City Grille & Raw Bar:  An Unparalleled Dining Experience 

By Laura Riggs

For anyone who ever visited the Wine Cellar in San Marco, it was a sad day when they closed their doors after 47 years in business. The restaurant had been a downtown staple for fine dining and well known for its wine collection. Business meetings, prom nights, first dates, wedding proposals, anniversaries, and so many other celebrations had taken place in one of Jacksonville’s oldest upscale restaurants for almost five decades. A significant hole was left in the fine dining scene when the Wine Cellar closed in October 2021.

The restaurant has been revamped by the owners of Eleven South and 3 Palms Grille, Karen Belloit Thomas and John Nagy, to provide you with an unparalleled dining experience. Belloit Thomas operated the beloved Filling Station Café in San Marco in the early 90s but spent the past 20 plus years nurturing the fine dining scene in Jacksonville Beach. The couple had been looking for the perfect opportunity to get back into city life and the famed spot on the Southbank fit the bill perfectly. The couple is emphatic about providing exceptional menu offerings to their guests that are always served with five-star hospitality, so when they saw the celebrated spot in San Marco needed a new proprietor, they were eager to dive in. 

The revamped space boasts seven unique dining areas that exude a big city vibe and old steakhouse flair. As you enter the establishment, the bar area is divided into two distinct spaces for the raw bar and the Alley Cat Lounge (a tip of the hat to Vicki Dugan, the previous owner, for her love of cats). The Velvet Room, designed like an old speakeasy, offers an intimate experience that’s perfect for enjoying oysters and champagne. If you’re looking for a larger space, head to the Garden Room which can be used for meetings or private dinners. For those who want to enjoy the outdoors, the Oak Bar and additional seating are perfect for Sunday brunch or cheering on the Jaguars on a pleasant fall afternoon.

Not only does City Grille and Raw Bar offer exceptional fine dining, but it also pays homage to the past. The wine racks from the former establishment have been preserved in the Tuscan room, and the Tree House room overlooks the 300-year-old tree on the back patio, which customers of the Wine Cellar will remember.

We are seated for what transpires into one of the most exceptional dining experiences of Cinda’s Cellar. As we enjoy our craft cocktails, Executive Chef Kevin Gaston and the former electrical engineer turned level one Sommelier, John Nagy, collaborate to create the perfect recipe and wine pairing for this month’s issue. The duo has worked together for over a decade, and their expertise is evident. It’s decided that our 2019 Keenan Cab Franc will pair best with their Seared Foie Gras and the 30-day dry-aged steak, topped with a black fruit compote, demi-glace, and asparagus. 

Gaston heads to the kitchen to prepare the main course while we are treated next to a sampling of delicious mentions from the raw bar—Oysters Romanoff with a bit of Taittinger Brut Champagne, a delightful Hamachi crudo paired with a 2022 Nortico Alvarinho, and a delectable escargot in tarragon scampi butter with a 2022 Brotte “Esprit” Côtes du Rhône. As the evening progresses, discussion turns to the couple’s love for design, food, and travel and which places have most inspired the menus. The evening finishes with a bananas foster bread pudding and a tawny Port. 

Although not every meal can always be this decadent, the event of dining together can always be revered. The restaurant will soon feature wine dinners on its event calendar, so stay tuned for more exquisite meals. Dining together is a generous way to give our time to one another, so gather your friends and family and indulge in one of the best presentations of food and wine in Jacksonville. 

City Grille & Raw Bar, 1314 Prudential Dr, Jacksonville, FL 32207, (904) 398-8989 or

For full recipes and wine pairing click here …

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Author: Arbus

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