By Wendy White Philcox
Photography by Tammy Harrow
After 33 years in business and renowned for award-winning service and cuisine, The Raintree is considered one of St. Augustine’s venerable restaurants. Matt and Lisa Taylor, now married more than 20 years, consider the restaurant a major player in their love story—as the place where he proposed marriage and she accepted. Whenever they return to the area from their home in Franklin, Tenn., they make a pilgrimage back The Raintree to reminisce and give thanks to a place and the people behind it that revere the role they play in the community.
Love stories are a big part of the equation in the history of The Raintree. Tristan and Alex MacDonald made a big leap of faith when they, as a couple with two teenaged children, decided they would change their lives in a big way. Tristan, a successful retailer in Penzance, England in the 1970s, saw the writing on the wall as economic conditions changed and wanted more opportunity for his family. They sold nearly everything they owned (their business, their home, car, furnishings, and more) and bought a 45-foot ocean-going sailboat to make the journey of a lifetime across the Atlantic.
“It was a risk we couldn’t afford not to take,” says Tristan. “As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we certainly gained some amazing adventures,” says Tristan, who published a memoir in 2012 titled Into My Fourth Quarter: Going for Overtime.
Fast forward 33 years and daughter Lorna continues as the owner-operator of The Raintree along with her husband, Chris Cantabene.
Lorna—who has been part the team behind The Raintree for the entire 33 years it has been in business—and her brother Gaere were an integral part of founding the property at 102 San Marco Avenue once the family arrived in St. Augustine. The family worked as a team rehabilitating the Victorian-era building. Both Lorna and Gaere worked in the restaurant—Lorna as a bartender, Gaere as the chef.
Gaere and his wife Carolyn took the helm for 7 years in the 1990s when Tristan and Alex wanted to retire and spend more time traveling. When Gaere decided to pursue a career as a building contractor, they sold their interest back to Tristan, Alex, and Lorna. At that point, Lorna took over the role of managing day-to-day operations.
Chris Cantabene, who had worked for many years as Raintree’s general manager, increasingly became an indispensable part of the team. As he and Lorna discovered they worked well together, romance blossomed as well. The couple married on October 1, 2006 and have happily continued the tradition of a husband-and-wife team owning and operating The Raintree Restaurant.
Recipient of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and Florida Trend’s 10 Best in Florida Golden Spoon, Raintree is also listed in Zagat Survey of Outstanding Restaurants. Menu highlights still include the classics that made the restaurant famous—hand-cut steaks, cold water lobster tails, Beef Wellington, and an all-time favorite, Brandy Peppersteak.
As each husband-and-wife team has at Raintree, Lorna and Chris brought their own personal stamp to the menu and the restaurant itself. The menu shifted a bit to what they now call Intercontinental Cuisine, a blend of Mediterranean, American, and Asian cuisine. “From Canadian lobster to the Argentinean chorizo we use in our exquisite paella, we use the best ingredients in inventive ways,” Lorna explains. Case in point is a new favorite dish— Chilean Sea Bass finished in Japanese Panko Crust.
“If you’re going to creatively fuse ingredients from different cuisines, they have to make sense,” says Chris, who had worked as a chef and general manager of Cap’s on the Waterfront for years prior to coming on board at Raintree.
From Veal San Marco (veal, shrimp, and mushrooms finished with a lobster-infused sherry butter sauce) and Grilled Terriyaki Pineapple Lamp Chops (lamb lollipops dipped in a teriyaki glaze with grilled pineapple) to Crisp-Roast Half Duckling served on a Raspberry Demi-Glaze, the menu has something for everyone, including vegetarians and children.
Lorna and Chris—who is also a liscensed contractor—have continually updated interiors and exteriors. In 2010, they unveiled a 60-seat courtyard for outdoor dining featuring live music on weekends. In 2011, they launched Sunday Brunch for the first time ever at The Raintree, which proved to be an instant success.
The duo also embraced partnering with its neighbor, The Limelight Theatre, and other theatre groups in town to present dinner theatre presentations.
Lorna, who has distinguised herself as a volunteer and philanthropist, serving as president and on the board of EPIC Behavnioral Healthcare for 6 years (2 years as president) and as founding president of the St. Augustine Independent Restaurant Association for 5 years, now serves on the board of directors for The Limelight Theatre, St. Augustine’s preeminent community theatre that is strolling distance from Raintree.
“Chris and I agree it is important to give back to the community that embraced us,” Lorna explains. “We both raised our children in St. Augustine and have a thriving business. As owners of The Raintree, we feel privileged to play a part in so many people’s lives.
The Raintree serves dinner from 5 p.m. daily and Sunday Brunch from 11 a.m. Happy Hour in the Bar all evening Sunday through Friday. Reservations are suggested.
“OUR COURTYARD DINING FEATURING LIVE ENTERTAINMENT ON WEEKENDS IS NOW A MAJOR ATTRACTION.”
—OWNER LORNA MACDONALD
“THE LAUNCH OF OUR CHAMPAGNE SUNDAY BRUNCH WAS AMAZING. IT HAS BEEN POPULAR SINCE DAY ONE.”
—CHRIS CANTABENE, OWNER
The Raintree Restaurant
102 San Marco Avenue
Uptown San Marco