One of the best things about St. Augustine is its bounty of locally owned restaurants. Sure, it's a tourist town that has scads of Cracker Barrels and fast food franchises near the interstate. But stretched between the historic district and the beaches are dozens of original operations. One of the newer establishments, and arguably the smallest, is Ripe Bistro & Social Lounge, a tiny sliver of a restaurant located in a Publix-anchored shopping center near the intersection of Hwy. A1A and Anastasia Boulevard.
Don't let the small size fool you. Most of the tables in the narrow dining room are two-tops and the bar can accommodate maybe six patrons standing shoulder to shoulder. The kitchen stands right across from the bar and is more like a yacht's galley, cramped and efficiently packed. But there's plenty of big flavor to be found here. And it's anything but franchise in taste and variety. Few chain eateries offer savory crepes, fresh and crusty baguette sandwiches or glasses of Frog's Leap cabernet sauvignon.
The menu hops on board the locally sourced and organic movement, and targets the truly healthful diner with items like hemp bagels, yogurts, granola, fresh pressed veggie and fruit juices and fair trade coffees. A handful of salads continue the farm-to-table theme. Try the organic local tomato caprese layered with mozzarella, micro greens, whole leaf basil and finished with basil oil and aged balsamic ($9.50).
The crepes, both savory and sweet variations, are likely Ripe's most uncommon dishes—at least uncommon for a beachy locale like this. The duck confit crepe is stuffed with tangy herbed goat cheese and drizzled with port wine reduction. The thinly sliced prime grass-fed filet crepe comes with arugula and crumbled blue cheese. Organic Swiss cheese with roasted walnuts, sausage with peppers and onions, wild salmon with caper and dill cream cheese, priced between $8 and $18, round out the savory offerings. On the sweeter side, but still wrapped in thin dough, are dessert crepes like Vermont maple syrup with powdered sugar and Nutella chocolate with bananas, strawberries and roasted hazelnuts.
The bread alone makes the half-dozen baguette sandwiches worth an order. The grilled cheese with creamy brie, free range turkey and apple slices is a standout, as is the chicken salad with avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers and shaved carrots (both $8). Though, an old sock would taste pretty good tucked between halves of the crunchy and delicious loaf. An organic wool sock might taste even better.
Ripe Bistro & Social Lounge
1097 A1A, St. Augustine Beach; 471-3177
Hours: Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily. The kitchen closes at 3 PM, reopens at 5 PM and stays open until 9 PM, a bit later if it’s busy.
Beer & Wine: Check out the extensive wine and beer selection, smartly stored in cases behind the bar.
Say Cheese: Artisan cheese, cured meats, seasonal fruit and organic local honey make the chef's cheese board a real treat.
Get Comfy: A collection of black leather arm chairs and sofas in the back is ideal for sitting with a glass of wine and couple of friends.
Outdoor Dining: A handful of cafe tables stand outside both the front and back doors. The view—two sides of a shopping center parking lot—isn't much to enjoy.
Think Small: Party of 10? You’re welcome, but the group is going to take up about half of the restaurant. An open table might be hard to find.