On a hot Florida summer day, also our 16th wedding anniversary, we took a drive down south on A1A to have dinner at The Reef. Having driven this state route between Jacksonville and St. Augustine numerous times, I consider getting to The Reef a treat in and of itself. A quick glance out of the car window and I am treated to some of the most scenic coastal views around the entire southeast United States. Pelicans flying overhead, waves crashing on the shore line, much of the road bordered by a coastal reserve––it’s a breath of fresh air to drive through so much nature at its absolute finest.
Besides Vilano Beach, The Reef is one of the very few eateries to stop at when enroute between Jax and the nation's oldest city. There’s only about one other place to dine (Cap’s), which requires a turn off of A1A heading toward the intracoastal, as well as a gas station and convenience mart. So naturally, The Reef is in quite an ideal location to catch all of the many passersby and tourists who are hungry and aching for a break from the car.
Pulling off of the coastal highway and into the sandy parking lot overlooking the dunes and straight out onto the Atlantic, it never really gets old to see such a sight. The ocean water was changing color quickly that afternoon, along with the abruptly changing weather. Then, gazing upon The Reef, one must not be fooled by its low-key and rough exterior. The weathered, gray board and batten structure's exterior provides a casual, laid back and beachy vibe; however, walking in was a different story. The interior is really a place much fancier than I expected. The hostess took us to our seats and we walked past tables adorned with cloth napkins and table cloths, and for a moment wearing my sundress, I didn’t know if I was dressed appropriately? Was I underdressed?
We were seated at our table outside, as requested, on the waterfront. The location: most ideal. Service was quite normal––no rush, and not too slow either. The views: priceless.
I quickly stopped worrying about what I was wearing once outside. As more people were seated, some were dressed up a bit, and some dressed very casual. We began our meal with drinks and a shrimp cocktail. Cheers to another year of marriage!
While sipping our drinks the weather turned very quickly. The skies darkened and a brief late afternoon Florida rain storm came upon us. The staff suggested we move inside before dinner and right as our meal was served it started pouring.
We watched the storm chase people off the beach from the window of our new candle-lit table. Our main courses were steaks with seasonal vegetables. The meal itself was a bit pricey to me for what we got but no real complaints at all. We ended with a very tiny vanilla ice cream scoop and a key lime pie tart to share for dessert. While sipping our coffees we witnessed the sky turn blue and clear up just in time to watch the sun go down.
While the restaurant was a little expensive in my view, the drive to get there was definitely worth it to pull over and enjoy a meal on the coast any day. And sometimes a restaurant experience actually isn’t about the food itself or how much we paid, or how good the meal was; it’s about the experience of getting there after sixteen years of marriage and dreaming of what’s to come next after that shared meal together.
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