How to Court Fine Diners in Jacksonville

2 May

 

If you had moved to Jacksonville to open a posh clothing boutique, to generate customers the last thing you’d want to do is insinuate that the women here looked like they stepped off a Wal-Mart runway and you were going to have to show them what real style was.

So when a new chef in town of note tweeted recently that he needed to train Jacksonville palates because we were used to eating at chain restaurants, some locals didn’t take kindly to the slight.  I think he’s still scratching his head and wondering why we were insulted. He didn’t mean it as a slight, just a fact.  

Jacksonville has come leaps and bounds since it voted Red Lobster as the No. 1 seafood restaurant. But are we still as backward as outsiders tend to think? (Super Bowl news columns come to mind.)  The answer is a resounding “NO.”

When the group of 15 Twitter pals I was having brunch with at TacoLu (a non-chain) read the chef’s tweets, the entire group was like “Say what? Oh, we need to educate this guy.”  They were incensed to say the least.  This was a group made up of PR mavens, a TV news producer, foodies, a restaurant owner, newspaper reporters, bloggers and other interesting locals. Not exactly the Golden Corral bunch. 

The chef in question here will go unnamed because we want to educate him, and we do want his place to make it. (We love great restaurants.)  But we also want him to know that to make it in Jacksonville, the approach is to celebrate offering us more of what we love — good food.

We love Jacksonville; that’s why we live here. That’s why transplants make their way here in droves. Folks who have lived in the big cities. They move to Jax. 

While our restaurants may not be L.A., San Francisco, New York or even Telluride, we are a proud city. And we are the ones who will make  or break your business, whatever it is, not the tourists or traveling business people. There aren’t enough of them.

Bistro Aix

There are plenty of fine dining  restaurants in Jacksonville: Bistro Aix, Matthew’s, Orsay, Wine Cellar, Ocean 60  and Palm Valley Fish Camp to name a few. And there are plenty of great chains from Ruths’ Chris and  Bonefish Grill to Stonewood Grill. Duplication doesn’t automatically mean bad food.

Jacksonville is beyond the days when we used to apologize for ourselves. We’re a proud lot now.  And if you want our business, if you want our respect, then you have  to show us what you’ve got, not tell us what we need.  Those days are over. Fine diners in Jacksonville expect to be courted and romanced.

HORNS & HALOS: Jags, Jessie-Lynne and Jax Parking

30 Apr

HALOS to the Jacksonville Jaguars for snagging
QB Blaine Gabbert from Missouri in the first round of the NFL draft. Reports have it that ticket phone lines were lighting up like crazy at Jags headquarters the next day. With surfer-like good looks, many locals commented that he’ll fit in quite well in Jax. Don’t know if he can ever replace Tim Tebow in our hearts as the local King of Football, but many a mom has already put dibs on
                                               him for her daughter.

HORNS to the Public Parking Division of the City of Jacksonville for blanketing Downtown Jax with tickets after 5 p.m. on such a busy evening last week.  Parking is free after 6 p.m. and it’s common practice for enforcement to stop at 5 p.m. But on such a busy night, there must have been money to be made! With everyone working diligently to increase the use of Downtown Jacksonville, especially at night, this was a pathetic
                                               display of ‘gotcha.’

HALOS literally to Jessie-Lynne Kerr, the beloved and self-named “tough old broad” of the Florida Times-Union.   Jessie-Lynne fought the  good fight with lung cancer and left this life peacefully while at a hospice facility. She was a reporter for 47 years for the TU and lived to meet her goal of making it until her 73rd birthday which was Tuesday.  She left us early Friday morning grabbing headlines on the day of the royal
                                                 wedding, proving that she is a woman who knows how to
                                                 make an exit.

HALOS to the Florida House for passing a bill requiring women to have ultra-sounds performed before they can have abortions. There is nothing sinister in requiring women to understand the depth of their decisions.  Pregnancy is more than a mere nusance, even when inconvenient.  If passed, this law will surely help a growing number of women change their minds upon seeing life inside them. Helping a woman determine she’d
                                                 rather give life than terminate it is all good.

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: Firehouse Subs

21 Apr
For someone who doesn’t eat all that much meat these days, and  doesn’t  usually even like submarine sandwhiches , my recent feast at Firehouse Subs was nothing short of a full ‘come to Jesus’ conversion.  These were submarine sandwhiches like I’ve never had before. 
 

