Pass it By, and You’ll Miss an A1A Experience.
Exploring historic St. Augustine on foot can work up a healthy appetite, and we were definitely hungry. This was our only excuse for walking past A1A AleWorks in search of dinner. From a brief glimpse of the establishment through the window, my husband and I thought it was a noisy bar, instead of a quiet place for a relaxing meal. Wrong!
At street level, A1A is indeed a bar with 11 tables and an onsite micro brewery. Upstairs, you’ll find the kitchen, another bar, a full-service restaurant with 55 tables and a banquet room complete with crystal chandeliers that can seat up to 100 diners. And if that isn’t enough to dispel the ’just another bar’ myth, A1A has outdoor seating and a stunning view of Matanzas River.
We had the opportunity to mend our careless ways on a return visit to St. Augustine several months later. A1A Bar Manager, Matt Stevens graciously showed us the in-house brewery, answered our questions and made stellar lunch recommendations, noting that the downstairs bar served the same menu as the restaurant.
For appetizers, Matt suggested the Blue Crab Dip and the Coconut Shrimp.
The dip was smooth, flavorful, and had the potential to become an addiction. The absence of heat in the seasoning allowed the succulence of the crab to shine. This dish was so rich and laden with crab and cheese, we wisely decided to box half of it for a later indulgence.
The Coconut Shrimp wore a light and crisp coat over a tender interior. Biting into the large juicy shrimp emitted a distinct, but not overpowering, presence of coconut. The accompanying dipping sauce had a touch of sweetness, with a hint of citrus, creating a perfect counterpoint to it’s back-end kick.
We shared the entrees: a Seafood Cobb Salad and Key Lime Shrimp and Lobster Pasta.
The salad arrived on a large platter, artfully arranged with crabmeat, shrimp, cheese, hard boiled egg, avocado, chopped tomato and mixed greens, dressed in chunky blue cheese. Diversity of flavors and textures set it apart from your traditional Cobb. With generous amounts of seafood taking center stage, this fresh and plentiful salad can easily be shared.
The Pasta consisted of shrimp and lobster scattered on a bed of linguini. A light cream sauce with a small amount of heat complimented the seafood with a slightly sweet and colorful assist from chopped tomatoes prepared in a balsamic reduction.
As the name implies, A1A Ale Works also features an on-premises brewery. Thanks to the creative skills of a talented brewmaster, you can find six to eight beers on tap any time.
A1A serves three standard beers year round, with the remaining selection comprised of a rotation of seasonal beers. King Street Light Lager, Porpoise Point Pale Ale and Red Brick Ale are always available. . Then you might be tempted by the likes of OctoberFest and Jolly Jack Pumpkin in the fall, or Summer Honey when temperatures flirt with triple digits.
Space is tight in the area where the beer has been brewed for 21 years. “We were making craft beer long before it was cool,” Matt said. “It’s a working brewery, not a tour brewery.” He then proceeded to show us around, while describing the brewing process.
The brewery uses a seven barrel system, which keeps the good stuff coming in all its refreshing varieties. The fly in the lager? A1A is the only place you can drink these beers. You won’t find them anywhere else.
We didn’t sample the beer, because we were on a mission to learn more about the A1A Cocktail Trail stretching along State Route A1A, between Atlantic Beach and St. Augustine. In conjunction with St. Augustine Distillery, the Florida department of Citrus, and the St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors and Convention Bureau. A1A Ale Works and seven other participating bars and restaurants have concocted cocktails featuring Florida citrus juices and St. Augustine Distillery spirits. Order one of these designated cocktails, and your passport – available free at Florida Welcome Centers and participating establishments – will be stamped. The program, which launched in July 2016 offers prizes to those who complete the trail by showing a stamp from each participating location in their passports. “The program encourages people to get out and try new places and new cocktails,” Matt said.
A1A’s cocktail was a luscious Orange Blossom Martini consisting of orange juice, orange liqueur, orange blossom honey and gin or vodka, served in a large sugar-rimmed martini glass with a twist of orange. The drink was a soft, sunny treat for the eyes and palate, and slipped down far too easily.
This could become a serious problem if you have more than one of these art-in-a-glass cocktails. Fortunately, St. Augustine has no shortage of cabs and Uber vehicles to get you home safely.
Matt also offered us a preview of St. Augustine’s bourbon, the first to be produced in Florida since Prohibition, which was to debut the following week.
Since this was a sipping bourbon, we first tasted it neat. The aroma promised smoothness, but the first sip produced a slight tingle on the tongue at the front end before smoothing out. The addition of a single ice cube, caused the bourbon to open up, intensifying the flavor and tamping down the tingle
Warm brick, open ductwork and wood accents give A1A an informal, homey feel. But the building wasn’t always a restaurant.
Opened in 1888 as a large department store, the structure became a hotel in 1934, and a wax museum from 1949 to 1986.
Two brothers later transformed the building into a restaurant with a “fresh from scratch” philosophy that still holds true today. “Everything, including our salad dressings and the sauces we use on our sandwiches are made right here,” Matt said.
Today, A1A is owned by CraftWorks, Inc., which also owns Old Chicago Restaurants, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants and Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery. Unlike the above, which have national menus, A1A is a specialty brand, giving it the autonomy to create its own unique menus and beverages.
Casual atmosphere, fresh ingredients and creativity in the preparation of food and drink combine to present a sensory experience that will make your day. Whether or not you’re looking for a bar, please don’t follow our misguided example, and deny yourself the impressive array of choices A1A has in store for you.
If You Go
Sunday through Thursday: 11:00 AM – 11:30 PM
Friday and Saturday: 11:00 AM – 1:00 AM
A1A is wheelchair accessible.
1 King Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084