There is ice, and then there is ice.
Ice Plant co-founder Ryan Dettra, boasts that his St. Augustine gastro-bar has the best ice in the country.
In one of their hand-crafted cocktails, you are enticed into shaved, 1- or 2-inch rocks, long rock, spherical or pebbled ice. The spherical ice is a crystal clear ball of melting art.
The three-year-old gastro-bar has retained the cavernous scale of the 1927 ice factory, with an air of modern sophistication. There are two bars, back-to-back, with eight nicely spaced bar seats at each, and a total of 90 seats overall.
There is a tightly packed, dynamic menu consisting of bar snacks, small plates and entrees. The menu selections change seasonally with the expansive creativity of Chef Laird Boles.
Dettra says they are bringing brunch aboard, and a catering operation will soon be up and running.
Lunch accommodates families, while at night the Ice Plant morphs into a place to see and be seen. The kids stay home with a sitter.
How would you describe the restaurant’s atmosphere?
Dettra: We left much of the large-scale machinery to use as a living history canvas. The remodeling mirrors the heyday of ice production, before refrigeration came along in the 1940s. We have old-timey 1920s and 1930s music in the daytime during lunch. At night, the ice factory gets jazzed up, with the lights turned down low.
What is your food philosophy?
Laird: We are farm-to-table, using the best local food in peak freshness. If we can’t find it here, we try and source it from the region. I only use the best quality seasonings, and the food speaks for itself — simple, elegant, elevated. The Fish Factory is at our back door on San Sebastian Creek, which puts the restaurant in a great spot for fresh, local seafood.
What types of cuisine do you specialize in?
Laird: Since the menu transforms seasonally, our food selection is dynamic and I create high caliber dishes that depend on what is fresh, what is available.
What is your signature dish?
Laird: We don’t have one because the menu is constantly changing to complement what we offer seasonally. For instance, right now we have a St. Augustine shrimp and antebellum rice pirlou with Cedar Key clams, local fish, blue crab and corn okra in a tomato saffron broth with tarragon aioli.
What would you recommend for a first timer?
Laird: If I were coming into the restaurant, I’d want to know what the seafood selection is. Recently St. Augustine’s fishing fleet has caught groupers, sword fish and American red snapper. I’ve taught everyone in the kitchen a filleting technique that de-bones the fish while leaving the head and the tail on. If that doesn’t suit, we fillet traditionally.