I met Robin Sorensen, co-founder of Firehouse Subs and one half of the Sorensen brothers team (brother Chris is the other co-founder) at their Beach Boulevard at Penman Road restaurant in Jacksonville Beach  for a personal walk through their menu. I took along my 14-year-old son, Stuart, a dedicated carnivore, to help me out.

Robin selected several subs for me to try, and I chose another myself that looked tempting. While waiting, one can’t help but notice the line-up of hot sauce bottles on the counter. Each bottle has a large red numbered sticker signifying how hot it is; the higher the number the hotter the sauce, with nine being the hottest.  

A few customer favorites are Back Draft (6) , Liquid Stoopid (8)  Pain 95% (9) and  Captain Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Hot Sauce (5). $5.99 (Disclaimer: These are not rated to any industry standard other than Firehouse’s.)

One thing is obvious when listening to Robin Sorensen talk about his restaurants: he has as much passion today for the quality of his food as he’s ever had. He’s a hands on kind of guy who has been involved in every step of recipe and menu development over the seventeen years Firehouse Subs has been in operation.

Customer Favorite: Hook & Ladder

The No. 1  selling sub at Firehouse is the Hook & Ladder. $5.29  It also won out in a nation-wide contest on the company’s Facebook page. It’s made with smoked turkey breast, Smithfield Ham and melted Monterey Jack cheese. It comes “fully involved,” a firefighting term, meaning all the way with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard and mayo.  The Hook & Ladder was also my son’s favorite of all the subs we tasted. He’s a big red meat fan and doesn’t like mustard and mayo, so I was quite surprised that he fell in love with the Hook & Ladder.

Hook & Ladder

All sandwhiches also come with Firehouse’s special dill pickle, the very same ones served at the famous Carnegie Deli in New York City. Packed in the Bronx and shipped to Firehouse, the pickles have that great crispness and indeed evoked memories of New York pickles for me.

Robin’s Favorite: New York Steamer

Corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone cheese, mustard, mayo and Italian dressing.  It’s an understatement to say Robin is crazy in love with the New York Steamer. $5.29 It was indeed awesome. Between bites, he stumped me by asking if I knew what animal pastrami comes from. “No one knows!” he says. It’s beef, and definitely worthy of his love.

New York Steamer

 

My Favorite:  Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket

If I were a 25-year-old male I would pound these back for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were that good. Beef brisket smoked for ten hours, melted cheddar and special sauces, including Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. $5.49 

Firehouse Subs resolved one of the primary reasons I’ve never been wild about submarine sandwhiches – too much boring bread and not enough sandwhich. Ah, but at Firehouse the bread is oh so soft and becomes one with the sandwhich. Just perfect.

The No. 1 selling chip at Firehouse is Miss Vickie’s Jalepeno potato chips. $1.09  Despite my notoriously wimpy mouth, I bravely tried a few and was pleasantly surprised at the subtleness of the heat. Be forewarned, however, that the heat grows with the more you eat.

Everyone’s Fav:  Firehouse Meatball

Who doesn’t love a meatball sub? $5.29  And this one is goooood. First off, the bread is cut somewhat like a hotdog bun to hold the marinara sauce. And the meatballs have loads of imported Pecorino and Romano cheese in them that makes them soft to melt in your mouth.

Firehouse Meatball

Topped with provolone and Italian seasonings, and baked in the oven rather than heated in a microwave, this baby is addictive.

Firehouse Subs is also the only restaurant in the entire nation to have its very own custom Coca-Cola company blended private label soft drink – it’s Cherry Lime-Aid$2.14  And, it even has its very own logo.  

                                                 

The drink was personally taste-tested repeatedly by Robin Sorenson at the Coca-Cola headquarters until it tasted exactly like the cherry lime-aid his mom made when he was growing up. It’s an old local favorite whose recipe was easier to get right in the gallon quantity than in the massive quantities they make in Atlanta for the 420 Firehouse Subs restaurants. It is one of the multitude of flavors in the Coke Freestyle fountain that offers more than 100 Coke brand drink mixtures including soft drinks, flavored waters, sports drinks and lemonades. The key to getting the Cherry Lime-Aid just right is to squeeze  into your drink the fresh lime wedges supplied beside the machines. I squeezed four in my small-sized drink.

