Monday, August 8, 2011

Off the beaten path....Fort Matanzas, Matanzas Innlet Restaurant and Washington Oaks - St. Augustine, FL

While this blog entry is about one of my favorite and first gluten free restaurants....I can not leave out mentioning the things you can do around the area, which led us to Matanzas Innlet Restaurant.

One of my favorite Florida cities to visit is St. Augustine, FL and one of my favorite things to do is to go to Fort Matanzas.  It is off the regular St. Augustine path, but well worth the trip.  It is always our first stop when going on a day trip to St. Augustine.  Ft. Matanzas is a tiny fort that protected the southern side of the city.  It is viewable from shore when you arrive at the park and then explorable after taking a short boat ride to it across the inlet.  While the walking trails are wheelchair accessible the boat ride and fort are not.  The park is free, but they do have donation boxes available in the park and on the boat.  There are also walking trails around the park entry and the beach.  

After arriving on the island you walk a short distance to the fort.  There are several steps up to reach the first level open deck, where you will be greeted by a park employee dressed in period clothing.  We always love hearing the stories of the fort and the men who protected St. Augustine.  Usually you will hear different stories...even though we have been many, many times I always learn something a little different about the fort and area.  This is not only a go-to mini vacation for us, but we often bring our family to Ft. Matanzas when they come and stay with us. 

The inlet received it's name Matanzas meaning "slaughters", from a battle between the French and Spanish where hundreds of French  Huguenots were killed.  The fort was built later to protect the city from the British.

After the stories, you are free to walk around and explore the fort.  You are even able to climb the sturdy ladder which though is a bit scary as it has a very narrow opening, but it brings you to the top of the fort where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the inlet and the barrier islands.  I am not crazy about small openings or heights, but this climb up is well worth it.                  

And if you look towards the bridge, you might just see the Matanzas Innlet Restaurant. While we have always enjoyed Ft. Matanzas and the main city of St. Augustine, little did I know all these years just east of the Fort, a short way across the inlet bridge was this great little restaurant called Matanzas Innlet Restaurant.  This restaurant made an impact at a time in my life when I was desperately trying to figure out what was going on with my health.  And little did we know there was an awesome beach right down the road as well.

In December of 2010 we were enjoying a visit with my mother-in-law and her sister.  A few months before, my mother-in-law had sent this great article about a tidal pool beach around St. Augustine that she wanted to go to, but I had stashed it somewhere and could not find it.  So we googled, googled...Florida tidal pools, Florida rocky beachs, etc.  The only possibility of a "tidal pool" around that area was Washington Oaks Gardens State Park.  There were no pictures displaying the beautiful beach, but we decided to take a chance and set out.   

My first gluten free meal at
Matanzas Innlet Rest. 
 We went to the park via St. Augustine going towards Fort Matanzas passing it by and going over the innlet.  We were all starving by this time so we decided to stop before heading to the beach.  The Matanzas Innlet Restaurant is on the right side on A1A sitting right on the inlet and has a gorgeous view of the waterway with indoor and outdoor seating.    I was sort of eating gluten free (not having any idea that this is what I was sort of doing) after having oddles of different issues over the past 2 months, one of being stomach related.  Anyway, I saw a note on the main menu that there was a gluten free menu and so I asked for one. I ended up eating boiled shrimp, brown rice and black beans.  A basic lunch and it consisted of things I knew I was able to eat at the time.  This was my first experience eating from a "gluten free menu" before I really knew what was going on with me and before I had any clue that some restaurants offer gluten free items and separate menus for food intolerances/allergies.      

Since that trip we have been back several times.  All after I knew what was going on with February I finally put it all together after introducing cereal and bread back all my symptoms came back and I knew that I was gluten intolerant and went 100% gluten free.   I have since had one of the salads and the spicy conch chowder.  It was so nice knowing I could safely eat soup at a restaurant, since most have added wheat products.  It was all delicious.  Since these last visits I have continued to learn more and more about restaurants and their gluten free items as well as about cross contamination. I have found most small, family owned restaurants have no clue about gluten free which has been very frustrating for me. I do believe they will eventually have to learn to accomodate due to more people finding out that they can not tolerate gluten.

Finding restaurants that serve foods for me that are safe has remained one of my most significant challenges.  So I often found myself wondering about the little restaurant by the rocky beach.  I would ask myself, "I wonder why they have a gluten free menu?", "I wonder if they have a lot of celiac or gluten intolerant people in their area?".  And when I would think back to the fact that they had soup, pasta and made me wonder even more.  Since I was still new to all of this, I was not big in to asking and bothering the wait staff.  I am slowly and with the help of other gluten free friends realizing  that it is very important for me to know how items are cooked and kept safe, so I decided to email the restaurant.  I received a very nice email back from the owner of the restaurant. He told me he was going to have his wife email me.  She was diagnosed with celiac disease many years ago.  Bingo!  I knew that there was something special going on there!

