Fall has arrived in Jacksonville without much fanfare. While cooler temperatures and lower humidity will eventually prevail, the beach is still attracting crowds, shorts and flip-flops remain fashionable, and outdoor activities rule the day. This being said, a few seasonal changes are underway, one of the most noteworthy at Town Hall restaurant in historic San Marco.
For those of you who have patronized this relative newcomer (it opened a little more than a year ago), evolutionary changes have taken place that make dining in this attractive and intimate space considerably more enjoyable. Of these, the most significant is a fully stocked bar, allowing patrons to choose between a selection of spirits and innovative craft cocktails along with its collection of intriguing and exciting wines from around the world.
Another welcome change is the installation of noise reducing panels throughout the restaurant, making it considerably easier to enjoy the company of friends and family. While Town Hall can be lively at times, conversation is unfettered.
For newcomers, Town Hall was created by Chef Tom Gray and his partner in life and business, Sarah Marie Johnston (also owners and operators of Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails in Town Center). While Town Hall is a relatively small operation, it is clean, modern, warm and welcoming. With its casual lounge and sizable bar in front, and an intimate dining room in back, there are a number of ways to relax over good drinks and good food.
From a culinary perspective, everything on the menu is driven by Gray’s undeniable prowess in the kitchen including artful presentations and inspired selections of bright and flavorful ingredients. Whether you choose to visit for lunch, dinner, happy hour or Sunday brunch, there are plenty of enticements. Of note is their Duck Fat Cornbread – a favorite among regulars – as well as their cured and aged selections (charcuterie) offered as sharable plates. These dishes are rivaled by their happy hour snacks, particularly the Grilled Cheese Sandwich (fontina, prosciutto, black truffle butter), Town Hall “Loaded” Fries (cured duck egg yolk, aged goat cheese, truffle-balsamic, black garlic aioli), and Burrata (peach mostarda, truffle-balsamic, shishito peppers, house-made lavash).
Should you prefer a casual meal on a lazy Sunday morning, the brunch menu features dishes that cover the spectrum from traditional to eclectic – ranging from Steak & Eggs, Smoked Salmon, and Buttermilk Biscuits to Pastrami Benedict, Manchego Bread Pudding, and Chorizo Hash.
One of the more engaging dishes available any time of day is their Crispy Brussels Sprouts topped with a fried duck egg, nigella seeds, and bonito flakes. Even if you’re not a big fan of these vibrantly green orbs, this presentation could win you over. According to Chef Gray, “I have converted a lot of Brussels sprouts haters into Brussels sprouts lovers.”
There are a few new dishes on the menu that acknowledge the arrival of Fall and embrace late-harvest ingredients. The Pumpkin Hummus with toasted pepitas, harissa, nigella seeds and house-made lavash is a flavorful starter that should not be missed. When it comes to main dishes, try the Local Fish served with a Parmesan farro risotto, sweet potatoes and toasted walnuts, or the perfectly prepared Roasted Chicken with black truffle whipped potatoes, roasted local mushrooms, seared leeks, upland cress, and a mushroom reduction made with mushrooms from Son & Skye (a local producer in Ponte Vedra).
If you like a rich and hearty Bolognese, their Hand-Cut Fettucine served with a Beef and Pork Bolognese, house-made ricotta, fried sage and oregano, grated Parmesan and parsley is perfectly suited for cooler months and is a true crowd-pleaser. (The recipe for this fabulously robust dish appears on the next page).
It goes without saying that a full-bodied red wine is a great companion for steak and other such
dishes featuring hearty red meat. While the same could be said for Bolognese, the recipe developed by Chef Gray is not so bold to require a big, flavor-forward red. For our purposes, the Alta Macuyo Veraton – a Spanish garnacha (grenache) – was perfectly suited to the occasion. This wine is warm, sophisticated and approachable with notes of balsamic, chocolate and black fruit. It is a delightful accompaniment to the pasta.
Of course, a truly satisfying meal cannot be complete without dessert. While the Lemon Semifreddo and Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake are heavenly, the Bruléed Banana Split (vanilla ice cream, candied pecans, pomegranate molasses, cherries) is inspired.
Whatever the occasion or time of day, Town Hall offers a unique aesthetic, distinctive culinary creations, and an approach to hospitality that is warm and inviting. Whether you are seeking gastronomic adventure or simply want to kick back and enjoy traditionally good food, good drinks and good company, this is the place to be.
Town Hall, 2012 San Marco Blvd., 398-0726, www.townhalljax.com.
By Jeffrey Spear
Pair it with:
Alto Moncayo Red 2015
Grapes: 100% Grenache
Description: Loads of beautiful blackberry and black cherry fruit, with licorice, lavender and a touch of graphite and earth. Plush, pliant and round, it has mineral-accented dried strawberry, cherry liqueur and dark chocolate flavors. Finish is long and sweet, with soft tannins and repeating spiciness.
Bodegas Alto Moncayo started in 2001 as a collaboration between importer Jorge Ordoñez and American importer Dan Phillips, and is now overseen by famous Barossa Australian winemaker Chris Ringland. Located near the town of Borja, the 210 acres of vineyards are head-pruned, old Grenache vines planted at 3,000 feet above sea level in poorly nourished soils of slate, clay, chalk and quartzite. They make a number of cuvées, the most famous being the more expensive Alto Moncayo and the Aquilon. Their inexpensive offering is the Veraton, a 100% Grenache aged in 60% new French and 40% American oak for 16 months.