I love a good restaurant week. I used to look forward to the release of Atlanta’s various restaurant week menus (Downtown, Midtown, Inman Park, Buckhead…) with excitement. The approach of Jacksonville’s Eat Up Downtown (sort of an extended restaurant week) was no exception. Last year I visited the [now closed--but soon to reopen!] Chew with coworkers. I always try to pick places whose entree choices are more creative than chicken/beef or pork/fish, and Cafe Nola, located in the Museum of Contemporary Art, fit the bill.
I’ll start at the end with this: after finishing our meal, I was SHOCKED that Cafe Nola wasn’t filled to capacity during Eat Up Downtown. The meal progressively improved (maybe just because I love dessert…) and I can’t wait to visit during their typical lunch hours or on a Thursday, when they’re open for dinner. The small but open and airy space is separated from the rest of the museum by glass walls, which still allow you to see the current main installation (always large and impressive) in the gallery.
We started our three-course meal with the grilled peach gazpacho (topped with prosciutto and fried basil) for Mario and Scotch egg (boiled egg encased in housemade chorizo, with smoked almond romesco, lemon zest) for me:
I had never had a Scotch egg before this, I had only heard of the meat-wrapped, deep fried concoction in legends I thought this one had been fried a tad too long, but I loved the Spanish touches of chorizo and romesco sauce. There was some underlying flavor in the gazpacho that put Mario and me off a bit. I also wanted a little more sweetness from the peaches, as most of what you got was the tomato flavor of a typical gazpacho. I did like the salty, crisp accent of the prosciutto.
When eating off a prix fixe menu, I always try to order whatever Mario isn’t having so we can try more items (I let him choose first because he’s the picky one). However, when he said he was ordering Cafe Nola’s shrimp and grits (white wine sauce, fresh wild mushrooms, bacon, cheddar grit cake, sun dried tomato crostini), I just couldn’t bring myself to go with my second choice. Mushrooms, bacon, creamy sauce, cheesy grits?? I love all those things! So we both ended up getting an order:
I’m so glad I didn’t have to share this. The sauce was creamy but not rich, the shrimp plump, and the grit cake flavorful. I may or may not have run my finger along the plate to pick up leftover sauce when I was finished.
Finally, dessert. Mario decided on the “Peanut Butter Jelly Time” (ha!), a red grape cobbler with peanut butter ice cream, and I went with the Sticky Fig Pudding (fresh figs, dark chocolate, toffee sauce):
I think I won this round. The sticky fig pudding was AMAZING. A play on the British dessert sticky toffee pudding, the creamy bread pudding-like mound was studded with gooey bits of dark chocolate and topped with a sticky rich caramel sauce. Omigoodness. Not to dim the light of the PB&J cobbler, which was also fantastic (particularly the peanut butter ice cream). It really tasted like an after-school PB&J sandwich.
For $35/person, this meal was a great value in a lovely atmosphere. So I’ve got to know: why weren’t you at Cafe Nola for Eat Up Downtown–or were you? Why aren’t you there NOW? Any other good Eat Up Downtown Experiences?