Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mojo Kitchen in Jacksonville Beach

Ever been running errands and you catch a whiff of barbecue floating on the air that instantly sparks an insatiable craving? That happened to me not long ago, so when I finally had the opportunity to do something about that craving, Mojo Kitchen was the obvious choice. I had never been before, but virtually everyone I had talked to had raved about Mojo Kitchen, so I was excited to try it.

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Not knowing a great deal about it, I didn’t really know what to expect about the atmosphere when we got to Mojo Kitchen, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find a really cool vibe. Themed around the blues and highlighting many of the legends of the art, Mojo Kitchen absolutely put me in the mood to kick back with a cold drink and listen to great music – a great start! What caught my attention first was the stage, no doubt a cool place to catch a live band.

Since it was a slower Monday afternoon, we were able to have our choice of tables in the dining area and were greeted quickly by our waiter, who was fun and helpful in helping us decide what to order. I opted for the lunch sized portion of the North Carolina pork (what I had been told was their specialty) with a side of sweet potato mash and green beans, while my friend ordered the two meat combo with beef brisket and chicken. As we settled in to wait for our lunches, I could tell this was going to be a meal that satisfied that craving I had for good barbecue.

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In what seemed like a shorter than normal wait, our food arrived – and I realized just how much food came with the ‘smaller’ lunch portion. The North Carolina pork was absolutely perfect – falling apart and tasting of their homemade Carolina vinegar sauce, it definitely didn’t need any additional barbecue sauce whatsoever. I tried it with several of the barbecue sauces on the table, and found the Mojo seasoning to be excellent, the mustard sauce to be delightfully tangy, but the best by far was adding some additional vinegar sauce. I dug into the green beans next and was absolutely shocked to find that these were by far the best green beans I had ever had. When I ordered the side, I expected them to be fairly standard and boring, not a side that had a wonderful smoky flavor that I would be sure to order every time I walk through the door. In addition, the sweet potato mash did nothing to disappoint either, featuring the perfect consistency in the sweet potato as well as a nice swirl of brown sugar and nuts.

I was also lucky that my friend was willing to share what he had ordered as it initially looked like he would be protecting it from anyone trying to take it from him. The chicken was excellent with its smoky flavor and tender consistency, it really didn’t need any additional sauce at all, but the mojo sauce certainly didn’t hurt the flavor at all. But the clear winner of his dish was without a doubt the beef brisket, it was just tender enough to be perfectly chewy and exploded with flavor as soon as I took a bite. Once again, this meat absolutely didn’t need any additional sauce to be some of the best brisket I’ve ever had, I will definitely be adding the brisket to my order next time I go to Mojo Kitchen.

To me, Mojo Kitchen surpassed the expectations and hopes that I had going into my meal. Everything from the staff to the ambiance to the food was excellent and I am already looking forward to going back to enjoy more great barbecue! If you’re looking to satisfy that craving you get when you catch a whiff of barbecue wafting on the air, Mojo Kitchen is absolutely worth the trip – you won’t be disappointed.
Mojo Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery on Jacksonville's Southside

The reputation for Seven Bridges on Jacksonville’s Southside has been built around its microbrewery and quality craft beers, but I’ve also always heard that the food is also excellent. Situated in a great location near Tinseltown and not far removed from the St. John’s Town Center, you couldn’t ask for a better setting. Seven Bridges’ feel is very much that of the brew house with a long bar, clear views of the brewing process on the upper level, and very nice seating in the bar area, but also features a large dining area that consists of many comfortable booths.

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Upon entering, we were greeted quickly and pleasantly, then escorted to our booth for the meal. I ordered the bruschetta as an appetizer while we waited for our meals, and ordered the Blue Crab Stuffed Chicken for my entrée while my friend ordered the Chicken Parmesan for hers. The bruschetta came quickly, and was excellent. It featured tomatoes, fresh basil, onion, garlic, and asiago cheese over toasted bread – exactly what I expected and very tasty.