Robin Sorensen and the Coke Freestyle Fountain

All digital, the Coke Freestyle carries three different Coke Zero brands  – regular Coke Zero, Cherry Coke Zero and Vanilla Coke Zero. Dedicated Coke Zero fans like me are thrilled when a restaurant carries the basic version. I tried the recommended combination of Vanilla Coke Zero and Fanta Orange Zero for the “creamsicle” and found it quite tasty.

A few days later I was craving another Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket with a Cherry Lime-Aid so I stopped by the Firehouse at Marsh Landing pronto and savored the experience all over again.
 
Today it hit again , so I combined a trip to the wine store with a Cherry Lime-Aid run.  My neighborhood Firehouse is smack dab beside my wine store. How great is that? Even better, the incredibly friendly woman behind the Firehouse counter gave me my Cherry Lime-Aid totally free, and she surely didn’t know who I was.
 

Can it bet any better? Only one way – if there were a Zero version of this awesome cherry stuff.  Just say’n.

Firehouse Subs on Urbanspoon

Repeat After Me: Mike-lers NOT Mick-lers

16 Feb

It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to hear folks mispronounce my family’s name as “Mick-ler” rather than the proper pronunciation of “Mike-ler.” It is our mission to ensure that future generations know how to pronounce “Mickler’s Landing” in Ponte Vedra Beach.  It really is pronounced Mike-lers, even if it’s not spelled that way.

Just last week I heard two people refer to it as “Mick-lers.” One has been here nearly 25 years and never knew there was another pronunciation.

I am part of the Mickler clan that was one of the pioneer families that settled Palm Valley back in the mid-1800s. My mother Nettinell Mickler Altee was cousin to Sydney Mickler who once owned the beach now known as Mickler’s Landing and where Mickler’s Pier once stood, as well as surrounding property.

People will often argue the pronunciation until they are told it was named after our family. Most folks are smart enough to believe us.

There was the time, however, that a boss of mine went into a full-fledged tantrum because I wouldn’t agree to mispronounce my family name.  During college I was a news intern at WTLV in Jacksonville. While in the editing bay one day voicing a piece, it chanced to contain the name in question.  The executive producer popped his head in to be “helpful” and let me know I had mispronounced the landmark’s name, that it was in fact pronounced “Mick-ler.” When I very nicely explained how I knew my pronunciation was correct – I thought his head was going to explode.

 I swear to God, these were his words, “I’m the executive producer, and if I say it’s Mick-ler’s, it’s Mick-lers!”  He stomped off  leaving all of us speechless. I continued on by pronouncing it the only way I could without my mama reaching down from heaven and slapping me upside the head.

I thought for sure there would be hell to pay, but he never said a word. The news director at the time, Howard Kelly, later acknowledged I was correct while giving me a knowing wink. I suspect he informed Mr. Executive Producer how foolish he had been.

You’ll  see the Mickler name throughout this area  including the stone obelisk monument in the Plaza in St. Augustine that includes the names of local war heroes.

As one of the ninth generation of the original Mickler family in Florida,  I’m just doing my part to ensure the honor of the correct pronunciation continues.

Are Conservatives Wimps?

11 Jan

I participate in an invitation only Facebook page for conservatives. It’s where we can say what we feel and let our snarkiness run rampant without offending our liberal friends or being bombarded with opposing rhetoric.

 Maybe it’s simply reflection of  the quality of people I hang out with, but there hasn’t been any mean, crude or ridiculous name calling of liberals.  It’s just honest sharing of how we see the world from a conservative view.

Somehow a person of questionable views sneaked in, an out-of-town **gasp** journalist who proceeded to bestow his approval or disapproval of everyone’s facts and opinions from his journalistic throne. He seemed to think that we needed him to let us know if we were right or wrong.  People simply quit posting because it became tiresome, but no one wanted to say so. Someone finally took him on who  described herself as “having a little Ann Coulter in her.” He was ultimately disinvited and told not to come back.

Many conservatives, myself included, will often just not say anything rather than take on a verbal war with liberals. But when we do voice our opinions, we’re never at a loss for having a liberal standing by ready  to immediately let us know how we are wrong. 

So are we wimps, we conservatives who don’t fight back ? Or are we peacemakers?

I’ve deflected vicious attacks by people I really care about for the crime of not hating Sarah Palin. I don’t love her, but I don’t hate her. Evidently that’s an offense to some of my liberal friends and family. They don’t have any qualms about lighting into me.

