Many great restaurants are hidden in plain sight, some are just plain hidden. Without performing a search on Urbanspoon, I would never have heard about St. Augustine's Back 40 Urban Cafe, nor would I have noticed it at all on the remote chance I happened to drive by. Not only is it located on Old Dixie Highway, a small road running parallel to US 1 at a point where most of the traffic is limited to residents of the area, but the restaurant looks like a house... because it was a house.
Despite its old Southern charm, the small wooden cottage is easy to ignore and one is liable to question their judgment when approaching the porch. But once inside, doubts and concerns all quickly evaporated. The layout of the restaurant retains the structure of a house. When business is slow you can choose from an array of empty rooms, each with their own individual color schemes and ambiance. The atmosphere and tone are warm and welcoming, truly engendering an at-home level of comfort. For such a small place, the menu is relatively large and varied with an emphasis on fresh, healthy food and leaning towards Southern and Southwestern inspired cuisine.
Forever unable to resist the allure of fish tacos, I ordered the Ollie Tacos (lightly seasoned mahi topped with shredded cheese lettuce, salsa, cilantro and cilantro white sauce). I've eaten many a fish taco at restaurants across the globe and I must say that these were truly some of the most delicious I've ever had. The meat had a perfect flavor and consistency, the accompanying vegetables were crisp and fresh, and the sides were delightful in their own right. The Vegetarian 3 Bean Chili was far better balanced in flavor than many others I've tasted; neither weak nor overly spiced with a good consistency. Not being able to see even the smallest amount of food go to waste, I cleaned up what was left of the amazing Shrimp Curry Salad; best dressing ever, and that's coming from someone who routinely refuses salad dressings all together.
There's an incredible number of options to choose from for such a low-key place and, if our meal is anything to go by, the more well known places around town have something to be afraid of. There are a handful of truly superb restaurants in St. Augustine and the Back 40 Urban Cafe is the unknown champion among them. Delightful food made with fresh ingredients and served in an intriguing old house with a unique atmosphere. A real hidden gem and yet another reminder that there are some incredible places to eat and things to do around the area that are just waiting to be found by anybody willing to do a little searching.
The Back 40 Urban Cafe
40 South Dixie Highway
St Augustine, FL 32084