Nestled in a long narrow space in historic San Marco Square, Town Hall is a place in balance with the scale of the neighborhood. In the quest to design a “community gathering spot for sharing good food and drink in good company,” Town Hall owners Sarah Marie Johnston and her husband/business partner, Chef Tom Gray, have created a destination to slip in for a meal, a drink, a meeting, or some time alone to sup while you concentrate on your laptop.
In every way, the interior of Town Hall is a space in repose waiting to come alive with the people who visit it. Intimate, subtle, but quietly dramatic, Town Hall is three spaces in one. In the front nestled against the street window, the cozy living room lounge contains an eclectic collection of chairs, sofa, curvy cypress wood tables, and great art. It forms a corner that invites friends to slow down and catch up. In the center, the casual bar area (where guests can also dine) sees smooth, ordered surfaces meld into muted warm-toned backgrounds while whimsical circles of globed light fixtures float overhead. The third space, the small dining area in the back, features a view to the open kitchen that invites diners to relax. Town Hall’s genius lies in its constant quest for unobtrusive balance of visual texture in both line and material, a balance which extends to its food and drink.
Town Hall’s menus are as proportionally big as the space. Beverages feature wine, bubbles, ports, and all local craft beers, along with handcrafted sodas. Though no spirits are served at Town Hall, they offer some highly imaginative wine and sherry-based cocktails. The Bin No. 6 cocktail made from apple, rosemary, simple syrup, orange juice, grapefruit bitters Absentroux, and sauvignon blanc is a refreshing way to unwind from any workday.
The philosophy of balance is ever present in Town Hall’s approach to culinary fare. With a small but notable range of offerings in each of its menu sections, guests’ taste buds are invited to enjoy the West Coast-leaning journey Chef Tom and Chef de Cuisine Al Fuentes have prepared in their seasonally-influenced menu. This is in keeping with the farm-fresh standards Chef Tom mandates in each of his restaurants. Says Johnston, “Having lived, worked in, and now continually visiting the West Coast, our exposure and influences from these experiences shape our sensibility toward ingredients and flavors. We like the clean, pureness of the way ingredients are often presented in West Coast-style cooking and Tom blends that with his own unique cooking style to create dishes that are distinctly Town Hall.”
Without a doubt, the Seared Octopus appetizer is a signature dish. With a central ingredient that is so often done poorly, Town Hall’s take is a show stopper. Accompanied by squid ink-fried rice, black garlic aioli, green onions, and soy, it is a brilliant dish on every level. And from the charcuterie offerings, the Ndjua Spreadable Salami is a true surprise. As described, it is a spreadable artisan meat, like a thick condiment, but with a delightful dose of giddy-up from the spice blended into the meat. An absolute treat.
The impressive offering of main courses features proteins blended with sides in creative, reimagined ways. A house favorite, the succulent Duck Breast with duck fat cornbread is nearly upstaged by the crispy Brussels sprouts served with it. This veggie’s preparation is so popular it is offered as both a starter and a side. Yet vegetarians are not left out, as the Cauliflower Steak entrée with green olives, charred lemon, celery, capers, and upland cress will send any diner home with a smile.
Sunday brunch is its own unique experience, as is happy hour, and there is a retail wine and glassware area in the bar, a popular option for guests looking to pick up a wine they enjoyed at the restaurant, for themselves or to give as a gift. Stop by soon: you’ll find Johnston and Gray have achieved their goal … Town Hall is indeed a perfect community gathering spot for sharing good food and drink in good company.
2012 San Marco Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32207, 904.398.0726, www.townhalljax.com
By Janet M. Herrick • Photos by laird
Get the recipe for Chef Gray’s Duck Breast with Root Vegetable Purée & Huckleberry Sauce here.
Pair it with:
Opaque Petit Verdot 2011
Grapes: Petit Verdot
Description: After aging in French and American barrels for twenty-four months, this wine reveals ripe flavors of black plum and currant with accents of vanilla and dark chocolate. Structured tannins provide texture and depth with a lengthy finish. Wine Enthusiast says, “There is a great amount of dark strawberry freshness on the nose of this intriguing and seductive bottling, enhanced by gravel, pepper and a distinctive mintyness. Peppercorns, beef char and smoke hit the palate alongside blueberry and boysenberry, with plum-skin tartness and firm tannins ensuring ageability.”
The word opaque means “impenetrable to light” and refers to the dark, inky, impenetrable color of the Riboli family’s Petit Verdot. Originally from Bordeaux, Petit Verdot is normally used for blending with other grapes, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The Ribolis were so impressed by this wine from their estate vineyard in Paso Robles that they bottled it without any blending.
San Antonio Winery founders Santo Cambianica, Stefano Riboli, and Maddalena Satragni harvested a recipe ripened for success. It’s the same recipe that the Riboli Family continues to nurture today, a hundred years later.