In the past few months I’ve made a couple trips to Florida, and been pleasantly surprised to find some terrific coffee shops. Here’s my report.
PART ONE: ST AUGUSTINE & JACKSONVILLE
On this trip, four coffee shops visited, and each one earned the Coveted Asterisk of Quality.TM
I flew to Jacksonville’s airport for a weekend mini-reunion with some college friends in nearby St. Augustine, America’s oldest city. I had an early departure so my first stop after getting the rental car was for coffee. I had very low expectations for Jacksonville itself, as it’s always reputed to be boring and bland, but I was glad to find myself in the Five Points neighborhood at BREW Five Points. Great coffee, friendly people, and on a cool street with what looked to be a lot of cool and quirky restaurants, bars, and shops. I managed to resist these treasures in the window of the antique & junk shop next door.
This trip was my first time in St. Augustine, and it’s a delightful place. Lots of beautiful architecture, palm trees galore, very walkable, historic sites, great food, and surrounded by ocean, bays, and rivers. You can feel the Spanish heritage almost everywhere. Terrific place for a vacation, and the city feels like it handles its many visitors well. The only mystery to me is how anyone at Flagler College can concentrate on their studies, given the gorgeous campus is in the old town and has everything at its doorstep.
If you visit, I suggest staying in the old town, leaving your car parked, and walking as much as possible. Parking downtown is somewhere between difficult and impossible, and everything is in a very compact area that is easy to get around on foot.
I visited two centrally located coffee shops, and both made terrific drinks. The Australian-American Kookaburra, on the Plaza de La Constitución next to the landmark Cathedral Basilica, is perfectly located and has a menu featuring unique coffee drinks and (savory) Aussie pies. The downtown café is the original outlet for this local chain, which now includes 5 locations in St. Augustine and one in nearby Ponte Vedra. They roast their own beans, and also have terrific merch.
It took me a few tries to get to Relámpago Coffee Lab & Roasting. I found the wrong hours online one day and arrived after closing; the next day I arrived in plenty of time to find a note on the door indicating they closed early that day. The third time was the charm, on my way out of town. The delays were worth it, as the shop is an absolute delight. Located in an old wooden house behind the St. George Street pedestrian mall, the shop is surprisingly airy and bright inside. Terrific coffee, from beans roasted locally by Relámpago. The vibe is relaxed and friendly.
One final St. Augustine tip: try to have dinner at Columbia, a Cuban-Spanish restaurant on St. George. Part of a family-owned Florida chain, the food is superb and the décor, featuring colorful Spanish tiles and dark wood trim, is gorgeous.
Airport coffee options tend to require vastly lowered expectations (or creative solutions). Anyone flying in or out of JAX, however, doesn’t have that problem. Southern Grounds, a Jacksonville area chain, has a bright and cheerful location in Concourse A. I didn’t try the food, so I can’t speak to the quality of that portion of the menu, but the coffee was great by any standard. That was a really nice wrap up on my way out.
Coming up in part two, a holiday visit to Sarasota.