There and Back Again: Jacksonville Mini-Break

Everyday Adventures

For the past several years, my vacation time has been used 2 days at a time, book-ending conventions weekends across the southeast. With the store plans making convention commitments a wee bit tough–a good thing, seeing as how much time I ended up using for Todd’s surgeries, etc.–but Ancient City Con in Jacksonville was the first one we took Raiding Party to and it quickly became the highlight of our year. We decided to head over for a quick trip on Saturday and hit up not just the convention, but some of our other Jacksonville spots as well.

Ancient City Con 2015

Ancient City Con 2015

Previously ACC has been held in hotel ballrooms but this year they moved to the Prime F Osborne Convention Center, which also happens to be an old train station, so there were lots of fun details around to spot while we waited in line to register for our wristbands, as well as some good people watching. They could have used some stanchions to make the line easier to handle, but for the first year in a new location, things seemed to run pretty well!

All of the vendors I asked about the venue change (we’re chatty with quite a few thanks to previous years on their side of the table) seemed pretty happy with it–there was more space and the creator’s alley was separate from the vendor room. Traffic seemed to be pretty good in both rooms while we were there, so I hope it worked out for them (sometimes being in separate rooms means people miss one or the other, but the maps hung up and on the back of the program had each space clearly marked).

Ancient City Con 2015

Ancient City Con 2015

Cosplay is big at any convention and I tried to remind myself to take pictures this time–I’m usually too distracted to remember! I’m clearly drawn to the steampunk cosplay; I find their outfits the most fascinating as most are based on original concepts. There was also a lot of Attack on Titan characters walking around (the one in the collage, above, is a vendor friend responsible for The Casual Warrior’s Kimono-ya booth) and there’s usually a furry or two walking around as well. I know some folks find furries creepy but I admire their commitment to walking around in those hot costumes!

I was happily surprised that several people–vendors and attendees alike–recognized me without my usual convention get-up (which I call Chef Coat Cosplay) and out from behind the table. We have always felt like we make friends on the convention circuit (even if we only see most of them once a year) and this trip really reinforced that idea. For that alone I’m happy we made the drive.

After walking around for a few hours we decided to go grab some lunch and check into our hotel for the night. After a few misses on the where to eat roulette (we were using my GPS to pick someplace nearby that sounded interesting, and struck out first with a closed deli, then another place that was definitely open but there was absolutely no parking within several blocks) we ended up at River City Brewing Company just before the end of their lunch seating.

River City Brewing Company

River City Brewing Company

Right on the marina we had a great view of the water and downtown skyline, ordered some drinks, and then settled in with an Asian Tuna Salad for me and the Fish and Chips for Todd. Overall it was quite tasty, though I could have done with fewer wasabi peas on my salad (not a huge fan in general, but an interesting “stand in” for croutons) and they made Todd’s Planters Punch extra strong to apologize for our wait. There wasn’t much of a wait, and the strength of the punch made it unbalanced. I was much happier with my Red Rooster Ale.

As we were leaving the restaurant we spotted Koi in an indoor pond and then spotted a cat outside being hand-fed the dish of the day. The waitress on kitty duty said they’d adopted him 17 years ago, made sure he got his shots and treatments, and fed him from the kitchen every day. A pampered pet that looks like he might have some Scottish fold in him with his little tucked ears.

It's important to secure all passengers, even the plush ones!

It’s important to secure all passengers, even the plush ones!

We stayed just a bridge away from downtown proper at an Extended Stay hotel–we usually use these sorts of hotels when we’re travelling with samples for conventions and have stayed in this one in the past. I had a free “night” credit via (since I book all our convention hotels through them, we rack up at least 1 free night a year) and the hotel was clean and comfortable. The monkeys approved.

