Thursday, August 12, 2010

Slow Food First Coast Snail of Approval: Jacksonville

There are a lot of buzz words floating around the food world these days.  Local… artisanal… organic… sustainable… authentic… free-range… low carbon footprint… cage-free… GMO-free… jeesh!  It can certainly be exhausting to keep up with all of them, and it’s difficult to pinpoint the food purveyors, producers, and restaurants that espouse these ideals.

Lucky for us, we have Slow Food to help us sort it all out.  Slow Food seeks to change the way we produce and consume food by reconnecting us with the people, traditions, plants, animals, fertile soils and waters that produce our food.  I learned about the Slow Food organization during my gastronomy studies but was first alerted to the First Coast chapter this spring at a farm-to-table event hosted by Restaurant Orsay.  At the event, Orsay was awarded the Slow Food First Coast Snail of Approval in recognition of their contributions to the quality, authenticity and sustainability of the food supply of the First Coast region of Florida. 

Orsay thus joined ranks with a number of other Jacksonville food businesses that have also been recognized by Slow Food First Coast:  The French Pantry, 13 Gypsies, Bold City Brewery, Native Sun Natural Foods Market, Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, Bakery Moderne, Beaches Green Market, Mandarin Farmers Market, and Riverside Arts Market.

Read on for my experiences with each of these Snail of Approval culinary havens (including some photos from Orsay’s farm-to-table dinner at the end of the post).  We should all make a point to patronize these businesses and support their contributions to the sustainability, quality, and vibrancy of our local food system!

Jacksonville’s best artisanal breads are baked fresh every day at this bakery-cum-eatery surprisingly located in an industrial complex on Powers Ave.  For lunch Monday through Friday, The French Pantry’s eatery serves mouthwatering sandwiches and bruschetta made using their exquisite, crusty breads. 

I recently visited with a couple girlfriends and we ordered three items to share.  They were all delicious and we couldn't decide which our favorite was.  Was it the substantially-portioned shrimp, artichoke, and goat cheese bruschetta that came with a salad?  

Was it the Parisienne French dip with roast beef, brie, mustard, tomato and mayo, served with a rich au jus?  

Or the chicken panino with buffalo mozzarella, fontina, prosciutto, and sundried tomato mayo?  A lot of thought went into these dishes, and all three were constructed of the highest quality ingredients. 

The French Pantry is a smart place.  You check out the menu as you're waiting in line.  It's written on a chalkboard, right there, as soon as you walk in the door.  Of course you're starving, so everything sounds impossibly tasty.  

Then!  They hit you with the dessert display before you even have a chance to order your sandwich!  Clever!  It was impossible for my gals to pass up getting a dessert to go.  There are also bags of rolls in this same display and some baguettes and thick loaves of bread with pizza-like toppings displayed near the cash register.  I picked up some rosemary rolls for later and my gals got a slice of berry cake and a thick slab of marjolaine.  

The line was out the door when I arrived at 12:30 on a Thursday, and it remained that way until I left over an hour later.  So really, if you have a job with a standard one hour lunch break, you’ll probably want to choose somewhere else for your midday meal.  I looked around the dining room at one point and noticed there weren't many folks in business attire.  Luckily The French Pantry’s breads are available at Jacksonville’s best restaurants and cafes, so even 9-to-5ers can enjoy their brand of bread perfection!  6301 Powers Ave, Jacksonville, FL.  (904) 730-8696.
French Pantry on Urbanspoon

13 Gypsies is another of my very favorite restaurants here in Jacksonville.  I wrote a post dedicated to this miniscule bistro here, and other than Orsay, it’s the restaurant I most often frequent. Slow Food First Coast points out that Chef Howard Kirk personally shops for local produce to highlight the season’s best ingredients.  You can witness this commitment to diversity and seasonality in Chef Howard’s ever-changing daily specials and new menu items.  My favorite dish at 13 Gypsies, the risotto, constantly acts as a rich backdrop to all manner of seasonally appropriate ingredients.

Last week I had the pleasure of trying out a few new menu items.  They’re not yet on the regular menu, but watch for them on the specials board.  The salpicon de mariscos (cold seafood salad) is the quintessential summer dish.  Chilled scallops, octopus, and shrimp tossed with peppers and onions in a lemony vinaigrette.

