7 Burgeoning Trends of Jacksonville Dining

Just like in the world of fashion, food trends come and go. Some, like the shoulder pads of the 80s, have gratefully come and gone. When it comes to food, some trends go beyond being just “trendy.” These so-called trends actually develop and expand the fabric of our food scene into something better. The thing with trends is that they are all relative to whom you talk to– some people still dig shoulder pads, just as some people still believe vegans only eat salad.So, for the purpose of this article, we reached out to local chefs, restaurateurs, food enthusiasts, mixologists, bloggers, and just everyday restaurant-goers to get their insight. As industry folk and self-proclaimed food lovers, we also let our personal perspective weigh heavily on the topic. We reflected upon experiences we have loved, things we have seen occurring in trendsetting cities throughout the country, and trends that seem to be demonstrating some resilience in our marketplace. Time will only tell which trends are here to stay. We compiled a list of what we see as the top seven local trends that are spicing up our food scene and are, we hope, here to stay.FOOD_MoxieChef
Local, Local, Local: Growing social responsibility & healthier food
Focusing on local and sustainable dining is a perfect example of a trend that has stood the test of time. Many feel that it is really no longer a trend, but a way of life–cooking, creating, and living responsibly. As Chef Tom Gray of Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails says, “It’s just simply a better way to eat, and when you are looking for nutrition, flavor and sustainability, it is the only way to go.”What we are seeing is a shift in the extent to which restaurateurs are allowing this local and sustainable mindset to inspire the process. It is evolving to every aspect of the restaurant, not just the kitchen. Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails and Black Sheep Restaurant are perfect examples of incorporating sustainability into restaurant design. Many aspects of their buildings were made from repurposed materials and local creators. In New York, Jean Georges’ ABC kitchen uses local and sustainable philosophies in practically every detail of the experience, which is something we have yet to see here at home. From the plates on which guests dine, to the uniforms the staff wears, the commitment to locality is always displayed.The focus on farm-fresh ingredients has not only led to more flavorful ingredients, but to a more healthful approach to cooking in general. Vegan and gluten free menu items are no longer being marginalized to menu afterthoughts, but are becoming menu features, to be enjoyed by everyone. We’ve seen this first hand at The Cafe at The Cummer Museum with the Black Bean and Quinoa Stuffed Roasted Portobello with Romesco sauce, which is not only vegan, but naturally gluten free. Menu items like this become top-selling items for omnivores and herbivores alike.

“Staking” out the Urban Core
One of our favorite and most noteworthy trends, and how we see the “local” trend developing in the most substantive way, is that so many good spots are not only focusing on utilizing local products, but delivering them in very “local” neighborhoods that are uniquely Jacksonville: 5 Points/Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, Murray Hill and Downtown. In these millennial-driven neighborhoods, new and exclusive restaurants are making homes and creating brands.

photo: Jensen Handle
photo: Jensen Handle

For example, let’s start with the first and most trending, Riverside and 5 Points. Years ago, Riverside had an extremely niche clientele and was known as the alternative and creative neighborhood. If you needed a fancy pack of smokes, a vintage coat, or antiques to decorate your apartment, 5 Points was the place to go. Granted, you can still get most of those things, even though your cigarette may now be electronic. But time and redevelopment have given room for some of the city’s most ambitious chefs and restaurateurs. Black Sheep and Hawkers led the way by introducing a new crowd to the hood. It is now peppered with a new array of restaurants (see trend five, about food trucks to brick and mortars) bars, and coffee shops.

Avondale has always kept a home for refined and lovely restaurants, but it recently welcomed the unexpected pizza slingers at Mellow Mushroom. This not only demonstrates the demand for more casual establishments, but also diners’ desires to have choices within their dining destinations.

FOOD_Maple-St-Biscuits_GardWe predict Murray Hill is on its way to be the next 5 Points. The Edgewood Avenue shopping and dining district recently welcomed the wonderful people of Maple Street Biscuits, Community Loaves Bakery, and it is eagerly awaiting the much-anticipated opening of Knead Bakery, turning the area into what we expect to be the artisanal bakery destination of Jacksonville.

There is a lot of chatter about Downtown Jacksonville. We have heard that Uptown Market is expanding to feature a full liquor license. We know that local candy rock stars, Allison and Pete Behringer, are relocating their soon-to-be-national Sweet Pete’s brand to the Seminole Club building and promising to feature a bigger than life-sized candy factory, restaurant, and event destination. We feel the floodgates to Downtown are about to open and are excited for what is ahead.

More Korean, more ethnic, more cultural mashups
Our town, being a melting pot of nationalities, is chock full of some great ethnic cuisine. Korean, Vietnamese, and specifically, Ramen, are “in” foods right now.

FOOD_pho-2For some time now, the adventurous diner has embraced the myriad of ethnic dining that Jacksonville has to offer. Vietnamese Cuisine has definitely been a very popular dining destination as of the past few years. Downtown has recently been diagnosed with newcomer Pho Fever. Westside has always had a good time at Saigon Time. Southside has treasured the popular Bowl of Pho and P.K. Noodles, and now has a new option with Pho Today.

