SoNapa Grille: The American Palate of Wine-Country Flavors

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The flourishing restaurant scene in Northeast Florida makes nightly choices of where to enjoy dinner, happy hour or in-between hours quite a dilemma.

Restaurants are places where you dream of having a fantastic meal with friends, family or just on your own. They are also destinations where restaurant entrepreneurs can merge their talents and create something incredible.

Welcome to the new SoNapa Grille in Jacksonville Beach that now ranks as my favorite hometown drop-in – where you can either grab a seat at the bar or join friends at a comfy table anywhere in the restaurant.

The name was created by two of the world’s great wine regions – Sonoma Country and Napa Valley. Their wine selections are focused on great California wines that guests can afford – whether choosing an adventurous sampling of multiple wines or ordering a bottle that you drink to the last sip!

Founder/creator of SoNapa Grille Adam Barringer draws inspiration from his own personal fondness for California, which is what inspired the first SoNapa Grille to open in New Smyrna Beach in 2006. By 2018, his second location joined the scene in Ormond Beach. Finally, he and partners Joe Bales and Chris Botting landed the third location in Jacksonville Beach. It’s easy to find on 3rd Street and even easier to fall in love with the trio of everything they are doing well: contemporary and appealing ambiance, caring and knowledgeable service plus a fabulous menu of deliciousness!

SoNapa Grille touches the senses. It begins when you receive a friendly greeting from the hosts and then perhaps taking a seat at the bar, which is your portal to a relaxed and professional experience.

The restaurant gently flows from the popular bar to a comfortable dining room that segues into the open Barrel Room (obviously decorated with attractive California wine barrels). There is a private 14-seat, glassed-in party room (special reservation) especially with holiday entertaining! Earthen tones and classic woods infuse a sense of casual without the usual beachy theme that pervades many of the area’s new eateries. For outdoor and pet-friendly dining, the 30-seat garden is rimmed with foliage, and nightly the white lights project a hint of romance.

The thoughtfully curated menu is committed to reflecting the diverse palates of California wine country – flawlessly enhancing the easy-to-read wine list that begins with lighter vintages and ends with more full-bodied selections.

Popular winemakers like Chalk Hill, Rombauer, Caymus and Opus One dot the menu with many of Adam and Joe’s personal favorites. SoMade Cocktails embrace the California lifestyle, too. “When She’s in Napa” combines Tito’s vodka, Ferrari Carano Rose, lemon juice and a dash of blueberry. “The Tusk,” a California restaurant, inspired my favorite with Four Roses Bourbon, maple infused Vermouth, orange bitters and dried cherries!

On one visit, I fell hard for the Edamame Potstickers (filled with edamame and cabbage, citrus ginger sauce and wasabi aioli) and Korean BBQ ribs (sesame seeds, green onions and Asian street fries). All of the appetizers are irresistible, but then I swooned for the Lollipop Lambchops (grilled Dijon-rubbed lamb chops with bacon jam, goat cheese and field greens).

Chef Patrick Brown explores and tries new and exciting combinations, yet there is still a feeling of authentic, conventional flavors.

The owners identify customer demand, a crucial first step in every restaurant’s success story. Look around; there’s a happy vibe at SoNapa Grille. It’s obvious that their customers are making wise decisions also based on their own ability to research food and wine before and during their visit.

It’s been fun to arrive at 4 p.m. and linger at the bar until 6:30 – the span of ‘Happy Hour’... The restaurant fills up quickly – especially when you can taste many specialty dishes, wines and cocktails at generous happy hour prices. The pet-friendly garden setting lures locals arriving in golf carts, on bicycles and simply with Fido on a leash!

What to order! For the seafood and pasta lover, Chef’s Shrimp & Scallop Carbonara is a dreamy combination (fettuccine, parmesan cheese, prosciutto and peas). A lighter entrée is wildly popular fresh Sashimi Tuna (yellowfin tuna, shichimi seasoned, seared rare with coconut sticky rice, Thai chili Brussels and traditional wasabi and pickled ginger).

With cooler weather appetites craving a more serious dinner, do not miss “Highway 29’s” Famous Pork Chop (10 oz. center-cut bone-in chop with mustard sauce atop Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and pickled cabbage).

Menu surprises include craft cider and seltzers – a half dozen brick-oven flat breads and luscious looking desserts. Don’t resist the Howell Mountain (piping hot pineapple upside down cake served with vanilla ice cream) and the seasonal Fresh Baked Bread Pudding (sweet and salty bourbon sauce, candied pecans and creamy gelato).  SoNapa Grille has bold personality with a revolving roster of highlights each night. It’s fun to dine here and they’re not shy or afraid to play around with flavors. Lucky for us that they’re going to be around for a very long time! www.SoNapaGrille.com

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