TU: Restaurant review: Farm-to-table with urban flavor at 20West Café

Link to article: https://www.jacksonville.com/entertainmentlife/20190201/restaurant-review-farm-to-table-with-urban-flavor-at-20west-cafxe9

By Jay Magee / For the Times-Union

While corporate relocations, major-flag hotel expansions and historic building renovations seem to get all the press love when it comes to downtown revitalization, they’re not the only ones taking a bite out of the urban core these days.

The University of North Florida, Jacksonville University and Florida State College at Jacksonville are doing their own kind of building, adding classrooms, housing and specialized programs to the Northbank like never before.

One of those “specialized programs” I’ve discovered recently is 20West Café. The farm-to-table fast-casual eatery, which opened in March 2018, is operated by students and staff from FSCJ’s Culinary Arts and Hospitality program. It takes up the ground floor of the school’s student housing building on Adams Street, between Main and Laura streets.

Open weekdays for breakfast and lunch, 20West is a light-and-bright, airy spot with a daring menu in the style of a Panera Bread, just not nearly as expansive as theirs. Here you’ll find a small collection of soups and salads with a larger variety of sandwiches, along with a handful of breakfast bites and entrees. It’s a real-world immersion opportunity for FSCJ culinary students, who showcase their talents and experimental fare in a format that, at least to this downtown office worker, feels lacking in most of the places I’ve visited.

I headed over to 20West on a recent Friday for lunch with friends. We had reserved the 12-seat Winston Dining Room, a conference room-style space enclosed by sliding doors that groups can reserve up to two weeks in advance at no additional cost beyond lunch.

Similar to a Panera or other fast-casual cafes, at 20West you can pair a half-salad or half-sandwich with soup for $10. A couple of our lunch guests did just that and started with the Farmer’s Stew ($5 a la carte). This tasty and vegan-friendly stew featured large chunks of potato and plenty other fresh, locally sourced veggies in a light smoky corn broth. Another chose the Farm Salad ($8 individually), an attractive arrangement of salanova lettuce from Atlantic Beach Urban Farms with robust smoked corn and fresh crudités. Although we didn’t, you can upgrade your salad to entrée-grade with proteins such as grilled chicken and salmon for a reasonable upcharge.

Most 20West sandwiches offer large portions, and some are best maneuvered with a knife and fork. Several members of our group tried the Haitian ($11). Billed as a spicy Cuban, it piled high very thin-sliced ham, pork griot, Swiss cheese, crunchy pikliz (pickled Haitian vegetable relish) and mustard on pressed ciabatta. Our only complaint about this sandwich was its spiciness, or lack of it.

The Big Apple ($11) was a different style of pressed ciabatta, featuring ham, grilled onions, very thin-sliced Granny Smith apples, Swiss and honey mustard. My friend praised its slightly sweet flavor and texture with the caramelized onions, apple slices and mustard.

Non-meat eaters have plenty of sandwiching options. My entrée, the Portobello Pita ($10), was a whole-wheat pocket stuffed with a tangle of delightfully grilled peppers and onions, vinaigrette-marinated portobello mushrooms and a creamy mornay cheese sauce. While it could have had a bit more of the good stuff stuffed in there, the good news is this was a truly handheld sandwich without the need for fork-and-knife cleanup duty.

The Greek Grouper ($12) gave us a well-prepared and portioned marinated and grilled filet of grouper fully dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion and tzatziki sauce on a ciabatta roll. While there seemed an overabundance of bread in proportion to the fish, it was a nice size for the price.

Each sandwich comes with SunChips, or you can choose one of 20West’s homemade side items or its Side of the Day scribbled on the chalkboard over the counter. During our visit, that daily side was home fries, a nice selection of well-seasoned and plump diced potatoes that didn’t feel out of place on a lunch plate. The Vegan Greens were a stewed-down bowl of collard greens seasoned with salt and pepper in that smoked corn broth.

You won’t find beer and wine on the menu at 20West, at least not yet. That service is coming soon, according to Chef Brett Cromer. In lieu of a soda fountain, you can grab a bottled soda, kombucha or other prepared beverage from one of the display cases, or try one of its fresh-prepared flavored teas.

Along with the standard menu, 20West offers daily specials scrawled on the blackboard over the counter, along with homemade desserts and sides.

All tastes considered, 20West Café fills a niche that other downtown lunch destinations largely miss: fresh, café-grade flavors in a thoughtful, modern and enviro-chic environment. Perhaps some of its restaurant neighbors could learn a thing or two from these students.

Jay Magee is a regular guy who needs a little balance in his life. That means spending as much time in the gym as he does in new restaurants. Find out how that’s working out for him at jaymagee.yelp.com or read one of his blog posts at jaymagee.com.

SOCIAL MEDIA