The view while eating outside the
 Matanzas Innlet Restaurant
  I soon received an email from his wife, who is also a chef, and this is what she said,"We have trained our staff about the gf menu and everyone is very aware of the consequences of cross contamination. Our gf items are prepared to order so many times it will take a little longer for the food to hit the table. We use separate pots and pans and utensils and our grill is strictly for chicken, fish or burgers. Our steamer has never had anything with gluten in them.  Our fryers however are NOT separate. we do not recommend anyone to eat anything fried.  Sorry , but too many of our offerings are fried and it would be impossible to keep things separate.  All of our soups, sauces and salad dressings are gf.  We thicken using cornstarch and I personally make the gf crabcakes.  Our gf pasta is cooked to order to insure freshness as well as purity."  This was the kind of response we all want from every restaurant we go to.  I went to the gluten free registry and submitted them as a gluten free restaurant to share with others in the area.  Next time I go back I will be trying some pizza and pasta!

The restaurant has also recently notated on their menu what items are gluten free for you to order.  The gluten free pizza is on the menu at the restaurant, but not listed on this main menu.  You can also have corn tacos and gluten free pasta.

Now every time we head out to Washington Oaks State Park we eat at Matanzas Innlet Restaurant. 

My blog is about my gluten free life now...which has impacted how me/we navigate throughout our day.  One of our favorite things to do is enjoy the beautiful places we have to visit in Florida.  I am very glad that we happened upon the restaurant on the perfectly "gluten free" sandwiched between 2 of my favorite state parks in Florida!

So to finish my sandwich.....Just down the road on A1A is Washington Oaks State Park.  On the right is the entrance to the park. The main park is between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River.  It was owned by a distant relative of George Washington.  The land was later owned by Owen and Louise Young who purchased it as their winter retirement home.  The gardens have beautiful native and exotic plants and a koi pond all covered by a gorgoeus oak hammock.  They donated it to the state of Florida in 1965.

We love climbing on the rocks.  Bring shoes to rock hop as they
can be sharp, rough and slippery.

We decided to go to the beach first which is directly across A1A from the park entrance.  There is a small parking area and a wooden walkway to get over the dunes.  Your first site is a regular Florida beach with small rocks cropping out of the sand.  Then when you look to the left you are struck with a magnificant sight.  It does not look like any other beach you would find in Florida. There are rocks cropping out of the beach and take over the northern portion of the beach. The rocks are coquina rocks, which have been weathered by wind and water.  They have been used for over 400 years as a building material in Florida and can be seen in St. Augustine on walls throughout the city and on the Castillio de San Marcos, which is the main fort that kept the city safe.
We have been 3 times so far to Washington Oaks beach and each time we have seen the rocks exposed differently.  The picture to the left was one taken during a spring visit.  The algae on the rocks was beautiful and made a great backdrop for family pictures.  There are a large amount of rocks to climb on and you probably will find interesting sea life within.  Be careful as they can be slippery or rough, and be careful along the shoreline as when the tide is coming in the surf can be rough.

                                      There are also areas of the beach that have very few rocks where you can safely enjoy the water and find a nice place to put up an umbrella to spend the day and you might even catch sight of a whale, which are common sightings during certain times of the year. There are portable toilets to use in the parking lot and picnic tables across the main road into the main portion of the park.  There are also walking paths, the garden and views of the Matanzas River where you can often view dolphins swimming by. 

In the spring we were able to see many starfish on some
of the smaller rocks that were under water.


Great Life Photography said...

Just came across your blog after googling Washington Oaks and Fort Matanzas. I'm Renee Unsworth, the arts and entertainment editor for the St. Augustine Record ( A few years ago, I began writing staycation stories in the summer while my children are out of school. Your blog was very helpful in learning about Matanzas Innlet Restaurant ... great info on the owners and the gluten free options. Thanks to you, I'll be writing about the restaurant (and the parks) this summer. I plan to run this story on July 12. Check on after that date. Thanks so much! Love your blog!

Great Life Photography said...

Thanks for this blog! I found it while googling Washington Oaks and Fort Matanzas. I am Renee Unsworth, the arts and entertainment editor of the St. Augustine Record ( ... I started a summer staycation series a few years ago. I write about area locations and restaurants during the summer when my children are out of school. Thanks to you, I will be writing about Matanzas Innlet Restaurant (and the two parks) ... very interesting about the gluten free options and the owners! I plan to run the story on July 12, 2013. Check online at after that date.

Wendy said...

Wonderful Renee! Can't wait to read it.

Wendy said...

Both are beautiful places for photography as well.

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