‘Cats Insider’s Guide To Storming Gator Bowl Country: Restaurant Edition!

Folks, meet Steve Rankin,  a 1974 graduate of Northwestern, who has lived in Northeast Florida for the past 33 years with his wife Amy (a Rutgers grad so she is now officially a Big Ten insider).  Both of their children, Lauren (2008) and Nicholas (2010) also graduated from NU, as did Steve’s uncle and first cousin, so Northwestern is a deeply-rooted tradition in the Rankin clan.  Steve, a student manager for the basketball team during his years at NU (including a portion of the legendary Tex Winter’s stint as coach) has closely followed all NU sports since his college days, so he remembers all too well the depths of despair brought on during the “dark ages.”  An avid reader and participant on Lake the Posts since its inception, Steve, now 60,  lives in St. Augustine and spent most of his professional career as an executive with the PGA Tour in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach. He and his family welcome all LTP followers to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl, and he offered to provide some restaurant tips for Cats fans visiting for the big game.

Steve is a regular emailer to me as many of you are, always sending links, tidbits and the like to make sure I don’t miss anything. In an effort to make sure we appeal to MULTIPLE demographics of ‘Cats fans, Steve has kindly taken the Baby Boomer edition perspective and has the below commentary on good eats, which is of course ageless. Feel free to hit him up with questions in the comments section. THANKS STEVE! Take it away….

Thanks LTP! While this post is technically about Jacksonville, I’m particularly partial to St. Augustine, not only because I live there, but also because it is a quaint, scenic town that was the first city in what is now the U.S.  It will celebrate its 450thanniversary in 2015 and is the site of Ponce de Leon’s mythical Fountain of Youth.  Definitely worth the 35-minute drive south from Jacksonville.  It’s also worth a similar drive north to Fernandina Beach, a rustic, picturesque town located on Amelia Island…stop in for a beer at the historic Palace Saloon, Florida’s oldest saloon established in 1903.


Jacksonville Restaurants:

  • Orsay – Really good French bistro in Avondale area…one of my favorites in the area
  • Black Sheep – Just opened in the past month, but early reviews are excellent and it comes with fine dining chef/owner pedigree
    • ·        Bistro Aix –  One of Jax’s favorite upscale bistros for more than a decade in San Marco area
    • BB’s – Another San Marco favorite, it features good seafood and great desserts
    • Biscotti’s – Located in fashionable Avondale, it has a nice menu but its calling card is definitely its desserts
    • Matthew’s – Very expensive (by Jax standards), it has been the top dining experience around for many years
    • Indochine – Good Thai food in a convenient downtown location
    • Taverna – Excellent quality for moderate prices in the heart of San Marco
    • Mojo’s BBQ – Jax has many BBQ establishments, but Mojo’s is best…try the pulled pork!

Beaches Area Restaurants:

  • Ragtime Tavern – A favorite drinking and dining establishment in Atlantic Beach for over 30 years
  • Marker 32 – Upscale dining featuring excellent seafood dishes on the Intracoastal Waterway in Jax Beach
  • Dwight’s – Haven’t been there myself, but this Jax Beach bistro has a good reputation for seafood and steaks…expensive.
  • Ocean 60 – On Ocean Blvd in Atlantic Beach, eclectic menu with a continental leaning
  • Restaurant Medure – Same owner/chef as Matthew’s, but more casual and less expensive…located in Ponte Vedra.

St. Augustine:

  • Collage – In the heart of the historic district, Collage has an old-world, continental menu with a more modern touch
  • Cap’s on the Water – Popular indoor/outdoor seafood place on the Intracoastal Waterway
  • Columbia – One of several in Florida, Columbia is a Spanish restaurant (great paella), the first of which opened in the early 1900’s in the Tampa Bay area
  • Tasting Room – Also in the historic district, you can choose to do tapas or order entrees instead…excellent wine list
  • Bistro de Leon – Small French bistro next to main square in downtown St. Augustine…as in France, ask for the bill or you won’t get it!

