Amelia Island, located just northeast of Jacksonville on the Florida-Georgia state line, is known for its golf courses and beaches. But it also has an interesting history, first as an end point of a railroad built by David Yulee in the 1850s and later in the century, cruise steam ships brought tourists to Amelia Island. After a while, Henry Flagler’s railroad and resorts drew visitors further south and the island became a hub of the motorized shrimping industry. But today it has reclaimed its place as a tourist destination, with luxury resorts like the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. More “southern” with its cypress trees than your typical palm tree-lined Florida beach town, the cuisine reflects this blend of cultures. You are as apt to find key lime pie as fried green pickles and hush puppies on the menu. And as you might expect from a tourist town, there is a range of cuisine from fine dining to your typical tourist traps. Luckily, when I was in town in November for a conference, I was able to stay at both the Omni and the Ritz and had a chance to sample the cuisine around town — and quiz the locals on their favorites. So if you are looking for the best Fernandina Beach restaurants or where to eat in Amelia Island for a special occasion, I’ve got you covered.
Where to Eat in Amelia Island — Fine Dining
Salt at The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island
If you are a foodie, than you just have to experience the Chef’s Adventure Tasting Menu at Salt in The Ritz-Carlton. The restaurant was recently renovated and reopened the day before we arrived. The Chef de Cuisine, Richard Laughlin, integrates contemporary techniques with salts from around the world to stimulate your taste buds. Now I’m always a fan of salt and I have sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, Celtic grey salt and even Icelandic volcanic salt in my cabinet at home so this experience was right up my alley. I was wowed again and again throughout our six course tasting menu, making it easy to see why Rick has been honored multiple times with the AAA Five Diamond Award.
The Chef’s Adventure Tasting Menu is typically five courses and is offered for $149 per person, with an additional $55 for wine pairings. I’ve done a number of chef’s tasting menus and this is not a bad deal for a special occasion and you will not go away disappointed or hungry. The chef is also open to changing the menu based on dietary restrictions and preferences with advance notice. For example, I don’t care for tuna tartare so I was given an alternate second course.
Our dinner started with a foie gras gelee with pear compote, oat crumble, and micro celery for an amuse bouche. I prefer my foie gras seared but this was smooth and rich…don’t let the “gelee” fool you. Our first course consisted of king crab meat with cauliflower gelee, clementine, pickled radish and caviar, and the second course for most was the tuna tartare. But it was the next three courses that brought the “ooos” and “ahs”, so if you go, don’t fill up too quickly (although the fresh bread with butter and a variety of salts makes it soooo tempting!)
The third course were Key West pink prawns, served with goat cheese, smoked tomato, and green tomato marmalade. But it was the presentation that wins the night here. Each dish arrived under a glass cloche, smoke swirling, which when lifted made for a big reveal.
It was the fourth course that won my stomach. Even though I’m not a fan of butternut squash, I make a delicious butternut squash soup with truffle oil that I thought was the best around. I was very wrong. Chef Laughlin is big on engaging all the senses and uses aromatics in his dishes to prepare the palette through the nose. The butternut squash soup arrived in a kabocha squash on a bed of toasted, spicy aromatics with cranberry foam and spiced pecans. This dish was sublime — more like dessert than dinner. Sweet, smooth and full of flavor.
I may have just overdone it on the earlier courses, and my full wine glasses were lining up as they were coming out faster than I could drink them (not usually a problem but I was keeping a 4 am wake up call in mind.) But to me, the fifth course looked better than it tasted. The “Steak, Eggs & Lobster” came out still cooking on a sizzling Himalayan salt block. It looked amazing and the presentation was stunning. The meat was rare and I was able to cook it to my liking on the hot salt. The contrast to the lobster tail was so perfect surf and turf, but once the lobster kept cooking on the salt it got a little tough, and the quail egg was just overkill at that point of the evening. By the time the s’mores soufflé arrived, with graham cracker, smoked vanilla ice cream, and Nutella anglaise, I was glad I don’t like marshmallows because I couldn’t manage more than a nibble.
