Florida’s First Coast features a bounty of chefs with offerings that satisfy the most discerning of tastes. From food festivals in Amelia Island to food and drink tours in St. Augustine, foodies will love Northeast Florida.
Amelia Island/Fernandina Beach
Amelia Island has some wonderful food festivals during the year. One, the Annual Fish to Fork festival each May, is sponsored by Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, where chefs showcase their fishing and culinary skills with the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop. The resort’s executive chef, Daven Wardynski, emulating this annual event, created a way to serve lunch on the beach with steel drum barrels serving as cooking pits. The menu features seafood, beer-can chicken, potatoes and corn on the cob.
“We now offer meeting planners this fish-to-fork-inspired option so their attendees can sink their toes in the sand and experience true beach dining,” said Michelle Valle, director of resort marketing.
“Amelia Island’s culinary scene can be the destination’s piece de resistance,” said Amy Boek, director of marketing for the Amelia Island CVB. “The island may only be 13 miles long, but you can find everything, from the AAA Five Diamond restaurant Salt at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island, to locally caught shrimp served up every which way at a variety of chef-owned-and-operated eateries in the historic district. And we have a craft distillery and locally brewed beers to put us on the map.”
Driving south to Jacksonville, visitors can experience another great dining scene.
“From gourmet food trucks to locally owned bistros, menus include fresh seafood caught steps from the restaurant, said Monica R. Smith, vice president of sales and services, Visit Jacksonville. “The highlight of any visit, Jacksonville’s food culture is a great mix of Southern comfort food, fresh ingredients and modern trends.”
Paul Cohn, director of events at Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, said his groups are asking for hyper-local ingredients featuring items grown close to, or even inside, the hotel.
“At Hyatt, we are dedicated to using responsibly grown, locally sourced products,” he said. “We choose responsible farming, which means we know our farmers and suppliers. In fact, their team has organized a farmers market experience right on the river. We also invite attendees to take part in cooking, or hosting food and beverage competitions that are great ways to build relationships and provide that elevated personal touch.”
In the historic San Marco section of Jacksonville, Matthew’s Restaurant offers a cooking school that is ideal for smaller teambuilding groups. For more formal events, the Wine Room seats up to 60 guests for a plated event and 75 guests for a cocktail-style reception. Other top restaurants in the area that cater to groups include Bistro Aix and Orsay.
Ponte Vedra, St. Augustine and the Beaches
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club offers groups a new interactive dining experience in its bustling kitchen’s signature restaurant, Seahorse Grille. Guests experience the ultimate front-row seat at the experiential Chef’s Table at the end of the cooking line. Seating only four, diners learn secrets and tips while the chef curates an exclusive, tailored seasonal menu for each group—whether a 10- or four-course meal, complimented by unique wine pairings. Groups can also take advantage of the resort’s location for an al fresco meal on the beach or golf course.
Azurea, the signature restaurant of One Ocean Resort & Spa, has established its own food and wine personality on the shores of Atlantic Beach, providing an elegant, artfully inspired atmosphere, with an ocean view accessible from any seat in the house. The resort features meeting rooms such as Pristina, with 1,550 square feet, to fit 120 for a reception, 110 for a banquet.
At the Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra, guests can discover the on-property garden and hydroponic growing stand. The herbs, like Spanish lavender and ginger mint, are harvested here for the dinner table and the spa. The resort’s chef, Matt Sanchez, works with the property’s own beehives, producing its own honey.
“Historic St. Augustine features a burgeoning dining scene,” said Kathy Catron, director of communications at St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra and The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau. “We have such a wide diversity of food: Spanish, Cuban, Peruvian and Italian, and we’re known for our year-round food festivals like the Taste of St. Augustine, our annual outdoor food festival featuring ‘tastes’ from over 25 participating restaurants,” Catron said.
There’s no shortage of tours in the area delighting guests. One is in the St. Augustine Distillery, once an ice manufacturing plant, and offers free tours of the mixing, mashing, cooking and distillation process of its premium small-batch vodka, rum, gin and whiskey. The distillery also offers a unique space for private events accommodating up to 40 in the tasting room and up to 60 in the museum and theater.
At the famed Hammock Beach Resort, Jason Neff, director of food & beverage, noted that each of its restaurants has a signature dish.
“At the Ocean Bar, the lobster salad sandwich, at Delfinos, it’s the 28-ounce Tomahawk steak for two,” he said. “Atlantic Grille features an incredible charred octopus dish, and Loggerheads just released a new gastro pub style menu that features croque monsieur from our new chef who hails from France. We also have some of the most talented sushi chefs in Florida at our sushi bar. Even if the guest is craving something as simple as a great burger, we offer the Hammock Beach Burger at most of our outlets as well.”
Neff explained they always suggest fresh seafood options to meeting professionals.
“Few culinary offerings taste better than locally caught seafood,” he said.