This month in Bold Bites, we’re featuring what may just be Northeast Florida’s single most iconic food — Mayport shrimp. This deliciously sweet crustacean is caught right here in the 904 and can be eaten fried, blackened or grilled, depending on your preference. Owner Chris Wooten and head chef Watty Watson gave us a few more juicy details on this Jacksonville icon. Be sure to check out even more awesome local grub on the Bold Bites Instagram page. Give them a follow and you’ll always be on the cutting edge of culinary delights in the 904. Dig in.

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What is it about Mayport Shrimp that you think people love so much?

East Coast white Mayport shrimp are a delicacy, and considered the best in the world. They are locally sourced, wild-caught and chemical free. They have a distinct, sweet flavor that separates them from all other shrimp.

What is the one ingredient in the dish that you’d say is the key?

Wild-caught, East Coast white shrimp doesn’t need much by the way of ingredients to shine. As a matter of fact, the breading should be light and the seasonings simple. They are a culinary star. It would take away from the flavor and dining experience to smother them with a lot of batter or sauce.

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Where do the ingredients come from?

Local shrimpers source fresh Mayport shrimp. In our restaurant, customers can choose their shrimp to be prepared in three ways — fried, blackened or grilled. The batters and the seasonings we use are old North Florida recipes that have been passed around through the families of Mayport. They include:

  1. Safe Harbor Seafood Breading
  2. Safe Harbor House Blackening Seasoning
  3. Salt/Pepper/Garlic for Grilling

Describe the inspiration behind the recipes. How did you come up with them?

Chris Wooten has been delivering to local Jacksonville seafood joints for the past few decades, even working at a few as a teen. After seeing the best applications of the use for Mayport shrimp, Chris assembled his team from a variety of North Florida’s best fry cooks. The crew at Safe Harbor knows fried Mayport shrimp has become a staple in North Florida and they are constantly inspired by the community’s support for the local business. “There is pride knowing that every time we serve Mayport shrimp, the customer and our restaurant are supporting the local American shrimper,” Wooten said.

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With you guys being so tied to the local economy and fishing industry, what do you hope people take away from visiting Safe Harbor?

When a customer leaves Safe Harbor Restaurant in Mayport, we want them to know that they help support our local fleets, which are a part of the ambience of North Florida. We want to express our gratitude to everyone who comes in to dine with us or even take some fresh seafood home. With the growing number of imports, Safe Harbor is still here and going strong, and we do not take this for granted. We have truly appreciated the support of all of our patrons over the past several years.