The Happy Tomato: A Hidden Gem in the Heart of Centre Street

By Dylan Bailey

The Happy Tomato has been around since 2007, nestled in its own private alcove, filled with flora and barbecue, while being only a few steps away from Centre Street. To say this establishment has a dedicated following on the island would be the understatement of the year. It’s been a few years since I’ve stopped in – I’m judging myself – and I wanted to see how the food held up to what I remembered.

A colorful chalkboard sign sits outside the restaurant’s entryway. It explains the hours and what food they serve and has a tomato drawn at the top. I love it when owners can be playful with their brand. It makes for a fun and relaxed experience, which is exactly what Happy Tomato exuded when I stepped into the patio.

A sprawling wooden deck with shaded tables came into view. Flora, palm trees, and a bouncing squirrel under the shade truly made it feel like I’d stepped into a hidden garden. The atmosphere alone is fantastic.

Stepping up one level, there’s more seating with another shaded section. I was surprised at the amount of seating. A quaint, red house sits in the back, where you place your order.

The Happy Tomato’s menu isn’t sprawling, but there is a lot to look at. Their claim to fame is how good their barbecue is. One sandwich in particular, The Max, has pulled pork and pimento cheese on wheat bread. How could I go wrong? The hostess recommended I get a combination of sweet and spicy sauces, to which I gladly agreed.

Since shrimp is kind of a thing around Fernandina, I opted to grab another sandwich and went for the shrimp salad on a croissant. Since I love shrimp and I love croissants, I figured it would be a good combination. And with the weather being slightly warmer, this would be the crisp bite I needed.

After placing my order at the counter, I went outside and grabbed a table. I was beside a bunch of flora and a water fountain – incredibly relaxing. And to my right, where the other shaded tables were, a squirrel bounced around, in the hopes of finding a crumb or two. Within two minutes after I sat down, my food came to the table. It was a slow day for customers, but I was impressed with the speediness.

I started on The Max. It came with some potato chips, pickle chips and the sauces. Immediately I was impressed with the amount of meat used and the generous pimento cheese. I sauced up the pulled pork and bit into the sandwich. It’s messy – real messy. But if you’re eating barbecue, I feel as if that’s a requirement. Good news: The Max is delicious. Tender pulled pork, creamy cheese and the combination of the sauces was out of this world.

Moving on to the shrimp salad, I was excited to see how the Happy Tomato makes their shrimp salad. Every place has its own “way.” The shrimp salad was more shrimp than anything else. Small pieces of celery, red onion and a light amount of mayonnaise. Surprisingly flavorful and allowed the shrimp to be at the forefront of the taste. Paired with the buttery croissant, this was heavenly.

For the price, atmosphere and generous portions, The Happy Tomato showed me why it’s a staple on the island. Open from 11 a.m.-4:30 p.m., it’s the perfect spot to stop for a quick and filling lunch that won’t hit your wallet. And the outdoor patio is one of my favorites to date.

The Happy Tomato

Website: https://www.thehappytomatocafe.com/

Address: 7 S. Third St., Fernandina Beach, FL 32034

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Douglas M
Noble Member
Douglas M(@douglasm)
9 days ago

You had two of my go to menu items, Dylan. Your description of both was spot on! The rib lunch yields 3 very large and meaty ribs. You will not leave hungry after those.

Finally, the staff is extremely friendly and efficient……which also keeps me coming back. I will patronize an establishment with poor service twice (everyone has a bad day….but two tells you the culture). Happy Tomato is definitely on my good list!

Jason Collins
Noble Member
Jason Collins(@jc18holes)
9 days ago

A long time staple of Fernandina Beach! And the staff, especially my friend and customer Allison Turner, does an amazing job whether catering an event or just making you a great lunch every time!

Steve Vogel
Active Member
Steve Vogel(@stevedec)
9 days ago

One of our must-go places when we visit FB. Dylan’s review is spot on !

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