There are few places left in Florida that you can call idyllic without feeling like a hypocrite. Amelia Island is fitting for a day trip, where you can eat, shop and explore the island without undue stress. The island itself is steeped in history; over its 400 years, eight different flags have claimed the territory for one sovereign nation or another. This succession of cultures included all of the Great Powers at the time and a few enterprising pirates and mercenaries looking to establish their own petty fiefdoms. While the claims of some were somewhat transient, Gregor MacGregor’s Green Cross of Florida flew for a mere four months, they all left their imprint on the peaceful little island.
Bookmark the Date
The Amelia Island Museum of History is a great way to kick off the date with a little bit of learning. The brick exterior of the building appears a bit foreboding, but it’s intentional. The Museum was converted from the former Nassau County Jail in 1975. The bottom floor is devoted to an impressive array of exhibits, many of which include examples of actual artifacts and plenty of reading material. While you are checking in with the volunteer staff, ask for a copy of their scavenger hunt. While the game is geared toward children, challenge your partner to see who can complete it the quickest. One of the most intriguing exhibits is their scale replica of a ship, complete with barrels of tobacco, oranges and gun powder that you can smell with the press of a button. The second floor consists of a research library delving into the history of Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach, Yulee and all of Nassau County. Don’t miss their outdoor history garden, a volunteer effort that explores history through flora. Stop by the gift shop on your way out and pick up a postcard to remember your adventure.
Walk up Third Street until you hit Centre Street, which is home to Amelia Island’s shopping district. The shops run the gamut from touristy pirate-themed stores that can be found in every seaside Florida town, to local businesses and shops that remind you that it isn’t just a tourist destination. Of special note, The Book Loft is a cozy two-story specialty bookstore that sells local art in addition to signed first editions. There is plenty of seating upstairs for people who can’t decide which book to get and need to settle down for a quick peek. There’s also plenty of room for children, and it’s the pinnacle of adorableness to see the grandmotherly proprietor pick out a favored book for a curious kid. Centre Street is also home to a bevy of antique markets; spend an hour or two getting lost among the stalls filled with heirloom curios and relics. Find a collection of old photographs and see who can create the best fake family history.
No date is complete without a culinary escapade. For your romantic feasting needs, 29 South is one of the finest on Amelia Island. Chef Scotty Schwartz has been making magic on the First Coast for almost a decade. Located in a converted two-story house with a wrap around porch right on the corner of Ash Street and Third Street, you can smell the sea breeze commingling with the fragrant chef’s garden located behind the restaurant. All of the ingredients in his dishes are locally sourced and organic, thanks to more than half a dozen nearby farms and dairies. He and his staff will treat you to a night you’ll never forget and you’ll leave full from food bliss.
To start out, we recommend splitting the polenta. This cornmeal-based dish has been around for centuries and Chef Scotty breathes new life into it by serving it mixed with pecorino and truffles, topped with roasted mushrooms and asparagus accompanied by a few slices of fresh baked toasted challah bread. The polenta was rich and filling; the mushrooms gave the dish a deeper flavor and a silky texture while the roasted asparagus and some mixed greens provided structure and color. Challah bread is always delectable and this was no exception.
Once you’ve whet your appetite, move on to one of our favorites. The pan roasted scallops are a relatively light dish, but are absolutely exploding with flavor. They come on a bed of latkes with creamed leeks on top, which in turn are drizzled with his pinot noir butter sauce. Scallops are a tough dish to cook, but Chef Scotty has never failed to roast that juicy and succulent shellfish flawlessly. This is one of those dishes where he shows off his skill in creative sauces; the sour notes of the pinot noir butter were splendid. Of particular mention are the bits of Benton’s ham mixed in, lending bits of salty flavor into the mix.Their vegetarian friendly option is as visually impressive as it is appetizing. At least twenty layers of flaky wild mushroom lasagna topped with Parmesan cheese on a pile of root vegetable ragout. This dish is a vegetarian’s delight, full of Italian impressions and fresh mushrooms. Between the ragout and the pasta, there’s plenty to eat and share. The toasted cheese on top gave the dish some crispness to the vegetable-heavy meal. A heaping helping of ragout on every bite is a necessity; the root vegetables complimented the flavor of the mushrooms nicely.
For dessert order the Coffee and Doughnuts, 29 South’s premier sweet treat. It’s a doughnut bread pudding drizzled with butterscotch with a side of mocha ice cream for good measure. It is served in a massive coffee cup, which is promptly spilled onto the plate by your waiter into a wonderfully sumptuous mess.
All good things must come to an end, but, by sightseeing, shopping and eating, you too can make your mark on Amelia Island.