When a friend invited me to spend the weekend at the Omni Resort Amelia Island Plantation, I got very excited. The idea of going to spend a few days relaxing, eating and drinking, but moreover, get me out of the cold of NYC and into the warmth of the Florida sun just made it too good to pass up. I had just one reservation—the food. Usually, resort food is not particularly great food. Nevertheless, I was packed and ready to go in no time.
Amelia Island is this hidden gem that is just north and east of Jacksonville, Florida, It is nestled in 1350 acres of nature’s beauty of grand old magnolia trees swathed in Spanish moss, which seemingly were everywhere. With the Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop, the Omni Amelia Island Plantation is a "re-imagined" place for leisure, sun, surf, and a source of great food, lots of food.
Once there, I quickly check to see how many restaurants they had. This place has nine restaurants so; there were enough choices. As being a good foodie, my mission was to eat my way through the weekend. (Well, I would at least give it my best shot.) Without a doubt this was going to be a baggy pants and T-shirt weekend.
My first surprise was waking up to the Plantation’s Sunrise Cafe. We all should be able to wake up to it every morning. Here is where you can get a quick Continental or American breakfast, but the real excitement is with its outrageous breakfast buffet. What makes this buffet "outrageous" is the simple fact that everything is made on site. Including the honey that comes from the properties own beehives. I was in my glory when I saw that they had five different types of honey. Literally, honey was dripping from the comb. Each one as taste treats and was eye rolling delicious.
The buffet includes a large selection of in-house cured meats (my personal favorites.) The various house-baked breads, rolls, croissants, bagels and muffins, along with a large selection of cheeses and homemade granola just added to the variety that was presented. There was a gluten free section that offered a nice variety of things. What they did not grow or make, they locally sourced. You just cannot get any better than that.
After a bit of sun and relaxation it was onward to Marche Burette for lunch. Located in Shops of Amelia Island Plantation, it is open for breakfast, lunch and for a late afternoon snack. This is combination restaurant, deli and country store. Again, all the food and baked goods are prepared on-site. And the food was terrific!
The single word to describe the place is “fresh.” The assorted salads and meats would definitely rival a New York City deli. (I could have cleaned them out of their baked goods and pastries, but I had thoughts of treadmills running in head that prevented that from happening.) The one thing that I could not resist was the sample board of fudge. I loved their fudge so much; I went to the back of the house and spoke to the pastry chef. I asked for the recipe and without hesitation, I was given it (besides leaving with five pounds of the stuff to take home with me.)
I worked up an appetite for dinner after swinging the golf clubs around. I had a lot of choices, but I decided on the Oceanside. Just steps away from the beach and pools, this restaurant was nicely appointed with the feel of beach house. The wait staff was friendly and knowledgeable about the menu and specials (something I look for when I review a restaurant.) The cuisine is "Floribbean." For those of you not familiar with this latest foodie term, "Floribbean," this is a fusion cuisine that represents Florida's southern flare and the flavor palates of the Caribbean. Floribbean is all about simplicity and clean crisp flavors.
So, now I had eaten in three of the restaurants and each great menus and selections, but one thought out that offered great flavors and textures to their offerings. This was not your run of the mill resort cuisine. It was several levels above that. The Omni was raising the bar. There was no doubt in my mind that the Omni organization had spent time and money in bringing in the right culinary artists. So, I needed to find out more. Really get into the heart and soul of the cuisine. So, I asked to meet the Executive Chef.
After a matter of minutes speaking to Executive Chef Daven Wardynski, I came to realize this was a man that is driven by his passion for food. Demi-glaze runs through this guy’s veins. And not any demi-glaze, his own version of it. It is all about the freshness of the ingredients for this guy—the freshest ingredients possible. That is why he grows his own and trends to his beehives. Chef Daven is all about farm fresh flavor; some would call it “farm to fork” flavor. It is no nonsense food. Clean flavors.
He has put together an outstanding team of culinary masters to help him bring culinary magic to the Omni Amelia Island. These include Executive Sous Chef Todd Ruiz and Executive Banquet Chef Chris Pickeren. Each has a keen eye in painting his plate canvases and flavor palate array. Together, they are a tour-de-force. Not only did I have the opportunity meet and speak with Chef Daven, but I also met with Chefs Todd and Chris.
They invited me to the Chef’ Kitchen for a tasting of their wonderful creations. This was a wonderful experience. The food was just spectacular. They were not only visually appealing, but they were all true palate sensations. They started with a Florida Pampano Crudo, a tomato soup that was not a soup at all, Smoked Pork Belly, a Salmon Boulee, a Rib “Eye” and finished it off with Carrot Cake and Nitro Sassafras Ice Cream. Wow! I was now in a state of euphoria. Dazzled by this meal prepared and served by these fine chefs, I was feeling really good all over. Did I mention that they paired each course with a wine selection? Things could not have been better.
Here were three guys that seemed destined to work together. They seem to genuinely complement each other. I told them that I never experienced resort food in the manner that they have presented it. No matter what restaurant I was eating, (and I did get to eat at all of them) there was another surprise of goodness rolling in my mouth. They all believed in bringing their homegrown produce to the guest table. Using local vendors for their fish and other items not grown on premises enables them the freshest choices while keeping the local economy strong. Excellent!
For me, the weekend was more than just sand, surf and sun. It was eating my way to happiness. It was this array of delicious food that one would not expect at a resort. Like I said, I have nothing against resort food. It is typically good food; it is not usually great food. The thing here is that the Omni has truly raised the bar on resort food. Each restaurant was terrific on its own merit di cuisine (Yes, I did make it though all their restaurants.) So thank you to the Omni Amelia Island Plantation for raising that bar and hiring those great culinary masters. Thank you for a fantastic weekend of fabulous food. I could not want for anything more.