Our winter respite in Florida is now over, and notwithstanding the colder than normal weather, our enjoyment of Jacksonville and its restaurants was not dampened. When I arrived here, I made a point of checking out any active Jacksonville restaurant and food blogs for clues on finding the current best dining options for our visit – and so it only makes sense that as we leave, we also contribute to that same bank of information, and add our two cents to the discussion. Thus this collection of impressions to the necessarily limited amount of dining experiences during our visit – I hope it may be as helpful to others as were the suggestions and reviews that I heard and read from the many folks who assisted us in our quest for dining excellence.
Thank you all for making our visit here even more enjoyable.
The Shiek (Sandwiches) – various locations, this specific one at 103rd/I-295
I got stuck at a local tire shop one day, and lunch hour rolled around – I noticed a branch of The Shiek across the street, and frankly, I thought I remembered that this was a half decent place for a quick sandwich. I walked over and ordered an Italian sub – I asked for oil and vinegar instead of mayo or mustard, as my server suggested – I got a strange look in return. Should have known right there. This thing was perhaps the worst sandwich I’ve eaten in many years – I detected no oil, but the bread -which wasn’t very fresh- was soaked with harsh vinegar – the meats and cheese were of the cheapest order, and except perhaps for a smattering of oregano, there was nothing Italian about this creation.
My new memory of The Shiek is a negative one, and I doubt I’ll ever have an occasion to return.
Mossfire Grill 1537 Margaret Street, Jacksonville, FL 32204
A delightful meal here! This was our first meal in Jax upon arriving, and we let Melanie suggest what to get – Ahi Tuna Tacos with Mango Salsa – tuna was seared beautifully, and the Mango Salsa provided a perfect complement – Can’t remember if they offered the option of soft corn tortillas, but in Mexico, these would always be served on a soft corn tortilla. I also remember a very nice hearty draft ale (Bass?) in a chunky glass. Quite noisy for an off night, but I guess for some, this is the charm.
Sumo Sushi 2726 Park St, Jacksonville, FL 32205 (Riverside)
A packed house on a Saturday night – very nice ambiance, good service, and a generally good memory of almost everything. I got the assorted sushi plate (Yeah, no imagination, and this was AFTER reading Cari’s great review!) and had to leave a piece of mackerel, due to it’s assertive nature (I’m a mackerel lover – fresh mackerel that is). However, I won’t let that keep me from making a return trip, and given my personal Jax restaurant experiences, I think this place still ranks in the upper quarter of all.
The Brick 3585 St Johns Ave, Jacksonville (Avondale)
We opened the place on one of our nicer Sunday mornings while here – as it turned out, The Brick is especially nice as a brunch spot on a nice Sunday morning. The “outdoor” effect of the big, front folding doors, give this place a nice casual feel. We were among the first to arrive that morning, but when ready to leave, The Brick had a waiting line! I think I was unconsiously motivated to order Huevos Rancheros because of The Brick’s Mexican outdoor cafe atmosphere, but it was a good choice – nice experience, reasonable prices, and enjoyable food. We’ll return.
13 Gypsies 887 Stockton St, Jacksonville, FL (Riverside)
This is our daughter’s favorite Jax restaurant – and not just because of its great food – this is one of those special places where you sense -if you have such sensibilities- that you are in the presence of someone who loves food, loves creating wonderful dishes, and most of all, loves sharing his loves with others. 13 Gypsies is a small place where reservations make sense – its popularity is growing, and with reason. The Chef changes his offerings daily -as good chefs do- and makes the rounds of the dining room to gage the level of acceptance of his guests for them – again, in good chiefly fashion.
Are there enough real knowledgeable food lovers in Jax to provide the continued support that this kind of a labor of love needs? Frankly, from what I’ve seen, I’d say, Yes. But if not, then it’s to Jacksonville’s shame, and it may well take another 50 years to cure the inbred culinary ills.
