The editorial content in the online Fernandina Observer and the print Amelia Islander magazine are distinctly divergent while their restaurant reviews are interchangeable, both garnished with over-the-top slavering accolades.
Readers won’t find a single article in the Amelia Islander Magazine critical of anything, anyone, or anyplace. The online Fernandina Observer, on the other hand, suffers from chronic editorial indigestion when reporting on events and opinions that don’t conform to its left-leaning narrative.
Let’s start with the Observer, its editor, Mike Phillips, and leftist reporter, Black Lives Matter supporter, activist, and former Fernandina City Commissioner, Mike Lednovich.
The pair obviously scroll Twitter and Facebook to find their story of the day, then rewrite it in their own words. No need to look into the issues. Unedited city press releases, anti-developer tirades, nutty activist commentary, and glowing city employee profiles are common Observer fare. The outlet’s smug disdain for conservative unbelievers oozes from the site.
Pat Foster-Turley, one of the best reporter’s hereabouts writes for the Observer, but her expertise is nature, and she never ventures off that trail. Her columns are well written, informative and interesting.
Other Observer observers “observe” through a distinctly progressive lens. Operating in a left wing bubble, the sycophantic Phillips and Lednovich duo are as flattering and complimentary of the effluent originating from city hall and local lefty activists as its restaurant reviewer is of whatever flows from any local eatery’s kitchen.
The print News Leader wanders aimlessly, confusing opinion with news and news with features that has transformed it into a twice-weekly word jumble. For example its Friday, June 23 edition featured an articulate and rationale comparison of the Trump and Biden administrations by conservative columnist Steve Nicklas. Next to it was a column about auto maker Hyundai’s new Palisade automobile, a lengthy puff piece that was nothing more than a detailed advertorial touting a $51,750 car. Under both of these columns was an almost three column letter by local activist and liberal Tony Oliva bashing Nicklas for his viewpoints and hammering Trump for being Trump. Other than Nicklas the paper’s opinion page reads like the transcript of a conversation between Joe Biden, John Fetterman and Kamala Harris.
Fortunately locals seeking factual news and objective reporting can find it at George Miller’s relatively new online Citizens Journal Florida https://www.citizensjournal.net/.
The Islander’s and Observer’s smarmy restaurant reviews are so outrageously extreme that they’re knee-slapping, aisle-rolling hilarious, leaving doubt as to whether they are authentic or parody.
Based on their evaluations the publication’s two food writers’ appetites would be stimulated by a prissy chef who waltzes out to tell them about the special that features medium rare roasted toad on an armadillo half shell in a bed of sautéed Spanish moss mixed with minced rodent and sprinkled with oleander flower petals and leaves.
These reviewers describe every dish they and their dinning companions eat with the orgasmic rapture of Meg Ryan at Katz’s Deli in the “I’ll have what she’s having!” scene in the “When Harry Met Sally” film.
Let’s start with the Observer’s Dylan Bailey, whose June 24 Café Karibo review (Cafe Karibo: Charming Setting, Great Food) can best be characterized by Margot in the film “The Menu” who, while listening to restaurant guests equivocally babble on about their meals, said to a dining companion: “We’ve reached the basecamp of Mt. Bullshit.”
Bailey regurgitated an entire thesaurus of superlatives with an over-the-top appraisal of Café Karibo, which coincidentally happens to be one of the Observer’s handful of advertisers.
The review began by Bailey salivating over Café Karibo’s architecture, tables, chairs, location, atmosphere, service, and every other inanimate object in or near the eatery.
In the first paragraph alone the writer was emotionally overwhelmed, describing Karibo twice as “charming” then “unique,” and “laid back,” a “delectable culinary gem” and “a must visit, conveniently located” offering “a sense of tranquility,” and “a relaxed dining atmosphere.” All that before ever stepping inside and taking the first bite of food.
While still outside, the awe-struck scribbler continued adding: “Cafe Karibo’s aesthetic appeal is immediately clear upon arrival. The exterior of the bistro exudes a welcoming vibe.” This hack even singled out an exterior brick wall for special attention writing: “There also is a quiet garden patio, encased by a beautiful brick wall adorned with twinkling lights, which offers a serene dining setting.”
