Despite St. Augustine’s beach-adjacent location, it can be difficult to find dining right on the water. We have a few choice spots, but if you’re looking to breathe in the air outside of the city’s hustle and bustle, there’s another option for you – take a short drive down to Atlantic Grille at Hammock Beach Resort. If you have a little extra time, we recommend taking A1A. Since it’s a two-lane road most of the way, it can be a little slower than the interstate, but you’ll pass by beautiful houses, lush shoreline and marsh scenery, and you’ll feel yourself relaxing with every passing mile.
Hammock Beach Resort is an enormous and somewhat imposing series of buildings that almost appears out of nowhere when you drive through the heavily-wooded streets that surround it. Despite its size, it somehow fits into the landscape and into the atmosphere of the place. I had been here once before, during a dinner that celebrated the restaurant’s reopening after Hurricane Matthew, but I had forgotten how peaceful the property was and how much the tropical foliage, ocean air, and sloping hills of the beachside golf course make you just want to wander. Rather than wander, though, we aimed ourselves toward the ocean where Atlantic Grille sits slightly elevated, overlooking the water.
The decor inside is understated nautical. You enter into a bar of a very tropical shade of blue, walls lined with glittering bottles and large windows that lead onto a patio with a golf course view. If you were to keep walking, that bar would dissolve into the oceanfront dining room, where the hues of blues and light neutrals complement the sand, water, and sea perfectly. Florida sunshine streams through these floor-to-ceiling windows, illuminating the space with brilliant natural light. Here, too, you can take a seat inside or out on the wrap-around patio for a view of the ocean that’s accompanied by a gentle sea breeze and the smell of salt air.
Now you must understand, this ocean view is stunning. During the day, you can watch the sunbathers and the swimmers, vacationers on horseback and little ones knee-deep in sand castle construction. At night, the sky is filled with stars and the pitch black of the shifting tides is mesmerizing. However, all of that is very nearly eclipsed by a menu from one of the most delightful chefs I have had the privilege to meet.
From the moment we stepped into Chef Richardson Pata’s kitchen, his cheerful energy washed over us. The passion he has for his food and the love he has for his team were palpable. Chef Pata first served the bright and beachy Watermelon & Feta Salad, a simple but striking dish with a lot of summery flavor. It starts with juicy, sweet watermelon on a bed of fresh arugula. That’s then garnished with pickled peppers and watermelon radishes then drizzled with a tangy lemon vinaigrette. We suggest pairing it with a fruity cocktail and an afternoon on the beach for optimum experience.
And if your plate wasn’t pretty enough already, Chef Pata delivers another dish that you hardly want to take your eyes off of – the Gulf Ceviche. Ceviche is a classic, a Florida staple, but the chef has made it his own with grapefruit, pineapple, and pink peppercorns alongside the essential citrus needed to cure undoubtedly fresh fish.
If you’re looking for something a little warmer and heartier, though, you can turn to the Truffle BLT Flatbread. Perfect for sharing (or, honestly, not sharing at all), the light, airy, and just a little crispy flatbread crust is topped with a heaping of fresh arugula, crispy bacon, tomato, and truffle aioli. So maybe it isn’t a classic BLT and maybe it’s slightly a misnomer because there isn’t any lettuce on it, but trust us, you’ll never go back to the ordinary.
And finally, the pièce de résistance, the fresh-from-the-docks local red snapper. Granted, part of my personal fascination with the dish was watching Chef Pata’s spellbinding method for breaking down this enormous fish. But even just ordering it in the restaurant will be enough of a show. Served with quinoa and an avocado relish and garnished with a grilled lemon and watermelon radish, this plate exemplifies all that Chef Pata and his team are dedicating themselves to.
They devote themselves to simple but unique preparations of seasonal produce and seafood inspired by not only their beautiful slice of Florida but the diverse clientele that come through their doors everyday. Chef Richardson Pata and his team welcome one and all to dine on delicious, locally-inspired food while basking in the breathtaking beauty that is our Florida coastline.