So I have a crazy old redneck buddy whose favorite statement is: " The worst part is the wait." The worst part is the wait but all is redeemed by the experience inside I always say. Such was the case for Salento Colombian Steak House at 11018 Old St Augustine Rd in Jacksonville, FL.
I took my native Cuban wife here for mother's day on her recommendation. The small 50 seat restaurant is in a typical Florida Strip plaza and is easily accessible and parking was no problem.
After the 20 minute wait outside we were greeted by Silvo (The owner) and taken to a table just inside that clearly had a homemade and homey kind of feel to it. It was a handmade table (Pine with Jacobean stain and finish) and two burlap finished benches on each side. Really nice touch. After dinner Silvio explained he made them himself. I'd like to think I kind of knew that before he said it, but hey either way it was a really nice touch to the atmosphere. At just the right level was Colombian music as my wife verified, coming from two speakers hanging from the ceiling at just the right volume. AC at a perfectly cool level too and the decor true to a Colombian bistro. AC, music and decor can ruin a place in 30 seconds as you know but not here.
The restaurant had a small six or seven tables in the front room and a side room with about 6 wall tables so it's quaint, comfortable and authentic. The crowd there was a slight mix of Latino's with families including small children and I did see an Asian family there when we walked in. I think I was the only gringo there and yea, I'll be there again. The vibe was very friendly Latino: People taking their time to eat, drink and converse and no one was annoyed at the wait time at the front. The staff was super polite and quiet but timely and aware.
Our waitress Mariana was concise, polite and well timed with her service and she spoke to my wife in Spanish and me in English with no problemo. She brought me a cold Corona with Lime and my wife and son two homemade drinks: one was a tart lemonade and the other a Mango juice blended with milk in a cool kind of miniature Mason jar.
The food was ordered and of course I like some time to sip the Corona and then switch to house Pinot Grigio. Mariana didn't miss a beat with timing. For those of you who drink before meals, you know what I am talking about. And as Tony Montana from Scarface would say about Mariana's timing : "Shee Knowsss"
I ordered the Flat Steak (medium) with three sides: Green Plantains, a vegetable kabob and a side salad with two sides of Chimichurri.
Once again the timing was great. As I sipped the second glass of Vino the food came out on these wonderful cast iron steak plates with wooden bottom. The Flat Iron cut was impeccably pressed and seasoned with what I guess was salt and pepper and of course I coated it with the house Chimichurri sauce. What a great pairing it was with the 3 inch Green plantain patties gently fried and a very petite but delicious vegetable kabob with Zucchini, yellow squash, onions, red and green peppers and a light oil: A perfect pairing to an incredibly great Flat Steak. The steak was trimmed to perfection, had just the right amount of fat and a good texture to make it taste authentic Colombian. After dinner, Silvio was kind enough to bring some complimentary Rum with Raisin cake which we ate at home. Again it was authentic and delicious.
My wife told me later that she overheard a Venezuelan lady tell Silvio that she drove 5 hours yesterday and stayed in a hotel just to dine there tonight, which of course made me feel guilty as we drove literally a 1/4 mile.
After I met Silvio at the end I understood quickly why this place was as good as it was. A native born Colombian "He Knowsss" (to quote Pacino again) "He Knowss!"
5 Stars and two big thumbs up for this place for its atmosphere, timing, food staff and it's owner Silvio. Thank god he's across the street.
And yea, it was definitely "worth the wait"