|[nggallery id=29 images="1"]Surfs Up
Northeast Florida and seafood go together like shrimp and grits. If you have a hankerin’ for something salty and tasty, there are numerous options from which to choose. Here’s a select menu of area eateries that know a thing or two about fish, shrimp, scallops, crabs…
The Reef Restaurant
4100 Coastal Hwy., Vilano Beach, 824-8008
The Reef is a gem south of Ponte Vedra. In a region with too few oceanfront restaurants, this one stands out with linen-covered tables, beautiful views, a huge deck, expansive menu and weekend entertainment.
Jax Mag Pick: Catalonian Zarzuela seafood stew of lobster, prawns, clams and mussels in an almond and saffron broth
1440 San Marco Ave., San Marco, 398-1949
This San Marco standout is named after the French town of Aix-en-Provence, and mixes flavors of California’s wine country with Mediterranean-inspired cooking. Though not a "seafood" restaurant, the menu features notable items like oak-fired fish on goat cheese-smashed potatoes, arugula and Reed’s Cara Cara citrus broth.
Jax Mag Pick: Blue Hill Bay mussels steamed in white wine, thyme and garlic with saffron aioli, served with French fries
Azurea at One Ocean
One Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach, 249-7402
The signature dining space at the swanky One Ocean Resort, the chefs at Azurea draw inspiration from around the world. The lounge is both cozy and chic and the views are sublime. Chilled cucumber gazpacho and Maine lobster risotto, anyone?
Jax Mag Pick: Caribbean wahoo with citrus marinated hearts of palm and passion fruit buerre blanc
Whitey’s Fish Camp
2032 CR 220, Orange Park, 269-4198
Boaters and campers are welcome at Whitey’s, a waterside landmark that serves tasty eats and sells bait. The atmosphere is super casual and family-friendly. Fried catfish is a house favorite, as is the Florida gator tail, soft shell crab, clam strips and the fish sandwiches. Try the fried pickles. Jax Mag Pick: Steamed shrimp boil with Creole sausage, corn, potatoes and veggies
The Blue Fish
3552 St. Johns Ave., Avondale, 387-0700
The overall themes of Blue Fish? You guessed it, the color blue and fish. From the napkins to the lighting fixtures, the inviting color scheme creates a cheerful and attractive atmosphere in the heart of Avondale. The menu caters to most palettes with dishes such as white cheddar mac and cheese with shrimp and scallops, oysters Rockefeller, crab cakes and fish tacos.
Jax Mag Pick: Old Bay Mixed Grill with the day’s fish catch, shrimp and sea scallops marinated in Old Bay seasoning, Key lime juice and olive oil
118 Avenida Menendez, St. Augustine, 824-0808
The Oldest City is blessed with an abundance of good dining spots. Count O.C. White’s among them. The restaurant overlooks the city marina and the historic (but new) Bridge of Lions. The conch fritters appetizer is a nice way to start a meal, perhaps followed by a plate of locally caught coconut shrimp.
Jax Mag Pick: Sautéed shrimp Abaco with garlic, mushrooms, diced tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a light cream sauce
1501 River Place Blvd., Southbank, 398-3353
The interior alone of the Chart House makes a visit to the waterside restaurant worth it. The view of the St. Johns River is pretty good, too. The parmesan encrusted snapper Hemingway topped with jumbo lump crab, diced tomatoes and lemon shallot butter is a Chart House classic.
Jax Mag Pick: Ahi nachos with seared tuna served atop fried wontons with pickled ginger and wasabi cream
112 Bartram Oaks Walk, St. Johns, 287-0766
How about fresh oysters and shrimp wrapped in thick smoked bacon and served with Creole mustard tartar sauce and sweet chili sauce? Or perhaps grilled salmon in a balsamic vanilla syrup topped with creme fraiche, mango, cucumber dill salsa, served with couscous, spinach and asparagus? Yes, please!
