When PGA Tour golfer Graeme McDowell and his partners were looking to open a second location for their popular Orlando restaurant Nona Blue, it didn’t take long for them to set their sights on Ponte Vedra.
“It’s a match for us,” said Joe Davi, a veteran restaurateur who along with McDowell and Bill Bona make up the triumvirate behind Nona Blue. “With Graeme, the PGA Tour, TPC and my experience in the market, we think it’s going to be a home run for us and more importantly, a grand slam for the community.”
Located in Sawgrass Village, Nona Blue’s new Ponte Vedra restaurant was slated to open its doors Sept. 14 with a 4 p.m. ribbon cutting and press conference followed by dinner service at 5 p.m. For Davi, the new restaurant marks a return to the First Coast, where he oversaw the opening of J. Alexander’s at St. Johns Town Center in 2007.
“I became familiar with Sawgrass Village and over the years had an affinity for this market,” Davi said. “I love the people out here, the community, the people I met – it’s just a beautiful neighborhood.”
Becoming part of that community, he added, is Nona Blue’s goal, and to begin the relationship on a positive note, the restaurant’s grand opening was preceded by seven shifts of “Practice with a Purpose” dining whereby $15,000 in proceeds from the soft opening were donated to the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund.
“We’re so grateful to every single guest that showed their support for the Coughlin Fund,” said Davi, who brings decades of restaurant experience to Nona Blue. “It was the best opening I’ve ever experienced.”
A modern tavern
As with its Orlando counterpart, Nona Blue’s Ponte Vedra location features what Davi calls a “modern tavern” concept.
“We’re not just a pub or a bar,” he said. “Nona Blue features a modern, upscale design but with the warmth of your neighborhood tavern.”
With 7,100 square feet of interior space and 1,700 square feet of outdoor seating, Nona Blue’s décor features leather booths anchored by a 36-seat bar that serves as the restaurant’s centerpiece.
“It’s kind of like ‘Cheers’ – a place where everyone knows your name,” Davi said. “The kind of place where business men and women can have meetings next to a foursome that just got off the golf course and a high school kid who just finished a lacrosse game.”
The modern tavern concept carries over to the menu, where comfort foods such as “Mama’s Meatloaf” and steak share space alongside fish flown in from Hawaii, scallops from the Carolinas and shrimp from nearby Mayport. Popular Nona Blue specialties include “GMac” – lobster mac and cheese named after Graeme McDowell – and an upscale twist on the traditional BLT and lobster roll.
“We took the traditional old lobster roll and put our own spin on it,” Davi said. “We use Texas toast with Havarti cheese, bacon, tomato and cold lobster salad, press it and toast it.”
Menu items can be tailored for those seeking gluten-free options, Davi noted, and in keeping with its welcoming ambience, Nona Blue offers a kids’ menu with such popular pint-sized staples as Kraft macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly.
“We want mom and dad to come, but we want them to feel comfortable bringing the kids along, too,” Davi said. “To us, the kids are just as important as the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.”
The restaurant’s full bar, meanwhile, features a high-end wine list focused primarily on domestic Napa and Sonoma wines, along with a selection of varietals from around the globe to satisfy world travelers. Craft and bottled beers include a selection of Golf Beers, including Graeme McDowell’s Celtic Pale Ale, Freddie Jacobson’s Scandinavian Blond and Keegan Bradley’s New England Style Lager.
Beginning Sept. 15, Nona Blue will be open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., with the standard menu available until 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday. A late-night menu will also be available.
Nona Blue also plans to begin offering brunch in the near future, with such items as lemon ricotta pancakes, $5 Bloody Marys and mimosas, and three different kinds of eggs benedict on the menu.
Above all, Davi stressed, Nona Blue aims to be responsive to the Ponte Vedra community of which it hopes to become an integral part.
“We’re all ears as to what is best going to serve this community as a whole,” he said. “What comes from the heart goes to the heart and we operate that way. Our success comes from serving this community well, and we will do everything we can to deliver on that promise.”