After time at the seashore, what to do once the salt and sand is washed away? Whether taking a daycation or spending a week, a trip to Amelia Island is not complete without a visit to downtown Fernandina Beach. Locals know (and tourists soon discover) that the island’s other shoreline — the riverfront — is not to be missed.
For those who take time to venture downtown to experience this Victorian-era city on the river, Fernandina will be memorable. Get a feel of the “Old Florida,” a wonderful place to visit, a great place to call home, and “not soon to be forgotten.”
For the old-timers, the repeat seasonal travelers who take an annual escape to this Southern sea island, what’s new in 2016? Seven new restaurants have opened downtown, adding to a growing list of dining and nightlife options in the historic district. Apart from visiting old favorite haunts, consider some of the “new kids on the block,” listed further below, additional choices for a bite and beverage downtown.
More About Downtown Fernandina
For the newcomers, a quick intro to this historic city located on the Amelia River (on west side of island), anchored by Fernandina Harbor Marina:
— Fernandina is known as the birthplace of the modern shrimping industry in America. Ask about availability of sweet Atlantic wild-caught shrimp when dining out locally. Learn about city’s shrimping heritage at the Shrimping Museum located at the Fernandina Marina Welcome Center, next to boat ramp downtown.
— Wander around the 50-plus block historic district that branches out from the riverfront, dubbed downtown, with its main corridor of Centre Street. With historic ambiance and small-town feel, downtown Fernandina features pubs, restaurants, gift shops, art galleries, and antiques/consignment purveyors. Also a hub of tour departures, ride in a horse-drawn carriage or a trolley and learn about local history highlights. Depart the dock on a fishing charter or tour boat cruise on surrounding waterways. Take in a riverfront sunset or just take a walk around the foot-friendly sidewalks downtown and admire the Victorian-era architecture, a reminder of a bygone era. Feel Fernandina’s relaxed vibe while strolling the charming streetscape, and enjoy a meal, coastal cocktail or craft beer.
Seven New Entrants To Downtown Dining Scene
The Amelia Tavern Restaurant and Brewpub — 318 Centre Street, Fernandina (at corner of South 4th). Probably the most highly-anticipated opening downtown this year has been the new Amelia Tavern. This is a brand new building (O’Kanes Irish Pub was a total tear down at this spot on the sidewalk). Featuring exposed brick walls, the original building’s bricks were salvaged, cleaned and re-used. It’s an impressive design with industrial/loft feel, high ceilings, sky lights and three unique glass garage-type doors that roll up opening the front of the Tavern to the Centre Street sidewalk. There’s a huge bar and big TV screens to watch sports. Taste a selection of the top craft beers of Jacksonville and St. Augustine, plus a full liquor bar. While Amelia Tavern will be brewing on site, at this writing, it still awaits a federal license. Note that The Amelia Tavern is transitioning with new ownership and management team in July and will be introducing a new menu. See more photos and info at The Amelia Tavern website.
Luca’s On Centre –614 Centre Street. Serving seafood (including raw bar), Italian, French and Mediterranean selections. Luca’s is the new venture of local restauranteur, Luca Misciasci, owner of popular Ciao Bistro of Centre Street. (Note: Luca’s has revived a local favorite, the “Bento Box,” a popular item served by the former Bonito Grill). The Bento Box offers “Tempura Fish, Black Bean Cake, Ginger Salad and Gyoza.” See complete menu at Luca’s On Center website.
Sabbia, “Mediterranean Street Food” — 11 North 3rd Street, Fernandina Beach. The brand new venture of the Tizzano family (owners of popular Arte Pizza downtown on the same street a block away). Offering lunch during “soft opening” phase (as of July), but dinner will also be available soon. Sabbia’s menu includes pita and dips, Gyros, Souvlaki, Greek Salad, Keftedes (Greek meatballs), shrimp and crab fritters, “My Big Fat Greek Mac n Cheese,” Paninis and more.
Burlingame Restaurant — 20 S. 5th Street, Fernandina Beach. A newcomer to Fernandina’s fine dining scene is Burlingame, with “seasonally inspired menu, top quality ingredients and native products of the southern coastal region.” Chef Chad Livingston was formerly with “Salt,” the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton’s fine dining restaurant, and is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. The summer menu features seafood, duck, steak, pork and pasta entrees. See Burlingame Restaurant website for more information.
The Picnic Basket, 503-A Centre Street. With its cheerful yellow facade and blue striped awning, it’s hard to miss this colorful addition to Centre Street. Just one of the to-go picnics is “A Day At The Beach,” with three cheeses, two charcuterie meats, black olive hummus, pickled veges, pasta salad, crostinis and housemade cookies. Daily fresh baked goods include muffins and scones. Catering service also available. See full menu and more info at The Picnic Basket website.
The Patio Place 416 Ash Street, Fernandina Beach. Bistro, Coffee/Wine Bar, Creperie, “a fresh service, casual, gathering place with unique food offerings.” Featuring sweet and savory crepes, salads, soups, homemade hummus, fresh seasonal fare. Enjoy outdoor patio and live entertainment some evenings. See photos, menu and more at The Patio Place website.
Lechonera el Coqui, 232 North 2nd, Street, Fernandina Beach. A bit off the beaten path, this new restaurant downtown (at former location of Wicked Davey’s Saloon), features Puerto Rican cuisine (and Salsa dancing Friday nights). See more at Lechonera el Coqui Facebook page.
Blend time at the beach with Fernandina’s downtown historic district to complete a visit to this Florida barrier island. The docks at the Fernandina Harbor Marina are a popular spot for viewing inspirational sunsets. Head to the riverfront, a perfect way to wind down a laid-back island day.
“Great Chefs of Amelia Island” Culinary Competition
Foodies may like to partake in an upcoming event, a competition of local top chefs (divided into two teams), being hosted at The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island on September 8, 2016 from 6 to 9 pm. It’s downtown Fernandina chefs vs. Amelia Island’s southend resort-area chefs in the debut of this culinary event to benefit a local non-profit, the Barnabas Center, “helping neighbors in crisis” in Nassau County, FL.
“Team Fernandina” will feature 29 South’s Scotty Schwartz, Burlingame’s Chad Livingston, and Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen’s Kenny Gilbert. Representing the southend, “Team Beaches” is Omni’s Daven Wardynski, BarZin’s Daniel Iammarino, and The Ritz-Carlton’s Niko Anagnostou (of “Coast”, yet another new restaurant that opened this year for seafood lovers.) Attendees will vote on each course, submit ballots, with final arbiter a panel of judges. Great Chefs of Amelia event tickets are $110 per person and available online, click here.
Fernandina Landmark Renovations
Besides new dining options, other notable changes downtown include some old, familiar landmark buildings undergoing transition. Restoration of Fernandina’s old post office building on Centre has finally begun. The Italian Renaissance Revival-style building, circa 1912, has been in need of major renovation for many years.
Since the restoration of Fernandina’s Old Train Depot building itself, circa 1899 (finished last year), a new train platform has recently been completed. The platform was built to reflect the original one by researching old photographs and historical records.
Of course, nowadays, the only trains rolling by transport commodities, not passengers. But the new covered platform provides another glimpse of bygone days, representative of the importance of the city’s railroad heritage. Nearby, a bronze statute of David Yulee, the founder of the Florida Rail Road in Fernandina (the first RR tracks crossing the state to Cedar Key), sits on a bench, awaiting a train. The platform is another example of the community’s commitment to historic preservation, including the reconstruction of structures that were lost in time.