Speaking of monkeys, we started the trip with three but had to do some shuffling in the backseat once we picked up Maya and Kip (from Disney Nature’s Monkey Kingdom) at the Disney Store. We may not have gotten our morning mile in at home this weekend, but we made up for it while walking from one end of St Johns Town Center to the other and back again. We originally went to the large open-air mall so I could get some more of the Ayurvedic White Chai Tea from Teavana (I got it, plus 3 other teas for an somewhat obscene amount of money) but then I saw the Disney Store sign and, well, off we went. I also picked up a bath bomb from Lush before heading back to the car.

Now, here’s where my habit of overpacking (which I’m sure I share with a great many women) paid off. It was hot as blazes walking around that shopping complex and by the time we left I was hot, sticky, and sweaty. Thank goodness I had a couple extra outfits with me (I packed 3 for a simple overnight trip, though I did coordinate them all to a single pair of shoes) as it meant I could grab a quick shower and put on fresh clothes before heading back to the convention.

I’m also grateful we decided to squeeze the shopping trip in on Saturday instead of waiting until Sunday. If we’d had to drive home all sticky and sweaty it would have been a miserable 3 hours!

The Gin Rebellion

The Gin Rebellion

Meanwhile, back at the convention center, we returned in time to see the 7pm performance of The Gin Rebellion, a steampunk trio we met at last year’s ACC and really enjoy listening to. H.M. (the white-haired gent) is such an expressive storyteller and Renfield (the man in the middle) inspired the Gin Rebellion drinking game (which involves taking a drink every time he switches instruments or any time the band members say–or think about–the word accordion; considering they have a song about a haunted accordion, you’ll be quite sauced if play by the rules). Ophelia Baptista has a broad vocal range and changed instruments a few times, herself, over the course of the set. They are a delight to listen to and I’m not just saying that because they bought 2 books from me, last year, and Ophelia used my Paladin Punch at her wedding last fall!

European Street Cafe (San Marco)

European Street Cafe (San Marco)

Our final destination of the day was European Street Cafe, our long-time favorite eatery in Jacksonville featuring German sausages, all sorts of beers, and absolutely amazing pretzel bread. Yes, I indulged in the pretzel sticks with a side of Boursin and it was heavenly. We also ordered raspberry Lambics and Todd got his usual Knockwurst with Red Curry Sauce while I ordered the Kielbasa and Corned Beef (though I ate the insides and skipped the bread in deference to my pretzel dalliance). We had planned to pick up dessert to go and have it later, at the hotel, but we were both too stuffed to even think about something from their well-stocked pastry case. Another trip! (The Chocolate Beast layer cake is amazing and I remember it fondly from my birthday trip several years back.)

Just like any other convention trip, we were exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel around 9:30 and crashed hard. Since we’d accomplished our goals on Saturday, we slept in on Sunday morning and still made it home around 1pm. I made a pitcher of iced tea from my Teavana haul (a blend of Youthberry and Wild Orange Blossom that we tried in the store–divine!) and contemplated a nap. Travel wears me out, but I was grateful for our little no-stress getaway.

Take a Bite Of: Picasso’s, Jacksonville, Florida


Sometimes a Plan B is the better course to take.

Pun totally intended.

When in Jacksonville last month for our final convention appearance of the year we were in a different part of town than usual and cast about for a place for dinner.

Finding out that there was a “Monkey’s Uncle Tavern” just down the street seemed like fate for me with my monkey obsession. They had good reviews and the menu seemed nice and easy, so off we went.

Only to walk into a wall of cigarette smoke within 5 feet of the door.

That wasn’t going to work (and we were a bit puzzled since the entirety of Florida is a non-smoking restaurant state*) so we high-tailed it out of there and decided to check out the place at the other end of the sidewalk we’d seen as we drove by.

Picasso's in Jacksonville, Florida

What we found was Picasso’s. An exposed-brick and chalkboard sort of place that seems to specialize in pizza and homemade pastas. They were still writing up that night’s wine list on one of their large chalk boards when we arrived and a few tables were occupied, but it was still a bit early in the evening. Over the course of our meal, however, we saw several patrons come in to pick-up pizzas, and nearly all the tables and booths were full when we left.

