I have come to realize that I eat food out of a truck about once a week now. Just doing my part to support the local economy–and not to worry, brick-and-mortars, I usually make a point to “eat local” at least once over the weekend too. One of my favorite trucks, Mother Fletcher’s, specializes in filet mignon sandwiches…that’s right, one of the best parts of the cow now comes with cheese (and maybe a few other things) and is portable. This will be a short post, because I can never bring myself to change my order here. I always get the Black and Bleu, blackened filet mignon with bleu cheese and savory sauce:
If I haven’t mentioned it before, I was born and reared (“Chickens are raised, children are reared!” -HS English teacher) in Louisiana (I have definitely mentioned this before). Also if I haven’t mentioned it before, I regard most “New Orleans style” or “Cajun” restaurants outside Louisiana with a wary eye (I mention this every chance I get). So even giving Gumbo YaYa’s a chance was kind of a big deal for me. I was convinced after taking a look at their menu, which looked pretty legit. Not that we don’t serve up a plethora of dishes smothered in butter and cream-based sauces in Louisiana, but that is really not the majority–or the best–of what we have to offer. The hole-in-the-wall type spots serving up overstuffed po’boys and fried seafood plates–now that’s where it’s at. And luckily, the menu at Gumbo YaYa’s doesn’t just look legit, it tastes that way too. Let’s start with the gumbo:
Exciting news: I was recently interviewed for MysteryMeet.org’s Find Dining podcast, the inside scoop from local food bloggers on the best restaurants in different cities.
The interview consists of some general information about Jacksonville’s food scene, a restaurant recommendation (I talk about Nippers), and a quick thinking game of “Into the Frying Pan.” I was rethinking my “Into the Frying Pan” responses as soon as I finished the segment, so I’d love to know which restaurants you think would be a better fit for those categories!
Check out the podcast here or on iTunes!
I love a good restaurant week. I used to look forward to the release of Atlanta’s various restaurant week menus (Downtown, Midtown, Inman Park, Buckhead…) with excitement. The approach of Jacksonville’s Eat Up Downtown (sort of an extended restaurant week) was no exception. Last year I visited the [now closed--but soon to reopen!] Chew with coworkers. I always try to pick places whose entree choices are more creative than chicken/beef or pork/fish, and Cafe Nola, located in the Museum of Contemporary Art, fit the bill.
I’ll start at the end with this: after finishing our meal, I was SHOCKED that Cafe Nola wasn’t filled to capacity during Eat Up Downtown. The meal progressively improved (maybe just because I love dessert…) and I can’t wait to visit during their typical lunch hours or on a Thursday, when they’re open for dinner. The small but open and airy space is separated from the rest of the museum by glass walls, which still allow you to see the current main installation (always large and impressive) in the gallery.
We started our three-course meal with the grilled peach gazpacho (topped with prosciutto and fried basil) for Mario and Scotch egg (boiled egg encased in housemade chorizo, with smoked almond romesco, lemon zest) for me:
I was recently invited to check out the new summer menu at 95 Cordova in St. Augustine, a restaurant featuring “New World, Middle Eastern and Asian flavors” located within the Casa Monica Hotel. Full disclosure: invited typically means free meal on this blog, in case you’re worried about any bias I may (but try not to) have. After a tour of the historic hotel (1888) turned courthouse (1962) turned hotel again (1999), we stepped into 95 Cordova to start our meal. Because I am wicked smaht and sometimes rush through things, I managed to delete all but one of my photos of the meal. Wow. Luckily Mario actually photographs his food more than I do these days, so I’ll be posting a combination of his photos and some from the handy Flickr album the event’s organizers put up.
The first course was the Kessler calamari, so named for the entrepreneur owner of the hotel group, an interesting Middle Eastern-inspired take on the typical fried calamari. It came topped with tomatoes, olives, asiago, coriander, fresh cilantro, and Moroccan aioli:
Jacksonville’s food truck scene is really heating up lately. Last month’s issue of Jacksonville Magazine contained a food truck feature listing 10 trucks in the Jacksonville/St. Augustine area! Mario and I visited one of the newest, The Salty Fig, for lunch last week.