Jax Mag Pick: Breaded shrimp sautéed in a caviar sake cream sauce with crispy walnuts, served with mixed veggies and saffron rice
950 Sawgrass Village, Ponte Vedra Beach, 285-3017
After more than 20 years in operation, the crew at the Grill knows what customers enjoy. The extensive menu features aged steaks, live Maine lobster, chowder, clams casino, shrimp pot stickers and crab cakes. After an "Aqua-Tini" or two, you may not want to leave.
Jax Mag Pick: Baked Appalachicola oysters with smoked bacon, roasted veggies and garlic Hollandaise sauce
Cap’s on the Water
4325 Myrtle St., Vilano Beach, 824-8794
The food’s darn tasty at Cap’s. But the location is the real standout. Tucked against the Intracoastal and shaded under a canopy of oak branches, the rambling restaurant is a little hard to find and even harder to leave at meal’s end. To get there, take A1A north of St. Augustine and turn at the castle.
Jax Mag Pick: Horseradish-crusted, flash-fried grouper served over whipped potatoes and fried spinach in a sweet vanilla rum sauce
299 Dondanville Rd., St. Augustine, 471-2332
Another Oldest City eatery that’s a bit hard to find is Cowboys. Again, this one’s worth the journey. The house spicy red clam chowder leads the menu, followed by a mix of barbecue faves, grilled meat, Florida "Cracker" fare and a boatload of seafood. Try the deviled crab and, when in season, the Louisiana crawfish.
Jax Mag Pick: Fried soft-shell crabs with Cowboy’s citrus and horseradish "rebel" sauce
60 Ocean Blvd., Atlantic Beach, 247-0060
Chef Danny Groshell’s menu draws flavors from Latin American, Asia, Sicily and everywhere in between. For example, diver scallops dusted with a Japanese seven-spice blend served over chilled lo mien salad with scallion and vietnamese ginger broth. The dining is equal parts artsy, funky and sophisticated, perfect for the beach locale.
Jax Mag Pick: Pan-sautéed Mayport shrimp tossed with garlic, roasted tomato butter, parsley, chili flakes and olive oil, served over linguine with shaved parmesan reggiano
Mitchell’s Fish Market
5205 Big Island Dr., St. Johns Town Center, 645-3474
Mitchell’s is a national franchise operation, but without the cookie-cutter vibe. Smartly dressed servers and an upscale interior complement the bustling bar and a lengthy menu of ocean favorites. The crab, spinach and artichoke dip appetizer and the Chesapeake Bay crab cakes are Mitchell’s classics. They serve "turf" items as well. But you don’t go to a steakhouse and order fish, right?Jax Mag Pick: Sam Adams beer-battered fish and chips with sea salt French fries, hushpuppies and creamy cabbage coleslaw
10950 San Jose Blvd., Mandarin, 370-1070; 2400 S. 3rd St., Jacksonville Beach, 247-4234
Another popular upscale franchise name, the wood-burning grill is the focal point in the Bonefish kitchens. Grouper, halibut, sea bass, salmon, trout—what’s cooking on any particular night varies depending on the season and the day’s catch.
Jax Mag Pick: Crab crusted orange roughy with white wine lemon sauce, served with garlic whipped potatoes
14549 Beach Blvd., Intracoastal West, 223-1534
The menu is always changing at Marker 32, a name derived from its waterside location. On your next visit, expect culinary creativity like broiled oysters with bacon, shrimp and sun dried tomato, Bahamian style cracked conch with spicy red pepper aioli, grilled Scottish salmon filet with shallot dill butter, crushed potatoes and steamed veggies.
Jax Mag Pick: Blue crab cakes with caper dill aioli, crushed new potatoes and steamed spinach
110 N. 1st St., Neptune Beach, 249-5573
You don’t get much more "cozy" than the red brick, exposed beams and warm woods that dress the interior of Mezza Luna. The covered patio is pretty darn cozy, too. The menu tilts to Italian fare with pastas and pizzas. However, when you’re located just a minute’s walk to the beach, seafood lures plenty of diners. Steamed mussels, pan-seared grouper and linguini and clams are top choices.
