Having grown up in Baltimore, Chef Kahn Vongdara showcases a cooking style infused with the flavors and ingredients of Chesapeake Bay. At Crab Cake Factory, he has compiled a menu featuring Maryland-style crab cakes and dishes such as trout and crayfish brushed with roasted-pecan sauce. Chef Kahn's hefty 16-ounce new york strip steak with crispy potato strings is served in a dining room—full of plush booths and wooden tables—where musicians pluck strings and sensually massage their saxophones. To complement the surf 'n' turf lineup and Jacksonville Jaguars games in the lounge, the eatery's mixologists offer more than 10 martinis, including the Cupid's Potion, crafted with Three Olives vanilla vodka and strawberry liqueur.
North Beach Bistro is more than a restaurant—it's a legacy. The upscale eatery was the vision of renowned chef Tony Pels, who trained with culinary giants such as Wolfgang Puck and Michel Richard, and chef David Seavey, whom Pels mentored for 15 years at the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa. Pels passed away only two months before the restaurant's opening in June of 2008, leaving executive chef Seavey to carry on his tradition of culinary creativity and generosity.
Spurred on by this responsibility, Seavey combines the freshest ingredients with a genuine love for his fellow Floridians. The Jacksonville native crafts hearty and flavorful surf 'n' turf entrees such as the bistro bouillabaisse with Mayport shrimp, sea scallops, mussels, calamari, and fresh fish or chargrilled Black Angus filet mignon with sauteed mushrooms and port wine sauce. Reddish-gold fixtures in the bar emanate light that's as warm and welcoming as the chef himself. DJs and live music keep the space vibrant, and the dining room's wood floors and spot-lit art give it an air of sophistication. Weekly trivia nights arm guests with knowledge that makes an ideal conversation starter or helps pass the time while stuck in an elevator with Ken Jennings.
In the kitchen at Mark's Prime Steakhouse, cherry and pecan flicker and pop in a wood stove. The smoke penetrates into thick cuts of U.S.D.A. beef and fresh seafood brought in from Mayport in Jacksonville. For filets, strips, or bone-in rib eyes, chefs singe a flavorful crust over each chop's juicy center before plopping it onto a plate sizzling with butter.
Servers with black vests and bow ties escort the prime proteins to diners' tables, where their conversations dance over dinner music by mid-century crooners, and light from the ceiling's stained-glass dome splashes onto dark woods. Nearby, martinis, classic cocktails, and a wine list—which has garnered Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence" every year since 2004—rest on a vintage bar. Salvaged from the La Concha Inn in Key West, the tiger mahogany bar was built in 1873 during an era when bars were called saloons and bears were called mega-squirrels.
Since 1948, grills have kissed aged steaks from Chicago and Kansas City with open flames to take center stage on Gene's Steak House's menu bolstered with select classics dishes and fine wines. Cuts of beef range from 6-ounce petite filet mignons to 28-ounce porterhouse-steak behemoths, each carved from corn-fed, immaculately aged meat. Diners can relive fishing trips or nightmares about aquariums with plates of char-grilled stuffed grouper, lobster tails, and salmon. A list of over 200 fine wines from around the world lends bouquets to balance every smoky flavor, highlighting steaks with French red bordeaux and complementing seafood with German white varietals.
Hurricane Grill & Wings showcases its library of more than 30 sauces in dishes that blend American, Mexican, and tropical influences. Their sauces' level of spiciness mimics hurricane intensity ratings, from the honey or mango barbecue options occupying Category 1 to the Ridiculously Hot Hurricane sauce in Category 5. In between sit flavors of ancho chili and lime, Jamaican jerk, chipotle raspberry, and spicy sweet chili. Baskets of jumbo or boneless wings come tossed in guests’ sauces of choice, as do grilled chicken or mahi-mahi sandwiches.
Elsewhere on the menu are tropically themed selections such as firecracker shrimp tacos, Southwest-style churrasco steak, and Monterey jack–filled quesadillas. The to-go menu can accommodate large gatherings, such as sports-watching parties or jury-duty reunions. Meanwhile, the full bar features island cocktails and bottle and tap beers from a variety of microbreweries to help subdue roaring mouth fires.
The inspiring trainers at each MetaBody location lead troops of workouteers in results-oriented workouts several times weekly. Fun sweat sessions utilize a variety of exercises and disciplines to produce full-body results in a supportive environment ideal for both beginners and hard-core core hardeners alike. Begin a day of litigating with a refreshing early-morning boot-camp session, or wind down by burning caloric evidence with a late-evening yoga class. Muscles are kept guessing with new and challenging moves during each session, so participants never fall into a boring, ineffective routine, such as regular teeth brushing. In addition to the fitness classes, students receive a success guide to help prepare for imminent pound loss, a nutrition guide, and a $100 gift certificate for individual coaching. Since the pass sets a 10-class cap at any given location, roving fitness mavens can further shake up their workout regimen by vetting a series of classes or instructors that work best for them.
In keeping with their restaurant's name, the chefs at Terra cook in sync with Earth's natural cycles. They constantly alter the menu to reflect the current season, and gather ingredients from local farms and purveyors. But their careful work doesn't stop there—they also make almost every component of their dishes in-house, for dine-in meals and catering on and off site. Terra is owned and founded by veteran restaurateur Michael Thomas, who also founded Jacksonville dining landmarks Sterling's and 24 Miramar.
Beyond these givens, Terra's offerings retain an element of the unpredictable. Quiches and seafood plates vary each day; a rotating "fresh catch" option delivers the freshest fish available straight from the Atlantic to the table. Shrimp and scallop dinners are always "chef's choice," enabling the staff to create a dish based on seasonal ingredients. Patrons with dietary restrictions can even order a customized dish—vegan, if they prefer—which the restaurant will create if given two days' notice or a flute whose music controls the wind. Of course, some specialties seem destined to carry over from menu to menu: skewers of pork belly and sautéed apple, duck breast sourced from Maple Farms, and a "Soon to be Famous" french toast stuffed with peanut butter and bananas.