Sprinkle of salt and pepper
Combine all marinade ingredients and marinate sliced zucchini overnight in refrigerator.
PART 2: Ingredients for Laughing Shrimp
2 Pounds peeled and deveined raw shrimp
Bouquet Garni (bundle of tied herbs to include parsley, thyme, bay leaf)
Sprinkle of salt and pepper
Poach shrimp in water with bouquet garni, salt & pepper until done – approx. 2 minutes. Remove from liquid and chill in refrigerator.
PART 3: Assemble Cold Plate
Arrange drained zucchini on a white dinner plate – using 3 t. of marinade as drizzle. Cut shrimp in half and dunk briefly into remaining marinade with a sprinkle of curry powder.
Arrange shrimp on top of zucchini Carpaccio.