If you owned a house near Jacksonville’s beaches, you’d want it to have many of the elements that make North Beach Fish Camp so appealing. First, it’s casual and inviting (brightly colored artwork, wall-mounted fish and flat-screen TVs) but not so laid-back that customers arrive shoeless or shirtless and expect to get served. The staff sports t-shirts but the interior is nicely appointed with hardwood floors underfoot and exposed beams and aluminum ducts overhead. The restaurant, which opened in early 2012, features a dining room that is wide open and airy, with a couple dozen tables stretching from the fresh fish case up front to the restrooms in the back.
Lots of windows allow for ample light and provide for views of busy First Street. The patio tables out front are best for people-watching and, this being the beach, the cast of characters that walks by is certain to be colorful and entertaining—the occasional Jags player, bikini-topped teens, a guy riding a bike with a dog on his shoulders, that kind of thing.
Not surprisingly, given its location, seafood receives top billing. From the lengthy list of starters to the main courses to the fried dinner platters, the menu is a literal homage to the fruits of the sea.
Raw oysters on the half shell, crispy calamari, smoked fish spread, peel-and-eat Mayport shrimp, and grilled octopus are among the many appetizer selections, all priced between $6 and $9. The ceviche of the day ($8) with crackers and the conch fritters ($8) with lemon aioli are Bahamas-inspired favorites. We suggest adding a pop of flavor with a dash or two from the bottled hot sauces on the table.
Larger appetites will gravitate to dinners such as the Low Country-like seafood boil with shrimp, clams, crawfish and Andouille sausage ($36, serves two). The pan-fried fish sandwich with fries ($13) and the shrimp and grits ($18) are two menu staples and top sellers. The fancy side of the fish camp comes out in entrées including grilled salmon with horseradish Hollandaise, steamed spinach and new potatoes ($20) and seared yellow fin tuna with toasted sesame salad ($23).
Not a seafood fan? If that’s the case, your choices for dinner will be rather limited. Sirloin steak with a brandy peppercorn sauce served with mixed greens and fries ($17), and pan-fried chicken breast with grits, collard greens and tasso gravy ($14) were on the menu for our most recent outing.
Sides are well done and the large portions ($5 apiece) are plenty big to share. Fluffy dinner rolls, smoked bacon butter beans, stewed tomatoes, steamed spinach, and turnip cole slaw infuse real Southern flavors. The hushpuppies are a treat, too.
North Beach Fish Camp
100 First St, Neptune Beach, 249-3474
4-10 PM; Wednesday-Sunday, 11 AM-10 PM.
Kid Stuff: The children’s meals are top notch. No frozen fish sticks here. Instead, kids get lightly breaded and fried pieces of real fish fillets. Parents, keep your hands off.
Upstairs/Downstairs: On an especially busy night, the second-floor bar can become packed and loud. Fun, yes. Romantic…eh, not so much.
Happy Endings: Choice desserts include sweet and salty chocolate torte, vanilla ice cream with maple syrup and the beachy Florida standard, Key lime pie.
Park & Ride: Parking is never easy this close to the beach, particularly in the mega-popular dining and shopping district where Atlantic and Neptune Beaches meet. Locals know a bike is the best option.
Take a Hike: Or at least a walk. The sand and surf are only about a block away, ideal for post-meal wanderings.
Story by John O’Mara // photos by Agnes Lopez