Our entrees didn’t take as long as I may have expected, but I’m never opposed to a short wait when I’m hungry, so it was a pleasant surprise. My friend was gracious enough to let me try her Chicken Parmesan, which she was very happy with from the first bite. The chicken was sautéed very well and the house-made marinara sauce was excellent – I can definitely understand why she was so happy with her choice for dinner. Sadly, I wasn’t quite as thrilled about my choice when I started eating. I was well aware that the chicken would be breaded when I ordered it, but the taste was that of a combination of both over-cooking and old frying oil. The chicken breast was stuffed with artichokes and blue crab, which made for a tasty combination, then served over spinach and roma tomatoes and a side of rice pilaf, but I found myself having a difficult time getting past the exterior of the chicken to fully enjoy the meal.

I certainly cannot judge a restaurant based on one meal, and I’ve heard so many friends speak very highly of Seven Bridges, so I hope I just stopped in on an off-night. My friend enjoyed her meal very much, and even took a good portion of it home with her for leftovers, so I want to believe mine was just a fluke. The rest of the experience was very positive – the appetizer was great, the ambiance was very nice, the service was good (albeit a touch too attentive and bordering on babysitting at times), and the price was very much in line with what I expected. So before I pass judgment, I will definitely have to try Seven Bridges again – I hope it’s a better experience!
Seven Bridges Grille & Brewery on Urbanspoon

J Alexander's at the St. John's Town Center

I’ve been to J Alexander’s several times, and this restaurant keeps pulling me back in every time. Between the great wine menu, the appetizers, and some extremely tasty food at a price-point that’s on par with just about anything else at the trendy St. John’s Town Center, J Alexander’s is ‘upscale comfort food’ with some of the best ambiance around.

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The first time I was there, I had gone for lunch and wanted something slightly lighter, so I chose the Thai Kai Salad – not realizing the size of the portions. What came was tremendous both in taste and in size, proving to be more than I was able to handle in one sitting. This salad consisted of chicken over mixed greens and peanuts, tossed in a cilantro vinaigrette and topped with a Thai peanut sauce that worked perfectly together. My friend had ordered the Rotisserie Chicken Cobb Salad, which featured chicken, bacon, bleu cheese, tomatoes, egg, avocado, and a bleu cheese dressing. He also had difficulty finishing the enormous salad, but raved about the taste and the combination of flavors. Another friend ordered the Old-Fashioned Cheeseburger, which featured a hand-ground patty, all the fixings, and topped with Tillamook Cheddar cheese. He was astounded by the size of the burger, but also thoroughly enjoyed the great taste – even to the point of talking about it weeks later! His meal also included one of their specialty sides – the homemade mac and cheese. If you’re a lover of mac & cheese, then I HIGHLY recommend giving this a try, you may never order it anywhere it else. And while it’s not on the menu, be sure to ask for the croissants as an appetizer – you won’t be disappointed!

J.ALEXANDER'S

On my most recent trip, I opted for the Grilled Pork Tenderloin that I’d been craving since I had been there the previous time – it sounded fantastic! This was an in-house cured pork tenderloin, covered in a Thai ‘bang-bang’ sauce and what might have been the largest pile of ‘smashed potatoes’ I’ve seen in quite some time. The pork tenderloin itself was seasoned perfectly, with just the right touch of peppery spices, then was draped in a sweet and somewhat-spicy Thai chili sauce that I couldn’t get enough of! Part of me was slightly embarrassed to finish all of the pork tenderloin, but it was done so well that I just couldn’t stop myself – it was THAT good.

J Alexander’s is a place that combines excellent ‘upscale comfort food’ (as I like to call it) with a fantastic fresh fish menu, a great wine list, and ambiance that is absolutely perfect for a nice lunch or a great date. I’m happy to consider this one of my go-to spots at the Town Center – I hope you’ll take the time to check it out and enjoy everything the menu has to offer!