But what did we eat?

Picasso's Entrees

After ordering a glass of Pinot Noir, I settled on the pasta special of the night–a wide noodle pasta with mushrooms and a rich broth–while Todd went with Signature Pasta Trio. My dinner choice didn’t exactly mesh with the wine, but that’s the chance you take when you drink what you like and order wine before you’ve decided on entrees. Still, everything was excellent and, oh, those breadsticks. We were tempted to get an order to take back with us to the hotel for midnight snacking, they were that good. (Apparently they get them from a local bakery, the name of which escapes me, but our waiter said it like it was well-known among the locals.)

Desserts from Picasso's in Jacksonville, Florida

The portions were plentiful but not so much that we didn’t still have room for dessert. I chose the German Chocolate Cake white Todd went with the Chocolate Torte. Both were delicious.

Our bill was just $49 + tax and tip for a glass of wine, 2 entrees, and 2 desserts.

There’s a very good chance that we’ll be back at the same hotel in April and you can bet Picasso’s will be on our list for a revisit.


*The best guess on this is that the Tavern must make more than half its revenue in non-food sales, ergo smoking is still allowed.

Picasso’s is located at 10503 San Jose Blvd, Jacksonville, FL. We were not compensated in any way for this “review,” we just really enjoyed ourselves.

Again, apologies for the poor quality of the images–this was part of the set damaged in transfer and all I have are thumbnails. Butter than nothing, I guess!

Going Back to E Street


Last weekend we were in Jacksonville for Ancient City Convention and one of the many things we were looking forward to was another visit (or 2) to European Street Cafe.

But out first night, after driving the 2.5 hours to get to town, checking in out our hotel and unpacking, and then heading to the convention hotel to set up, E Street was closed by the time we headed that way again. In fact, at 10pm on a Thursday night, most places were already closed and we drove around for a while before finding the Hurricane Grill, whose sign announced a recent change to staying open until midnight on Thursdays!  Hallelujah!

Of course, by this point I was rapidly approaching a level of hungry best described as “stupid hungry” so I located the least-complicated option on the menu (wings, etc. had sauce options and there were a ridiculous number of sauces to choose from) and ordered a burger with mushrooms and bacon.

Bacon and Mushroom Burger from Hurricane Grill

Man, but that was a good burger.

Sure, it could have been the hunger talking, any port in a storm-style, but I still say it was a good burger. And, hey, it turns out we’ve got one here in Tallahassee, so we could always go back and see if it really was as good as it seemed.

Friday night, though, was another story. We stopped by our hotel long enough to unload the car and for me to change out of my heels, and it was off the E Street for some wonderful German sausage. (We just don’t have any good German restaurants in Tallahassee, that I’m aware of; it’s a shame, really.)

We started with a celebratory Lambic each (Peach for me, Raspberry for Todd) as it had been a very good day at the convention and we were feeling mighty deserving.

Lambics in frosty Guinness glasses at European Street Cafe

Then, instead of the Beer Cheese Soup in a Bread bowl ($5.75) that we got during last year’s visit, I noticed they had a Pretzel Bread appetizer ($2.50) and my mouth watered. Their pretzel bread is like heaven, and there was even an option to order it with Boursin cheese spread ($6.50). Yes, please!

Pretzel Bread and Boursin from European Street Cafe

For entrees we went straight for the sausage. Todd ordered the German Sausage Sampler (with Knockwurst and Bavarian Bratwurst, hot German potato salad, sauerkraut, and–swoon!–a pretzel bread stick; $8).

German Sausage Sampler from European Street Cafe

While I went with the German Bavarian Bratwurst sandwich (with sauerkraut and chips; $5.50).

German Bavarian Bratwurst Sandwich from European Street Cafe

After all of that (and, oh, was it delicious) we were too full to have dessert there, but did take a slice of cake, each, from their bakery case, back to the hotel.

