We concluded our culinary extravaganza at Bistro Aix, a Jacksonville fixture for more than 15 years. For starters it smelled heavenly. We were welcomed with some bubbly wine and then presented with their sensational menu. Just take a peek at it to see why making a choice was so very difficult. Our host convinced me that the grilled tuna was what I should order and I am so happy I did. Saying a dish was the best I have ever had is a bold statement, but this was hands down the tastiest tuna I have ever eaten. Moist, tender and flavorful, I savored every last bite. The wine pairing was a 2010 Stuhlmuller Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and it went surprisingly well with the tuna. After dinner we walked through the restaurant to ‘Le Bar’ to sample a few of their signature cocktails and sample some of their small plates. Although I didn’t see how I could manage one more bite, I tried their slider and was very impressed by the wonderful combination of tastes. I would recommend Bistro Aix to anyone with my highest recommendation. Executive Chef Ezekiel Mears is very much at home in his kitchen. His philosophy is to “take simple things and make them the highest quality we can.”
The next morning I strolled along the riverfront and walked around Jacksonville Landing. It was a bright, sunny day with just a touch of crispness in the air. Our small group boarded a bus and headed for Metro Diner. The diner opened in 1992, and Mark Davoli took the business over in 2000 when things were on the downswing. A Pittsburgh native, Mark has spent most of his life in Jacksonville and fell in love with the Metro, its open kitchen, charm and the building itself. He offers what he calls ‘diner food’, basic food with fresh ingredients. They offer daily specials featured on a blackboard. Metro favorites got their start as blackboard specials. Fried chicken and waffles is their best seller. Mark tried out a brand new special on us. With Thanksgiving approaching he gave us a waffle made from stuffing with mashed potatoes and gravy, turkey and cranberry sauce. With four locations now they serve about 800 people breakfast and lunch daily. I can guarantee you won’t leave hungry. He gets his inspiration from ‘seeing things and making them your own.’ He considers it a compliment when people ask him for a recipe. Metro Diner serves what Mark calls ‘a full plate of food.’ Very much a family business, Mark’s brother and father both work with him and until recently his mom did, too. You may have seen Metro Diner on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
A walk was most definitely in order after that gargantuan breakfast and we met with Gary Sass from Ad Lib Tours, dressed like Andrew Jackson, the man whose name the city bears. Gary showed us some of the city’s highlights including stops at the wildly successful Peterbrooke Chocolatier, the Treaty Oak, the Times-Union Center, home of the Jacksonville Symphony, the top of the Bank of America building for a panoramic city view and the historic and gorgeous Florida Theatre.
For lunch we stopped at Pele’s Wood Fire, where managing partner Matt Tierney greeted us with small bites paired with tasters of beer from their selection of 50 on tap and a few select wines. Matt spent six years on the big Island of Hawaii, where Madam Pele is the goddess of fire. He made a promise to Pele that if he opened a restaurant it would bear her name. Pele’s opened at the beginning of 2012. The menu is constantly evolving with a focus on fish. They have a wonderful selection of salads and paninis. We started with a Margherita pizza and then enjoyed a red and golden beets salad, flambéed mussels, crab cakes, gnocchi ox tail ragout and finished with an assortment of desserts. When a customers asks if something can be done, Matt’s reply is ‘the answer is yes. What’s the question?’
Our first full day had come to a close. We were barely getting started.