The Candy Apple Café and Cocktails’ mood is decidedly whimsical; most fittingly, as the eatery shares floor space with Northeast Florida’s largest candy shop and factory, Sweet Pete’s. First opened in December of 2014, the cafe found strong foothold with a menu of chocolate- and candy-inspired fare conceived by a culinary team led by Executive Chef Jamey Evoniuk. Two months later, the restaurant would unsurprisingly become a hotbed for date-night during Valentine’s Day season, with trips bookended by tours around the store and dinners equal parts fun and romantic.
As obvious a choice as a restaurant neighboring a chocolate factory might’ve been for Valentine’s Day, Evoniuk has still been pleasantly surprised. Bringing the restaurant-within-an-establishment formula that had already seen success in the Cummer Museum’s Cummer Cafe, as well as executive chef experience with The Chef’s Garden and CG Dinner Club, Evoniuk was well-equipped to handle the ropes at Candy Apple.
“(The restaurant) is definitely unique,” he said. “Being located inside of the largest candy store in Northeast Florida makes it very interesting – we have a southern and French vibe going on and we tie a lot of candy into our menu and cocktails to make sense of the building. We didn’t really…see what it (would) turn into but it’s definitely turned into a destination sort of establishment.”
Now approaching his third Valentine’s Day with restaurant, Evoniuk says the team faces the holiday with the same tailored focus that sets it apart year after year – and that’s made it a hit for couples and friends alike.
“We’re really keying in on Valentine’s Day,” he said, noting the cafe’s week-long promotion as one distinguishing factor. “There’s great deals – and we’d like to give people the chance to enjoy a nice romantic dinner for a nice price, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be with a significant other. It can be a celebration of friendship.”
That week kicks off with an “Eat Your Heart Out” Dinner Feb. 9, featuring a three course dinner of she crab soup, a dual entree of short rib and shrimp, cauliflower puree and truffle frites, and a dessert of flourless chocolate torte, all alongside unlimited champagne. The dinner will also include themed candy demonstrations; one chocolate tempering demo by Peter “Sweet Pete” Behringer himself and an interactive strawberry dipping party for guests.
The festivities continue with a Valentine’s Day Prix-Fixe to be held Feb. 10-11 and Feb. 14. This option will be available in addition to the cafe’s regular menu during dinner service and consists of a three-course dinner with champagne. First course options are butternut squash & red pepper bisque with crème fraiche and pumpkin seeds or beef tartare with salt cured egg yolk, dijon aioli and capers. Second course options are petit filet with crispy brussels sprout leaves and sauce béarnaise with fingerling potato confit; pan roasted salmon and farro with braised kale, pomegranate and sweet potato purée or lemon thyme risotto with fennel, baby carrots and leeks. Rounding out the dinner is a chocolate passion fruit torte with hazelnuts and passion fruit crème anglaise.
With the specialized menu, Evoniuk trusts that the cafe will be able to set itself apart for yet another year, and that the crowd will continue to show the unique small business some love.
“We’re a locally owned small business, so it’s always nice to (receive support),” he said. “Our dining is whimsical, romantic and fun … and everything you eat is, fresh, made by a talented culinary team.” To learn more about The Candy Apple Cafe and Cocktail’s Eat Your Heart Out event and to purchase tickets, visit bit.ly/EatYourHeartOut2017. For information about the Prix-Fixe specials and to make a reservation, visit www.thecandyapplecafe.com/reservations.
The Candy Apple Cafe and Cocktails isn’t the only dining option for beach-dwellers on Valentine’s Day. Fun, romantic fare is bountiful all along the First Coast.
10208 Buckhead Branch Drive
Jacksonville, Fl 32246www.ovinte.com/reservations
This tapas-style restaurant specializes in Spanish and Italian inspired fare and has a host of specials planned for V-Day. Duck rillettes served with gherkins, whole grain mustard, blackberry jam and crostini; tuna carpaccio served with shaved radish, mustard greens and miso vinaigrette; shrimp carbonara served with Nueske’s bacon, green peas, roasted garlic and linguini; and a 12 oz grilled New York strip served with whipped red bliss potatoes, rapini and maple bourbon gastrique round out the menu Feb. 14.
25 Granada St.
St Augustine, Fl 32084
New American and Greek fair meet at Cafe Alcazar in St. Augustine. On Valentine’s Day, patrons can expect a menu of escargot, blackened shrimp alfredo pesto and crepes alcazar among other specials from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are recommended.
Bob’s Steak and Chop House
80 Amelia Village Circle
Fernandina Beach, Fl 32024
This Texas-based haunt specializes in prime steaks, seafood and wine. Valentine’s specials include an oyster trio of choice including classic oysters in half shells, rosemary butter oysters and oyster Rockefeller, wagyu filet with king crab Oscar and red velvet creme brule.
Ponte Vedra Inn and Club
200 Ponte Vedra Boulevard
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fl 32082
Ponte Vedra’s own Inn and Club will offer up a Valentine’s menu for guests of the Seahorse Grille and Golf Club; among the specials are strawberry salad and black pepper pork belly at Seahorse Grille and crab and cream sherry bisque at Golf Club.