Fernandina Beach:

  • Le Clos – Intimate French restaurant with decent prices
  • 29 South Eats – Eclectic casual dining spot with good food in downtown Fernandina
  • Joe’s Second Street Bistro – Mainly seafood in a quaint garden setting…also seating indoors if the weather is bad
  • Beech Street Grille – Reliable upscale dining establishment since the 1980’s


  • cece

    great Rankin list, great service from LTP. thanks so much for this informative post!

  • ncrmd

    Thanks, Steve, for the information. Have you heard about a place called the Wine Cellar?

    • SteveR

      Should have included the Wine Cellar on my list…a Jax institution since 1974. Old world, European type menu, but it has been updated through the years to include some items with an Asian influence. Convenient to downtown…expensive but good.

  • zeek

    Good information guys; haven’t been to Jacksonville in a long time personally, so this should be fun.

  • Fantastic list. I worked in Jacksonville this summer and Indochine was a lunchtime favorite in the office. Comparable to Thai Sook Dee in Evanston!

    I have also been to Bistro Aix, very very good too. Mojo’s is also fantastic bar-b-que restaurant. Have just about any style you want there. My cousins who live in Jacksonville also absolutely love BB’s.

    Adding to that list, may I also suggest Burrito Gallery for a postgame snack. It is located right next to Indochine downtown. Very good burritos.

    If you are down on Jacksonville Beach and you like seafood, the local favorite is this place called Sliders. It is in Neptune Beach I believe.

  • way to go, dad! proud to be a rankin, a lake the post reader, a northwestern alum (as mentioned above – c/o 2008!), and a wildcat fan. #gocats

  • rambo junior

    Great list! Could you please ask him also where to stay and where not to stay? I’m looking for hotels near the stadium and don’t want to end up in a bad part of town

    • There are a few hotels right downtown. If you are staying at a downtown hotel right on the river, you should be fine. Within walking distance to the stadium. On Gameday, I think you would be fine.

      • There are hotels on the other side of the river, as well, so, if you plan to walk, make sure you are on the stadium side!

  • gocatsteve

    Thanks, Steve, for all the info. My wife and I, along with our four kids (ages 3 to 9), will be making our annual trip to the bowl game. Any good places for us to eat with a bunch of kids? (They’re pretty well-behaved.) Also, we’re thinking of staying at the Crown Plaza on the river. Is that a good location for the Gator Bowl festivities?

    • SteveR

      Depends on how old your kids are and how much you are willing to spend. Ruth’s Chris Steak House is in the Crowne Plaza, but I would assume that’s not a place you want to take your kids ($$$$). Assuming you’ll have a car, I’d suggest you try the Five Points area in nearby Riverside…it’s an eclectic part of town with a variety of kids-friendly eating places. Moss Fire Grill is fun (southwestern cuisine), and there are a couple of pizza places (Al’s is probably the best, but this ain’t Chicago!). This link will give you a sense of what Five Points is all about:


      Not far from the Crowne Plaza is San Marco, which also has a variety of places the kids will probably like. Drive north a mile or two on Hendricks Avenue, and next to each other on your right are Green Erth Bistro and High Tide Burrito Company. In San Marco Town Square, you’ll find the San Marco Deli, Taverna, The Loop, Firehouse Subs, and a couple more pizza places.

      • gocatsteve

        Great info, Steve, really appreciate it… Go Cats!!!

      • Yeah, I would agree. The San Marco area has a bunch of nice shops and a few restaurants (is Pizza Palace the name of that place? My cousin loves it) plus a nice sort of arthouse movie theater with just two screens. Saw DKR there, they have a full bar and snacks. Very chill and low key (but if it rains, watch out, it floods a little bit!)

  • CatInTheHat

    Fantastic info–thank you! Also, just FYI for those with lodging questions, the downtown/riverfront hotels are quite expensive, but there are alternatives. A large group of NU fans (myself included) is staying at hotels in the Butler Blvd/Lenoir Road area, which is about 1/3 the cost but is also a cab ride or drive from the main downtown area. The TownePlace Suites and Courtyard in that area will both be home to fairly sizeable NU fan contingents, and I know that there is still space available at both hotels. Again–just FYI. Do not let this discourage you from staying at the riverfront if you don’t mind the room rates. It’s simply an alternative.