Exploring diners have found some of Jacksonville’s best Korean joints nestled in the Beach and University neighborhood. They offer authentic and spicy flavors and a chance to try something you probably have never tasted. If its authentic Chinese food you’re after, Chef Chan’s of Baymeadows serves up a seemingly endless menu of classic dishes. Chan’s is also a perfect spot (and one of the few we found) to indulge in some Ramen noodles, prepared in several flavorful soups.

Really daring diners have found hole-in-the-wall restaurants such as Nile Ethiopian. We use this term endearingly, as the food always seems to amaze us at these said ‘holes.’ Nile is hidden down Old St. Augustine road, not far down from the ever-popular French Pantry.

Over the coming year we see ethnic foods becoming more readily available outside of their ethnic niches. Expect to see Asian influences in non-Asian settings and lots of cultural mashups. For example, when we visited Corner Taco we enjoyed the Korean Duck Asada taco. Further examples are the Asian Burger from M-Shack (with spicy coleslaw and Hoisin BBQ glaze), the chocolate curry latte from Bold Bean, and the Thai Dye Pizza from Mellow Mushroom, but all are just the tip of the iceberg.

Food truck to brick and mortar
A new trend we are seeing is Food Trucks expanding to brick and mortar restaurants. Corner Taco and the folks behind The Blind Fig have been major leaders in this trend. We know that The Happy Grilled Cheese is taking up permanent residence in 5 Points in the near future and are excited to see who might be next. One of the most obvious advantages behind this trend is creating a following before opening a restaurant. Chef Chris from Corner Taco believes these food trucks succeed greatly because of the operators’ past experiences. “I think that the biggest food trend is more casual restaurants started by chefs who cut their teeth in fine dining restaurants.”

The big, generic chains aren’t going anywhere, at least not anytime soon. But the success of food trucks, the B&M establishments that come from them, and the Maple Street Biscuit craze, is that they are so specialized. We think restaurant-goers are affirming the fact that they appreciate chefs who don’t try to be all things to all people.

Forecasting that item-centric restaurants are here to stay
The focus of doing one thing and doing it really well will be hot this year. Tacos, burgers, and pizza have always been popular and trendy foods among the First Coast. The aforementioned Biscuit trend has taken our town by storm, but what comes next? The food blogger behind the popular site Broad Appetite says to be on the lookout fancy corn dogs. Hot diggity dog, we can get behind that one! Or maybe Ramen restaurants are headed our way. NYC and the West Coast are crazed with them, and we think it is a slurp-worthy trend.

“Snack foods” on menus
“Easy to share, they offer not only a great way to start a meal, but often complement [Moxie’s] ever-evolving specialty cocktail menu,” says Chef Tom Gray.

Americans love to nosh, and the growing “snack food trend” speaks to this. Its all about dressing up the unsophisticated foods we all love and serving them with a little swank. For years, Orsay has had the most popular happy hour on this side of the river in part due to its Pomme Frites alone, but more so thanks to its perfectly balanced small plate and cocktail menu. Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails has an entire menu section dedicated to “snack foods,” from kettle corn and corn nuts, to crispy pigs ears and farm-fresh deviled eggs.

SONY DSCCocktails are going strong
A neat trend we’ve been following is the rebirth of old school pharmacies and soda fountains across the country. Hipster havens, such as Brooklyn, and food trendsetters, such as San Francisco, have sprouted many cool concepts and built creative bars around these concepts. This trend has gained popularity in our home city too, with a cocktail-diverse landscape. Specialty spirits, whiskies barrel-aged on-site, house-infused vodkas and gins, wide assortments of bitters, pressed juices, and house-made simple syrups are defining features. Our neighboring city of Saint Augustine has given us the popular ‘craft’ bar with The Ice Plant and reminds us how important ice is, with six different options to complement the drink of your choosing.

Back in town, restaurants such as Taverna, and Ovinte are really focusing on modernizing the classic cocktails. Taverna’s Salty Dog is a fan favorite, and Ovinte really does have the “Manhattan Perfected.” Between Grape and Grain (we are huge fans of the bottled gin and tonic!), and the new addition, Sidecar, San Marco is becoming a hub for adventurous culinary cocktails. As time goes on, we think that homemade sodas and specialty bottled adult beverages are going to become even more popular.

Locally crafted beers are putting Jacksonville on the map. Riverside has Intuition and Bold City. San Marco has Aardwolf, which often features a cool food truck outside the front door. The Beaches have Engine 15, which is expanding to our urban core, as well as Green Room Brewing. Beer is a staple in most societies, and locally brewed libations are a trend that’s not leaving anytime soon.

We are moving past just drinking beer into cooking with it and thoughtfully pairing it with great dishes. As Intuition Brewery’s Cari Sanchez-Potter explains, “Beer offers more variety of flavor profiles, making it an ideal complement to a diverse range of dishes and cuisines.”

Where do we go from here?
Jacksonville’s dining scene has really felt like an overnight transformation into its own unique identity. Without the adventurous spirit and tenacious appetite of local chefs, restaurateurs, foodies, and the everyday restaurant patron, nothing would be possible. We would like to see more original concepts come out of our city this year. We will remain wishful–hungry for all of the amazing things to come for Jacksonville.


About Jennifer Earnest