I'll be visiting Jax in a week and would like to go to a classic restaurant that says something about the city. I'll drive anywhere in the city, breakfast, lunch or dinner. A restaurant with a story and/or a colorful owner. what restaurant would Jax people find it hard to see go away? a place that helps define the city? I'm a writer and ethusiastic diner, and I need your help!
I've been following the boards on Jax for some time and think there's a few hounds who may be able to help me out. all recs welcome.
"Classics" as far as ambiance but not necessarily the food definately include - but are not limited to - Singleton's in Mayport and Whitey's Fish Camp(best hushpuppies ever) in Orange Park. The Fox diner in Avondale has decent breakfast/luch fare but an extremely entertaining owner and staff and decor. European Street is a Jacksonville tradition for sure! There are several locations around town - I recommend the Riverside location. Again, these are not really places with great food but they are very Jacksonville.
For newer "classics" with good food you should try Biscotti's in Avondale on a weekend night. They've been around for about 17 years which is almost clasic in the restaurant world. For the newest and hippest places try 13 Gypsies for authentic Spanish tapas - if you can get in - it's only about 16 seats and the freaky tattooed and pierced chef(whose parents are also local chef legends) and server are awesome and very Jacksonville and the food is REALLY good. Orsay is another hip new eatery that hopefully will be a classic here one day.
Pizza - Moon River on Edgewood in Murray Hill - NOT AL'S PLEASE!
The Homestead(it's haunted) in Jacksonville Beach for family style fried chicken, etc
BBQ - Jenkin's or Mojo - NOT Bono's, Sonny's or Woody's
I work in the industry here locally. where will you be lecturing?
Probably too late for this trip, but maybe next time around: I'd like to recommend Saltwater Cowboy's, just south of St. Augustine Beach, built on a salt marsh off the Intercoastal. They've been there 35 years. Great ambience and the moderately priced food (including gator tail, softshell turtle, frog legs) is outstanding. Always a long line on Sat. nights. Check out their website: saltwatercowboys.com
Thinking about the classic Jax thing...
I think you should be heading to a fish shack on the water.
Being that you don't mind driving, I suggest going to the Outback Crab Shack on State Road 13. It started out as 1 room with a wooden bar and holes built in the top. You picked and ate crabs and crawfish then slide the mess through the hole into the trash. Now it is HUGE and has lots of outdoor seating on decks. A little hot this time of year but usually good - sometimes you need to think about what season it is before you go depending on what you want (we always want crawfish!). There is also Whitey's Fish Camp, Lulus on Palm Valley and the new Palm Valley Fish Camp from the owners of Marker 32 and Ocean 60.
More old school and classic style, Singletons Seafood Shack in Mayport although mostly fried - but that comes with the territory! But they always have LOCAL fish even if it is fish you never heard of. And the "museum" attached with the boats that old man Singleton made. (You will be shocked the place hasn't fallen in the water actually!) Right near the ferry.
Whiteway Deli is another that comes to mind. Although I don't get there much bc I live at the beach, it has sandwiches named after colorful people in the city. Wormans Deli as well, has been around for years (cancel that - just been told last one closed last week). At the beach, Angie's Subs, while not as old, has a huge following. They have taken over an entire strip mall. The first section was a converted convenience store and the most recent addition took out the last section of the strip mall, a dry cleaner. You should go there just to get a picture of the sweet tea container - it is the size of a barrel if not bigger! Usually opinions on the sign board outside too!
I know my parents have been going to Sarnelli's in Orange Park for YEARS. I don't think I have been there for over 20 years but it is still there so must have a following.
Another Italian staple of Jax is La Cena. Has had several locations and is currently in Springfield - an area attempting urban renewal. Jerry is pretty outspoken and colorful if I remember.
Oh and Dwights on Penman Road in Neptune Beach. Small place,lots of character in the location (another strip mall) and in Dwight!
A real Jax staple as well is Hala. There are locations all over town. Most have a grocery section for Middle Eastern food as well.
Also agree about BBQ - I have said before I like Fred Cottens on Main. Hubby likes Jenkins downtown. Have always heard good things about that Bono's on Beach as well.
I feel like we have lost a lot of the great restaurants in Jax in the last few years. I makes me sad but know that things will turn around again. We just have soooo many chains, it gets depressing.
Good luck and make sure to let us know what worked.
re: andy huse
Just wanted to say-- Whatever you do DON'T go to Vito's Italian in the Landing. We had a really terrible meal there. Our own fault, I know but we thought we'd try it.
At Blue Boy, the sandwiches are huge--and the bread is not too great but the funk factor makes it worth the visit.
Here' are a few, Andy. Welcome to my town - I've mentioned most of these in here, but this is a very personal list. Many thanks for all the insights into the Tampa thing over the years. Tampa's a great food town.
1) Please check out the Blue Boy sandwich shop - I recommend the Northside location. It's what Jim Leff would call a 'hound spot'. In this location for 30 years plus, and some of the crew has been here just that long. The key is the in-house bread and the very experienced crew. Absolutely no "atmosphere" except for one of the great bewildering juke boxes of all time - if you like juke boxes, check this one out. They can take something as simple as a BLT and make it into a life-changing experience. Go hungry.
2) For great home cooked from scratch southern eats, go see Arden on the Westside. Arden's Kountry Kafe, to be more specific. You have to get her story along with the food. I won't go into it here, but inspirational is the best description I can give. In short, dinner on the grounds without the sermon - all on a buffet line. If you were raised Southern, you're home. I haven't heard anybody else post on this place, but I can't urge you more strongly to go check this out. She's becoming an enormous success over here, and the food is just murder - not a low fat experience, so best enjoyed once in a while. Worth it.
3) If you hit Beach Road, see if you can drop by the original Lou Bono's over on Beach Blvd. Sit at the bar and see if you can order right from the man running the pit. Again, if he hasn't reired, you'll be dealing with a master of what he does, both with the food, and with the experience of the meal. Otherwise, I'm not a huge Bono's guy, but this is why they got to be big - it's where it started. It's iconic here.
4) The French Pantry. Plan to get there and line up as soon after 11 AM as you can arrange. A terrific variety of sandwiches and salads served by what is really the major commercial French bakery here in Jax. Lots of tables and chairs - expect to sharea table with strangers - it works. You'll be brought some perfect french bread with some olive oil and balsamic to keep you busy which your lunch is being prepared. Really, really, really, good stuff.
I'll stop here, and give some other folks a shot. Hope you enjoy these places as much as we do. Check the board - I have pointers to most of these on the Florida board.
mezzrow: I identified you some time ago as one of J-ville's top hounds. I've already gleaned a lot of info from your posts. These suggestions are great. I will only be in town a couple days, but i will be returning in September with a photographer, so I will try all the places you've mentioned here. I will make sure not to miss Arden's. I will try to do some interviews while in town as well. For me, the meal is just part of the experience. Many thanks for the recs. I will report back after each visit.
I'll be in town lecturing about food and restaurants in Fla of all things. I learn more with every trip I take.