Mojo BBQ 1607 University Blvd W, Jacksonville (near corner of San Jose)
This is the only place where we ate twice during our 2 month stay here in Jax – I guess that says something. There was a time when one could safely say that perhaps the one southern characteristic missing in Jacksonville was good BBQ. Oh, there was plenty of BBQ, but none could be said to reach the quality levels found in the rest of the South. But I think these guys -from North Carolina- are taking a big bite into that apple, and changing the BBQ landscape in Jax for the better in the process. My first experience at Mojo was on a Sunday, and in truth my brisket was on the dry side – quite delicious, but drying still. My last experience was on a Friday night, and I noticed everything had a much fresher feel. On a whim, I ordered the catfish, and was rewarded with some of the best catfish I’ve ever eaten, with a thin, crackly crust shielding a steaming, fragrant and juicy interior – simply superb! And the accompanying collards and mac and cheese were better than they needed to be.
Jacksonville may be forced -kicking and screaming- into the mainstream of southern bbq yet! And if it is, these southern boys will be to blame.
Clark’s Fish Camp 12903 Hood Landing Road, Jacksonville, FL 32258 (Julington Creek)
Actually, we didn’t even eat here. Oh, we tried! But as we neared the end of Hood Landing Road on a Friday night, the cars parked along the side of the road began to appear – literally hundreds of cars, up and down the road as far as one could see! And that was before even reaching the parking lot entrance – And when we did, we realized that it’d be a mistake to go in, because 10 or 15 cars were engaged in what looked like a wild game of chicken. We surrendered immediately and proceeded on to find an alternate choice.
Still, even having not eating at Clark’s, I feel that such popularity deserves note – as they say, they must be doing something right!
Update: we decided that we had to know why this place was so wildly popular, so we determined to get there close to opening time (4:30) on the Monday before we left Jax for home. OK, now we know – here’s why: first off, it’s a kitsch palace, and I think that appeals to lots of folks! The kitsch of which I speak is in the form of stuffed things – you know, like animals – my choice of wording here may be offensive to some, but to me … it’s kitsch. But there are other good reasons for its popularity as well – This place looks like what most people who’ve never been to Florida think Florida should look like! It’s almost a caricature of itself – but this I like – as do most tourist types. And Clark’s offers a huge menu of fresh seafood -fresh I say- at very good prices. Drinks too. Obviously the recipe for wild popularity. Yes, well worth a visit – but try to avoid the masses.
World Food Mart – Lunch Counter 5161 Beach Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32207
This Korean -of sorts- limited menu, one person effort is worthy of a visit, if you find yourself in the area around lunch time – Bring your appetite – the servings, especially the soups, are huge – and almost everything is $5.99. This is a quintessential Asian stall vendor operation, just as you might find in a market area of an Asian city. To be honest, I was not impressed with the Donkatsu (Fried Breaded Pork), or the Teriyaki that Sandee had – these are, along with a few sushi type items, the only non-Korean items on the short menu, and perhaps not their strength – but Melanie had the Korean Spicy Seafood Noodles, which was wonderful. Don’t know if they’ll tone down the heat on request, but generally we don’t worry about such, but this was close to the “challenging” line – be forewarned!
Moon River Pizza 1176 Edgewood Ave S, Jacksonville, FL 32205 (Murray Hill)
A nice friendly “neighborhood bar” atmosphere – great smells and plenty of noise always greet you at the door. This is superior pizza at a fair price – hard to beat that. It’s obvious that they use quality ingredients and make as much of their own “parts” in-house (dough/sauce, etc.). A great addition to the hood.
Saigon Time 622 Cassat Ave Jacksonville, FL 32205 (Murray Hill)
Found this place by accident while doing a round of Asian groceries (Viet grocery next door) – stuck my head in to inquire about Bahn Mi (they only make them on weekends, and only sell them next door in the grocery). Wonderful smell and most tables filled – decided to return at night.
We’ve now tried the Bahn Mi from the next door grocery (not impressive!), and enjoyed an evening meal as well (much more impressive!). We went on a Monday night, late (7:30 ish), and we’re the sole diners for most of our time there – that’s unfortunate, because the food was worthy of better support. We tried several of the “rolls”, and found them to be good representations of the real things – unique and delicious. We followed up with several different kinds of Pho, and each was both different and delicious. Loved the noodles and the fresh veg choices for the soups – nothing to complain about – enjoyable and affordable – a good Vietnamese alternative for Jax.