Jax Mag Pick: Crispy vagabond calamari with lemon, basil and marinara
Salt Life Food Shack
1018 Third St., N., Jacksonville Beach, 372-4456
"Shack" is a misnomer for this casually chic and big eatery. The vision behind the restaurant is more than food, it’s about creating a lifestyle; one that includes tasty bites of bahamian conch chowder, shrimp and chorizo nachos, oyster shooters, beer can chicken and wood-grilled baby back ribs.
Jax Mag Pick: Caliche’s Poke Bowl with marinated tuna served with steamed spinach over sticky rice, topped with diced avocado and green onion
Clark’s Fish Camp
12903 Hood Landing Rd., Julington Creek, 268-3474
The menu at Clark’s is enormous, stuffed with everything from pastas to filet mignon to frog legs. Plus, there’s seafood gumbo, stuffed flounder, seared ahi tuna, BBQ shimp, blackened tilapia, blackened scallops—and on it goes. And, yes, all the stuffed animals are real. And, no, don’t feed the alligators.
Jax Mag Pick: Brinda’s Seafood Bake with garlic toast, crab, shrimp, scallops and fish baked in a cream wine sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese.
|[nggallery id=27 images=1]What Chefs Know Best
25 of the top chefs in Jax dish out personal tips for the everyday home cook, advice earned from years on the frontlines of top local eateries.
“My Le Creuset braising pan is indispensable. I love that it can go from stove top to oven, and is then beautiful to serve from.”Liz Grenamyer, executive chef of Bella Sera
“Don’t head to the grocery store with a recipe in hand. Head to the grocery store or farmer’s market and look for what’s in season, buy it, then go home and look up recipes to figure out what you’re going to make with your fresh, locally grown produce.”Brian Siebenschuh, executive chef at Restaurant Orsay
“I personally like Misono knives; one of the most well-established Japanese knife producers. Quality craftsmanship, and they hold a great edge. Also, look for specialty products at Whole Foods and independent Asian markets. I always find interesting things to cook there, and always for a great price.”Sam Efron, executive chef at Taverna
“My favorite cooking tool is the Kom Kom Miracle Knife. It’s made in Thailand, and it does so many things. I use it to shred fruit and vegetables to make cucumber or papaya salads, and core apples or tomatoes. Every house should have one.”Aura Sellas, chef and owner of Taste of Thai
“When serving dishes that need to be kept warm, or re-heated, meat holds well. Vegetables don’t. You can’t keep heating them up, because they get mushy. Meat holds longer, and even starches like potatoes hold heat pretty well.”Shawn Stoddard, owner of Anthony’s Gourmet Catering
“Source out the actual and authentic ingredients to make global dishes. Don’t try to cut corners when doing authentic cuisine. Nowadays people travel more, so they can taste the difference.”Pete Silvano, executive chef at Blu Tavern
“One of the things we teach at the studio is how to entertain without being chained to the stove for your entire dinner party. There’s a reason restaurants have staff present at noon when they open at 5 PM; it’s called prep time, and the home cook can do this, too. Resist the urge to go for the fewest-ingredients, two-step recipe and find something that you can begin the preparations for a few days in advance, and build up to the final cooking.”Andrea E. Rosenblatt, head chef of A. Chef’s Cooking Studio
“Thai food is about flavor and using the freshest ingredients. It’s not heavy, but light and healthy. Fresh ingredients make great food. Most of our ingredients are organic.”Guy Boonsanong, executive chef at Buddha’s Belly
“Whenever roasting any large meat, from chicken, to pork, to beef, brine the large muscles in a seasoned salt water 24 hours in advance. Make brine with one cup of kosher salt to seven cups of water, simmered for two minutes. Additional seasonings are limitless, from citrus to herbs and berries. Cool the brine before adding the meat.”Steven Gaynor, executive chef at Biscottis
“When working with dried chili peppers, soak them in hot water. When you’re ready to make sauce, use the water as well. The chili extracts into the water, so you get the full flavor of the dried chili. Use that to make sauces and salsa.”Kennon Reed, kitchen manager at Cantina Laredo
