Columbus Day weekend is upon us, so we’re recommending you take the extra day off to get to know one of our state’s underrated historical cities.
In other words, consider a road trip to quaint St. Augustine, which, as the oldest city in the U.S., not only does it have ties to the holiday itself, but also happens to be going through a bit of a gastronomical renaissance.
Since it is, after all, a tourist destination, there are plenty of lodging options. We recommend you book a room in one of the many bed and breakfasts in or around downtown’s “old village”—coincidentally, also known as America’s first parish. Albeit a bit gimmicky in that Disney World-attraction kind of way, the architecture has been preserved for more than 200 years, and it’s fairy-tale charming. You’ll also conveniently be in walking distance to everything you need to check out.
Before you step out of your likely-to-be-haunted temporary abode and get lost in the cobblestone alleyways, take note of these spots for when hunger pangs hit:
If you’re a brunch aficionado, The Yard Bird Café is the place for your biscuit fix. Don’t you dare walk out of there without trying the blue crab quiche ($10) with a side of sweet potato home fries—the epitome of France-meets-the-South on a crunchy bite of salty puff pastry.
After brunch head west and make a left on Riberia Street. Two blocks up you’ll find the St. Augustine Distillery, Florida’s first small-batch craft distillery, a collaboration of local sugarcane wheat, corn and citrus farmers. The formerly abandoned ice plant is a spirits wonderland; its vodka has already been making strides with the big-timers. Best part about it is that the tour is free, and you get free samples of the house cocktails.
For lunch, return downtown. Indulge in a craft bourbon cocktail at Mojo BBQ Old City (after all, bourbon and brisket are a match made in heaven). Order the Odd Couple ($9) with Maker’s Mark, Hendrick’s Gin, orange, rhubarb bitters and maraschino cherry, which pairs perfectly with the infamous crisp-but-juicy Kansas City burnt ends ($10).
If you’re looking for something more authentic, head to Catch 27 for lunch or dinner. It is here where we found the best Minorcan clam chowder ($6): A tomato-based version of the soup that gets a kick from the datil pepper, an ingredient indigenous to the region.
The datil pepper is spicier than a jalapeño, but sweeter than a habanero. It makes for one heck of a sauce (you’ll spot different versions in almost all the menus in town). If you want to bring some back from your trip, stop by Hot Stuff Mon and ask charming store owner Chanel to help you pick from the extensive selection. She recommended the St. Augustine Snake Bite ($5.45)—not only is it one of the best hot sauces we’ve tried, it makes for a great memento, too.
As you continue to stroll through town, visit historical sites like the Castillo De San Marcos or the Lightner Museum. When you’re ready for a snack, stop into gourmet ice-pop shop The Hyppo, which makes all-natural paletas in such flavors as champagne-mango, pistachio-rosewater, chipotle-peach and cucumber-lemon-mint.
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You absolutely cannot skip town without dining at The Floridian, whose creaking wooden floors, lime-green painted walls decorated with all kinds of swamp-inspired art and trinkets make it the ultimate in Florida kitsch. There’s even a raft hanging from the main dining room ceiling. The food is southern-comfort meets locally sourced ingredients and sustainable proteins. Start with a Company’s Coming platter ($10), which includes house-pickled veggies, fried green tomatoes and pickles served with pimento cheese spread and creamy herb buttermilk for dipping. The entrée selection gets a tad harder, but we loved the Florida shrimp tostadas ($19) cooked in datil-BBQ sauce. The mound of goodness layers Wainwright pepper jack cheese over black-eyed pea Hoppin’ John.
Like any good small town U.S.A, the streets are swarmed with dive bars with live music acts, but we recommend an alternate ending to your day: Remember the distillery? The top floor of the refurbished building is one of the best craft cocktail bars in Florida. The Ice Plant serves elaborate drinks like the Moon And Antarctica ($10)—St. Augustine Distillery New World gin, Rhum Clément, house-made horchata lemon and lime poured over shaved ice in a coup. The bartenders pay very close attention to the ice used in every one of their cocktails, carved and cut in-house.
See, isn’t that more fun than ending up at a Columbus Day Regatta?