I have a rule that I don’t argue politics on someone else’s Facebook wall. To me it’s like arguing politics at someone else’s dinner table. You just don’t do it.  And if you try on my wall, I’ll call you on it.  I’ve also been known to hide the posts of a number of people I really like because I just can’t stand the constant rhetoric about Bill O’Reilly, Fox News, Sarah Palin and the like.

I learned my lesson the last time I argued politics, well sort of, at a dinner table. I had dared to suggest that I believed the woman who claimed Bill O’Reilly sexually harassed her when she worked for him. My father was aghast and livid, proclaiming, “Why would a man that powerful jeopardize it all for some woman?” Uh, Dad – Bill Clinton, John Kennedy, Rudy Giuliani. Let’s just leave it at that I learned my lesson.

I have no problem with people talking about how much they like someone, say Joy Behar. I can’t stand the woman, but it’s okay if you like her. Constantly reading someone else belittling your viewpoints, however, is quite offensive.  Reading that only Nazi loving feeble minded people watch my beloved FOX News is oh so endearing.

 I posted something recently on Twitter about not agreeing with the firing of Juan Williams at NPR.  A local executive decided I needed educating and bombarded me with info, the last of which was a CNN posting of “Are Conservatives Willing to Hear Opposing Viewpoints?” I simply ignored her because she’s rather like a rabid dog with a bone when she wants you to agree with her.  She unfollowed me. I  guess she doesn’t like people having opposing viewpoints.

It’s often the loudest person in the room who silences opposing voices. You know, the guy with the opinion so big he wants to tell you all about it loudly.

Maybe the question we all need to ask ourselves is:  Are we being too much of a loudmouth?

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: Bonefish Grill on $100

7 Jan

So I received a $100 gift card from my ex-mother-in-law for Christmas that would take me to Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill or Bonefish Grill. Bonefish in Jacksonville Beach won the draw, and my friend Sara Sewell and I took off to see what gastronomical wonders we could experience for $100.

It always starts with wine.
Sara Sewell and Cam Brown

We didn’t do anything fancy wine-wise. I stuck with my buttery favorite Kendall Jackson Chardonnay at $8.50 a glass. Sara had the Canyon Road house Cabernet Sauvignon at $5 a glass. The first one went quickly.

We perched ourselves at the long highboy table-tops in the bar that seat about six and where people come and go. It’s a nice way to meet folks and have friendly conversations. We had a variety of companions throughout the evening , including an old family friend. Surprisingly, the service there was top-notch. Often these kinds of spots get lost in the shuffle, but our waitress was very attentive and we were never left unattended. That in itself made dining at Bonefish a nice experience.

We ordered off the appetizer menu and started with Coconut Crusted Shrimp $8.30. The Coconut Crusted Shrimp were honestly the best I have ever had in a town that seems to have claimed them as its specialty. They come six to an order, but we were so anxious that we forgot to photograph them before we dug in.

Coconut shrimp

Sara’s favorite of the evening were the Bacon-Wrapped Atlantic Sea Scallops.  $9.90  Four to an order, they came with chutney and mango salsa. Exquisite.

 

Bacon wrapped atlantic sea scallops

After a breather, we ordered the Wagyu Beef & Ginger Dumplings. These came as a generous portion of six for $7.90.  Handmade of American style Kobe, they are pan-seared with crispy shallots, Thai peppers and soy sauce. The shaved ginger set off the dumplings perfectly. These were my favorites of the evening. (Even tasted great when eaten for breakfast the next morning.)

And the last appetizer portion we tried was a very interesting Mediterranean dish called Saucy Shrimp. $8.30  We received a very generous amount of shrimp tossed with lime, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red peppers, garlic sauce and feta cheese.  It was nice to enjoy such a rich dish without a mound of pasta underneath. We truly enjoyed this, too.

Something we didn’t try because of my wimpy mouth was the Bang Bang Shrimp. It was a very popular item as many in the bar were ordering it.  A friend that joined us shared that the level of spiciness is unpredictable. Sometimes it has a real kick and other times it’s quite mild. I regret not trying it  because it looked delicious.

We shouldn’t have ordered that last glass of wine, because when dessert showed up, it took over and there was no looking back.  The Macadamia Nut Brownie is a yummy, gooey flourless brownie with raspberry sauce and two scoops of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. $5.50 (That Blue Bell vanilla is as good as any of the fancy brands.)  It was so rich and we were so full, we shared it with friends at the table. It’s a good size portion that easily feeds two at the end of a meal.

