If you’re headed to Blount Island, don’t blink lest you miss Chowder Ted’s (which would be a shame). This tiny restaurant on the Northside of Jacksonville serves fresh seafood and its famous chowder, all cooked by – you guessed it – Ted. Ted Emerson, that is. He and his wife, Carole, have been running Chowder Ted’s since 1996.
Chowder Ted’s (or, as I keep accidentally saying, Towder Ched’s) is located on the St. Johns River, which gives the spot a sunny, beachy feel (sans the harassment of seagulls). Don’t be misled if the parking lot looks empty – Chowder Ted’s is always hopping. I sidled in on a Tuesday around noon and was lucky enough to snag a seat at the bar. Fair warning: Diners should know that Chowder Ted’s is cash-only, so always enter the shack with precious shekels in pocket.
Eating at Chowder Ted’s takes you back a few decades. Go there enough, and you’ll start hearing your name as you enter and leave. Shortly after elbowing up to the bar, I learned the name of my bar-neighbor: Robert, who used to eat at Chowder Ted’s three times a week and says it’s the only restaurant where his son will eat fish. He was so friendly that he didn’t give me the stink-eye for accidentally stealing his spoon and using it for my chowder. “I only used it to stir my tea,” he told me, “so there are no cooties on it.”
Robert convinced me I had little choice but to order the half-pot of chowder, along with the special of the day: a fried snapper sandwich. What I didn’t realize was half-pot literally meant half-pot – as in a saucepan, instead of a bowl. There’s something visceral about eating from a pot that makes Ted’s chowder that much tastier. It’s tomato-based and filled with carrots, celery, shrimp, potatoes, plus (interestingly enough) green olives. To quote Robert, the green olives “soak up the flavors of the chowder and burst in your mouth in a way I can’t describe.” I can’t word it any better myself.
The snapper sandwich was, in a word, tall. The fresh snapper came from Williams Wholesale Seafood in Mandarin, where Chowder Ted’s gets all its seafood. I stared at the sandwich in its plastic basket for a few moments, unsure how to tackle it. When I asked Carole how she thought I should eat it, she told me, “The best thing to do is put your hands around it and don’t let go, and hope that no one talks to you.”
That’s good advice.
The fried fish was battered just enough so there it wasn’t an overload of fishiness. The house tartar sauce was so tangy and scrumptious, I forgot that its base was likely my arch-nemesis: mayonnaise. Eventually, I switched to using my fork and knife, when I realized that it was too exhausting to put down my sandwich to jot a note, only to have to pick it back up and reassemble it. However you decide to eat one of Chowder Ted’s fish sandwiches, you won’t regret it.
Towder Ched’s (ah, I did it again) is an unassuming restaurant that doesn’t make a fuss about anything other than serving customers good food. Only Ted’s provides diners such a comfortable atmosphere that one can eat straight from the pot, steal a neighbor’s utensils, and get sauce on your face, all without anyone batting an eye.