Scott Alters, the managing partner and executive chef at San Marco’s Rue Saint-Marc, has been around the block when it comes to kitchens. His résumé stretches from New York to Napa Valley to Avondale’s Orsay and the former Sundog Diner in Neptune Beach.
These days, Alters has traded that block for a new fork in the road. Chances are, he’ll stay a while at this fork.
Over the past several months, Alters and his fiancée, Gabby Saul, refashioned a former M Shack in the wedge at San Marco Boulevard and Hendricks Avenue into Rue Saint-Marc. The partners are veterans of brothers Matthew and David Medure’s M Hospitality Group and opened Rue in May as a concept in the Medures’ portfolio.
By design, the new Rue is a rustic-yet-classy mashup — think mid-century farmhouse meets and marries industrial loft apartment. The space is built for community gathering, with an open kitchen/bar and high-arched golden wood-plank ceiling. At the dining room’s epicenter, there’s a massive high-top community table for rubbing shoulders with old friends and new. A smattering of booths, petite tables for two, couch-lounge seating and covered-patio benches finish the space.
All of that community-gathering can get loud: on a brisk night it can be hard to hear someone across the table. The menu, available six days a week for lunch, dinner and Saturday brunch, also borrows from multiple influences, predominantly French with American and European accents. Certain dishes rotate every two weeks, making room for options that use fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Alters stressed the importance of using a honed kitchen technique, along with seasonally available ingredients to create approachable dishes at a good value. While the dinner menu tops out at $23, appetizers and vegetable-based small plates come in at more modest prices.
My wife and I declared a date night to check out Rue last Saturday. It’s first-come, first-seated for parties short of seven, but your hostess can text you when your table is ready. Our server helped identify gluten-free-friendly items for my wife; there are no designations for food allergies on the menu.
We started with the Farmstead Cheese Selection ($13), a curated, rotating lineup of three cheeses paired with cherries, apple slices and crostinis (on a separate plate, of course). Our favorite was the Ossau-Iraty, a medium-firm sheep’s milk varietal with a pleasant, creamy finish. We also sampled Fromager d’Affinois, a French close cousin to Brie, and the Grayson, a Virginia cow’s cheese that packed quite an aroma.
For something a little different, don’t miss the Eggplant Beignets ($6), a pair of golden mini doughnut-resembling pastries dressed in orange blossom honey, sliced almonds and goat cheese. Don’t let the word beignet throw you — these were more savory than sweet, with the goat cheese putting a delightful tangy note on these mildly sweet arrangements.
For our main course, my wife opted for the Confit Wrapped Pork Brisket ($21), a generous portion of six impossibly tender slices drizzled with bell pepper jam and a robust smoked pork jus over a buttery spaghetti squash. Quoting Robert Palmer, simply irresistible. Her a la carte side of Niçoise Potato Salad ($6) was equally amazing, with solid potato half-spheres tossed in sliced green olives, green beans and a tangy fines-herbes vinaigrette.
I was mildly surprised when our server delivered my Bavette Steak ($23) sans steak knife. While largely thick, tender and moist, the hallmarks of this cut, I did labor with my standard-issue slicer at a few stubborn points. It was worth the effort to blend the robust red-meat flavor with the equally robust, chunky and colorful accompaniment of ratatouille and olive tapenade.
The French are known for their sweet treats, so we awaited our final course with anticipation. All of Rue’s desserts are made in-house. My wife’s Crème Brûlée of the Day, a chocolate mint creation ($7), boasted a thick-and-rich custard with an overly thin caramelized surface. The Chocolate Hazelnut Dome ($8) was a warm and melty hemisphere of orange blossom milk chocolate mousse over devil’s food cake. Mosey to the bar-side display case to spy Rue’s daily selections of macarons, cookies, tarts and other sugary baked creations.
Rue sports a full bar and no fewer than 43 craft cocktails, curated by Gabby and served in a collection of antique glassware. Happy hour, weekdays from 3-6 p.m., is a simple proposition — $2 off cocktails, draft and bottled beer and full glasses of wine. The lunching set will find a separate menu weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with burgers and sandwiches alongside dinner selections. Saturday brunch, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., includes standards such as omelets and bloody marys with live classical guitar music at 11:30.
Rue Saint-Marc is a beautiful addition to the San Marco munch-and-mingle scene, sporting solid kitchen and bar options that make this a versatile venue for hanging out or dining out.