Born in historic Springfield, 68-year-old Art Jennette’s renowned “cracker” food is actively working to keep the rich history of his family and those who came before him alive and well. His “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant, Southern Charm, serves up Southern staples like fried green tomatoes, chicken and dumplings, fried shrimp, and fresh collard greens that’ll make you feel like you’re home and a part of Jennette’s own family. Southern Charm is located on St. Augustine Road near Emerson and Henricks.
Jennette mostly learned how to cook from his mother and was one of seven children growing up in Springfield.
“I can still see her hands roll that fish in that cornmeal. A little bit of flour and some salt. I would be right there, hand in hand with her,” recalls Jennette.
Growing up as a young adult, Jennette worked at various restaurants learning from others while also honing his craft. At the age of 19, he trained with David Stein at Bonanza Steakhouse and held a managerial position. He also took part in many catering jobs here and there and later worked at a fish camp with his mother, which later closed, leading to the opening of Southern Charm—his pride and joy.
The food Jennette serves at Southern Charm is the kind he grew up on. “I want to keep it alive because authentic Southern cooking has really diminished in most restaurants,” he said.
Southern Charm’s homestyle cooking has received recognition from the Slow Food Organization and a Snail of Approval Award. Buying local ingredients and embracing local recipes is something Jennette always strives for and truly embraces.
From lunch buffets offering Southern fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and barbecue chicken to weekend dinner buffets with blackened North Florida shrimp, homemade crab cakes and Jennette’s signature Little Marsh Island Casserole with whipped potatoes and scallops, Southern Charm is sure to leave you feeling more than satisfied.
The term “cracker cooking” can almost always be heard when discussing Jennette’s cuisine. This term is derived from history, specifically concerning the Irish in the 1900s.
“The Irish used to refer to the North Florida area as the people ‘have a crackin’ good time.’ So, it became a term used to refer to people having festivities and enjoying good food. And then people would say, ‘let’s go to North Florida and see the ‘crackers!’ So, the term became a nickname for having a good time,” explained Jennette.
For Jennette, cooking is everything to him. It’s his way of life and is what keeps him going.
“That’s my marriage. That’s my social. That’s my life,” he said. “I enjoy the people that come with it and I get to see people from all over the world. I have people leaving Disney to come eat with me because of what people say on the internet and it’s amazing. I don’t gloat on it, and I’ve probably never read any of it. Every day I gotta keep driving forward, forward, forward.”
The love and passion that Art Jennette puts into his southern cooking is a specialty that you can absolutely feel when you dine at Southern Charm.