I want to create some practical posts on my experiences of and discoveries in various cities I pass through on this journey of mine as a way to potentially give to others an idea of places they might want to visit should they happen to visit these cities. This is not going to be all encompassing as I will most likely not be in most of these cities for more than a few days (Tallahassee so far being an exception), and the intentions of this journal are not that of a typical travel blog or travel guide. I just wish to provide some links and relate my experiences of these cities, neighborhoods, cafes, etc.
Jacksonville, Florida was my first stop. Really, the beginning of my trip and the end of any sort of normalcy and familiarity to my previous life in Maryland. Everyone, to my best recollection, I’d met in Jacksonville, and other people I’ve talked to here in Tallahassee have the same opinion of the city of Jacksonville; that it’s essentially a giant, soulless, sixty mile sprawl and not worth one’s time. Interesting then that I managed to stumble, in my one day there, into the most lively, sunny, homey, comfortable, and best (at least according to those who live there) neighborhood in the city. This particular neighborhood abuts another which is also well-regarded based on my reading of it ahead of time, so I will regard them as nearly a whole. Too, I had dinner the one night I was there in a fairly bustling part of the city, but with that being the only time spent there it’s not fair for me to reflect much on the area itself, but only the restaurant.
The neighborhoods of Five Points, and Riverside are by all accounts the best in the city. Most of my time was spent in Riverside at a single cafe, as well as at a cafe/roasters on the boundary of Riverside and Five Points because when traveling one of course needs a place to write, work, drink coffee, and eat, and neighborhood cafes are often the best for this. Riverside/Five Points also happens to have one of the best independent bike shops in the country, Zen Cog Bicycles. It’s a small space jam-packed with goodies from Salsa Cycles, Surly, Kona, Chris King, Brooks England, and others. Also, the employees are friendly, helpful, amicable people as well, curious about my plans and travels, and sharing their own experiences too. It is an absolute must-visit for any cyclist in the area, particularly any touring cyclists.
Of the two cafes I spent time in, Southern Roots Filling Station was my favorite by far, and is honestly now one of my favorite places to eat in the country after going there on a few different occasions (in the two mornings and single afternoon that I spent in the city). SRFS is a predominantly vegan cafe with happy, friendly people serving incredible food and excellent coffee with a section for bulk purchases of things like rice, oats, nuts, spices, etc. I imagine you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but I particularly liked the Blisscuit, the Roots Biscuit, and The Proud Mary. I had a killer vegan coffee cake as well. They were serving Perc Coffee, roasted in Savannah, Georgia and Panther Coffee, from Miami, on espresso, so one is well cared for on the coffee front as well. And thank God for that; there’s not much worse than having to suck down putrid coffee at an establishment serving great food. If you need wi-fi they have that, but are not open late. Think of them as a breakfast/lunch/mid-day snack kind of place.
The other cafe I enjoyed was Bold Bean Coffee Roasters located a stone’s throw from Zen Cog. They have two other locations in the city as well. A big, open space with copious seating and a bar along the window looking out onto the street, as well as some outdoor seating, this is definitely a cafe frequented by the college crowd, but I wouldn’t let that turn you off, particularly if you have work to do. It’s ideal for that, and you’ll feel right at home with the rest of the laptops out.
This is not the location they roast at (as far as I can tell), so if you’re looking to catch a glimpse of that you’ll have to go elsewhere. Aside from that asterisk of information, the coffee is pretty solid for a specialty coffee roaster. They had two different espressos on bar when I was there, and they actually offered a flight on menu, so a single shot of each, which is awesome. I’m not against ordering multiple espressos to taste, but sometimes the excessive amount of caffeine drunk is unnecessary. The two espressos on offer were their Sweet Spot blend, which is a fairly traditional blend of South/Central American coffees—all middle and low notes (dark chocolate and dried fruit) and didn’t really win me over—and a washed Ethiopian which I thought dazzled as an espresso. I also had a Costa Rican pour-over that wasn’t particularly good. To go with the coffee they serve a variety of different pastries that they make in-house, and a small selection of sandwiches.
The last place I feel obliged to write about is Murray’s Taco Bodega on Edgewood Ave in the Murray Hill neighborhood. I can’t say much about the neighborhood as my sum total time spent there was walking the small, but extremely busy, strip of restaurants, shops, and a brewery that had very recently opened before entering Murray’s for dinner. This is a brand new restaurant that had only opened a few days before. Often restaurants are still pretty shaky even the first two weeks to a month after opening, but these guys already have it nailed down pretty well. These were some of the best tacos I’ve had anywhere, and I’ve had some damn good tacos ranging from the states of California to Maryland.
I try to eat as vegan/vegetarian as possible, and it just so happens that they have a few tacos on offer for those like me on that search. A brussels sprouts with black beans, chipotle crema, and roasted garlic taco, and jackfruit, avocado, lettuce and lime crema were on order for me. Perfection. There are two other vegetarian tacos on offer as well, in addition to a slew of tacos for the carni/omnivore (menu hidden in Yelp pictures if you care to look). For dessert: churros and chocolate. Delicious.
To sum up, my experience of Jacksonville was a most excellent one. I happened to land myself in a lively, hip, fun part of the city, well outside of the labyrinth of tower blocks that makes up downtown. The people, culture, food, and drink were all great. My AirBnB experience was merely okay, but I was trying to keep costs down, so with spending a little more money I probably would have had a more enjoyable overnight, as well as had a place a little bit closer to the neighborhoods I found myself hanging about, but it certainly wasn’t bad.
I can’t say anything about the rest of the city, as it extends from the coast sixty miles inland and I haven’t experienced any other parts of it, but perhaps it’s not as bad as most everyone has said it is. However, for those of you who have to go to Jacksonville for whatever reason the Riverside, Five Points, and (maybe) Murray Hill neighborhoods are must-visits.
I hope this is helpful to… someone…