The Ice Age Arrives in St. Augustine
A Jazzy Spot for Dinner and Drinks: The Ice Plant Restaurant and Bar
The St. Augustine Distillery’s next door neighbor, the Ice Plant restaurant, and bar, maintains the vintage industrial vibe and lively atmosphere that made the Distillery a hit with locals and tourists. Opened less than a year ago (September 2013), the Ice Plant draws crowds every weekend and recently expanded its hours to include lunch. Like the Distillery, the Ice Plant underwent an extensive renovation. “We gutted the entire building while working to preserve the history. We wanted to create an experience that felt like walking back in time,” said General Manager Patricia McLemore.
Stepping inside the Ice Plant, I was greeted by Bessie Smith’s plaintive crooning and the yin-yang aroma of spicy shrimp mingling with mild grits. Edison-style lights cast an amber hue on the exposed brick walls and pine floors worn to a patina. The wait staff, who wore their personal interpretations of early 20th-century attire, served cocktails with names like Rosie the Reviver and Bees Knees.
The Jazz Age ambiance was so evocative, it made me wish I’d worn a flapper dress and left my cell phone at home.
An Icy Reception
The defining difference at this establishment may be lost on all but the most discerning tastes. True to its historic heritage, the Ice Plant makes its own ice. Using slow-frozen filtered water, the staff chainsaws large blocks of ice into small “rocks”, spheres, pebbles and shaved ice. The result is a cold, hard, diamond-clear ice that doesn’t dilute the flavors of a custom cocktail. Three ice machines work 24/7 to slate the thirsts of St. Augustine. Patricia McLemore is especially proud of the Clinebell ice maker. “No one in Florida, except maybe a restaurant in Miami, has this type of machine.” Why go to all the trouble of carving massive ice blocks into 1-2 inch pieces? “It makes such a difference because it doesn’t dilute the flavor. The drink tastes the same, from the first to the last sip,” McLemore said.
I can vouch for two Ice Plant cocktail creations. As complex and compelling as the Sylvia Plath book of the same name, the Bell Jar is an unlikely combination of gin, strawberry rhubarb jam, lemon, and cucumber. Reading the ingredients on the menu, I was skeptical. The result, however, was refreshing. It’s the ideal beverage to savor on a summer afternoon – provided you don’t have to operate heavy machinery or meet a deadline. On my second visit, I sampled La Dona, the Ice Plant equivalent of a margarita. Like the Bell Jar, the beautifully pink drink packed a powerful punch.
The Science of Good Taste
A few folks have told me they experienced inconsistency in the strength and flavor of Ice Plant cocktails. I give the establishment an A+ for effort. In this age of pre-packaged flavors and industrial food production, the Ice Plant’s earnest emphasis on hand-crafted food and drink is admirable. The micro-brewed libations and fresh ingredients keep the servers on their toes. “The staff helps plan the menus and drinks. We have to be able to describe the unique flavors. We don’t just open a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice. There’s one employee who juices all of the fruit that goes into our drinks,” said server Karley Faver.
The Ice Plant is a separate entity from St. Augustine Distillery, but shares the same dedication to delicious details, starting with decor and filtering down to drinks and food. “We make everything from scratch, including our condiments,” McLemore said. Cocktail recipes are created by individual bartenders, hence the initials next to each drink on the menu. That said, if you want a basic Bud or simple Sauvignon, it’s available to get chanel bags outlet.
Most people may come for the designer drinks, but the food is high quality, too. Intentionally small, the menu selections reflect the seasonal availability of locally-sourced ingredients. The menu features dishes such as grass-fed Georgia beef burgers and local daily catch. The previously mentioned shrimp and grits were an artful interpretation of an old classic.
Staying on top of trends, whether it’s farm-to-table fare or micro-brewed beverages, motivates the staff to tweak the menu and experiment with new approaches. The long hours of launching a business haven’t dimmed McLemore’s enthusiasm. “We’re bringing life and energy back into this building,” she said.
It’s ironic that McLemore and staff, who grew up in the information age, are inspired by the history and hand-crafted precision of a former era. Ironic, but fortunate for St. Augustine, that a new generation of old souls has revitalized a former factory into an inspiring dining destination.
Insider Tip: To avoid long wait times, visit the Ice Plant Monday-Thursday nights or during lunchtime. The best seat in the house? “At the bar, so you see how the drinks are made,” said Patricia McLemore.
Disclaimer: Every effort is made to ensure the accuracy of information on City Blog, but please verify hours, prices and important information before embarking on your Old City adventure. Sharing and re-posting this blog is encouraged. Please credit OldCity.com when sharing. Photo credits: Ice Plant Bar: Cecile Browning-Nusbaum; all others: Nancy Moreland.