The SPICE of 904

When the dog bites, when the bee stings,
When I’m feeling sad,
I simply remember my favorites things
And then I don’t feel so bad.

These words from Rodgers & Hammerstein’sThe Sound of Music enter my mind whenever my guests ask me to recommend restaurants. These inquiries, while innocent, really throw me for a loop. The answer requires a ridiculous amount of thought. I don’t want to disrespect my professional cooking comrades, but I judge restaurants on a different scale than those who’ve never worked in the industry. On one hand, I’m very forgiving to a restaurant’s flaws; on the other, I will tear places to shreds that profess to be of a level of quality that they fail to reach. I’m looking at you, pretentious restaurants!

In reality, when I go to a restaurant, it’s usually for a certain dish that has etched a lasting astronomic memory in my ravenous mind.

Here’s a very Cheffed Up list of a few of my favorite things in the 904, in no particular order. First: bacon-wrapped, cream-cheese-filled, roasted jalapeño poppers from The Bearded Pig, magnificent on their own, even better paired with one of their local brews.

I often crave the poutine from Black Sheep. The succulent, sous vide short ribs with thick, plank-like fries, and warm, chewy, sharp cheese curds. Magnificent. Let me tell you, they are the best you’ll ever eat. My cold weather favorite is a hot, spicy, herby, umami bomb known as pho, and as y’all already know, the Bowl of Pho on Baymeadows is the only place I bother with. I can almost feel the oxtail and star anise-infused steam enveloping my face right now.

What about burgers, you ask? Well, my favorite is made at Epik Burger on Atlantic. It’s the Epikurean, with pungent blue cheese, hint of truffle, pancetta and ’shrooms. Wow, so many flavors vying for my attention, yet all blending harmoniously with each other. Why can’t we all get along as well as these inspired ingredients?

For tacos, try Riverside’s Corner Taco. I’m a big fan of housemade sausage and the chorizo here makes for a great little taco. And as long as I’m in Riverside, I’m all about Foo Dog Curry’s vegetable samosa. Hot, spicy and vegan! Who knew that something that didn’t have four legs was edible? In Five Points, I gotta have my Duck Lettuce Wraps fix at Hawkers.

If I can’t get out of the house, I like to sprinkle this intriguing Portuguese spice blend over sea scallops, then grill them. A seasonal slaw of Brussels sprouts with apples, peppers and jalapeño dressed with tangy vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment.

CHEF BILL’S Portuguese Spice

  • 5 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp. granulated garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper or piri piri
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp. oregano


  1. Mix all ingredients.

Until we cook again,

Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of The Amelia Island Culinary Academy, at [email protected] to find inspiration and get you Cheffed Up!