Unfortunately, the night didn’t end on that high note. I, being caught up in the excitement of the day (first by finding my wedding dress that morning at a charity sale in the convention hotel, then by the great sales day at the convention itself), failed to eat very much over the course of the day so I paid dearly for my indulgence at dinner. I spent most of the night with an upset stomach and was still feeling a little green the next morning. Lesson learned, I assure you.

Seeing as I was still not 100% after the 8am-7pm convention day on Saturday, we opted for my comfort food of choice that night and got some take-out from a local Chinese place. Pretty much the same menu as any other Chinese take-out place, China Joy wasn’t anything worth writing home about, but Egg Drop soup always seems to soothe.

Sunday night, after making sure I ate more throughout the day, we went back to E Street for our last meal of the trip. I was in the mood for a simple (but good!) club sandwich and who happens to have an entire selection (11 in total) of clubs? Yup, E Street! I ordered the Club European ($8)..

Club European sandwich from European Street Cafe

While Todd went with the Pastrami and Roast Beef Club($8). Both coming with a pickle spear and chips, and we both opted for sourdough as our bread option.

Pastrami and Roast Beef Club from European Street Cafe

My one tiny little quibble with my sandwich is that they only put mayo on the bottom slice of bread. Which meant both the middle and top slices had an un-smeared (and, therefore, dry) side. I have a thing about dry bread on sandwiches (similar to my dislike of dry salad greens in a salad): I don’t like ’em. Good thing it’s an easy fix–they brought me more mayo and I was happy.

We’ve yet to have a bad meal at European Street Cafe and have another trip to Jacksonville planned for November. We’ll only be in town one night but, somehow, I don’t think they’ll be a question of where to eat.

Do you ever look forward to a trip because of where you get to eat?

Crazy for Tapas!


If you’ve ever gone to dinner and decided to order several appetizers and “graze” your way through the meal rather than eat a single entree selection, you may be a fan of tapas, too!

Tapas, a series of appetizers or snacks originating in Spain, have become a bit of a trend in recent years but one I’m happy to welcome. They can consist of both hot and cold items and, I think, are perfect for a communal supper among friends with plenty of wine or cocktails.

In it’s country of origin, tapas are usually small hors d’oeuvres-size portions, one or two bites, and frequently served on a piece of bread. In the U.S., of course, the traditional has given way to the idea of small plates with small portions, enough for a single snack or to share. We have a local restaurant/lounge (101) that features a fairly robust tapas menu in addition to larger appetizers. It’s fabulous for a girls night out or a late night supper after a movie.

Our best tapas experience, though, came in Jacksonville, Florida, on my birthday where we lucked into a table at the small but mighty 13 Gypsies. And when I say lucked-into I mean it: the couple at the table next to us had been trying to get a reservation for 6 months!

Honey-Garlic Hummus from 13 Gypsies The exterior of 13 Gypsies, Jacksonville, FL Garlicy Green Beans from 13 Gypsies
Quixote Style Beef from 13 Gypsies Coconut Mango Curry Chicken from 13 Gypsies Shrimp Piri Piri from 13 Gypsies

While 13 Gypsies does offer full-sized entrees, we were in a grazing mood and ordered a series of small plates, 6 in all, that added up to an amazing dinner with each plate better than the last. We went for both simple pleasures, like Honey-Garlic Hummus and Spanish Peasant Bread, to the more exotic Quixote Style Beef and Coconut Mango Curry Chicken, rounding out the meal with Shrimp Piri-Piri and crisp, fresh steamed Green Beans (gotta add a vegetable somewhere). Had we limited ourselves to a single entree a piece, I think we’d have short-changed ourselves. Washed down with glasses of Spanish wine it was a dining experience we’ll not soon forget.

In fact, it was so good that when Todd and I started discussing our wedding reception, I began the campaign for a tapas-style spread and meeting no resistance from the groom-to-be. Now all we have to do is find someone to carry it out for us!

In the mean time, I’ll be doing more research and experimentation on tapas (and the cousin-cuisines of the Middle Eastern mezze).

Have you tried the tapas craze, yet?