There’s a lot going on at the Beaches Town Center. This is the increasingly popular beach destination where Atlantic Boulevard meets the ocean. The place is abuzz with all sorts of new shops, inviting cafes, lively bars, and enticing restaurants. While some may come and go, one of the most enduring destinations, and a favorite among locals, is Mezza Luna Ristorante.
After twenty-nine years of operation, and a few changes along the way, it has recently been purchased by Suela Mansur, a twenty-year veteran of the restaurant industry. The team at Mezza Luna, including Executive Chef Carrie Eagle (winner of the television series “Chopped,” Season 33 Episode 5, on the Food Network, and featured on the National Geographic Channel’s “Food Paradise”), respect the longevity that Mezza Luna has enjoyed and appreciate the fact that many of its patrons have become familiar faces. “We honor the tradition that Mezza Luna represents,” says Chef Eagle. “Knowing how loyal many of our patrons are, it is essential that we maintain the warmth, character, and familiarity they’ve come to expect.”
It’s important to note that, throughout its many years of operation, Mezza Luna’s patrons have enjoyed both friendship and hospitality from long-serving staff who are still at their posts. General Manager Beth Ann Encinosa remains at the helm after fifteen years. Matus Foris, also fifteen years, is still pulling delicious pizzas from the wood fired oven, while both Jason Luque (twelve years) and Jen Sisk (ten years) are serving up delicious cocktails and engaging patrons in the bar and lounge. Damien La Renta (nine years) and Executive Sous Chef Nadine Larson (three years) continue to contribute in their own unique ways to the culinary excellence that streams from Mezza Luna’s kitchen every day.
According to Chef Eagle, “We’re taking great care to maintain many of the time honored traditions that Mezza Luna represents to the community. It’s still a neighborhood place, we still serve fresh local seafood, and we’re still serving pizza.” Of course, with her undeniable culinary chops, she is restoring the restaurant’s authentic Italian roots with house made pasta and artisanal cuisine. “We want to be sure our patrons are well looked after. That’s why everything from the kitchen is made from scratch – the stocks, sauces, oven dried tomatoes – we pay meticulous attention to all the details.”
If you’ve never visited Mezza Luna, there are a few dishes that should not be overlooked. Since a comforting glass of wine, a little cheese, and a few slices of charcuterie are always a great way to start, you can’t go wrong with their expertly prepared and visually delightful Cheese Plate (assorted cheese, house giardiniera, seasonal preserves, prosciutto).
It’s been said that no visit to Mezza Luna is complete without a pizza on the table. While many of the options listed on the menu were tempting, including the Basil Pesto (artichokes, asparagus, feta, arugula) and Tre Carne (pepperoni, house sausage, Tasso ham), Chef Eagle suggested the Prosciutto pizza (fontina, caramelized onions, smoked tomatoes, basil).
Mentioning that all of their pastas are made from scratch and hand cut daily, she also suggested that we try one of her favorites – the Linguine and Clams made with white wine, garlic, lemon, kale, and sundried tomatoes. Not wanting to stop there, we also tried the local Florida Snapper served on a bed of wild mushroom risotto and the Fresh Pappardelle made with Nadine Larson’s short rib ragu. It goes without saying that all of these dishes were entirely enjoyable and worthy of repetition.
In anticipation of Cinda’s Cellar, we were eager to try the pairing of a 2017 Zuccardi Q Malbec with the Hand Cut Ravioli. The wine is a highly enjoyable Mendoza (Argentina) red that displays distinctive notes of dark fruit and spice. It pairs exceptionally well with the ravioli (made with three cheeses and served with red wine poached pears and a salad of frisée and endive), a dish that appeals to all of the senses. From the visually engaging arrangement of shapes and colors on the plate, to the satisfying contrasts of texture and flavor, this is a dish, and pairing, worth trying on your own.
It’s important to note that, whatever the occasion, visitors to Mezza Luna Ristorante can enjoy cocktails, a casual meal, or a full-on dining experience in any one of three inviting environments. There’s the intimacy of the bar and lounge, a little more formality in the main dining room, and a covered outdoor patio that lets you enjoy the relaxed outdoor atmosphere of Neptune Beach. Whichever you select, the experience will have you, along with Mezza Luna’s many long-time loyal patrons, coming back for more.
Mezza Luna Ristorante, 110 1st Street, Neptune Beach, (904) 249-5573, www.mezzalunajax.com.
Pair it with:
Zuccardi Q 2017 Malbec
Grapes: 100% Malbec
Tasting Notes: Deep purple color, with bluish hues. Intense red fruits and floral aromas, such as rose and violet with other herbal notes. Soft and silky entry. Great structure with acidity that provides freshness and mineral texture. Long finish.
Description: Vinification starts with a selection of grape bunches with gravity filled tanks, fermented with indigenous yeast with a soft extraction by delestage and pigeage. Skin maceration after fermentation with complete malolactic fermentation for 20 days. Concrete and oak aging.
The Zuccardi ‘Q’ line represents wines of the highest quality made from the oldest vines, up to 40 years of age, grown at the foot of the Andes Mountains in the high altitude province of Valle de Uco of Mendoza, Argentina. The rich climate and geography of the high elevation Valle de Uco vineyards provide excellent fruit ripening and concentration. Zuccardi Q Malbec is sourced from select vineyard lots in Vista Flores (39041 ft) and La Consulta (3494 ft), Uco Valley. The front label image illustrates the stone walls of the Zuccardi winery rising from the Uco Valley soil, symbolizing how the Andes mountains emerged millions of years ago.