Local Seafood Dishes
Northeast Florida has a strong Southern food game, but we also shine when it comes to dishes from the water, sometimes from unexpected places. While places such as Safe Harbor Seafood, The Fish Company, Timoti’s and others that specialize in seafood are local favorites, there are a number of from-the-water dishes that residents love, even in places that don’t have seafood front and center.
At Blue Bamboo on the Southside, there’s three dishes we recommend, depending on what you’re craving. For a lunch item we think their fish sandwich is a winner. It’s served in their bento box with their shoestring fries, which are spiced with a little bit of salt and pepper. It’s also a fantastic item for kids or less adventurous eaters. The tuna ceviche has been on the menu for several years, and it’s a go-to item for a lot of folks, at all times of the day. The recipe for it is in Chef Dennis Chan’s cookbook Hip Asian Comfort Food. It’s a favorite of mine because the citrus doesn’t overpower the fish, which is true of too many ceviches out there. The added ginger and sesame oil take it over the top as one of the tastiest ceviches you’ll find on the first coast. The Velvet Yu Kew combines steamed rice, bok choy, carrots, and straw mushrooms served with a ginger-garlic sauce with a flaky white fish and rice, for a classy-from-the-water stir fry.
Another place with an Asian flair and a recommended item is Timwah’s crispy fried shrimp balls. This dim sum delight might not be for everyone, but it’s a staple on the West Coast. Here in Jacksonville, we do things larger, so these aren’t bite sized. It’s ground shrimp rolled into a ball, bound loosely by strips of wonton wrappers and deep fried.
Downtown’s Cowford Chophouse has a strong fish game, so if you’re going for something high-hat downtown, try the fish of the day. We also love their duck fat cornbread, which is topped with Maine lobster, and lump crab meat, with crème fraîche, dill, tarragon, paprika oil. The seafood and creme balances out the cornbread and the paprika flavor.
Everyone has their go-to menu item, even when they’re at a restaurant they’ve never been to before. Mine happens to be shrimp and grits, an item that has found itself on many a local menu. The best thing about the dish, is that every restaurant has their particular take on it–so it’s familiar, with elements in common, but it’s an excellent way to get to know the flavor profile of a chef. Downtown we can recommend two places to try it– the Candy Apple Cafe and Nola MOCA. At the Candy Apple, there’s a bit of Cajun flair to the dish, with the shrimp sharing the spotlight with sausage, and the grits are served Southern-style topped with a rich roux. The grits at the Nola are served as smoked cheddar grit cakes, and the sauce is white wine and mushroom based. The shrimp keep company with applewood smoked bacon and sun-dried tomato crostini.
Asking around on social media about fish dishes in unexpected places, Black Sheep at 5 Points’ Smoked Trout salad garnered one of the strongest responses from local residents. The Carolina Rainbow trout has been on the menu for about two years, featured in two places on their menu– in the starter Smoked Trout Rillettes and in the Kale and Smoked Trout Salad.
Although the fish isn’t local, the kale in the salad is–from the outstanding Bacon’s Select Produce. If you haven’t had anything from the Bacon family, you are missing out. The lettuce they sell at Riverside Arts Market that will benefit any salad you make at home. Everything, including the kale, is grown hydroponically.
The Kale and Smoked Trout Salad is popular at brunch, lunch and dinner. Says Chef Waylon Rivers, “It’s a lightly smoked fish, not overly done, which I think is appealing. It’s brined for a few hours ahead of time so there’s some nice background flavors aside from the smoked fish flavor. It’s a well-balanced dish.”
A newer place that’s been heating up because of their stellar sandwich game, Bread & Board has their Banh Mi Shrimp sandwich. Chef Dwayne Beliakoff says they’re inspired by Florida seafood and love using in their recipes “Key West pink shrimp are the perfect match for our spicy homemade chili sauce in our version of the classic Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich. Sweet, spicy, and exotic goodness heaped into fresh bread,” says Beliakoff
We’re sure you’ve got your own favorites from unexpected places, let us know on social media with the hashtag #UnexpectedFlavorJax.