It used to be that any town north of Miami had an identity issue when it came to proclaiming a native cuisine. Fish shacks and orange juice stands were about as close as it came to getting real food from real Florida.
But, in the last decade or so, Florida has finally begun embracing its agrarian roots and celebrating the diversity and cornucopia of its great produce, grass-feed beef and fish caught sustainably in Florida waters.
Tempeh on a salad at The Floridian — Photo courtesy of Jason Saul
What Florida chefs usually uncover when they embrace locally grown ingedients is that Florida food, at its heart, is Southern. Collard greens, sweet corn, sweet potatoes and all manor of citrus are perfect ingredients for making those famous Southern staples such as sweet potato pie, grits, savory stewed greens, lemon coolers and even shrimp and grits.
The Floridain’s owner and chef husband-and-wife team – Jeff McNally and Genie Kepner – have embraced not only native ingredients but also Florida’s Southern foods heritage, as well, albeit lighter and fresher.
The grit cakes, for example, are made of fried polenta topped with seasonal salsa ($8), and the Shrimp and Sausage Pilau ($16) is made with local shrimp sautéed with onions and peppers and simmered in a spicy Datil-tomato and sausage “gravy.” (Datil, by the way, is St. Augustine’s native pepper.)
The Floridian makes a great effort to provide lots of vegetarian and vegan options, such as the ‘N' Grits, which can be ordered with the traditional remoulade shrimp or tofu ($14). The seasonal Florida Sunshine Salad with Florida strawberries, roasted sweet potatoes and candied pecans can be topped with tempeh ($13). There are even gluten-free options on the menu.
The Floridian's wall art — Photo courtesy of Jason Saul
Thirsty patrons can saddle up to the bar for yummy beer and wine cocktails made with infusions of fresh fruit juice and herbs like ginger and mint. Out back is the La Floridita, the restaurant’s Latin-inspired breakfast and lunch counter that offers smoothies, empanadas and breakfast burritos. It's open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Entering from the front patio draped in foliage, diners are greeted by a fun and funky décor laced with Florida kitsch. Vintage ceramic salt and pepper shakes in the shape of kittens and roosters are perched on the table, along with sprigs of fresh flowers in mason jars. On the ceiling is a rowboat, and a giant alligator painting, teeth bared, dominates one of the walls.
The restaurant is just a stone’s throw away from St. Augustine landmarks such as Flagler College, the Lightner Museum and swanky Casa Monica Hotel.
Besides securing local fans, The Floridian has even made foodies from around the country take notice. The latest feather in The Floridian’s cap? Emeril Lagasse chose the restaurant as one of his stops for his Cooking Channel program Emeril’s Florida as a prime example of farm-to-table dining in the "Sunshine State."