Sala Thai Restaurant 10769 Beach Boulevard, Jacksonville, FL 32246
As I can remember, this was one of the first Thai restaurants in Jax – that it’s still here is noteworthy I suppose. I also think this is one of those Thai places that cater to an Americanized idea of what they think Thai is – not a classic Thai representation. Most dishes here will have a coconut milk or peanut base, and be overly sweet – it’s a Thai fast food approach in the kitchen. An additional dis for me are the uncomfortable booths, with their loose seat pads, and the difficulty in trying to read the dark menu in the darkened booth environment – I literally had to carry the menu to the front of the restaurant to read it!
La Herencia Cafe, 4 Aviles Street, St. Augustine, FL 32084 (just south of main square)
This is my favorite kind of restaurant! A small, ethnic, family? place with inviting prices and a creative chef who’s not afraid to take some chances with the menu – love it. Let’s admit it, you really don’t have to try that hard to make it in the center of St. Augustine – 7/8s of your clientele are one time guests – so from that perspective, these folks are worthy of praise and support. However, I grew up being spoiled by the same kind of little family Cuban restaurants in Ybor City (Tampa), and so I find a few things off target. I tried Roasted Pork – Cubans are masters of well roasted pork, juicey and falling off the bone, but La Herencia’s pork is prepared for use in sandwiches and machine sliced – not a good representation! Seviche was on the Special Menu for the day, so I inquired as to the fish being used – Haddock was the reply. Haddock? I’ve never had seviche made with haddock, and I don’t want to try it either – seviche should be made with an oily fleshed fish, one with an assertive taste – haddock is none of those. Maybe a little too creative!
Still, our meal was enjoyable, affordable, and we would hope that La Herencia is a fixture on Aviles for many years to come.
Silver Star 5032 Blanding Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32210
This is one of the old stalwarts of Jacksonville’s Chinese restaurants, and I’m on record as saying that I don’t think that track record is a good one – but of Jax’s classic Chinese restaurants, I did feel that Silver Star was one of the better ones. So, we did a return visit to see how the years had treated this veteran. What we found did not match our memory – while they have added dim sum to their offerings, we felt that the quality levels of the food we sampled was lacking. Did that mean that our memory was faulty? Or that our expectations have matured? Who knows? All I can really say here is that we’ve yet to have great Chinese food in Jacksonville.
Bistro Aix 1440 San Marco Blvd, Jacksonville, FL 32207
Bistro Aix opened since we left Jacksonville, and is representative of the upgrading of the city’s fine dining options. I like it because of its effort to be casual while retaining some degree of upper class appeal – it sports an open kitchen, which I suppose in 1999 was a bit daring, but today is practically the norm. I also sense that they are doing their best to keep prices competitive among Jax’s fine dining choices – always nice! We went on a Monday night -thinking we’d avoid the usual crowds- but we ran into some kind of “male bonding convention” of sorts – tables of guys everywhere. This simply reinforced the fact that Bistro Aix is a noisy, noisy place! I remember having a seared Ahi Tuna, which was done to perfection with a cool, red center – super good with its wasabi sauce. Bistro Aix is doing it right and we wish them well.
Orsay 3630 Park St, Jacksonville, FL 32205 (Avondale)
Orsay is yet another of Jacksonville’s ventures into fine dining, sans club dues. And in my humble opinion, some of the best food we experienced while here. They profess a “French” approach at a time when doing so may limit your clientele – I think French has a current dated sense, and is equated with elitist and expensive. But French is one of the world’s great cuisines, and if that’s what you do – and you do it well – why not just say it?
Here’s how Orsay is making French acceptable in Jacksonville – Orsay makes food that impresses! Much of what they have on the menu is so good that word of mouth is their most valuable advertising. – They have created a menu that not only includes expensive dishes, but quite modest choices and small plates as well – Smart! They do a weekly Sunday Brunch -which includes many of their regular menu items- but at most modest prices – I’ll bet that many new diners are introduced to Orsay’s excellence via this Sunday Brunch. They have also discovered a niche in the cocktail/martini venue – not only is this a profit center in its own right, but a great path to introduce newbies to fine food as well – Again, smart!
We love this place and its food – and when we return in the future, we’d love to return and see how it has aged in the process.
All that’s left now is the memory of our meals and a long, slow ride home. But it’s especially nice to note that the dining scene in Jacksonville is moving in the right direction – speaks well for the next time we visit.