Earlier this month I had the chance to meet with Jayvee VanValkenburgh the general manager at Neptune Beach’s Flying Iguana Taqueria & Tequila Bar. After talking to coworkers and friends there seems to be a consensus that Flying Iguana is best known for their guacamole which is made from scratch and massive selection of tequila. I had also visited this latin infusion restaurant a few times in the past and consistently had a good time, thus I wanted to get a deeper look at the operation. Jayvee and I sat down and started talking about some of the aspects that make the restaurant unique.
Al Mansur, the owner of Al’s Pizza, opened Flying Iguana in October 2013 and hired Jayvee to run the day to day operations as the general manager from day one. Jayvee had been with Al’s Pizza for ten years prior to taking over as the general manger at Flying Iguana, but she has been in the food service industry since she was fifteen and in management since she was eighteen. Mr. Mansur also hired Nelson Diaz to be his executive chef at Flying Iguana. Nelson was born and raised in Puerto Rico and later moved to Orlando in 2006. He spent two years working for Disney and then moved to Jacksonville in 2008. Nelson is a biology major but also studied at the Le Cordon Bleu Institute. As Nelson was growing up as a kid he was always in the kitchen. His Mom was a nutritionist and he learned a lot about food from her which later became his passion. Nelson continued his education in the culinary world by studying culinary management at the Art Institute. Nelson told me that when he’s off the job, “I enjoy visiting other restaurants in town, seeing what others are creatively doing behind the scenes. I love to experience the rich culture of cuisine in Jacksonville.”
The restaurant it self has a very cool rustic and open hacienda vibe throughout, with original art work such as the mural behind the bar, the tiling which travels along the floor and up the walls of the interior, and the custom bar shelves that display the restaurant’s tequila selection. I asked Jayvee what the most popular menu items in the restaurant were and she told me that during lunch time their Mexican Griddle Baked “Torta” sandwiches are a customer favorite and the “Lomo Saltado” entree which features chargrilled hanger steak, truffled steak fries, aji amarillo, red onion, and grape tomatoes is a staple of the restaurant. They also offer a kids menu which has items like cheese quesadillas and the Maian taco served with french fries with cheese sauce and named after original executive chef’s daughter. Flying Iguana likes to make kids feel special so they also offer free ice cream on kids birthdays.
Al Mansur stays involved in the local Atlantic Beach community by contributing to the Beaches Habitat for Humanity. The restaurant also participates in several annual events which include Cinco De Mayo, Mothers Day, TPC, Memorial Day, and “Dancing in The Streets” at Neptune Beach.
For the parched customer Flying Iguana offers all hand crafted drinks which are created with sour mixes and simple syrups that are house made. They also offer daily specials for drinks and feature new drink concepts on regular basis. Flying Iguana has live music on Thursdays through Sundays. On Thursdays and Sundays it starts at 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 10 p.m. Flying Iguana was recently recognized for having the best guacamole in Jacksonville. Jayvee also told me that they have one of the largest tequila selections in town, offering a huge selection of over one hundred varieties to choose from. Their most popular tequila is Don Julio 1942. Flying Iguana’s margarita is signature drink made with all fresh ingredients and Don Julio tequila. They also have tequila flights which consist of any three tequilas the customer wants to order, served in standard shot glasses (prices do vary depending on product).
Visit them online at www.flyingiguana.com.
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Written and published for BUZZ Magazine, May 2016.