J. Alexander's on Urbanspoon

Salt Life Food Shack in Jacksonville Beach

Everyone has seen the Salt Life logo countless times on cars, trucks, and shirts around Jacksonville for so long that it only seems appropriate that there be a restaurant to go with it. From the moment I walked in, I knew this was the type of place that truly fits at the beach, where you can come as you are and just enjoy good food and a good time. The colors (predominantly blue, turquoise and white) are very calming, putting you in the mood to kick back and personify the meaning of ‘Salt Life’.

Three blocks off the beach!

Seated at a high-top on a somewhat crowded Friday afternoon, I could see just about every walk of life enjoying the Salt Life Food Shack. From doctors in their scrubs to business professionals to those of us straight from the beach with sand on our toes, all were welcomed with a smile and the smell of great food. I remembered the high recommendation of the Hawaiian Shrimp Bowl from a friend who had previously had the pleasure and ordered it, even though several other menu items were jumping off the page – a good sign in my opinion! My friend ordered the Seared Ahi Tuna Salad, and another joined me in ordering the Hawaiian Shrimp Bowl, even though I had recommended the Caliche’s Poke Bowl to them based on what I’d heard from others who had previously dined there.

Happy Hour!

I was pleasantly surprised how quickly our orders arrived, but was even more happy with the taste of my dish. A combination of squash, zucchini, onions, peppers, and pineapple sautéed in a soy-ginger glaze, with shrimp, spinach, and avocado served over sticky rice – what a treat! At times, it was a bit of a chore to eat with chopsticks, but highly worth it! My friend who ordered the same dish agreed that they had made an excellent choice in their meal, both of us were very satisfied with both the taste and the portion size – I even brought some home. Our other friend was very happy with the Seared Ahi Tuna Salad, which consisted of fresh ahi tuna, tossed with lettuce, tomato, avocado, cabbage, carrots, and toasted almonds in an Asian sesame-soy dressing. Being allergic to fish, I was not able to share, but both friends assured me that the taste was excellent and all components worked perfectly together – so I’ll just have to take their word for it!

Overall, I was very pleased with Salt Life Food Shack. Our service was great, the waitress treated us very well and our wait was considerably shorter than I’d have expected. The price-point was exactly in-line with what I’d have expected to pay at a fairly trendy spot near the beach, so I feel like I got my money’s worth out of our lunch, and was very pleased with the quality. Salt Life Food Shack is definitely the type of place I’d stop for any occasion, whether it be on a sunny afternoon coming from the beach or a Friday night before going out when I want a nice meal – Salt Life has it all! They truly epitomize the lifestyle – Eat, Drink, and Be Salty!

Salt Life Food Shack on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Bowl of Pho Vietnamese Resaurant

There has been a lot of talk recently about Bowl of Pho Vietnamese Restaurant on Old Baymeadows Rd. on Jacksonville’s southside, so when a friend suggested we give it a try, I had to see what all the hype was about. Now I still have not fully gotten over the preconceived notion that good restaurants and strip malls go together, so there was part of me that lowered my expectations prior to walking in – but I certainly did not need to.

We were greeted warmly shortly after arriving and shown to a comfortable booth. Our server came next to take our drink orders and asked if we had any questions about the menu since I mentioned neither of us had been there before. She happily explained the concept and a couple of the more popular dishes, then left us to decide.


I opted for the appetizer of Grilled Pork Spring Rolls and the Noodle Soup with Crab, Shrimp, and Pork. My friend chose the Vietnamese Egg Rolls, the Bowl of Pho Special Fried Rice, and the Bowl of Pho Special Soup. Our appetizers came out very quickly, and we were both very happy with our choices. The Grilled Pork Spring Rolls rolled in rice paper were very light, and paired perfectly with the nuoc mam sauce (a sweet fish sauce with lime and lemon juices) to give it an exceptional flavor. If I had to criticize the roll at all, my only suggestion would be to add just a little more of the grilled pork – it was excellent and would have liked that flavor to come out slightly more than it did, but overall I was very happy with the spring roll. The Vietnamese Egg Rolls were so good that my friend refused to share, but assured me the blend of ground pork, chicken, shrimp, and crabmeat with lettuce, cucumber, cilantro, and served with the same nuoc mam sauce as with the Spring Rolls were exceptional. Now I need to go back to try those!



