Chef Kenny Gilbert's emphasis on ambiance is clear from the second you arrive at Nippers Beach Grille. A complimentary valet will handle the task of finding a parking spot, and live music provides an energetic atmosphere on the back patio just a few steps away. The crowd is an interesting mix of patrons just past their years of being eligible for MTV Spring Break and older couples dancing to the music.
Inside the restaurant, a bar near the host stand makes a suitable spot to grab a drink while waiting to be seated. Tables in the main dining area face a wall of windows that provide beautiful views with ample lighting for the entire room. If you'd rather skip the wait, the high-top tables in the sports area are first-come, first-served. The overall dining atmosphere is fuss-free, with high ceilings, minimal wall decorations and a dress code that comfortably encompasses a short black dress worn by the hostess, jeans and shorts for the servers and fresh-from-the-beach coverup frocks among the guests.
Our friendly server arrived to take our drink orders several minutes after we had been seated. I asked to see the specialty cocktail menu, because some friends raved about the creative drink options. The server couldn’t find one, though, so I eventually settled on a standard whiskey sour.
Guests should know that portions are on the smaller side. To begin the meal, my guest and I split an order of Bahamian conch fritters and rope cultured mussels. Inside the crispy outer shell of the fritters, the batter was warm and filled with sizable morsels of conch. Citrus juice from the lime wedges provided a nice balance to the spicy remoulade. The mussels were tender and flavorful, and the sauce was filled with flavorful chunks of garlic, oven-dried tomatoes and basil. Any fan of mussels knows that sopping up the leftover sauce with fluffy bread is as much a part of the dish's enjoyment as the actual seafood, and the menu seems to plan for that with the inclusion of French bread in the item's description. Unfortunately, the three long, hard strips of tough toasted bread that came with the dish left much to be desired.
We selected entrées from the “For The Foodies” menu. My guest chose to have Southern fried scallops (though he asked to have them grilled). Three large scallops came on his plate, cooked to soft and tender perfection. Chorizo jalapeno hushpuppies, served on the side, packed a decent amount of heat when dipped in the remoulade. My half portion of the loche duarte salmon came piled high with collard greens, beans and rice and a crawfish gumbo sauce. Flakes of salmon easily separated without the use of my knife, and the greens had a slightly tangy, savory flavor.
We skipped dessert in favor of a walk outside to take in the sunset.
Nippers Beach Grille
2309 Beach Blvd., Jax Beach;