Wandering the streets of St. Augustine lends itself to countless opportunities to discover hidden gems tucked into allies and around corners. One such place is Cafe del Hidalgo, a tiny eatery nestled on the bottom floor of the building that houses Sangrias, at the corner of Hypolita and Saint George. It’s easy to miss if you’re walking down Hypolita, as the entrance is back in the corner of a small courtyard behind several large plants. We stumbled upon Cafe del Hidalgo not too long ago after a morning of exploring. We were looking for a light lunch and, based on the menu posted on the wall outside, it seemed like it would fit the bill.
The inside is a mishmash of vintage Spanish/Old-World furnishings, dark red accents, and exposed rustic ceiling beams. Large menu boards are displayed over the counter, listing the various paninis, salads, pastries and coffees that the cafe offers up. They also serve gelato, which we have since heard is pretty tasty. What was a bit confusing was that the gelato counter was set up in a separate place on the other side of the cafe, just inside another door. For people entering the cafe through that door off of Saint George Street, it was a little perplexing as to where they should go to order food. We watched several groups of people walk in, look around with a confused expression, and step up to the gelato counter only to be awkwardly redirected to the food counter instead. What made it even more confusing was that if you wanted to get just gelato, you had to first order and pay at the food counter and then take your receipt to the gelato counter to actually pick your flavors and be served your long-awaited gelato. The whole set up seemed a little complicated and just plain odd.
Luckily we were only after food and had come in through the other door, so we were able to figure out the lay of the land pretty easily. After looking over the menu, we placed our order and had a seat to wait for our food. While the interior is warm and eclectic, which we can appreciate, the furnishings are truly mind-boggling. The table we chose was huge and precariously wobbly. It literally swayed back and forth when we put the slightest bit of weight on the tabletop. Our party of five (two of which were young kids) were widely spread out around this massive table, making it tough to reach our kids to help them with their food once it did arrive. Our chairs were equally nerve-wracking, sinking down, sagging, and creaking ominously when we sat down. Add to that the close quarters between the other tables and it made for a really uncomfortable lunch.
Our food was brought over after a short wait (thankfully) and we dug in. The food was good enough, although maybe a tad overpriced. The portions were a decent size as well. I had the Mona Lisa Panini ($8.99), which was served with the requisite pickle and potato chips. The panini itself was layered with roasted turkey, Brie, and crisp slices of green apples, all accented by sweet cherry preserves. The preserves offset with tart apples, while the Brie cheese added creaminess. Overall, it was a tasty panini. We also enjoyed a Venetian Panini ($8.99) with Brie, turkey, red onion, and sun dried tomatoes. Again, the ingredients worked well together and made for a decently tasty sandwich. Our kiddos split a kids Grilled Cheese Panini ($5.00), which usually includes tomato, but we opted to leave that off. It was a good panini and the kids definitely enjoyed it. The portion was generous and, along with the apple slices included with it, ended up being more than enough for our two kids to share.
The service during our visit was limited – the person taking our order was friendly enough and the girl that hollered out our name when our food was ready seemed nice. But that was about it. Someone walked by once and asked how we were doing. Aside from that we were pretty much on our own. Luckily, we are pretty low-maintenance folks most of the time.
While the food was pretty good, what really kept us from giving this place high marks was the ambiance and overall feel of the space. Between the dark, claustrophobic atmosphere and the wobbly, antique tables and chairs, it was a very uncomfortable place to eat a meal. There was even a sign displayed on a couple of tables asking patrons to be careful with the furniture and to avoid shaking the furniture too much. Huh?? While antique, rickety furniture might be somewhat charming and does fit the Old-World “theme” of the cafe, it just doesn’t seem very practical. And it definitely doesn’t invite patrons to relax and really enjoy their meals. Needless to say, we didn’t stick around to try out the gelato on that visit.
If you’re looking for a place in St Augustine to grab a decently tasty, light lunch and an ok price, Cafe del Hidalgo is an option. But we’d definitely recommend taking it to go or possibly grabbing a seat at their outdoor courtyard dining area instead. It seemed to have seating that was a bit more…um…secure.
Rhonda Kovar grew up in the heart of North Carolina before moving to Florida after getting hitched in 2002. She is a graduate of Lenoir-Rhyne University and a lover of all things crafty, musical, or edible. She loves exploring Jax with her family and eating her way through our Bold City. Rhonda also likes finding new and delicious ways to turn her two tiny picky eaters into future foodies. You can follow her on Instagram and read her other reviews on Jax Restaurant Reviews.