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.
The water-adventure lovers at Crazy Fish have expanded their waterfront activity arsenal with an airboat, taking six-to-eight gleeful guests on a one-hour guided tour with the captivating Captain Hurricane Dave. After pushing off in a bright red boat propelled by Paul Bunyan's desk fan, Captain Dave takes groups of up to eight airboat adorers on a trek through the waters, pointing out alligators, porpoises, manatees, and alligator-impersonating marsh birds along the way. Scenic views of the vibrant intracoastal waterway and the occasional eagle sighting thrill turf-dwellers and seafarers alike on this air-powered voyage.
Although it started as a phrase bandied about on spearfishing trips, the “salt life” eventually became the mantra for an entire subculture. The words refer to the casual lifestyle of small beachside towns where diving, surfing, and fishing allow people to connect with the ocean. Salt Life Food Shack celebrates this connection by forging entrees tinged with Hawaiian, Costa Rican, and Bahaman influences.
Located just three blocks from the ocean, Salt Life Food Shack boasts a menu that draws heavily from the sea. Ahi poke, fried soft-shell crabs, and hand-breaded shrimp fill the pages alongside turfier fare, such as st. louis ribs with island-style barbecue sauce and a coastal reimagining of beer-can chicken. Drawing seafood recipes from another hemisphere, the sushi list showcases shrimp and tuna rolls complemented by edamame, which is seasoned with sea salt from the Titanic’s first-class pantry.
The laid-back beach theme extends beyond the sea breeze on the covered patio to invade the dining room’s modern decor, which features surfboards and oceanic artwork along its sky-blue and white walls. An aquarium also inhabits the space, affording diners glimpses of vibrant tropical fish.
Ocean Grille isn’t your typical seafood shack. An iridescent blue bar takes up prime real estate in the middle of the restaurant, bathing the dining room in an indigo glow that emanates from the wrap-around lighting. A slew of HDTVs tilt from the ceiling toward diners. It’s not surprising, that the seaside spot doubles as a nightclub after dining hours. DJs play club music as bartenders pour cocktails for revelers and mermaid bachelorette parties. There’s even complimentary valet parking every night. Diners interested in breathing in some fresh air while ogling land-based panoramas can grab a seat on the outdoor patio, which overlooks grass-covered dunes.
But Ocean Grille isn’t all atmosphere. The menu delights diners with unorthodox eats, such as gator bites, conch fritters, and chargrilled oysters served with white wine, garlic, and butter. The restaurants also pays homage to the classics with grouper sandwiches and grilled tenderloin.
The aromas of Caribbean jerk spices and sizzling conch fritters waft through the air, luring passing boaters to dock their rides in the complimentary slips at Nippers Beach Grille. After disembarking from their schooners or GPS-equipped sea monsters, customers can either stroll into the open, 9,000-square-foot dining room or onto the massive waterfront deck, both of which boast scenic seaside views. In addition to the watery vistas and salt-filled air, the restaurant spreads a laidback, Caribbean vibe by piping ambient island music from its sound system and stocking its tiki deck with rum-laced cocktails and imported Red Stripe beers.
The menu also reflects this tropical theme, spotlighting Caribbean staples such as jerk-spiced diver scallops and sweet conch fritters, as well as fusion dishes such as grilled cheese layered with sliced guava and mac 'n' cheese studded with jerk chicken.
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.