In my research into St. Augustine I early on came across a mention of a restaurant with gluten-free crab cakes. This really stuck with since I had only eaten crab cakes once before (and that was very recently) and I slowly have been expanding my seafood palette the last few years. Growing up I was NOT a seafood fan (to put it mildly). I swear every time my mom would make a salmon (of course salmon since we’re Oregonians) dish of hers with asparagus and mayonnaise, it was my night to do the dishes. In my mind those became the three worst smells in the world and I would gag the entire time as I cleaned up (I probably was a dramatic kid). Luckily my mom would cook something special for me on the side whenever that was served for dinner (she loves me!). But needless to say I’d have gone hungry before eating seafood.
In the last three years or so though I’ve been slowly, but steadily, expanding my seafood experiences. It started with sushi rolls and that quickly took off. Then I started having a little sashimi. Then I ventured into some very light fishes. I think the culmination so far was on a recent trip to Baltimore when at a 100% gluten-free restaurant I ordered a gluten-free fried fish sandwich, even though there were many other special, non-seafood, gluten-free options. That restaurant (Sweet 27 Bakery and Restaurant) also had Asian crab cakes, which I went for. I thought the Asian crab cakes were very delicious, although I felt like the strongest flavors came from the soy sauce and toppings. Not a bad thing by any means, but it just meant it probably was a different experience from regular crab cakes.
So just a few weeks later here I am in St. Augustine and I think a chance to try regular gluten-free crab cakes is worth taking. I certainly have had crab before (in sushi) and like it enough, plus crab cakes are breaded so that helps entice picky eaters like myself. I’ll also admit gluten-free crab cakes seemed kind of Instagram/blog post worthy.
The restaurant Mantanzas Innlet Restaurant (not sure how I haven’t mentioned the name until now) is about 25 minutes south of St. Augustine. Planning out my schedule it seemed like lunch on my second/last day would be the best plan before I had to drive up to Jacksonville for work. That morning I went to the Castillo de San Marcos and then enjoyed the drive down down A1A. There unfortunately aren’t many views of the ocean for being A1A, but I liked seeing this part of Florida in general. It definitely has traits that remind me of Palm Beach County, which was the Florida I knew growing up, with mixes of brushland and then little beach towns with houses and condos and strip malls. Kind of what I associate with a more quiet and suburban experience (certainly not South Beach or even Fort Lauderdale). It also reminded me a little bit more of beach roads up north. Northern Florida to me has always seemed to have more in common ecologically with Georgia/the Carolinas than South Florida.
As I got just a few minutes from the restaurant I spotted a very aquamarine body of water to my right and a beach along it with a good number of people there. The color of the water was very striking and I knew I had to stop to at least get some pictures on my way back. I drove across the bridge right before the restaurant and it offered some more great views of the water and beach.
Mantanzas Innlet Restaurant is just at the end of the bridge (like almost underneath it). There is a parking lot for probably about 10 cars, but this was full and I parked across the street. There is a couple public spots, but those were also full. I got one of about three spots on the side of the service road next to a house. The restaurant was pretty full when I went in, so I don’t think parking is likely to be any worse than that. Not totally sure what the alternative is if all those spots are full on both sides of the road.
I got a table outside and automatically felt myself reach that kind of zen of being outside on the water. Mantanzas Innlet Restaurant is very much your friendly, relaxed, neighborhood Florida seafood joint. I sat out on a picnic table, silverware wrapped in napkins, friendly wait staff, etc. I took a look over the gluten-free menu to figure out what I’d be getting besides the crab cakes. I read somewhere (in my research) that one of the owners has celiac and that’s how the gluten-free menu was developed. The general menu online lists gluten-free pizza and beer available, plus that you should ask for corn pasta for the Italian dishes and corn tortillas for the tacos. The gluten-free menu shares even more gluten-free treats. There is the clam chowder, conch chowder, artichoke hearts scampi, crab cakes, general seafood (oysters, shrimp, clams, etc.), salads, tacos, a grilled fresh fish basket, and pizza.
I ended up going for the gluten-free crab cakes and a pepperoni pizza. They both came out at the same time (which always makes for the best Instagram shot). I dove into the crab cakes first. Generally I’ve only had crab inside sushi (so a bit masked) and my birth-25 year old brain was slightly calling out (“Seafood abort, seafood abort”), but I’ve developed enough to enjoy the crab taste. Certainly no part of my brain had any problem with the breadcrumbs. The overall texture I enjoyed and I liked that it was a crumbly/cake like, but savory. I have no basis to compare it to gluten-free crab cakes, but I think in general these were really great and would fill any crab cake craving for gluten-frees.
The pizza reminded me a bit of the earlier gluten-free pizzas. It was the doughy kind and reminded me of a foccacia kind of bread with toppings on top. The trend more recently in gluten-free pizzas I think has been to do more thin crust, but sometimes people like a little bit more dough. It was a change of pace (which is always nice to happen occasionally) and kind of took me back to my teen years when gluten-free crust was developing. It was very good quality for a thicker crust. I was just super stuffed after the crab cakes and a few slices (since it is heavier and more filling than a thin crust), so I got at least half of it to go. Plus the menu wasn’t joking when they called it big!
On my way back to St. Augustine I most definitely stopped along the side of the road and checked out the little inland beach I had seen earlier. I also walked a little bit onto the bridge to get some shots. I happened to pass a somewhat “disturbing” sign that told of the history of the inlet and where it go its name. A group of French Huguenots had started a settlement near present-day Jacksonville called Fort Caroline. This certainly alarmed the Spanish in St. Augustine, which sent a force overland to attack Fort Caroline. The French meanwhile decided to sail and attack St. Augustine from the water. The French fleet hit a storm and was shipwrecked on this inlet. Eventually all were executed when the Spanish arrived… “Mantanzas” means massacre in Spanish (I’ll certainly never forget that Spanish word)… Kind of a downer to mention in a blog post about a great experience at the Mantanzas Innlet Restaurant, but that sign certainly stuck with me.
Was it worth the 25 minute drive for gluten-free crab cakes? I think so. I enjoyed the drive, I certainly enjoyed the views and vibe of the restaurant, and the gluten-free crab cakes were delicious. I’d recommend stopping at the restaurant to anyone (gluten-free or otherwise) who is in the more immediate area and looking for a relaxed, local seafood place. It’s also right next to Fort Mantanzas, which I certainly would have wanted to check out if I had more time. It protected the southern approach to St. Augustine (kind of the JV fort to the Castillo). I’m leaning towards also recommending the drive from St. Augustine for gluten-frees. Base it on how much you like crab cakes (or chowder as that sounded pretty good too). If you’re a fan I would say do it!
Mantanzas Innlet Restaurant- 8805 A1A S, St. Augustine, FL 32080