“Depending on the dish, cooking is all about time and temperature. A delicate dish doesn’t need to cook for three hours at 400 degrees. Take care of the ingredients while you’re cooking. You can go to any restaurant and get chicken; it’s all about the presentation and flavors.”Chris Faurie, executive chef at Corner Bistro
“Rosemary, thyme and garlic enhance the flavor of meat. When possible, use homemade mozzarella—we use it in many dishes on the menu, and it’s made fresh every day.”Julio Echeverri, chef de cuisine at Enza’s Italian Restaurant
“When adding Asian flavor to your repertoire, always start with ginger, garlic and scallions. Those flavors are the basis for all Asian dishes. We’re always talking about it, thinking about it, tasting it.”Dennis Chan, executive chef and owner of Blue Bamboo
“Everybody likes to BBQ at home. Use wood charcoal; I recommend mesquite wood. If you use that instead of bricks, the mesquite has fewer chemicals and gives a nice flavor to hot dogs, burgers or anything else on the grill.”Breno Verlangieri, owner and meat chef at Espeto
“Put salt, pepper and olive oil on everything. Just like the old give and go in basketball, that’s all you ever need to know.”Dwight Delude, owner and executive chef of Dwight’s Bistro
“Use sofrito, olive oil, garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes to add Cuban flavor. For example, when making chicken and rice, start with the sofrito. It gives that combination of flavor to the food. The big basis in any Cuban kitchen is sofrito.”Silvia Pulido, owner of Havana-Jax Cafe
“I enjoy cooking with a lid. When I do that, it creates condensation and steam that makes fish puff up with moisture. I have the same All-Clad brand pan that I’ve been using for years. It has a heavy bottom, so it heats up evenly and stays hot. Most recently I started experimenting with the Staub line that I picked up at Williams-Sonoma. I bought a heavy cast-iron skillet with a lid on it, as well, and I’m finding the same success with it.”Matthew Medure, executive chef and owner at Matthew’s Restaurant
“Serving large crowds is a matter of making sure the head count is correct ahead of time. Don’t miss anything. Communicate with guests and make sure that everyone is on the same page about what is being prepared. Make sure the communication line is open.”Mark Sofia, executive chef at The Hilltop
“The fewer the ingredients, the better. A lot of ingredients are versatile. A piece of high-quality fish can be served raw in a tartare, or in a ceviche, or grilled with fresh lemon and olive oil, or fried quickly in a nice batter. The cleaner the taste, the less you have to do with it. I like to buy fish from Fisherman’s Dock—those guys know fish, and they know what to look for. Reaching out to local fishermen is so important.”Eric Fritsche, executive chef at Patio at Pastiche
“I like to work with a lot of fresh herbs, lemongrass and Thai basil. We also do a lot with Thai eggplants. They’re round and green instead of purple, and they have a different flavor and texture. They’re a bit firmer and not as mushy, and the flavor works well in our curry.”Susie Sysouvanh, executive chef at Indochine
“We do a lot with cilantro and cumin, not just in Spanish dishes but also in Mediterranean, Italian and French dishes. It’s a subtle thing that sometimes can’t be identified quickly. We coarsely chop it and fold it into our tapenade. It makes a beautiful flavor and great color.”Chris Cantabene, executive chef and owner at Raintree
“I like the Sho Chiku Bai brand of sake, especially the Gin Jo flavor served cold. It goes well with edamame, grilled salmon teriyaki, tuna sashimi and the hummer roll (tuna and avocado, deep-fried, topped with shrimp sauce, spicy crab salad and scallions).”Jon Won, owner and executive chef at Sake House
“Stay true to Southern flavors, and use local and sustainable ingredients. Our signature spices are salt and pepper, and I love cooking with bacon grease and bacon fat.”Nick Robson, executive chef at Speckled Hen Tavern and Grille
“Trial and error has created some of my best dishes. One of our popular appetizers, Mayport shrimp and grilled polenta, was created with the idea of using local shrimp. We wanted to do a shrimp and grits type of dish, but we didn’t have the grits we wanted that day so we improvised and used polenta.”David Seavey, executive chef at North Beach Bistro
“Use quality ingredients imported straight from Greece, especially virgin olive oil, kalamata black olives and feta cheese.”Abraham Gungor, general manager at Taverna Yamas