Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille

by By Oliver Dodd
Jacksonville’s newest gastropub, the Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille, is already generating quite a buzz. Situated just north of the movie theaters at the Avenues on US 1 in a spot previously inhabited by a Beef O’Brady’s, it’s clear that the Speckled Hen intends to rely on much more than location to bring in business. While it may seem like an odd choice of venue, that part of town is sorely lacking in the dinner and drinks department, making this ambitious newcomer the logical choice when either of those are in your plans and you happen to be in the neighborhood.
They have some good brews available, including Duke’s Cold Nose Brown Ale by Jacksonville’s very own Bold City Brewery. I think there were about eight taps up and running when we visited and I can only assume that they plan to expand their collection as the restaurant gains some momentum.
But although this place is a self-proclaimed “Gastropub” (and rightly so), the food really is the centerpiece of the experience. Rather than dabbling in clever variations on typical bar food, the creative minds behind the Speckled Hen have instead taken their influence from the cuisine of the surrounding landscape with an incredible variety of Southern-themed dishes. Reading through the menu, it’s hard not to order one of everything just to try it all. Among the many appetizers (which we regrettably did not get to try) there are gems like Duck Fries, Wood-grilled Datil Pepper Glazed Chicken Drumettes, King Crab Mac N’ Cheese, Beer Braised Short Rib Spring Rolls, and Pickled Shrimp. Out of these items and the rest of the appetizers, there’s not a single one I wouldn’t love to try.
Moving onto the entrees reveals even more oddly delicious sounding meals like the Root Beer Glazed Bone-In Pork Chop and the Crispy Fried Cornmeal Crusted Catfish. It was a tough decision but I ended up settling on the Wood-grilled Sweet Tea Brined Chicken Breast which was covered in melted goat cheese and sweet red pepper “chow chow” and served over some pieces of their chipotle cornbread. I’ve had some pretty amazing meals over the past few months, both locally and in distant cities, but this one may just top them all. While one may be tempted to write off some of the quirkier menu items as gimmicks, there’s no denying their brilliance after a few glorious mouthfuls.
Be excited, fellow Northeast Floridians. Things are getting interesting around here and the Speckled Hen just upped the game. This is one place I won’t have a hard time revisiting in lieu of trying something new.