It has been nearly a year since Al Mansur and his Al’s Pizza Partners restaurant group’s $2.1 million transformation of the Neptune Beach space that had been occupied by Sun Dog for nearly a quarter of a century.
The result, Flying Iguana Taqueria and Tequila Bar is a feast for the eyes–a rustic stew of earthy brick, solid knotty-pine tables, hand-painted tiles, and retro-chic Edison-bulb lighting. A mosaic tribute to the iconic Sun Dog adorns the rear wall. Behind the bar, a bold image of agave being harvested is flanked by a colorful display from their collection of over one hundred tequilas. A folding glass wall opens to a covered patio along the front of the restaurant along Atlantic Boulevard. Additional patio seating is available on the west wall.
A lively yet sophisticated concept, this is a spot where you can find a group of surfers dropping in off the beach, the business power lunch set, locals, vacationers and everyone in-between.
“We didn’t set out to have a Mexican restaurant. There are plenty of those already. Our concept was to create a menu that was a fusion of Latin American cuisines” Masur notes. Known for his local chain of Al’s Pizza restaurants, Masur had been thinking for a while about trying something different his next time out. When he met Executive Chef Josh Agan, they found the synergy that helped bring the project to fruition.
Agan creates nightly specials, with intricate and colorful platings, informed equally by his early studies in art and his formal training at the New England Culinary Institute in his home state of Vermont. Before collaborating with Masur on Flying Iguana, Agan honed his skills in upscale Mediterranean, French and Italian kitchens in Colorado and California, and locally as bb’s executive chef from 2010–2013.
“Tacos are our bread and butter,” Agan says, “we’ll serve from nine-hundred to thirteen-hundred tacos on a Saturday night, but we’re doing much more here.”
About those tacos–there are eleven varieties on the menu, and Agan is always thinking of the next new combo.
Crispy Pork Belly with Rum ‘n Coke glaze, cubed watermelon, cotija cheese and pickled onion.
Baja Fish: Beer-battered cod with cabbage, salsa fresca and charred corn remoulade.
Dirty South: Fried green tomato, black-eyed “peaco” de gallo, pimento cheese sauce and baby arugula.
Five Spice Shortrib: Hoisin caramelized onions, shaved radish and house-made kimchi.
Southern Comfort: Buttermilk fried chicken, redeye gravy, creamy slaw and pickled okra.
Farm-to-Taco: Locally sourced vegetables, simply roasted, with avocado, pico de gallo, and chipotle-tomatillo salsa.
Flying Fish Taco: Today’s catch, coriander seared, with shaved cabbage, aji amarillo, and salsa criolla.
Most items are made from scratch daily, including guacamole, made tableside to order. Even the ubiquitous complimentary chips come with two freshly prepared salsas–an assertively spicy salsa verde, and the slightly milder roja.
Popular starters include Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes topped with smoked salmon, house crema, chives and ancho chile sauce, and Chorizo and Potato Empanadas, with house crema and roasted poblano purée.
One recent evening’s dinner special was a scallop entrée with a red chile plantain mole–house made from five different chilies, fruits, spices, toasted sesame and sunflower seeds. The scallops were perfectly seared and shared the plate with golden potato cakes of roasted jalapeno and cheddar, sour cream and butter and topped with shaved yellow squash.
Many of the herbs used in the food and drinks come from their organic rooftop garden. They are harvesting twenty five types of herbs, twenty heirloom tomato plants, ten chilis, vegetables, watermelon, and blackberries.
Entrées include a succulent Peruvian Rotisserie Chicken, the Agave Brined Pork Chop, Chimichurri Skirt Steak, Habanero Mango Glazed Swordfish, and more. The Swordfish is Al’s favorite–served with sweet potato purée, fried green tomato, and garlicky spinach.
Sunday brunch at the Flying Iguana is becoming a beaches must do. Sweet potato waffles, enchiladas made from French crepes, a breakfast torta, carnitas hash and the chimichurri marinated skirt steak are crowd pleasers, as are the Maple Bacon Bloody Maria, and the Blackberry Mimosas.
In addition to the impressive array of tequilas, Flying Iguana’s bar serves several local craft brews as well as domestics and imports. They’ve become known for their margaritas, custom cocktails and impressive wine selection. There is live music on the weekends.
Flying Iguana Taqueria and Tequila Bar, 207 Atlantic Blvd., Neptune Beach, 853-5680, email@example.com Hours: Sun-Th: Food, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Drinks to 12 a.m. Fri-Sat: Food, 11 a.m.–11p.m. Drinks to 1:30 a.m.
Roca Patrón is a rchly-flavored artisinal tequila from Tequila Patrón, produced entirely from the tahona process.
Along with modern practices, Tequila Patrón’s master distiller incorporates traditional techniques to enhance Patrón’s flavor and character. One such time-honored method is the tahona process—a process that takes its name trom the “tahona,” a two-ton volcanic stone wheel that slowly and methodically crushes the cooked agave. It was this long-establishedprocess that inspired the name Roca,” which is Spanish for rock.
To create the rich agave flavors of Roca Patrón, both the juice and fiber are placed together into wooden fermentation vats for 72 hours, creating a low-alcohol liquid called mosto. The mosto, along with the agave fiber, is then put into small-capacity, handmade, copper pot stills and is twice distilled. What emerges is a spicy and earthy tequila, with tastes ranging—at three different proofs—from light citrus and cooked pumpkin to butter, ginger and caramel, and finally to black pepper, raisins and grapefruit.
Blood Orange Margarita
1oz Roca Patrón Reposado tequila
1oz Solerno Blood Orange liqueur
1/2oz agave nectar
1oz freshly made sour mix
1 half orange
Using a shaker tin with ice, squeeze the orange and drop it in the shaker. Add the other ingredients. Shake well and strain over fresh ice into a glass (preferably a double old fashioned glass). Garnish with an orange slice.
Sweet Corn Tamale Cakes
With smoked salmon, house crema, and ancho chili sauce
Ancho Chile Sauce
1 T canola oil
1 yellow onion, medium diced
1 1/2 T garlic, chopped
3 dried ancho chiles–seeds and stem removed
2 Roma tomatoes
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
Salt to taste
Broil tomatoes in oven until nicely charred on both sides (top and bottom). In small saucepot, caramelize onions in oil over medium heat. Add garlic and dried chiles, and sauté until garlic is lightly toasted. Add wine and cook for two minutes to remove the flavor of the raw alcohol. Add chicken stock and tomatoes and simmer for about twenty minutes. Purée smooth in blender, and season to taste with salt.
Tamale Cakes (yields 12)
3 cups frozen corn, thawed
1 cup butter, softened
4 T sugar
2 t salt
1 cup masa harina (corn flour)
4 T all purpose flour
Purée corn, sugar, salt, and butter in food processor until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold in masa harina and flour until fully incorporated. Refrigerate dough for at least two hours before forming into 2 oz. balls.
8 oz. smoked salmon, sliced
8 oz. Mexican crema (or sour cream)
2 T chives, minced thin
12 oz. ancho chile sauce–from above
1 T canola oil
12 tamale cakes–from above
In medium sauté pan, sear tamale cakes in canola oil in small batches until golden brown, pressing cakes lightly to flatten. Hold in 200F oven until ready to serve. Spoon 3 oz. of ancho chile sauce in a strip in the center of an oval or rectangular plate. Place 3 tamale cakes in a row on top of the ancho chile sauce. Top each tamale cake with 3/4 oz. of smoked salmon, then a dollop of crema, and garnish with minced chives.
Article written by Nancy White
Photos by laird