Our entrées were brought out quicker than I might have liked as I was still working on my appetizer, but the product was certainly worth the minor inconvenience of having to finish my Spring Roll quickly. We learned very quickly that you had better be hungry when eating at Bowl of Pho, because leaving with any appetite left is just not an option. The portion size for my noodle soup could have easily fed two, but I wasn’t complaining because the flavors that paired so well with the pork, shrimp, and crab were out of this world. After trying a few bites, I went for the platter of optional ingredients to add and found myself loving the soup even more as I squeezed a lime over the soup and added jalapenos, fresh basil and cilantro. My only frustration with my bowl was that the large rice noodles were difficult to pick up with the spoon that was provided, so I had to use my fork to get many of these. Overall, that was minor compared to the wonderful flavors!



I also tried a little of my friend’s Bowl of Pho Special soup, and it was every bit as good as mine! It featured several cuts of beef over small rice noodles with fresh basil, cilantro, green onions and bean sprouts, and became even tastier with the addition of fresh squeezed lime juice. The Bowl of Pho Special Fried Rice was even better, neither of us would hesitate to order this again – as long as we are really hungry! Generous amounts of chicken, beef, pork, and shrimp made this rice seem more like a meal rather than a side order, but there was more than enough left over to take home and enjoy the next day.


I am thrilled to see new and diverse restaurants coming to Jacksonville, and Bowl of Pho is a perfect example of a newer restaurant making exceptional food at a very reasonable price. If you’re looking for something different that will surely fill you up without breaking the bank, but will also offer wonderful flavors and combinations you may not have tried before, then I highly recommend Bowl of Pho. I am already looking forward to going back and trying more of what they have to offer!



Bowl of Pho on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mitchell's Fish Market at St. John's Town Center

Every time I’ve talked to others about whether they would recommend Mitchell’s Fish Market, I heard a very similar response: “It’s good, but be prepared to pay.” And who wouldn’t expect to pay more when the food is flown in fresh each day from destinations far and wide? So when my date, who is a pescatarian (a vegetarian who eats seafood), asked me to choose a restaurant for the evening, I was slightly hesitant to suggest Mitchell’s until I looked at their menu online. What I found was a wide array of choices in seafood, as well as several great alternatives in poultry and steak, all in very reasonable prices that were comparable to any other restaurant I would see fit for such an occasion. When I called ahead to make a reservation, I was told that while it wasn’t required, it was a good idea in case the restaurant got very busy and was assisted very politely and professionally.



Upon arriving, I found that the restaurant was indeed popular, but not so much that we needed to wait to be accommodated, and was immediately impressed with the décor and atmosphere. We were led to a cozy booth and were greeted by our server shortly afterwards, who was very pleasant in bringing us our water and bread as he gave us time to choose a bottle of wine from the extensive wine list and look over the menu.


After settling on a nice bottle of Pinot Noir (I know it doesn’t necessarily go with seafood, but we were in the mood for a nice red), we went back and forth over what to order – there were that many excellent choices. Having looked over the menu online, I was reasonably certain I would order the blue crab and shrimp in an alfredo sauce over penne pasta – until I learned of the prix fixe menu. Both my date and I elected to go with this option, but went different routes to have the option to share. She ordered the Summer Broiled Shrimp and Scallops over a summer vegetable succotash and garlic-herb red skin potatoes, while I chose the Lobster and Shrimp over Pappardelle pasta with asparagus and summer tomatoes in a white wine sauce.


Our house salads were delivered promptly, and it was an excellent blend of carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, pine nuts, and dates (what a nice surprise!) with a fantastic poppy-seed vinaigrette – I will now be looking for a similar vinaigrette next time I go to the store, it was that good. The dates added a nice contrast to the rest of the salad, bringing just a little sweetness to balance the acidity of the dressing. Following our salads, our main courses were delivered in a very reasonable timeframe, but hers brought about our only disappointment of the evening – the succotash included bacon (not mentioned on the menu). I know many succotash recipes include bacon, but we both felt this should have been listed in the description, especially at a seafood restaurant. Rather than cause a scene and to alleviate the guilty feeling my date was already feeling, I switched entrees with her and we both happily enjoyed our new meals.


