Summer is weeks away and now that our beloved TPC is in March, the families of Ponte Vedra need something to do. The beach remains a long-time favorite, but everyone needs a new day trip, or a few locales to stop by on a rainy day.
The Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville is about a thirty-minute drive from Ponte Vedra Beach, and it’s on the rise.
On another note, I am a vegan-ish eater and my preferences can make new ventures difficult. Should I bring my vegan butter to restaurants from home? Turn a blind eye to shops that don’t use animal-friendly products? Luckily, a recent trip to Riverside convinced me that it is heaven for both diehard vegans and for those who love all food and won’t be able to tell the difference!
The Riverside Arts Market is a stretch of local vendors and businesses stretching under the Fuller Warren Bridge along the St. Johns River. On the far end is an amphitheater where yoga is held at 9 am before the market opens. For the rest of the day, local artists rotate their sets and offer a beautiful musical background to your market shopping. Along the rows of stands, there are colorful maps of Jacksonville and its neighborhoods, succulents in pots of all sizes, handmade jewelry, bakeries with plentiful taste tests, and produce galore.
Down by the river, food trucks park with an array of multicultural plates. The market provides hours of exploration and time to sit with a fresh strawberry lemonade and enjoy the river breeze and the live music. It’s incredible people watching too, but the best part is the vegan community.
My favorites include Fresh from Yianni’s Kitchen, the Greek food stand, which offers vegan spanakopita and gyros. Hot Dog Party is a vegan hot dog stand offers loaded dogs that taste almost like the real thing, and Cely’s Filipino Food stand makes the best pancit noodles; just ask for no chicken. The Zen Butcher Co. is a handcrafted vegan meat and cheese stand within the market with the best chicken salad and smoked gouda, and 1748 Bakehouse is a local bakery with delicious vegan pestos, brownies, cheeses, and sourdough bread.
The Riverside Arts Market is going into its tenth year, open every Saturday from 10 am to 3 pm. I highly recommend checking it out, and I dare you not to make friend with every artist there!
As all loyal vegans do, I belong to a group chat of fellow plant lovers who send their edible vegan creations and new discoveries. On nearly a weekly basis, I receive photographs of thick, frosted, delicious vegan donuts from Sweet Theory in Riverside. The bakery is completely egg, dairy, soy, and peanut free, with a healthy amount of gluten free options too. But you’d never know just from tasting their famous maple bacon or root beer donuts, which are rich and sweet and loved by all, vegan or not.
The bakery is only open Wednesday through Sunday, and you better get there soon after they open (8:30 on weekdays and 10 am on weekends), because many of there donuts sell out pretty quickly. Sweet Theory is doing the impossible with their environmentally conscious and cruelty-free recipes, and a must-see next time you’re in Riverside.
The Sun-Ray Cinema, formerly known as the Riverside Theater, may not seem like a vegan’s paradise at first glance, but it has a well-kept secret. The sweet little theater on Part Street first opened in 1927 and to this day only shows three or four movies different movies at a time, but has multiple screenings a day. The best part of watching the Oscar-winning film Roma, however, is ordering food at the counter, bringing your pager to your plush movie seat, and waiting to be served during the show.
The menu is unexpectedly filled with vegan treasures, with plentiful salads, hot dogs and desserts that can be made vegan upon request. My go-to is their vegan chili, which is absolutely perfect when you get tired of the river breeze and want to relax and warm up. Kudos to the cinema for not only remaining a Riverside staple for nearly a century and staying true to its charm but for offering a varied and tasty menu for vegans and meat lovers alike.
About the Author: Mae Logue is a senior at Ponte Vedra High School and will be attending Tulane University this Fall. This article was a top 5 finalist for the Ponte Vedra Focus Blog Writing Scholarship.