Calaveras Cantina – Jupiter, FL

Working in south Florida recently, I happened on this modern Mexican restaurant that’s a game-changer.  You can find all manner of terribly ordinary Mexican restaurants around the country with typical fare and average food.  However, when we stepped into this beautiful spot with authentic fare and a modern twist, we were psyched!  By land or by sea, a stop at Calaveras Cantina in Harbourside Place will be well worth your trip.

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We walked into the bright open space and were greeted by friendly staff and the aroma of onions, spices and fried deliciousness.  The space is quite large with a bar, comfortable booths and outdoor seating to enjoy Jupiter’s weather and harbor.  The bright wall decorations and colorful glass lighting make for a lively environment.  We settled into the menu while sipping some Casa Margaritas.  There’s a lengthy selection of margaritas and other cocktails, available by the glass or pitcher (dangerous!).  You should try their Watermelon Jalapeño for a sweet-hot twist on the original.

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There was no doubt we needed fresh corn tortilla chips.  We also quickly realized that table side guacamole was a no-brainer.  Fresh, creamy, spicy and citrusy, it was the perfect pairing with our margaritas and chips.  I was impressed with the servers who were attentive and clearly “guac experts”!  There’s a dizzying selection of traditional favorites on the menu with a modern twist – think duck confit empanadas or pork belly tacos with kimchi.  I settled on the traditional tacos al pastor with spicy pork, pineapple, cilantro and chihuahua cheese.  How happy were my tastebuds??  Wow!

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I don’t get to Jupiter enough, but when I do, I will certainly make Calaveras Cantina a regular stop for lunch or dinner.  Whether a casual afternoon lunch or dinner with clients, this is an experience that everyone will appreciate.  Curtis Peery and friends have built a fantastic concept that warrants kudos on many levels – food, service and atmosphere.  Check out more of Palm Beach’s tequila-serving gem at calaverascantina.com.  Dig in!

La Piazza Cafe – Palm Coast, FL

On our first visit to Palm Coast, we had some great and not-so-great meals in the area.  La Piazza Cafe in European Village was the former and a rare treat of authentic Italian in a sea of chains in this resort area!  A quaint, kind of kitschy, restaurant with an old-world feel, La Piazza is a labor of love for the Lass Family.  Dine inside or alfresco under the ample covered patio and warm breeze.  You’ll love the atmosphere and the freedom to dress up or dress down for a relaxed dinner.

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We were seated inside and made some selections from the ample wine list to start the night.  Given a long list of beautiful antipasti choices, we decided on the Antipasto Italiano.  This was a beautiful assortment of meats, cheeses, olives and dressed vegetables served  crostini.  Enough as a starter for four people or a meal for two, the selections were fresh and flavorful.  It’s worth noting here that our server was really friendly and attentive.  She took the time to explain specials, let us drink and chat at our own pace and kept the glasses full throughout dinner.  It really made for a pleasant experience and fun evening!

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We enjoyed traditional caesar salads, perfect with optional anchovies, and then made our selections from the entrees.  There’s quite a list of pastas, traditional fare, steaks and fish, but it doesn’t feel crowded or fussy.  Our table devoured the traditional Bolognese and Carbonara – some of the best we’ve had.  I ordered the Fra Diavolo which was overflowing with fresh shrimp and calamari.  You can order the spice level from 1-10 and my 4 was plenty to give it a good zip.  The portions are huge though and a single pasta dish is nearly impossible to finish all on your own!

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Overall, it was a wonderful meal and a great evening with my family.  I definitely recommend making a stop or going out of your way to make a drive to enjoy a meal with the Lass Family.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!  You can find out more and take a look at their menu at lapiazzacafe.com.  Dig in!

386 – Palm Coast, FL

Nestled along the A1A on Florida’s northeast coast is a little hidden restaurant gem, at least to those that aren’t local, called 386.  Self-billed as “a fusion of fine dining”, you would never suspect the inventive and delicious menu that’s served inside the charming ramshackle building.  Having a reservation proved to be a wise move as it was packed on Friday night!  We walked through the gravel parking lot into the small rundown building unaware of the fantastic experience we were about to have.

Inside the door you are greeted by a lively crowded bar and then moved to a comfy dining room to the left.  Seating isn’t cramped, but they definitely pack in the people into their little spot.  We ordered wine and craft beer from an ample list and listened to a long selection of chef’s specials for the night.  How could we pass up the warm brie with brown sugar and balsamic served with parmesan crisps??  It was warm rich and creamy, without being overly sweet.  While the crisps were good, I thought the brie was much better on the warm bread they served as well.  We had a selection of salads next – the garden, the wedge and also the roasted beet special.  Red and golden beets with walnuts, goat cheese and vinaigrette tuned out to be a perfect choice!  Although my pet peeve is that it was served on a black plate – why mask those beautiful colors?!  I can tell you that I haven’t had better elsewhere though.

The menu has a ton of options from small plates to entrees and everything we saw coming out of the kitchen looked scrumptious.  Our table had a good sampling of entrees – Kansas City pork chop, herbed lamb chops, grilled ribeye and parmesan-crusted trout.  The meats were all healthy portions, cooked perfectly and served with simple, but tasty sides (think mom’s starch and veggie).  I ordered the trout, a huge portion crusted with parmesan bread crumbs and sage.  While the sage was a bit heavy, the fish was crisp and perfectly done.  Served with a simple risotto and green beans, it was all topped with a white wine butter sauce.

Dressed up or dressed down, a large group or an intimate dinner, you will love the inventive and well-cooked food at 386.  It’s clear that locals love this place as it was busy throughout the night!  Great service, comfortable surroundings and some of the best food in the area make this a must-visit if you’re in the area on vacation or if you live close by.  Find out more and check out the menu at threeeightsix.com.  Dig in!!

Rosie’s Fish Fry Coating

For many years my wife’s grandparents lived on Lake Okeechobee in Florida and would bring us the best lake perch caught and cleaned by papaw himself.  In fact, there was always money waiting if you could find a bone – he never had to pay out on that one!  Rosie would fry that fish in a light crispy cornmeal coating that always seemed impossible to make myself.  Eventually, she passed down the recipe and I have been using it, and the very specific ingredients, ever since.

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ROSIE’S FISH FRY COATING

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Mix all ingredients together in a 13×9 dish.  It will be easier to coat fish this way.
  • Dip fish or chicken fillets in whole milk and then into your fish fry coating.
  • Allow to rest on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
  • Fry in 350 degree oil until golden brown and cooked through.
  • Remove and drain on paper towels or wire racks and then serve immediately.

You’ll love the crispiness of this mix in all it’s fried golden deliciousness.  It’s perfectly seasoned, slightly herby, a little salty and great on both fish and chicken.  For chicken, I dip them a second time in milk and dry mix again before letting them rest another 15 minutes – it makes an extra-crispy crust!  Give it a try and stay true to the ingredients listed, Rosie would insist.  Dig in!