I am not a synesthete–that is to say: I don’t have synesthesia. I don’t see colors when subjected to music or other sensory inputs. But if I were, and I were asked what color I see when imagining Northeast Florida cuisine, “beige” would be my answer. Maybe not the most appetizing-sounding color on the spectrum, but those capable of shunning a starchy, batter-coated nugget—be it chicken, fish, gator tail, or Oreo—after it emerges from a bubbling caldron of oil, either didn’t grow up here, or possess some annoying amount of willpower. You know the saying: If it ain’t battered, don’t bother*.
Safe Harbor Seafood Market & Restaurant specializes in Northeast Florida’s signature protein: fish. And while they’re more than capable of preparing a flakey, buttery, fresh-caught filet in a sophisticated manner and serving it up with myriad colorful sides, I’d argue that you get the best bang for your beige at this Mayport institution.
Now, I’m not sure what’s in the batter. But for just five bucks Safe Harbor’s cooks will use it to lather up an assortment of scraps from whatever’s been recently filet’d, fry ‘em up into hunks of golden-hued mystery proteins, and drop ‘em onto a piece of parchment paper in a red plastic basket.
Enjoyed on a temperate afternoon–a nice salt-breeze blowing off the St. Johns River–the Fried Fish Bites represent our region’s full palette; no synesthesia, or pension for involuntary sensory phenomena, necessary.
*I may have invented this saying.
This article originally appeared in Void Magazine’s February 2021 issue as an entry in the feature “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten (Recently).”