From datil peppers to spirits, the ancient city produces a variety of unique products
Say you want to send out-of-town relatives a gift basket offering them a sample of all things St. Augustine. With a variety of specialty products made in the ancient city, there’s no shortage of items that lend their unique cachet to the rich heritage that is St. Augustine. We’ve rounded up some of the products that St. Augustine is known for.
Nothing says St. Augustine more than the humble datil pepper that is native only to this region and has become a delicacy. Known for their smoky, slightly sweet heat, datil peppers are mixed into everything from hot sauces to jellies, oysters to chocolate.
Legend has it that the Minorcans were the first people to introduce datil pepper to the First Coast. Mike O’Steen’s roots on both sides go back several generations to the original Minorcans who settled here. (Mike’s uncle owns the O’Steens restaurant, famous for its seafood.)
Standing out on his own, O’Steen began experimenting with growing datil peppers as his grandfather had taught him and pickling them in sauces, jellies and salsas under the “Minorcan Mike’s” label. He says his products are made with 100% datil peppers, not combined with chili peppers or jalapeño peppers like others may be.
“They’re sweet with a bit of heat and a smoky, almost paprika flavor,” O’Steen said. “They mix with almost everything.”
O’Steen bottles its products “old fashioned” in a mason jar and sells them at a number of local outlets as well as Ace Hardware stores in the area.
The history of Whetstone Chocolates dates back to the 1960s, when the tourist industry that St. Augustine was founded on began to stir again. In 1966, thinking they could welcome visitors, Henry and Esther Whetstone started an ice cream business out of the kitchen of their St. George Street home. Encouraged by the early success, the couple expanded into homemade chocolates, still serving them from their home kitchen.
Expanding sales forced the Whetstones to move their operations to a larger facility at 51 Cordova Street, where the company now holds tours. The original store, now known as Tedi’s Olde Tyme Ice Cream, continues to serve Whetstone chocolates.
Claude’s Chocolate is a relative newcomer to the gourmet chocolate scene in St. Augustine. Chef Claude Franques and his wife Nicole moved to the area less than 10 years ago, but quickly made a name for themselves creating hand-dipped European-style chocolates, including candies and truffles.
Spirits of Saint Augustine
Both San Sebastian Wines and its close neighbor, St. Augustine Distilleries, have made a name for themselves in the beverage industry. San Sebastian Winery, founded in 1996, is located at 157 King Street, in one of Henry Flagler’s former railroad buildings. It produces a number of award-winning wines, sherry and port. The winery works with the St. Augustine Distillery to create a special blend port using the distillery’s bourbon casks.
Since opening in 2014, St. Augustine Distillery has quickly established a reputation for excellence in small-batch craft spirits, including its own line of rum, vodka, bourbon, whiskey and gin. The distillery, which shares space with vintage bar and restaurant The Ice Plant, was also voted as having the best distillery tour in North America at the 2018 International Drammie Awards.
Water from the Fountain of Youth
Nobody says it actually works, but no St. Augustine product gift basket would be complete without a little “magical” bottle of water from the real fountain of youth where explorer Ponce de Leon apparently stopped to quench your thirst by disembarking at 1565. Visitors can refill their own water bottles at the fountain or purchase in prepackaged 2-ounce to 750-milliliter bottles from the gift shop.
Two local breweries stand out on the growing craft beer scene in St. Augustine. For beer lovers, samples of Old Coast Ales or Ancient City Brewing can satisfy. Old Coast Ales operates a brewery and bar at 300 Anastasia Blvd. featuring their own IPAs, beers, porters and other craft styles.
Another microbrewery startup is Ancient City Ales, which creates its products in a facility on Agricultural Center Drive off State Road 16. Ancient City Ales offers about five flagship beers, producing seasons like Black Cherry Ale and Black Cherry Ale. ‘Imperial Vanilla Porter.