Determining the menu for a restaurant is much like designing a fashion line. You must remain true to your brand, keep up with the trends, and be willing to take risks. A lesson I learned from level two sommelier John Nagy, managing partner of Eleven South Bistro and Bar my first date night destination in this series.
Not only did I have the chance to experience a well rounded selection of the menu, I also took some time to observe the setting and kitchen during peak hours. What I learned made my heart skip a beat.
1. Farm to Table Veterans
|On the menu: Mushroom and Goat Cheese
roasted portabella, melted herbed goat cheese, arugula, thyme scented toasted brioche, roasted red pepper aioli
It’s no secret that the farm to table movement has seen a major wave of popularity in the last few years. Thanks to the public making it more of a priority, many restaurants have made a greater effort at increasing their local fare. For Eleven South this is routine, as they have had a commitment to the freshest ingredients since inception, naturally requiring a relationship with local purveyors like Safe Harbor seafood market, and Beaver Street Produce.
|On the menu: Mixed Cheese Plate Selection
local honeycomb, strawberry balsamic jam, marcona almonds
2. A Culinary Family
From my conversation with John to my careful observation of the kitchen in full throttle I gleaned that this team is more than a cohesive group, they are a family. John spoke with glowing pride of his staff, many of whom successfully pioneered businesses elsewhere only to return to the Bistro down the line. I spoke with some of the “regulars” at the bar while observing the careful dance the kitchen line did while working together. The guests claimed that weekly they come and grab the seats next to the kitchen just to watch the crew work. They said Eleven’s crew is a team like no other, always watching each other’s backs and giving high fives when they’ve accomplished a particularly successful evening. Indeed it’s important to the leadership that everyone feels like they can bring something to the table, and that motivation is physically felt in the energy of the place, and visibly seen on the plate.
3. Food = Passion
|On the menu: Crispy Oysters
arborio rice crusted west coast oysters, kumquat-jalepeno marmalade, fried wakame salad
Individually, the leadership at Eleven South are rockstars in their own right. Take General Manager James Morrow who founded Jacksonville’s first cigar, wine, and martini bar Aromas. The staff are like pieces of a mosaic that as a unit create a masterpiece.
Pulling from inspiration around the world, and their own first hand experiences they have successfully compiled a menu worth visiting again and again. With staple favorites and new seasonal specials, there is something for every palate whether you are looking to mix it up and be adventurous or stick to something more traditional. “Everyone is well versed at creating here”, stated John when I questioned just how they determine the menu, implying that group effort is welcomed. In kind I should also mention the incredible wine selection and expertise in pairing each dish. I enjoyed several tastes from the collection including Chalk Hill, Delaporte, and Trouble Maker escalating each bite to it’s own sweet perfection.
4. Set the Scene
|Enjoy the scene on the Patio, at the Bar, or in the Romantic Dining Area|
Whether you are seeking an intimate getaway for a special someone, a refreshing lunch spot for you and the girls, or a trendy bar scene for socializing in, Eleven South is your spot. This sophisticated bistro and bar is at once the place you might want to get dressed up for.. .yet carries that casual beach vibe that puts you at ease. I love the patio for a little fresh air and great natural light in the afternoon, the bar is a hopping social scene at night, and the dining room provides a lovely romantic setting for any intimate occasion.
On the menu: Black Grouper
orzo, tomato, edamame & vidalia, spinach, tomato-mustard seed jam, basil pesto
|On the menu: Atlantic Salmon
spanakopita, asparagus, baby spinach, red bell pepper gravy, meyer lemon foam
|On the menu: Baseball Cut Top Sirloin
8oz center cut, lobster stuffed baked potato, sautéed broccolini, red wine demi
|On the menu: Vanilla Creme Brulee
Madagascar vanilla bean, fresh berries
|Owner Karen Thomas|
Clearly owners Karen Thomas and John Nagy’s recipe for infatuating their guests is truly successful, and that is why Eleven South Bistro and Bar is my first stop on this date night destination tour of the First Coast.