On mine, the shrimp was broiled to perfection on skewers with whole cloves of garlic and laid over the bed of succotash. I enjoyed the bits of bacon in the succotash, which gave an otherwise plain accompaniment a nice twist of flavor, and found the garlic-herb red skin potatoes to be seasoned very appropriately. In the few bites my date was gracious enough to offer of my ‘old’ dish, I found the lobster and shrimp over pasta in white wine sauce to be wonderful. With just the right amount of garlic and herbs, this dish really let the seafood be the star – I only wish I would have gotten more, but was more than happy to be the gentleman to make both of us happy.


Following our entrees, dessert was served to round out our prix fixe menus. I had ordered the strawberry shortcake, while she had ordered the vanilla crème brulee, so we had plenty to share. We both found the crème brulee to be satisfactory, but there wasn’t much that stood out about it. I liked the taste that was somewhat reminiscent of a roasted marshmallow, but it certainly wasn’t the best thing about our meal. The strawberry shortcake was definitely better, with fresh strawberries, a dallop of vanilla ice cream over a shortcake that had a faint lemon flavor – clearly the winner between the two desserts.


Overall, dinner at Mitchell’s was a success and I would not hesitate to go back or to suggest Mitchell’s to a friend. The service was excellent without being overbearing, with the only gaffe being when the waiter delivered another tables to-go box to our table, but this was quickly corrected without incident. I firmly believe Mitchell’s so-called reputation for being overpriced to be incorrect – good food and good service at a reasonable price changed my mind. Anyone looking for a great restaurant for a nice occasion should walk in confidently knowing they will get their moneys worth.


Mitchell's Fish Market on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 5, 2010

Jamrock Caribbean Bar & Grill

The spirit of Bob Marley is alive and well at Jamrock Caribbean Bar & Grill!

I wasn't sure what to expect from Jamrock, but the immediate and warm welcome I received told me I was in for a good experience. As I walked in, both the bartender and the nearest waitress both shouted welcome over the reggae music and directed me to sit anywhere I would like. Between the music, the bold red, yellow, and green colors, and the mural of Bob Marley and some of his more famous lyrics on the walls, Jamrock has casual fun written all over it.

I settled into a booth next to a window and my waitress arrived promptly and cheerfully to bring me a menu and take my drink order. I opted to go with the Kingston Curry with goat and sides of sweet potato fries and rice and sat back to enjoy the fun vibe and see what others were eating around me. The table immediately to my right was enjoying their Conch Fritters and Island Quesadillas - and I have to admit that both looked fantastic! My wait didn't last too long before my meal was brought to me on a perfectly presented plate and accompanied by the tantalizing smell of the curry and goat.

As I dove in, I was a little surprised by the bones in my meat - it wasn't anything I couldn't get past, but it wouldn't have been my first choice. Regardless, the taste of the goat with the curry sauce was excellent - the garlic and curry flavors worked very well and the meat absolutely fell apart to the touch of my fork. The rice that accompanied the curry was adequate and worked well to sop up some of the juice, but overall wasn't anything special on it's own. As a sucker for anything sweet potato, I definitely enjoyed the fries as well, but like the rice, they didn't stand out on their own at all. I was pleasantly surprised to find a couple plaintain chips on the plate - they provided the perfect finish to cleanse the palate.

I absolutely plan on returning to sample several other items on the menu - their Jerk Chicken looked excellent at another diner's table, and the sound of the Rasta Pasta (Jerk Chicken with peppers, Parmesan cheese, and an Alfredo sauce served over Penne pasta) is enough to draw me back.

Overall, I was pleased with Jamrock - the service was excellent, I was treated like a valued guest, the feel was very casual and upbeat, and the food was very good. I would not hesitate to suggest Jamrock to friends looking for something a little different at the beach and look forward to trying it again!

Jamrock Caribbean Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon