by Damon Noisette//photo by Agnes Lopez
The picturesque beachside resorts of Amelia Island and the charm of the tree-lined streets and preserved late Victorian buildings of historic Downtown Fernandina Beach make the area a top getaway destination for travelers. There is no doubt that part of the island’s draw is its notable dining options. Recently opened in June, Palate Restaurant & Raw Bar is a steak and seafood concept that is likely to garner recommendations from the resorts and residents alike.
Taking over the former Bonito Grill & Sushi space a block from A1A and Centre Street, proprietor Tammy Barnes and chef Matthew Kennedy’s Omni Amelia Island Plantation pedigree is on display with Palate’s straightforward and refined takes on Southern and seafood dishes. The restaurant features a bright, casual raw bar dining area in the front and a cozy main dining room towards the rear, with separate lunch and dinner menus.
As expected, the dinner menu is heavy on conventional entrées like filet mignon, grilled New York strip steak, shrimp and grits, and blackened snapper, with prices ranging from $22 to $39. Diners with smaller appetites or smaller budgets should be happy to find half-portions available for $12 to $22.
With the help of the bartender, we decided on a couple of drinks to start, with the most interesting being the Palate Pleaser. It lived up to its name and also had a bottomless quality, as it seemed to refill itself as the heaping scoop of house-made sorbet slowly melted in the sweet mix of ginger syrup, vodka, and St. Germain liqueur.
The crab cake appetizer, which at $16 was the most expensive of the bunch, was a sizable pair of downright fantastic cakes not short on lump crab meat and spiced up with a Cajun remoulade that had everyone at our table vying for the last bite. Since Palate is a raw bar, we made sure to get a half-dozen raw oysters for the table ($12) and they didn’t disappoint.
Our entrées were all healthy portions, including the half-orders. The sweet tea-brined pork chop was augmented beautifully by the sweet and tangy blackberry BBQ sauce. I was pleased with the preparation of the mushroom-crusted sea scallops themselves, but the pairing of the creamy leek quinoa and fried kale elevated the dish far beyond my expectations. The other diners in our group had a similar experience, though they lamented only getting half-orders of the filet mignon and coriander smoked salt-crusted salmon because they enjoyed them so thoroughly.
One in our party likened Palate’s dessert menu to the story of Goldilocks, trying all three options and declaring the house made s’mores “just right” over the rich flourless chocolate cake and lime tart. On that point I had to disagree with Goldilocks, unable to find one dessert in the three I could leave unfinished.