Located across from the beach, Habibi Bar & Cafe creates a part-American, part-Mediterranean atmosphere. The cuisine samples both cultures, and guests can relax and enjoy hookah in a variety of flavors. Habibi is family friendly until 10 p.m., when the bar only allows patrons 21 or older.
The couples eating Valentine's Day dinner at Buddha Thai Bistro would have been flooded with rose pedals, if not for the gauzy tapestries that hung from the ceiling and held them aloft. The eatery's ceiling is a canvas that changes with the seasons, sporting hundreds of folded paper sculptures for the Thai New Year or colorful streamers for other celebrations. Though the decor fluctuates, Buddha Thai Bistro's commitment to flavorful cuisine remains constant. In the kitchen, seven varieties of curry simmer with meat and vegetables, fried rice sizzles alongside eggs and glass noodles, and extra spices lend a sobering kick to drunk-man noodles, served for lunch or dinner. A new vegan menu offers dishes such as soy shrimp and papaya salad and tofu egg rolls, and a robust wine menu helps diners pair reds, whites, and sakes with their meals.
Directly below Beachside Seafood Restaurant's dining room, you will find the restaurant's in-house market. Here, chefs browse through the stock of locally caught seafood, picking out premium fillets of fish and shellfish and kindly directing lost scuba divers back to their hotels. After carrying their fresh purchases back up to the kitchen, chefs fire up stoves to fry baskets of their renowned mayport shrimp, steam lobster tails, and stack sandwiches with grilled mahi.
Once assembled, the staff carries dishes to the alfresco dining area, where playful nautical decor hangs out on the walls. On the covered upstairs deck, sunlight streams onto wooden floors that support rows of picnic tables. This scene backdrops guests sipping from frosty mugs of beer with the aroma of fried seafood wafting through the air, reminding diners of childhood vacations spent in Atlantis.
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.
Inside Giuliano's Italian Restaurant, George Gjergj and Leonard Gjergji's family recipes guide them as they stuff shells with ricotta cheese, sauté shrimp in homemade marinara sauce, and drizzle merlot reduction onto char-grilled filet mignon. Specialty pizzas marry ingredients such as grilled chicken and pesto or sliced steak and sautéed onions. A bottomless lunch buffet brims with slices of pizza like the description of a third grader’s dream job, and calzones slice open to reveal ricotta and ham.
Engine 15 Brewing Co.'s beginnings go back a long time—to the year 1988, when college freshman Luch Scremin took a stab at brewing his own beer. Bereft of the Internet, he spied a brewing kit in an old issue of Popular Mechanics. His first creations weren't noteworthy, but that’s beside the point. After attending the Siebel Institute, he got a job in the airline industry, which afforded the opportunity to travel the world and sample its many exceptional beers. Both matured and inspired by the experience, Luch met some business partners in 2008, and Engine 15 Brewing Co. soon followed.
Today, the craft brewery's creations reflect the values symbolized by Luch's 1962 Ford Fire Engine—time-tested know-how, determination, and camaraderie. At Engine 15's brewpub, taps spew forth original drafts such as the (904) Weissguy, a Bavarian-style hefeweizen whose cloudy body contains notes of clove, orange, and coriander. These stalwart drafts, plus seasonal creations such as the sweet-potato brown ale, grace the brewpub menu on a rotating basis, with current offerings scrawled on a blackboard or across the foreheads of dedicated waiters. Along with drawing drinks from Engine 15's freshest kegs, bartenders also pour beers from other well-respected craft breweries, such as Left Hand, Dogfish Head, and Southern Tier.
Not one to forget his roots, Luch also teaches other hopeful beer barons through hands-on Brew Your Own tutorials. With his guidance, guests brew four 22-ounce-bottle cases of styles such as raspberry wheat and oak-aged imperial stout.