Nothing escaped this eagled-eyed food critic’s attention. The observant Observer culinary scribbler immediately spotted the furniture, perceptively making the following expert assumption: “The casual setup with benches and tables of varying sizes caters to both small and large groups” informing readers that there are accommodations for folks who prefer sitting in chairs at tables while eating.
Once inside Café Karibo Bailey was Meg Ryan in orgasmic overdrive.
Spotting actual food drove the reviewer into a scribbling frenzy that resulted in adoring tributes describing salads as “refreshing” sandwiches as “hearty” seafood “succulent,” and vegan choices, “delightful,” concluding saying: “the menu pleases every food enthusiast.”
The writer began the edible editorial opus describing a piece of bread as “setting the tone for the meal.” Bailey continued adding: “The ciabatta’s crispy exterior and soft interior, combined with the rich flavors of the toppings, created a symphony of taste that was simply irresistible.” Good grief, it was a piece of bread! I’m not making this stuff up, honest.
Bailey’s main course resulted in a chain of gastronomic pyrotechnics that in actuality would have resulted in an emergency visit to a dental surgeon. The Philly cheesesteak sent the writer into a culinary coma declaring: “The flavor explosion from each bite left me craving more.”
It didn’t end with the exploding sandwich as Bailey tucked into a “crowd favorite” of Key lime pie, that ”rounded things off wonderfully” and “offered a dessert experience that was both refreshing and satisfying.”
Bailey’s research appears to be about as thorough as that of the Observer’s other editorial staff. Following more sides of superlatives including: “diverse, consistency of quality, notable, fresh, high-quality ingredients,” and “authentic taste,” the writer wrote that this Eden of eateries: “….stays true to the restaurant’s Floridian roots.” Really? The owners, Teresa, and Tim Poynter, both proudly hail from Cincinnati, Ohio. There are even photos on the walls attesting to that, picturing the personable couple as University of Cincinnati cheerleaders. Cincinnati chili is even on the menu labeled “Pap’s Chili” (co-owner Teresa Poynter’s dad’s recipe) served with Cajun cornbread, not exactly foods with roots in or anywhere near Florida.
The writer didn’t notice, apparently distracted by “The attentive and friendly staff, prompt service, helpful recommendations, a culinary adventure, a memorable dining experience, inviting atmosphere, diverse menu, excellent service and quality of food, the rich culinary culture,” and on-and-on, ad nauseum concluding this inane banquet of blather with: “…a meal at Cafe Karibo is bound to be unforgettable.”
What’s unforgettable is this sidesplittingly hilarious review.
Now For The Second Literary Serving: If the Amelia Islander editors profiled Adolf Hitler they’d highlight his well-trimmed mustache, perfectly creased uniforms, and how well he treated his German Shephard dog.
The Islander is not the periodical for folks looking for the police blotter, obituaries, disclosures about restaurants with slime in their ice machines, exposés about corrupt politicians or controversial local issues.
If the Islander ever calls you for an interview jump on it, particularly if you sell stuff. You’re guaranteed positive coverage. You don’t need to hire a pricey PR agency to generate editorial space for your business, products, or services to pitch this magazine.
All you need to do to determine if you qualify for an article in the Islander is call them. If they answer the phone you qualify. Oh, and then buy a glossy four-color slick ad in the glossy four-color slick publication, that consists mostly of glossy four-color slick ads.
To their credit, editors and publishers, Philip and Deana Kelly, have hit on a wildly successful money-making formula with their “It’s a Wonderful World” concept in the slick monthly magazine. It’s perfect bedtime reading as there’s no unsettling dream material here.
There are no spittle-stained letters to the editor, fist-shaking editorials or opinion columns chastising local officials or developers, no sirree Bob, not here. The Islander is less controversial and confrontational than the Florida DMV Driver’s Handbook.
You can’t buy it. It shows up in your mail free of charge or in your local coffee shop. Ever since we moved here it has been arriving at our house with a personalized mailing label reading “Resident”
The publication features mostly pictures of well-scrubbed grinning realtors and photos and puff pieces about the pricey homes they’re peddling. Not a yurt, hut, hovel, or single-wide among them.
To its credit the Islander’s June issue cover story highlights the local “Foar From Home” team that rowed across the Atlantic to raise money for and draw attention to military veteran suicide and PTSD and resident good guy Paul Lore’s current Team Ohana Pacific Ocean row for similar causes.
