The property at 1161 Beach Boulevard is well-worn restaurant real estate in Jacksonville Beach. Many longtime residents still associate the space with Giovanni’s Bar & Grill, a classic Italian eatery where Giovanni and Nelly Acireale served guests for 38 years.
In 2012, restaurateur Chris Jones secured the space for his new concept—KC Crave, an establishment that boasts a look and menu that is a complete departure from the building’s former tenants. Immediately upon arrival, one can’t help but notice a new convivial area that provides additional dining space and visual interest. Inside, a large bar takes center stage on the ground floor. Cream-colored booths are situated against rich mahogany accents to the far left. The entire scene is modern and upbeat, well-suited for large crowds and lively dining groups. Romantic candlelit dinners, maybe not so much.
The second level received a major facelift, as well, and is now known as the “Tap Room.” Here, a handful of tables come equipped with their own beer taps (two per table) that allow guests to pour their own beer. A computerized system keeps tabs on how much guests indulge. It’s an unusual concept, and on the night of our visit, all of the tap tables were filled. There are also several first-come, first-served seats located upstairs along a winding bar that overlooks the scene below.
A festive atmosphere calls for interesting food, and KC Crave doesn’t disappoint. The menu is designed to encourage guests to share several small plates during their visit. Eats run the gamut from Atlantic clams and scallops and fried green tomatoes, to Chinese char siu pork and Thai beef salad. On a recent visit, we sampled ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and feta cheese ($7), pistachio lamb lollipops ($16), roasted pork corn cakes ($9.50), crab stuffed wontons ($7.90), and a side of asparagus ($7). The crispy and savory ravioli were a hit. The pistachio lamb lollipops were tender, with a smooth hint of cool spice from the house-made mint vinaigrette. Corn cakes proved to be the perfect companion for spicy roasted pulled pork with red pepper sauce, just as the creamy goat and cream cheese filling of the wontons balanced the spicy sweet-and-sour sauce served on the side.
The beverage menu is equally appetizing. Our server recommended the Fountain of Youth martini, made with acai-blueberry Van Gogh vodka, pomegranate juice, fresh muddled blueberries and a splash of sour. It’s a sweet concoction that complements the menu’s spicier options quite nicely.
1161 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville Beach, 595-5660; kccrave.com
Hours: 4-10 PM, Tuesday; 4 PM-1 AM, Wednesday through Saturday; 11 AM-9 PM, Sunday (brunch served 11 AM-2 PM); closed Monday.
Drink Up: Beer fans aren’t the only customers who will find plenty to drink at this Beaches newbie, with 28 wines offered (14 red, 14 white), and all but two sold by the glass. Plus, there are three sangrias available. Prices are reasonable, too, capping at $11 per glass and $38 per bottle.
Tap Your Toes: Live blues and jazz music creates an especially lively atmosphere every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night.
Hand Over the Keys: Complimentary valet service makes parking easy. However, if you’re feeling lucky, there are a handful of spots behind the restaurant.
Finders Keepers: If you’d rather keep that order of filet mignon medallions or fresh clams linguine all to yourself, just say so. Any small plate or sharing plate can be upsized to an entrée with a side and salad for an additional $7.
Copy by Natalie Wearstler • photos by Agnes Lopez