The owners are dipping their toes in the restaurant waters with a food truck, with plans to open a restaurant in Riverside in the near future. All of their “Southern gastropub” fare sounded appetizing, but we finally settled on the Intuition Ale-braised pork belly sandwich (spring lettuce, tomato, homemade pickles, thick Texas toast) with side of serrano chili-honey slaw and the shrimp, andouille, and grits (goat cheese stone ground grits, creole trinity, New Orleans BBQ sauce):
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I’m mildly obsessed with this super simple tart dough recipe I found on chef/author David Lebovitz’ blog. Brown butter tart dough, French tart dough; whatever your name for it, it is flaky and delicate and delicious. I’ve used it for sweet (strawberries layered over a fabulous pistachio cream I picked up in Italy):
The crust is made by melting butter, oil, water, sugar, and salt in the oven until the butter is bubbling and brown. Then carefully mix in some flour. That’s it! I prebaked the crust as in Mr. Lebovitz’ instructions for the strawberry tart, and when cool, spread my pistachio cream across the bottom and arranged strawberries over it. I then brushed the top with a tart glaze (melted jam with a little water) to finish. I left the crust unbaked for the quiche which is really just as easy as the crust and tart. Spread some pesto, dollop some goat cheese, pour some eggs, and voila! Recipes for tart dough and quiche after the jump.
I’m christening a new type of cuisine: beach-mex. Don’t steal that, it’s being copyrighted. This new term was required to describe the cuisine at TacoLu, a perpetually crowded spot “across the ditch” (I’m learning native Jacksonvillian terms!) on Beach Blvd. TacoLu does not strive for Mexican cuisine purity like my beloved Bone Garden Cantina in Atlanta, but it also doesn’t offer cheese and sauce-covered tex-mex like some other “Mexican” restaurants in Jax. The $3 tacos (plus a few specialty tacos that cost a bit more) are clearly the biggest draw here.
We’ve braved the crowd and rather nightmarish parking situation (somewhat alleviated now by complementary valet) twice now. Our visits were quite spread apart because Mario so disliked his choice for our first meal, the enchilada Suizas (freshly made corn tortillas layered with pulled, roasted chicken, topped with a creamy tomatillo sauce and Monterrey Jack cheese). I liked my meal well enough to work on convincing him to go back to try it again–left to right: the Mahi taco (Blackened fish on a freshly-made corn tortilla with cabbage, fresh mango salsa and chipotle crema), the Taco Rosa (Seared Ahi Tuna with Cucumber-Avocado salsa, chipotle-ponzu sauce and wasabi-soy sauce), and a taco special which I can’t quite remember but which I think is a tuna tartare.
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gas·tro·pub noun [ˈgastrəˌpəb] – A pub that specializes in serving high-quality food. Kickbacks Gastropub in Riverside definitely has the “pub” part of this definition down; they boast over 600 different bottled beers and 84 beers on tap. With an impressive #1 restaurant in Jacksonville rating on Urbanspoon (and top 20 on Yelp), I was expecting a strong showing from the food too. In that area, I was disappointed.
I suppose a caveat here is that I am not much of a beer drinker, and didn’t order any on this visit. However, I have visited a number of gastropubs that do serve excellent food, so I find it difficult to give Jax a pass on giving this place a top rating. Cool hangout? Yes. Worthy of votes on websites that rank your eateries for out-of-towners? Probably not.
I was waffling on what to order from the extensive menu–which contains everything from typical bar food to pizza to chicken cordon bleu–before I found an item that combined two things I was interested in ordering. The French Mushroom Spread seemed like a nice appetizer, but I was sure I wouldn’t eat it all on my own (and Mario doesn’t like mushrooms), but behold! the Chicken Bistro Sandwich (focaccia bread filled with roasted chicken breast, mozzarella, fresh spinach and fire roasted red peppers) comes slathered in some of that very spread. I picked onion petals as my side:
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I’m always surprised at the lack of waterfront dining in Jacksonville. After a day at the beach, your options are mainly limited to mediocre bar food as eats go. While not on the beach (just a short ride away on a marina on the Intracoastal), Nipper’s Beach Grille provides the waterfront atmosphere along with great island-inspired food. I especially wanted to visit after discovering that the executive chef was former Top Chef contestant Kenny Gilbert. He has since moved on to South Beach, but left his influences!
Mario and I visited for dinner a few months back and enjoyed the food, and recently I was invited out for a “Flip Flop Sunday” where I was treated some new drinks and menu items. I’ll start with the latter visit since the pictures are nicer
The Flip Flop Sunday event revolved around “The Bad Habit” (with rum floater), Nippers’ signature drink: