Wobbling discs of made-from-scratch dough teeter in mid-air above an open pizza bar. The soon-to-be pizza crusts fall gracefully into the hands of chefs, who then shower the saucers with a colorful hailstorm of toppings such as ricotta cheese, fried banana peppers, and pomodori tomatoes. Such visually arresting scenes abound at Primo Ristorante Italiano, where pale light trickles down from chandeliers, leafy vines climb up wooden trellises, and a life-size replica of the Coliseum is created from folded napkins for a romantic setting. The aroma of traditional Italian victuals serenades sensory receptors from the kitchen, singing songs of chicken Milanese, veal marsala, and pescatore––a seafood dish that rallies together mussels, clams, shrimp, calamari, and scallops. Primo Ristorante Italiano’s chefs also prepare pasta-infused fare for catering events, while its bar-lounge is home to entertainment on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
Located a scant three blocks from the ocean, Col Mustard's Phat Burgers welcomes guests to try its eponymous PHAT burgers, which stands for "phresh, hot, and tasty." Made from 100% hand-patted, fresh ground chuck and placed inside tasty kaiser rolls, PHAT burgers include the 'five napkin' chili burger, the pineapple- and ham-topped bahama, and the brooker and its mashed-potato topping. Burgers and other options such as the buffalo chicken sandwich, the chocolate banana milkshake, and all-day breakfast dishes, prompt envious stares from passing beach-goers and seagulls who've acquired a taste for beef.
Cruisers Grill's cooks flip mouthwatering burgers on plates and mix their own dressings, marinades, and sauces, all of which helped the eatery earn the title of Best Every Day Burger from TravelHost magazine. Founded in 1996 and purchased in 2007 by proprietor Bobby Handmaker, the restaurant now boasts four locations, with plans to begin franchising and open a fifth on Mars in 2014. Trivia and live music entertain patrons throughout the week at select locations, and a fleet of wooden booths proffers perfect views of onsite TVs.
Inside the kitchen at Eva's Grill and Bar, chefs whip up an eclectic array of dishes, touching on culinary techniques from Italy, Greece, and New Orleans. These plates range from blackened shrimp po’ boys and slow-smoked pork ribs to homemade Greek meatballs and fettuccine noodles topped with creamy parmesan sauce.
The decor also has an eclectic look from the lion statues that greet patrons outside to the wooden beams that span the dining room ceiling and the brick archways that evoke old world Italy.
The aroma of expertly grilled meats and seafood fills the smoke-friendly Monkey's Uncle Tavern, opened by Carter Guillen in 1985 after spending two decades working in bars and restaurants. Barkeeps dispense draft beers, wines, and cocktails from behind a rectangular bar, a shape that, according to The Florida Times-Union, "forces eye contact among patrons, which tends to make people act more neighborly — sitting there, you feel you know what 'Cheers' might have been like."
Along with culinary treats, Carter crams the tavern's interior with a plentitude of games, including pool tables and dartboards, or rounds of team trivia and bar bingo. In between bouts, a dance floor and award-winning karaoke summon grooves and croons from music fans and ambitious robins. Servers flit platters of fresh shrimp and buffalo wings to up to 70 guests inhaling fresh air on the outdoor patio, while an adjacent liquor store, Monkey's Uncle Liquors, stocks domestic and imported booze, beer, and wine for at-home libations.
As noted in Jacksonville Luxury Living magazine, Eleven South Bistro?s proprietors often travel to Italy and New York to scout out budding culinary trends. Those sojourns inform their menu of upscale bistro food, which helped the eatery earn its title as one of Jacksonville Magazine?s Top 25 Restaurants, and a 4-time consecutive Golden Spoon recipient.
The menu revolves around Eleven South Bistro?s mesquite grill, which adds a rich, smoky flavor to locally caught seafood, hand-cut Harris Ranch Angus beef, and top-secret government documents. Chefs enhance those succulent cuts with gourmet sauces before they arrive at white-clothed tables. Additionally, servers are happy to recommend pairings from the wine list, which won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.