The hangar steak just may be one of my new favorite dishes at 13 Gypsies.  I adore this flavorful and tender cut of beef, and Chef sears it perfectly and serves it with a red pepper sauce.

I can’t neglect to mention a few of my old favorites (clockwise, from top left): scallops remini, gravlax (one of the ever-rotating daily specials), cod loin mariscana, shrimp piri-piri, and the bruschetta del dia (crabcake during my most recent visit).

I’m clearly not the only one who loves 13 Gypsies.  You’re living under a rock if you didn’t know the restaurant was featured on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives this year.  I was lucky to attend the taping and even got some schmooze time with Guy. 

Do yourself a favor and make a reservation at 13 Gypsies if you haven’t been in awhile!  887 Stockton Street, Jacksonville. (904) 389-0330

Bold City Brewery is currently the only craft brewery in Jacksonville that sells its beers in bars and restaurants up and down the First Coast.  You’ve surely had their brews when out on the town, but have you visited their taproom in Riverside?  The brewery and taproom is a bit hidden in a little complex of industrial warehouses on Rosselle Street.   The brewery is off to the left, and that's where Jolly Mon Catering grills up burgers and wings and serves pulled pork sandwiches with coleslaw and baked beans for ridiculously low prices ($5 will fill you up for dinner).  Bold City gives Saturday tours of the brewery - they take about a half hour.

The door on the right leads to the taproom.  It's small and cozy, with  a bar and plenty of tables.  Bold City is family-owned and you’ll likely be waited on by Mom and Sister (of owner/operator Brian Miller)... really friendly ladies who seem proud of the success of the brewery.  You can order tall beers or pints, or a sampler of all of the available beers if it’s your first time visiting the brewery.  Fancy a growler?  Bold City will fill ‘em up for you.  The taproom seems pretty subdued, and there’s often an older crowd here.    

And, much of the time, there are kids there.  Like, babies or kids under twelve hanging out with their families.  So watch your language, okay?  Little kids or big kids like me can choose from an assortment of games like Connect Four or Fact or Crap.  Fun.  

Jacksonville is lucky to have its very own microbrewery, and Bold City has kicked off what’s being called a “brewing district” in the King Street area.  Intuition Ale Works will be opening this fall (much more on that to come!) and Just Brew It!, our city’s only homebrew shop, just moved in next door.  Support your local brewery!  2670-7 Rosselle Street, Jacksonville, FL (904)379-6551
Bold City Brewery on Urbanspoon

My attempt at visiting Native Sun Natural Foods Market was unsuccessful (closed on Sunday – bah!).  However I did get this nice little shot of the outside of the market.  Helpful?  Not really.

I have heard nothing but great things about the quality of the organic produce and proteins here, and many folks rave about the prepared food specials served up at Native Sun.  (Vegetarians rejoice.)  Slow Food First Coast has praised Native Sun’s commitment to using only certified organic products and local, seasonal produce and meats.  All fruits, vegetables, meats and fish are labeled with their place of origin.  Follow them on Twitter @nativesunjax for daily specials.  Will report back as soon as I visit!  11030 Baymeadows Rd & 10000 San Jose Blvd, Jacksonville, FL.

Bold Bean Coffee Roasters is a local company that employs a small-batch, artisanal approach to roasting their product.  Their single origin organic coffees and tasty blends are Fair Trade Certified and the company offers a Coffee Clique where members receive monthly shipments of Bold Bean’s beans.  They also do special locally-inspired blends, like this one created for the crew over at Urban Jacksonville.

You’ll find Bold Bean brewed in restaurants and coffee shops all over town.  It’s served at Bakery Moderne, another holder of the First Coast Snail of Approval badge.  It’s also a key ingredient in Bold City Brewery’s coffee stout.  Look for the Bold Bean Coffee Roasters booth at the Riverside Arts Market and other food purveyors around town.  (904) 855-1181

I was ecstatic when Bakery Moderne opened in Riverside, just a few blocks from my place.  I've always dreamed of that neighborhood bakery that entices me with the aromas of pastries and cakes and sourdough and coffee every time I walk by.  Bakery Moderne occupies a great corner space that’s urban yet comfy at the same time, with high ceilings, exposed brick, and big picture windows. 