The entire meal all I kept thinking was how much I want to return with Glenn because he would also absolutely love this experience. If you are looking for a place for a romantic retreat, do consider The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. I can attest that the spa is fabulous, the rooms are luxurious, and the food…well the food is amazing. From the salad I had by the pool to the chef’s tasting dinner.
Although my stomach could only handle one meal of that magnitude, I did get recommendations for other fine dining options on the island including Le Clos, a French restaurant just off Center Street in Ferdinanda Beach in a quaint home. I’ve been told that the meatloaf with foie gras and the flourless chocolate cake are the things to get here — another place Glenn would just love!
20 South 2nd Street, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034, (904) 261-8100
Another Ferdinanda Beach restaurant that came highly recommended was is Burlingame Restaurant. The chef was formerly at The Ritz-Carlton, but joined with the owners to open Burlingame. The restaurant focuses on coastal cuisine and fresh, local ingredients.
20 South 5th St, Fernandina Beach, Florida 32034, 904-432-7671
Fernandina Beach Restaurants — Casual Dining
This casual, neighborhood bistro offers “island” food with southern flair. 29 South has a pork chop that they marinate in tea brine for three days and then grill it and serve it over a bed of macaroni and cheese with berry compote. I’ve also heard that the warm donut with hot custard, served in a coffee mug with mocha ice cream is worth a trip to the beach.
29 south 3rd Street, Fernandina Beach FL, 32034, 904.277.7919
Timoti’s Seafood Shack
Timoti’s is a classic seafood shack with a cool, slightly hipster vibe. They offer minimal indoor seating but have a family-friendly, covered patio eating area with a playground. The food is casual, focusing on wild-caught seafood including fried fish baskets, tacos, sandwiches and salads. I tried the fried oyster po boy (yum), and others in my group really enjoyed the seaweed salad, fish tacos, and the poke bowl.
21 N 3rd Street, Ferdinanda Beach, FL 32034, 904-310-6550
The Salty Pelican
One of my Floridian friends recommended The Salty Pelican. This beach bar also offers fresh oysters, catch of the day, as well as a variety of sandwiches, salads and starters. At night it turns into a happening hot spot.
12 North Front Street, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, (904) 277-3811
Sliders is located right on the ocean front in Ferdinanda Beach, with a large indoor dining room, outdoor tiki bar and patio seating. Plus, they have a fun playground for the kiddos. You’ll want to try one of their specialty drinks for some beach fun. The menu is diverse, making decisions tough, but I’d recommend the shrimp tacos, grouper sandwich or the steak and fry salad.
1998 South Fletcher Avenue, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, 904-277-6652
La Mancha offers Spanish-Portuguese cuisine with Brazilian flare. Paella is the dish to get, with all you can eat paella on Sundays. They also offer an appetizer with shrimp in a cut out pineapple and an amazing flan.
2709 Sadler Rd, Fernandina Beach, 32034, 904-261-4646
Amelia Island Restaurants — Breakfast
If you are like me and enjoy a good breakfast, all the locals I asked suggested Beach Diner, serving specialties like “eggs on the bayou” benedict from 6 am to 2:30 pm.
2006 S 8th Street, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, 904-310-3750
2120 Sadler Road, Fernandina Beach, FL 32034, 904-261-6277
Fernandina Beach Bars
Amelia Tavern does offer some amazing looking food but I put it under bars because they have a great selection of local beers, including some they brew. I had fun trying out a beer sampler flight but my friend would also recommend the Key Lime pie martini.
318 Centre St., Fernandina Beach, FL 904-310-6088
So that is my round up. Do you have any others to add? Please leave a comment below!
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Note: My trip was hosted by Amelia Island Tourism and our Chef’s Adventure Tasting Dinner was hosted by The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. My taste buds and opinions are wholly mine 🙂