By Dane Feldman
Photo by Dane Feldman.
Espana is a Spanish restaurant located on Fourth Street in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida. What Espana’s title lacks in creativity, the menu more than makes up for in flavor pairings and freshness.
Espana’s menu is straightforward and easy to navigate. The restaurant offers a hearty number of tapas, entrees, and paellas. Some say to skip the entrees and go straight for the tapas, but I’d say patrons that do Espana this way are surely missing out. While their Gambas al Ajillo (shrimp in fresh garlic sauce) and chorizo tapas are great, the entrees are a must too.
My parents and I have been fans of this appetizer for years and no restaurant I’ve been to does it quite like Espana. The garlic is abundant and fresh as is the parsley. The key to this dish is the fresh garlic as well as high-quality Spanish olive oil, but Espana’s location also means fresh Floridian shrimp.
While it seems like maybe we go to Espana for the Gambas al Ajillo, but actually I head to Espana for the Pargo Olé: red snapper topped with more of those delicious local sautéed shrimp and a roasted poblano sauce that’s both rich and spicy. When I say I’ve had dreams about this entree, I have had dreams about this entree. The first year we went to Espana we all loved our meals so much that we went back a second time in the same week (this was largely fueled by my love of the snapper dish).
I’ve now been at least 5 times and have ordered the Pargo Olé every single time, but my parents have sometimes ventured just for the sake of variety. Because of this, I’ve had the opportunity to try the Paella Valencia (clams, shrimp, mussels, chicken, white beans and Spanish sausage) as well as the Mero a Costa Brava (fresh grouper filet topped with a spicy brown sauce and accompanied by two Panco encrusted scallops). The spicy grouper is the runner-up for family favorite, which sometimes makes it difficult for my father to choose between that and the snapper. I, for one, have no problems being consistent in my ordering at Espana. It helps that the chefs are consistent, too. I’ve yet to be let down.
Espana offers sangria as well as a long list of wines and sparkling wines by both the bottle and the glass. The restaurant also offers beer, which includes a few Spanish brews as well.
The service at Espana is like the food, consistent and hard to beat. The owner is often present and has waited on us at least once. Since our last trip to Espana in April, they’ve done a renovation, making the already lovely ambience even better. The bar is large, but not oversized, the noise level is low, and the seating is comfortable.
I truly don’t have a mean thing to say about Espana. The owner even grows a fair amount of herbs and vegetables on location. From Newark Airport, it takes 2 hours to fly into Jacksonville and about 30 minutes to drive to the island. The location may feel remote, but it’s accessible and the restaurant is worth the trip.