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.
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.
Christopher Seafood serves up crab-happily scrumptious Chesapeake Bay fare and other varieties of sea- and land-food fashioned by the experienced hands of head chef Kahn Vongdara. Fill an empty bio-tank with a steamy cup or bowl of Maryland crab vegetable soup ($3.95 cup, $5.95 bowl), before savoring a sesame-seared ahi tuna salad served atop seaweed, cucumber, and pickled ginger drizzled with honey-soy vinaigrette ($12.95). The broiled blue jumbo-lump crab cakes, a restaurant specialty, feature a seasoned duo of crab spheres served over organic greens and mango salsa, topped with a citrus-butter chardonnay sauce ($25.95). Crispy fried options include the jumbo coconut-encrusted shrimp with orange-ginger dipping sauce ($8.95), and pastavores will appreciate a dish of seafood linguini marinara, featuring dapper pan-seared shrimp, sea scallops, and mussels that smoothly escort linguini down the throat carpet ($17.95).
The hefty cheesesteaks at Bongiorno’s Philly Steak Shop smack of authenticity since they rest inside Amoroso’s rolls shipped straight from Philadelphia and come packed with meats from South Jersey. Housemade soups prepared fresh each day pairs with the eatery’s six types of steak sandwich, as well as its hoagies, hot dogs, wraps, and quesadillas.
Grinders Café has ground its own chuck beef and emulsified its own coffee beans each morning since it first opened its doors in 1986. A traditional American feeding and watering hole, the café welcomes all diners to a peaceful seat in a cozy space where no cravings go unsated. The eatery's menu is punctuated by signature southern breakfasts served until 2 p.m. Biscuits and sausage gravy ($5) compete with pecan waffles ($7) and country ham and eggs ($9.50) to start a patron's day, while twilit servings of fried green tomatoes ($6) wind the evening down with bona fide belly pampering.