Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews has now expanded into St. Augustine with our new St. Augustine Foodies brand, and we wanted to begin our expansion by highlighting some of the best culinary spots that St. Augustine has to offer. One of the first restaurants that came to mind was The Floridian. It turns out that our interest in interviewing the two owners came at the perfect time. The Floridian is on the verge of moving their restaurant down a few blocks into a brand new, expanded space with a bigger kitchen, a dedicated private group area, and an expanded full liquor bar. They will also be showcasing a new courtyard and garden beds for sourcing some of their farm fresh fare.
Husband and wife, Jeff and Genie, are the most casual, relaxed, no-frills restaurant owners I have interviewed in recent memory. Opening The Floridian five years ago was truly within the natural progression of their lives. They each have 17 years of restaurant and food experience and share a passion for local, sustainable, freshly grown foods. Jeff grew up eating macrobiotic with his family. In fact, Jeff was a vegetarian until the restaurant menu tastings began. Jeff’s choice of vegetarianism for most of his life was because of his concern of the impact on the environment, so Genie and Jeff developed the locally sourced menu based on their shared passions. Genie worked for years doing catering for a farmer’s market stand and was well versed in creating food from local and seasonal ingredients. The mission behind The Floridian was simple – provide options for everyone. No matter how large a party, they wanted each person to be able to find something on their menu to enjoy.
Thinking back to five years ago when The Floridian first opened, the farm-to-table movement had not taken hold across the nation yet. It had particularly not made an impact in Florida. Genie and Jeff saw a niche that needed to be filled. St. Augustine had always felt like home to both of them even after moving several times, so they knew this was where The Floridian belonged. Their marketing campaign originally started by bringing in St. Augustine locals, friends, and family. The Floridian rapidly gained momentum as a tourist destination as well, consistently ranking first on Yelp and Trip Advisor. Regarding the tourist boom, Genie said “It was such a happy surprise with the tourist following. I can attribute that to our whole package being so unique. We are not expensive, but we are gourmet.”
The uniqueness that Genie attributes to The Floridian has now become a trend that The Floridian was far ahead of just 5 years ago. All the food for the menu is soured locally, including 12 local farms with big names like Cartwell Ranch, Sweet Grass Dairy, Wainright Dairy, and Fresh Start. Genie shops weekly for ingredients for the next week’s menu, and changes the menu about six times per year to reflect whatever is ready to be harvested. The proteins and starches on the menu stay roughly the same, while the fruits, veggies, and salsas are ever-changing. That means that you can expect to see a wide variety of unique sauces and salsas on The Floridian’s menu each time you visit. Genie has a passion for creating and combining unique flavors to capture the brightness of Florida’s produce. And the menu reflects the food that Genie and Jeff love the most – Thai, Caribbean, and Latin, with a contemporary southern flair. Jeff bragged about Genie’s talents with citrus and aromatics and how she works the seasonal flavors perfectly into their staple menu items to keep the menu fresh and evolving. Diners can also expect to see crisp pickled fruits and veggies on the menu to add vibrant flavor to traditional dishes.
Staples and best sellers on The Floridian’s menu include the N Grits (with choice of shrimp, fresh catch, or tofu), the Fresh Catch Floridian, savory BBQ pork waffles, the Spicy Tofu Melt, and the Dixie Burger. A tremendous amount of the menu can be easily modified to be vegetarian or gluten free. The amount of options with available tofu substitutions is one of the highest availabilities on a menu that I have ever seen. And such a substitution will not detract from the amazing flavors of the dish. The Floridian’s perfect mastery of Florida flavors even earned them a spot on an episode of Emeril’s Florida that aired mid-February and showcased The Floridian as one of two Florida restaurants that had captured the essence of the agricultural state in which we reside. Genie is passionate and proud of what she calls her “mutually beneficial restaurant experience” that provides restaurant customers with a healthy, tasty, and sustainable meal. The kids menu has no french fries or chicken nuggets, and they don’t serve diet coke. Genie and Jeff have a goal to show St. Augustine the rich flavors that come from around us and teach that there is no need to settle for less.
The restaurant move and expansion is planned for September and there are a plethora of new things to look forward to. With the expansion into a full bar, Jeff is looking forward to introducing people to smaller batched unique liquors in addition to their already diverse beer and wine list. Genie plans on adding in bar bites to the menu as well as some new menu additions that will be tested later, once the new kitchen routine has been established. Jeff and Genie have such pride in providing great food for St. Augustine, as the city has always embraced them. They look forward to continuing to serve the city with this exciting new space to continue their 5-star showcasing of Florida cuisine.
Photos courtesy of Anthony Newkirk at devouringjax.com.