How to Experience Jacksonville’s Local Dining
By Jennifer DeCamp
You love all things local and #shopsmall is part of your identity. We’ll help your find the perfect mementos from your day exploring the town.
The smell of roasting coffee beans from the Maxwell House plant hangs over downtown in the morning. Locals know it can carry one of two fragrance notes – burnt, in a way that causes your nose to wrinkle in protest, or glorious. Today it’s glorious; slightly sweet with a subtle richness like the aroma that fills the kitchen with your morning brew. You can almost taste it. Want becomes need, which leads you to the door of Bold Bean Coffee Roasters’ San Marco location. The roots for Bold Bean started in a garage and in the last decade have expanded to three Jacksonville locations. The San Marco store is the newest venture. The company has developed a rich relationship with its worldwide bean purveyors and locally roasts single-origin coffee, as well as blends. As with all of their locations, the ambiance encourages you to sit, sip and stay awhile. Make your selection – they’ll have a list of what’s brewing that day, but know you can’t go wrong with their Nitro Cold Brew – and kick back. Yes, the locally-sourced baked goods on display will be tempting, but breakfast is your next stop. Quick tip: Fresh is best. Buy a bag to take home. The Sweet Spot, the signature espresso house blend, is a favorite and also makes a rich, yet smooth home cold brew.
Biscuits and gravy
The chance to dine at Maple Street Biscuit’s original San Marco location has you approaching the counter. Stop! Did you check out the chalkboard before you walked through the door? The question of the day changes regularly: If you could only take one item to a deserted island, what would it be? What was your first concert? What’s your favorite childhood TV show? Nothing stops the line faster than a tongue-tied guest trying to answer a question that has no serious implication other than picking up your food. Yet, it does. Especially when the voice at the counter yells out “BoysIIMen” and you check to see how many people are looking when you grab your plate. What’s on it? The Squawking Goat with its fried goat cheese medallion and red pepper jelly tempts but its breakfast; you choose The Five. The peppered gravy with thick chunks of sausage swamps a fried chicken breast topped with melted cheddar and pecanwood-smoked bacon all sandwiched between a flaky, buttermilk biscuit. It’s knife-and-fork heaven on a plate. You don’t look at the calorie count. You’re on vacation.
Go to Market
On the other side of the St. John’s River, you find a parking spot at Fidelity’s north bank location and follow the steady stream of people walking toward the I-95 overpass, which is the site of Saturday morning’s Riverside Arts Market. The highway provides much needed shade to the local farmers, artisans, makers and entertainers who set up shop from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you’re looking for the perfect Jacksonville souvenir, your options are endless and all available in one location. Maybe it’s a jar of locally-sourced jam, a photographic print of the downtown skyline, a bracelet made of sea glass or a loaf of artisan bread. Although, some vendors will vary from week to week, many repeat throughout the year. Some local favorites include Burnt Glassworks, Olive My Pickle, 1748 Bakehouse and Kings Kountry Produce. You’re in no hurry, so use your first pass to get the lay of the land and set your spending budget. The second pass allows you to stop and talk with the vendors, really check out the goods (both edible and usable) and shop local. Tip: Bring a cooler and a reusable shopping bag. It’s hard to say no to fresh, creamy goat cheese once you tasted it and it’s much easier to carry multiple purchases in one larger bag.
If there’s one neighborhood that proves millennials, Gen X and Baby Boomers can co-exist, it’s Five Points. A decade ago, the shopping district with a solitary flashing light at the confusing intersection of five streets, included storefronts selling retro clothing and antiques, a tearoom, an old school newsstand and a two-story, art-house coffee shop. As Jacksonville has changed, Five Points has undergone a renaissance. Now, you can pick up all natural dog treats for your pup at Bark on Park, a six pack of hard-to-find craft beer at Alewife, fuel up with coffee at Brew and buy a dozen macarons from Motion Sweets. Dining options include savory meats at The Bread and Board, all-natural fresh Mex at Corner Taco and a rooftop beer garden at Hoptinger Bier Garden & Sausage House. Despite all the change, longtime stalwarts Mossfire Grill still draws a crowd with its Tex-mex comfort food, Wolfgang and Edge City keep outfitting the next generation of trendsetters and the best place (and sometimes the only place) in town to catch an indie film is at Sun-Ray Cinema.
Jax Trivia: Mossfire Grill’s name pays tribute to Jacksonville’s Great Fire of 1901 that burned more than 146 city blocks and destroyed more than 2,300 buildings. It started when a pile of Spanish moss caught fire. The glow from the flames could be seen as far away as Savannah.
A quick 15-minute drive from Five Points will take you north of downtown to historic Springfield, home of Main and Six Brewing Company and Hyperion Brewing Company. These two relative newcomers in Jacksonville’s craft beer scene already have a loyal following and the one-block walk between their front doors makes it easy to visit both. Get a pint of Phoebe’s P.B., a robust peanut butter porter at Hyperion, and the New England-style IPA, Swoop Juice, at Main and Six. Tip: Neither brewery cans or bottles their beer yet. If you want to bring some home, get a crowler or growler.
Time for dinner
Eat, shop, eat, shop, repeat, right? Hopefully you made lunch a light affair because Orsay ups the ante with a menu of traditional French classics with Southern flair. As soon as you decide on the pan-roasted fish with grits and creamed corn, the lobster pot pie with a pink peppercorn biscuit catches your eye, then the beef short rib with rice middlins and red eye jus. The service is impeccable and on special occasions the entire staff will make you feel like the night’s most important VIP. Some favorites include the Roasted Oysters, Cassoulet and previously mentioned Braised Beef Short Rib. This is not the place to skip dessert. Or say you’ll share. You’ll know all the options are swoon-worthy just by sampling the crème brulee. There’s nothing like that first crack of a spoon as it cracks through the thin sugar crust to sink into the cream. Then there’s the rich flavor of the vanilla as the cream warms and melts in your mouth. In some restaurants, this is a throwaway dish that’s easy to mass produce and serve. In the right pastry chef’s hands, it’s a bellwether that each dessert will feature the same mix of perfectly paired flavors and impeccable construction. Tip: Make a reservation, even on weekdays.