On Sunday, November 7th, the San Marco Merchants Association teamed up with the San Marco Preservation Society to present Autumn in the Park – Farm to Table Dinner. The table was formally set for seventy, draped in white linen tablecloths with folded napkins, poured water and wine; the centerpieces were simple, autumn branches with berries, and white candles shimmered under the canopy of the magnificent live oak trees of Davin Park on River Road.
Davin Park was ideal for an outdoor dinner on an autumn day. The weather was perfect: the golden light of a late afternoon, with a bit of chill in the air. Guests wandered to the park, dressed for fall, carrying their own dinner plates from home. The plates were creatively arranged on stacked bales of hay, together with autumn flowers, bottles of wine, pumpkins, and Indian corn – an artful and elegant tableau. Add two wood burning fires, a park bench, live musicians, a street lined with lit candles in Mason jars, candlelight everywhere throughout the park, and the festive, linen-draped hors d’oeuvres table and you have a dinner party that bespoke casual elegance.
The fires crackled, and fragrant wood smoke wafted through the park while people gathered and talked, enjoyed wine from The Grotto and beer from Intuition Ale Works, nibbled on locally obtained cheeses, spreads,crackers and breads; the music playing overtop.
The Farm to Table Dinner was both a fundraiser for the beautification of San Marco Square and an occasion to learn about locally obtained food by highlighting the local restaurants that use the locally grown and served concept. Slow Food First Coast was on hand to chat about the benefits of supporting local businesses that use locally grown foods. Chefs Sam Efron of Taverna and Tom Gray of Bistro AIX, along with their staffs, used local ingredients to create the meal, as they do every day in their restaurants. They worked on site, under a tent with the warm glow of the setting sun bathing their “kitchen” as they produced the perfectly timed four course menu of an amuse bouche, salad, main course, and dessert for seventy guests. Nathan Asaro from The Grotto spoke of the wine selections, and assisted the servers in pouring throughout the meal. Everything was brought to table and served family style. The farm-to-table concept is growing all over the country, and espouses the commitment to seeking our foods from close-to-home sources, supporting local food producers, and the local dining establishments that do the same.
Autumn in the Park was a celebration of the local, specifically the lovely San Marco neighborhood. The locally owned and operated restaurants and shops offer an independent and creative flair and keep the community diverse and vital. When the local businesses are patronized, it strengthens the entire neighborhood and enhances the lifestyle of people who live there. The Farm-to-Table Dinner brought together friends and neighbors of San Marco and other parts of town. Davin Park made for an intimate setting in an outdoor venue; seventy people enjoyed a feast together under the grand live oaks. The shops and restaurants in San Marco, together with the people who live and love it here, create community and celebrate the community character inherent in San Marco. It was a beautiful event in its entirety.