It also features a review of Amelia Island’s fine south side restaurant, Bar Zin, bylined by Lois Chappell Winkler. It’s not as extreme as the Observer’s Shangri La description of Café Karibo but features several servings of extremes.
Ms. Winkler begins by describing her husband’s anticipation of a dish that was being explained to him writing: “Oyster loving husband’s eyes sparkled as our waiter Ryan described how the oysters were beer-battered and served with Cajun remoulade.” There was no follow up coverage on the eye-sparkling oysters effectiveness.
This gal was so enthusiastic about her meal she ate the decorations writing: “Personally, I still get a small thrill seeing that bright purple edible orchid garnishing my evening: nibbling the fresh flower reminds me of watercress on endive, and I’m eating a flower.” I did not make this up, honest! It’s in her Bar Zin review.
OK, maybe the orchid on her plate was part of the meal. Or maybe one of the guys in the kitchen jokingly said: “Hey toss that leftover bouquet from last night’s bridal shower on her plate and see if she‘ll eat it.”
Nothing on anyone’s dish misses the gourmandized eye of Ms. Winkler who describes Bar Zin’s asparagus saying, “…..asparagus was cooked perfectly. Admittedly, each bite of asparagus isn’t special, but this chef has strong skills.” Yeh, I don’t know what that means either.
The desert she was served was described as “hedonistic indeed” while the wines came in for some of her most superlative accolades being touted as “….just right, slightly bold, dry, fruity flavor…”
With her Thesaurus emptied of tributes she folded her napkin and announced that she “plans to return soon.”
It really IS a Wonderful World when viewed through the lens of the Islander Magazine.
(Full disclosure here: I’ve eaten at both Karibo and Bar Zin and don’t have any complaints. The food was good, the beer cold, and the service prompt and courteous. However, I’ve never left either eatery in a euphoric trance like these two reviewers.)
A huge “thank you” to talented local illustrator Steve Hall for the introductory cartoon that introduced this column, and whom I now owe a few cold beers.
Sandpaper Hospitality At Sandbar: One area restaurant even the Observer and Islander reviewers would have trouble finding anything worth praising with the exception of the view is the Sandbar at Main Beach.
Another full disclosure here: A little more than a year ago, Joey Helms, one of the managers asked me to leave the joint following a dispute over his refusal to fulfill a commitment made by the previous owner, Kevin Dooner, to follow through on an ad in the 2022 Amelia Island News Wrecker. Helms and one of his female managers then gleefully tossed 200 gratis copies of the News Wrecker into the site’s parking lot dumpster.
Helms has since left the Sandbar for employment elsewhere.
So, about two months ago I ventured back, had a beer at the downstairs outside bar with a couple of friends. As I was leaving I was approached in the parking lot by a nondescript gal who identified herself as “Allyson, a Sandbar manager.”
She was accompanied by a guy who identified himself as a cook who observed while she informed me that I was “banned” from the establishment. When I asked “why” she responded saying: “Don’t you remember me?” When I answered “No” she reminded me that she once managed the bar and restaurant space now occupied by Kitchen 251 in the Amelia Island Marina that her father owned at the time: “You gave it and me a scathing review” she spat. Her response jogged my memory and I recall now how much that the negative review was justified. Her current attitude indicates that nothing has changed.
When I asked if she would call the police if I returned to the Sandbar, she said: “No. We just won’t serve you.”
The ocean view appears to be the only thing this place has going for it as I’m not the only local who has been rewarded with the Sandbar’s unique brand of hospitality.
One of the island’s nicest, prominent, and low key and polite couples, local art gallery owner Ned Fleming and his business executive wife, Lori, detailed to me how they were inexplicably and rudely escorted out of the place by a gal manager. Multiple others have related their negative experiences about the gals currently running the joint and the deterioration in the quality of food and service.
It appears that the Sandbar has acquired a chaotic Monty Python aura and run aground since the personable and very hospitable Mr. Dooner sold it more than a year ago.
Overheard At PJD’s Beer & Wine Garden: A local gal told her table companions that she was amused that two of the questions asked when she filled out a form at Nassau Baptist Medical Center to schedule an appointment for a mammogram were: “What sex are you” followed by “Was it assigned at birth or a choice?”