California chef John Taylor hadn’t been to St. George Island before December 2017, but his sister and her family have been visiting the island for 40 years. And through her tales and his own want to “bring the whole Mexican vibe to the panhandle,” the St. George Cantina was born.
Opened in June, the Cantina is located on East Pine Avenue and offers a lot that patrons won’t be able to experience elsewhere. Taylor, known as JT, has opened 52 restaurants throughout his career and decided now was the time to open one of his very own.
“I’m excited to do it for myself,” Taylor says. “The biggest thing for me is guest service and food consistency, and I think the island could really use a step up in the way food is done. I want something really easy and clean.”
Taylor has tremendous respect for the chefs of Apalachicola and said he wants to create that standard at the Cantina. The menu is infused with diverse flavors and features pork, steak, vegetarian dishes, and lots of seafood. Taylor gets his shrimp and seafood from Apalachicola fishermen.
“We will feature a different fish every day,” Taylor says.
As a chef, Taylor has crafted the menu to include several fresh and homemade items, including his own hybrid corn-and-maseca-flour recipe for tortillas, which are used for the various tacos being offered.
An unusual offering guests will find at the St. George Cantina is the mac-and-cheese bar.
As Taylor puts it, “I love mac and cheese, and I want people to have fun when they come in.”
There’s a chef making cheese sauces and guests can add savory items like lobster and bacon. At the bar, the signature drink is the Moscow Mule, which has Taylor’s unique touch, adding passion fruit to the ginger beer and vodka that usually makes up the recipe.
Another distinct touch the Cantina offers is that only one item is fried — shrimp for the tacos — while everything else is sautéed or grilled.
Taylor is working with contacts in Tallahassee to bring in flamenco guitarists for folks who want a softer musical touch, but with plenty of beat to salsa or merengue dance to. He also offers the island’s only delivery service and has added catering services and cooking classes as well.
Another amenity he’s developing for the younger crowd is a teen night. He wants to put up a large tent over a grassy area and offer a DJ, hamburgers, and hot dogs for teens on the island.
“There needs to be something like that for them,” he says.
And it all benefits the greater island community, for locals and those here to enjoy a vacation.
“I hope everyone goes along with raising the bar,” Taylor said of setting a new standard. “It will increase traffic everywhere because if they can find it on the island, they’ll stay on the island.”
For the menu and more, visit StGeorgeCantina.com.