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Worth the Drive

Get a taste of Tuscan cuisine by way of Jacksonville

By Jennifer Kornegay

Fried artichoke hearts at Effina's: you can't eat just one.
Fried artichoke hearts at Effina’s: you can’t eat just one.

The tumbled, aged-looking bricks’ warm tones and the terra-cotta tile roof of Effina’s Tuscan Grill in Jacksonville certainly call to mind the Mediterranean villas dotting the verdant hills in Tuscany, the lovely heart of Italy. Inside, wood floors and wood tables, ironwork and rich colors on the walls continue the theme all the way up into the charming loft area at the top of a curved staircase.

But the ideas of warmth and heart aren’t restricted to this casually upscale restaurant’s décor. Owner Steven Landers wants every guest in his establishment to feel the same sense of home and love that he enjoyed when visiting his grandmother Effie’s house; it was her cooking and his connection to her through her food that inspired him to open Effina’s in 2008 and give the restaurant her name.

Begin your Effina’s experience with an order off the antipasti menu. You can’t go wrong with the fried ravioli, but the fried artichoke hearts are simply sublime. The tender, piquant center of this edible thistle are encased in a crisp golden-browned batter and go down fast and easy; it’s like popping potato chips in your mouth. You cannot eat just one.

The Alabama Field Green salad
The Alabama Field Green salad

The Alabama Field Green salad is light and refreshing, with creamy feta, the bite of red onion slivers and crunchy, salty toasted pecans. All of the produce for the salads is fresh, much of it local, and the dressings are made in house.

Italian standards like eggplant parmigiana, chicken piccata, pizzas and lasagna are good choices, but on the evenings the kitchen can get ahold of fresh scallops for the nightly special, it’s the dish to get. Watching the waiter approach with a plate of angel hair pasta topped with huge milky white scallops quivering in a tomato cream sauce can turn the mere-second wait between table touchdown and taste-bud satiation into a period that seems like hours.

And then there’s the happy ending. At Effina’s, the dessert list is short but sweet, showing a commitment to do a few things and to do them very well. Out of the four choices, including the favorite traditional Italian treat tiramisu, the white chocolate bread pudding stands out, as much for its appetizing appearance as anything else. A generous square is surrounded by puffs of whipped cream and striped with syrupy strokes of dark chocolate. It has plenty of inner beauty too, though; the taste trumps the look in the end.

Scallops in tomato sauce
Scallops in tomato sauce

It’s obvious that Effina’s focuses heavily on the quality, preparation and presentation of its food, but its service is a highlight too. Keeping in mind grandma Effie’s gracious manners, the staff seems to understand the importance of welcoming and truly “serving” each and every diner.

So if you’ve ever closed your eyes and wished you had a sweet Italian grandmother who’d cook delicious dishes for you, Effina’s could be the place where your wishes (that one, at least) come true.

 

A Visit to Effina’s

501 Pelham Road N., Jacksonville, 256-782-0008

effinas.com