Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Beachfront Dining at the Pier Working on Its Flavor; the Ideal Location Now Has a Restaurant Offering Mexican Food in a Casual Setting

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Beachfront Dining at the Pier Working on Its Flavor; the Ideal Location Now Has a Restaurant Offering Mexican Food in a Casual Setting

Article excerpt

Byline: J.F. Mix

Restaurants are opened with the same wide-eyed sense of optimism and star-crossed hope shared by 16-year-olds involved in their really and truly first love. But, like that first love, it isn't to be. In the case of the first love, the fragile relationship can come crashing down upon itself by no more than an errant text or the attentions of the new kid in biology class.

As for restaurants, an owner's dreams and savings can be dashed by a bad economy, poor location, a mixed message to customers, flawed execution in the kitchen, dining room or both.

While our young lovers may mope for a day or two, they'll recover to date again. In the case of the failed restaurant, the owner can either close or come up with a new concept for the same space. The Pier in Jacksonville Beach had a, let's say, confused opening concept. On the first floor it was a beach bar on the ocean that enticingly told customers to come in wearing board shorts and flip-flops. But at the same time, diners were to dress for fine dining and a superb ocean view on the second floor. Beachgoers never got the message they were allowed to pop in for happy hour and those seeking an elegant dining experience only used The Pier to mark birthdays and other special occasions.

The revamped Pier Cantina and Sandbar has a unified operating vision. It offers authentic Mexican food served in a casual setting upstairs, downstairs and on its boardwalk patio. Its lengthy 11:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. happy hour should attract locals to enjoy the partially shaded patio after work. Bands will attract those wanting a festive atmosphere.

The food, however, will leave you wanting more flavor.

Real Mexican fare is nowhere near as hot and spicy as the Americanized versions we've become used to. But the dishes we tried, except for the appetizers, were somewhat bland. Luckily, this is a problem that can be remedied with a greater use of ingredients such as cilantro, avocado and citrus fruits. There's no need to dump peppers, seeds and all, into every dish.

The meals start with great promise at The Pier Cantina and Sandbar. The complimentary chips and salsa are addictive. The salsa is somewhat tart and rich with tomato flavor. It's a thick salsa that clings to the chip.

The Queso Fundido ($7.99) appetizer is among the best items we tried. It's queso dip mixed with a mildly hot Chorizo cheese. It remained in a fluid state throughout our meal and never hardened into a glop of cheese. The ground beef was ample and the hot sauce reminded me somewhat of what would be used on chicken wings. This and an ice cold beer would be a great way to celebrate the end of a work day.

The Guacamole Dip ($6.99) was creamy and fresh. I appreciated that it wasn't filled with raw onion bits, but I do wish it had more cilantro to up the flavor profile. …

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