A Visit to JAX

We had the opportunity to spend a few days in north Florida last week. Jacksonville and its lovely San Marco area do not at all exemplify the Florida we’ve known in the past. There is no Hispanic culture, nor wealthy jet-setting northerners anywhere in sight. In fact, with its Spanish moss-laden trees and the sweet drawl of its people, Jacksonville seems more like Georgia whose border is a mere forty miles away. The weather, too, did not remind us of south Florida. The temperature was in the fifties while we were there, but after leaving a mere twelve degrees at home, it felt pretty nice to us.

Another huge difference we noticed was that fine dining is to be had in Jacksonville. (Not much of that farther south, at least in our minds.) The first night we found our way to Bistro Aix, a short fifteen minute walk from our hotel. On Sunday through Thursday nights from 5:00 to 7:00 they offer a three-course prix fixe meal. I had the creamy French onion soup, a nice variation which I’ve noticed in cookbooks before. (Though for the life of me, I can’t remember exactly where!) Then for the main dish I chose a half of a roast chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled carrots and small turnips. Very nice. For dessert they had my favorite: classic crème brülée.

The following night we weren’t as hungry and so we decided to try Taverna on San Marco square. For an appetizer we tried the cold, cubed beets, served with crumbled goat cheese, and small pieces of orange—nice, fresh, tasty! We had the pizza of the day as the entrée. It was on a thin crust with a combination of ricotta, fontina, and parmesan cheeses, topped with small strips of prosciutto. We were delighted to find on the menu a wine we’d been searching for and were finally able to taste Au Bon Climat, a California pinot noir from Santa Barbara.

Lest my readers believe that we only live to eat, let me assure you that we did manage to do a few other things on our short trip. For one, we found a great second-hand bookstore, also on the square. I really enjoy finding treasured old books like in the San Marco Bookstore, especially when they are so well-arranged in comfortable surroundings. The owner told me that to make the place more orderly they have eliminated certain sections and expanded others, like fiction and cookbooks. (Oops, there I go again!)

We really walked around a lot, including over the blue bridge to The Jacksonville Landing, Florida’s answer to New York’s South Street Seaport, with shops and restaurants. There’s a handy tourist trolley just outside that took us to the Cummer Museum. The Cummer family, who had moved to Florida from Michigan, made its fortune through saw mills. The patriarch’s son, Arthur, and his wife Ninah began collecting art at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their relatively small collection became the basis for the current museum. Visitors can also enjoy the beautiful gardens that Ninah Cummer had created, such as the Italian garden designed by landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman.

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