For our Bold Bites issue we asked Northeast Florida writers, creatives, foodies, and personalities to dish on the boldest bites they’ve taken of late. Dig into Part III of that feature below. You can find Part I here. And Part II here. And Part III here.
O’Steen’s Restaurant | St. Augustine
The best thing I’ve eaten in Northeast Florida recently is something that hasn’t changed for me in over 30 years and that is the fried shrimp at O’Steen’s. It’s always done right with fresh shrimp and the product is consistent time and time again. The dish is simple, consisting of locally caught shrimp cut into a butterfly, lightly breaded, deep-fried, and served with a house datil sauce. When developing the menu for our own restaurant, we wanted to have an item that truly represented old St. Augustine and we felt that there was no better way to do this than to create a fried shrimp taco that paid homage to O’Steen’s. It has remained our best seller for more than two years now!
Owner and chef, Osprey Tacos
Viola’s Pizza, Pasta & Seafood | St. Augustine Beach
Whenever I’m dining out, I have a couple of rules to help me decide what to eat. First, the selected dish should be something I can’t or don’t make at home. Why spend my hard-earned money on a meal that could easily be prepared at home for a fraction of the cost? The second criterion is whether the dish is a daily special or on the regular menu. Not that something from the regular menu can’t be delicious or worthy of my time and expenditure. I am more interested in something the chef was inspired to create that day based on seasonal produce or fresh seafood that is not always available.
Given those two conditions, it may seem odd that the best thing I have eaten lately is eggplant parmigiana at Viola’s Pizza, Pasta & Seafood in St. Augustine Beach. The dish is always available at this Italian restaurant, and I can throw together an excellent eggplant parm, complete with fresh bread crumbs and my from-scratch tomato sauce. So why do my taste buds salivate for the flavors of Viola’s pasta marinara commingling with the slightly bitter eggplant and mozzarella cheesiness? Maybe it’s the tomato sauce, seasoned with just the right amount of garlic, basil, and oregano (and a touch of fennel?) that perfectly coats every strand of the angel hair pasta. Or perhaps it’s the ricotta cheese, evenly layered between slices of breaded eggplant—not too mushy, just the right amount of al dente resistance with every forkful. Maybe it’s the restaurant itself, a bustling neighborhood hangout where you can sit at the bar, order a drink or two and have a filling meal with some leftovers for lunch the next day. And if I have my favorite companions alongside, that truly is the best.
Editor, Edible Northeast Florida
Taqueria Cinco | 5 Points
The best thing I’ve ever eaten recently was the Pozole Rojo at Taqueria Cinco in 5 Points. It was one of the first cold nights in Jacksonville, and this dish of stewed hominy with red chili broth served with warm corn tortillas really hit the spot. Lindsay, my wife and business partner at Congaree and Penn, is from New Mexico and this reminded me of a few years ago on her grandfather’s farm, when we were invited for pozole rojo and bolillos with what Gramps called “open seating”—for family, friends, farm workers and their families. It’s this type of hospitality and cooking that makes every trip to Chef Eddy Escriba’s spot a great decision.
Co-owner, farmer, Congaree and Penn
Biggie’s Pizza | Jax Beach & 5 Points
This was a tough decision. I have eaten a lot of great food, but the one that has really stuck with me is a mind-blowing pizza experience at Biggie’s Pizza. I like my pizza saucy and their Grandma’s Pie with its sauce on top, fresh basil and killer crust has seriously haunted me for months. I am so stoked they opened a location in 5 Points, and can now get my fix without crossing the ditch!
Director of Communications and Marketing, MOCA Jax
These entries originally appeared as part of the feature “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten (Recently)” in Void Magazine’s February 2020 issue.
More From our “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten (Recently)” feature:
Part I (From duck quesadillas to sourdough pancakes to street food esquites and more)
Part II (Dim Sum, enchiladas, brownies, etcetera)
Part III (Empanadas, Beef Wellington, Fried Seafood, etcetera)
Anticuchos from Llama Restaurant
Roots Biscuit from Southern Roots