By KATHLEEN STEWARD
The Gourmet Hut is an intimate restaurant nestled in a garden setting of owner Wendy Relph’s own creation.
Relph opened the Gourmet Hut 12 years ago, right next-door to her Crucial Coffee shop in downtown St. Augustine.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in a bohemian garden that features papaya, lemon, mango, hibiscus and dragon fruit trees.
A 50-seat restaurant, the Gourmet Hut has a standard breakfast and lunch menu, with dinner being created daily by one of the three chefs — depending on their whimsy and available, fresh ingredients.
The restaurant serves farm-to-table food, and offers an international wine list and micro-brew beers. Although there is no children’s menu, the chef is happy to whip up something for the kids.
How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
Relph: Very romantic. The garden is lit up at night, and we sometimes have Latino guitar music on the weekends. We have engagement and wedding dinners, and some of the people who have met here come back for their special events.
What is your food philosophy?
Relph: We serve domestic farm-to-table [fare]. We have a set menu for breakfast and lunch, with the dinner menu being dreamed up on a daily basis. I let the chefs have a lot of creative freedom with what they will be serving.
Nichiniello: The other night we made a ceviche with pickled mango, shrimp, scallops and red snapper. The pickled mango was that extraordinary ingredient that we are able to work with because Wendy believes in letting us brainstorm.
What types of cuisine do you specialize in?
Relph: Asian, African, curries, vegetarian. For Sunday brunch, we have a mango mimosa. We are known for a delicious, inventive menu with a twist. For instance, we served an appetizer with pan-roasted duck with bacon-wrapped dates and maple thyme the other night.
What is your signature dish?
Relph: For breakfast, you can have a bagel with cream cheese and lox or one of our egg dishes. We have a crab, avocado and artichoke salad with dill dressing when in season, or a Hawaii lei sandwich with ham, pineapple, red peppers, mozzarella and honey mustard sauce.
What would you recommend for a first-timer?
Relph: We offer a wide range of dishes from seafood — like grouper and snapper — to duck, quail and steaks for dinner. So it all depends on our daily special appetizers and entrees. For lunch, try our shrimp kebab with rice or a chicken pot pie. For brunch, you can’t go wrong with our eggs Benedict.
Nichiniello: Order one of our steak entrees. The sear makes or breaks a steak, and it will be cooked precisely to temperature. All the chefs take time to personally visit the tables to make sure the customers are happy.