To me, it seems that Jacksonville doesn’t yet possess this sense of pride in their history or their soil; or rather, it’s not centralized and it’s not marketed or presented well enough, and that makes it difficult to grasp. I’m sure Saint Augustine’s greater focus on tourism has a lot to do with their easily digestible presentation of Minorcan clam chowder and the datil pepper. But it’s only been recently that I’ve even been able to get a grasp on the produce we can grow here in Northeast Florida, and the fish that come directly from our shores. Most of our food and farmers markets import products from outside Northeast Florida. And while some pioneering restaurants are committed to serving locally farmed, raised, brewed, and fished products, I certainly wish we had more of it. As you can see, it’s not easy to pinpoint Jacksonville’s cuisine.
Over the last few months, I’ve realized there are many, many moving parts to Jacksonville’s food culture. We don’t have one signature or quintessential dish. But that’s okay. Together, all the moving parts tell a story of a diverse and vibrant food culture, not one that can be pigeonholed into one version of history or one type of produce or dish. I intend to explore the elements of Jacksonville cuisine in upcoming viCARIous posts.
When it comes to geography, it’s obvious that we’re located in the South. Does that mean we can claim barbecue as our own? We certainly do have a certain breed of mustard-based sauces and sauce-soaked slices of white bread that many of our barbecue joints seem to have in common.
And there’s a certain pride in soul food, and “down home” or “cracker” cuisine, with plenty of tasty joints serving up fried chicken, smothered pork chops, collard greens, and mac and cheese. Granted, in the minds of many, barbecue and soul food are more readily associated with other areas of the Deep South. But here in Jax, we’ve made them our own in a number of ways.
Fried chicken, greens, and mac n cheese at Justin’s City Place Café
Cheese pastries at Mi Pueblo BakerySince we’re located on the ocean, undoubtedly seafood has something to do with our unique local cuisine. All those seafood shacks and fish camps serving Mayport shrimp and smoked fish dips come to mind, as do fancier restaurants that serve locally-sourced catches. And how can we neglect to mention “swamp” fare? Gator and frogs’ legs and soft-shell crabs and catfish. That’s as Florida as you can get.
Cook at Singleton’s Seafood Shack
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we can’t forget our diverse inhabitants, all the ethnicities and religions and transplants that make up the fabric of our multicultural city. Vietnamese pho joints, Jewish delis, Caribbean eateries, Mexican grocery stores, Indian restaurants, and a plethora of Eastern European and Middle Eastern influences have all contributed – and continue to contribute – to shaping our dining scene.
Produce at Beach Boulevard Flea Market
I hope these posts help to paint a clearer picture of Jacksonville’s multifaceted food culture. And I hope they make you just as excited as I am about all of our food and restaurant options! Frankly, I’m sick of people complaining that Jacksonville doesn’t have much to offer in the way of local flavor, or ethnic food, or this, or that. You see that kind of talk all over sites like Yelp and Chowhound. It’s just not true, darnit! Yeah, maybe everything’s not concentrated in one walkable neighborhood like San Francisco’s Mission District or New York’s Little Italy, but hey, that’s the city we live in. You might have to drive, but you don’t really have to look that far, or that hard. So stop it with the negativity.
As proof, my first post addressing Jacksonville’s unique food culture will explore a street brimming with ethnic markets and restaurants. I'll then visit a variety of seemingly mundane eateries that are located right in my backyard. These eateries combine as unique a combination of local pride and ethnic flair as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Any guesses as to what they are? Stay tuned! And please, let me know what YOU think makes up Jacksonville’s cuisine.