The staff is very friendly.  Their French press coffee is really great (they use Bold Bean beans).  So are the petit fours.  The tarts look tempting.  

There's always a daily specials board with lunch offerings.  I’ve heard great things about sandwiches and salads at Bakery Moderne.  My quiche came with a fresh and tasty side salad of mixed greens with vinaigrette, and spinach and cheddar latkes.  

I love going there for a French press coffee, and I’ll continue to test their baguettes and other baked goods.  869 Stockton St, Jacksonville, FL. (904) 389-7117
Bakery Moderne on Urbanspoon

I wrote an extensive post on the farmers markets of Northeast Florida, including the Riverside Arts Market, Mandarin Farmers & Arts Market, and Beaches Green Market.  You can read it here

These local markets have all received recognition from Slow Food First Coast for hosting vendors that sell fresh produce, meats, and prepared foods from local farms and food producers.  The markets are great one-stop-shop places to hit up many local food businesses that are contributing to the quality, authenticity, and sustainability of the food supply of the First Coast; exactly the goal of Slow Food First Coast’s Snail of Approval recognition.

Restaurant Orsay’s farm-to-table event assembled many Snail of Approval-recognized producers and purveyors together for one epic twelve-course meal.  The dinner was the apotheosis of everything I want Jacksonville’s food and dining scene to be… an extraordinary revelation of the potential of our city’s food culture!  I wrote a short piece about the evening here, on the Riverside Avondale Preservation blog.  Hopefully the restaurant collaborates with Slow Food First Coast for another legendary meal.  If they do, you must attend!  

Chef Brian Siebenschuh’s ambitious menu showcased almost thirty local farms and other food producers, including Bold Bean Coffee Roasters, The French Pantry, Five Points Honey, Intuition Ale Works, and Down to Earth Farm.  Chef Brian implemented an ingenious concept by showcasing each ingredient in both its raw and cooked states.  The meal started with Apalachicola oysters: raw, with a mignonette of sweet onion vinagre de Jerez and datil pepper; and roasted, with Berkshire bacon, braised Swiss chard, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

Next was spear-shot grey grouper: crudo, with datil-infused oil, heirloom tomato, cucumber and sorrel foam; seared, with glazed spring vegetables and organic extra virgin olive oil.

The third course featured free-range chicken and a farm fresh egg: poached egg on toasted baguette resting on a bed of foraged Oregon morels, braised chicken, and Italian black truffles; buttermilk fried chicken with braised greens, bacon, and sweet corn picked that very day.

Restaurant Orsay’s involvement in the community is another reason they embody Slow Food’s lofty ideals.  After the tragic spill in the Gulf, the restaurant made headlines for their commitment to donating twenty-five cents from every oyster sold to the Gulf Coast Relief Fund.  Orsay also hosts events that are focused on uniting Jacksonville’s food and beverage scene, such as the Aperol-sponsored mixology competition that took place last month.  3630 Park Street, Jacksonville, FL.  (904) 381-0909

I sincerely hope Slow Food First Coast’s Snail of Approval list continues to grow here in Jacksonville.  We can help form a local culinary identity and foster our food culture by patronizing these businesses and nominating new ones that contribute to Slow Food’s goal of revolutionizing the way we produce and consume food.  You can make a nomination here

I’ll soon be publishing a post on Saint Augustine’s Snail of Approval businesses!


drfugawe said...

Nice post! During my visit this past winter, Orsay was our favorite! If you're ever there for brunch, try the huckleberry scones - Magic!

I am remembering that when Guy Fieri first scheduled his visit to 13 Gypsies, you and I were the only ones to voice words of caution on Chef's website - I see you changed your mind - LOL! My major concern at the time was that 13 Gypsies is easily pushing the quality ceiling of the typical stuff on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (the name alone is scary enough). But I saw the show and it came off well - just wondering how many Jacksonvillians now think 13 Gypsies is a Dive?

ps: Cari - your "word verification" is not functioning - it forces you into many multiple tries, even when you are being very careful. I dropped mine 'cause I'm convinced it doesn't help that much anyway.

Meagan said...

The Butternut Squash Risotto at Orsay is out of this world, as is the grilled cheese at 13 Gypsies...Chef Howard's pheasant bread is delectable!