by Damon Noisette // photos by Agnes Lopez
Chef Tom Gray’s return to San Marco is off to a fine start with his latest restaurant, Town Hall, which opened in the Square in April. Gray made his name in the Jacksonville food scene during his tenure at San Marco mainstay Bistro Aix before opening Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails at St. Johns Town Center with his wife Sarah Marie Johnston. The couple took over The Grotto, a wine bar with a long history in the area, and completely refashioned it into a swank lounge with a full kitchen.
Gray and Johnston employed Atlanta-based ai3, the same architectural firm that worked on Moxie, and the result is a pair of distinct conjoined spaces that are both high design and inviting. From the street, the front of Town Hall looks a bit like the inside of a stylish home. Just inside to the left is seating area resembling a living room and the bar is punctuated by a wall with an interesting wood plank pattern. The dining room is intimate, with tables along the two side walls and an open kitchen framed by another slate of creative carpentry.
Even with all that, it’s possible the real star of the dining room is the fire engine red Berkel prosciutto slicer, where meats are shaved into thin piles for the two-tier charcuterie boards, which are available in a number of selections, two ($12), four ($20) and six ($28).
Town Hall’s menu is mostly American cuisine, though it’s California-inspired, says Gray—meaning an emphasis on fresh and local ingredients and thoughtful presentation. Those principles are respected, especially on the visual side, with dishes such as the seared octopus ($14); a long tentacle wraps around a pile of crispy red potatoes and chickpeas. The house-made ricotta ($12) is edible artwork, three mounds of soft, fresh cheese linked by a drizzle of pomegranate molasses. For diners more keen on twists of Southern staples, try the crumbly duck fat cornbread ($7), which sits under spicy slaw and crunchy candied peanuts.
Town Hall’s fettucini ($14) is a pleasant pasta dish topped with a beef and pork sauce and a heaping portion of the house-made ricotta. The seared local fish ($25) changes as the catch comes in, ranging from flounder or tilefish to grouper or another flaky white fish, but the preparation is consistently superb, with the filet resting on a large piece of rapini, fingerling potatoes and creamy yuzu. Vegetarians can join in the fun with the cauliflower steak ($16), though the lamb chops ($29) are a lovely sight that may cause those undecided to reconsider.
While there isn’t liquor available, Town Hall has an extensive wine list along with low-proof cocktails. A notable one is The Cooper ($8), a refreshing concoction of lemon juice, house made cherry-walnut shrub, pink port and Tempranillo.
Reserve Room Scoring one of about 60 seats in the diminutive dining room can be a challenge, so calling ahead for reservations is recommended.
Happy Times Drinks and appetizers are specially priced from 3-6 PM every day, with wine cocktails, wines by the glass and local beers on tap.
Late Lunch Town Hall is only open for happy hour and dinner, so don’t schedule any lunch meetings here. A weekend brunch menu is coming soon.
Town Hall • 2012 San Marco Blvd. • 398-0726 townhalljax.com