 

With three glasses of wine each, four appetizers, one big dessert and our bill came to $86.  The rest of the $100 gift card went to the waitress.  So we gauged it just right.

Bonefish isn’t for the budget conscious, unless of course your ex-mother-in-law is  buying.

Bonefish Grill on Urbanspoon

2400 South 3rd Street
Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
(904) 247-4234

Hours
Monday-Thursday 4 pm-10:30 pm
Friday -Saturday 4 pm-11:30 pm
Sunday 4 pm-10pm

Burqa Banning in Jacksonville?

6 Jan

A friend witnessed an unusual exchange the other day in Jacksonville between a woman wearing a burqa and a male Muslim convenience store worker.

When the woman tried to enter the store, the worker denied her entry saying that he had to see the face of anyone entering the store. My friend said the woman was covered head to toe and all you could see were her eyes.

The woman claimed religious freedom to wear the burqa and said she be allowed in the store. It was then that Muslim worker let loose with a diatribe shouting that this was the United States of America and she did not need to resort to wearing a burqa. That America was a great place to live, the land of opportunity, and she should live in the ways of the culture of the country if she wanted to succeed here.

The two then exchanged heated words in their native tongue and the woman left.

My friend said what was so fascinating was how passionate the Muslim convenience store worker was about what America stood for and what it had done for him. And how other Muslims should embrace it.

Then of course we have the Muslim woman living in a country founded on religious freedom being condemned for her choice to wear a burqa.

Or is it really her choice? If she’s wearing a burqa, my guess is that she’s relatively new to the country and totally dependent on her husband for financial support. I cannot imagine anyone hiring her to work for them in this southern city if she has to wear a burqa. So what’s a Muslim woman in the United States to do?

Absent a heavily concentrated community of burqa wearing Muslims, similar to the Hasidic Jewish communities, it is just plain difficult for Muslim women in the U.S. to exist. Much less assimilate.

Only Saudi Arabia and Iran have strict laws enforcing burqa wearing.  This summer France actually outlawed them.

We all know the burqa is a symbol of a severely patriarchal society where women are considered property and evil sexual temptresses to men. (Having men merely control themselves I suppose is out of the question.)

I feel for the woman, but at the same time am proud of the man.

What would you have felt witnessing this exchange?

SPOTLIGHT: Jennifer Symmes, Snoop Dogg and Sarah Palin

4 Jan

I love to write about other people, so who better to profile than my CRACKER JAX Blog subscribers.  This is first in a series of Spotlights taking a look at some of the great people who read the blog. First up…

JENNIFER SYMMES

Jennifer SymmesJennifer lives on Jacksonville’s southside with her husband David and 10-month-old daughter Kenley.  A former news reporter, she now works in public relations as a senior account executive for Access Public Relations. She ran the show for the recent “Chevy Mystery Tour” social media/public relations campaign in which a number of people, including myself, participated.

 

 

 What exactly do you do as a public relations person?
Right now I spend a considerable amount of my time on the General Motors and Jacksonville Aviation Authority accounts. I help clients  make new friends, strengthen relationships with influencers, the media and target members of the community. I also plan fun and cost-effective events and pitch stories to the media.

Have a mad celebrity crush on anyone?
Matt Lauer – because smart men are sexy.

Who fascinates you?
My daughter.

How did you meet your husband David?
A friend and I were leaving a restaurant and she recognized him and walked over to say hi. I thought he was smoking hot, but felt  I was having an “ugly day” so I hung back and waited by the car. After a long time I began to feel stupid, so I walked over to them. David introduced himself and we hit it off immediately and he made me laugh. I asked him to go with me to the wedding of Jack Del Rio’s daughter Lauren that I was covering for the Amelia Islander for a features piece because I thought he’d be a fun date. The wedding was incredible. The bride was stunning. But it was David he really got my attention. He proposed three months later and we married six months after that.

Complete this sentence:  I will know I’ve made it when…..
I am able to travel the world with my family at any moment I wish, with chump change.

What charity are you passionate about?
Operation New Hope. I’m a new board member there. I’m passionate about it because someone I love has struggled with addiction for more than a decade and has been in and out of incarceration.  
Operation New Hope helps that population with second chances, getting back on their feet and a return to self-worth. Even though this person I know comes from a good family – my family – and has received tremendous amounts of support throughout the years from immediate family members, church family and friends, it’s still a struggle. I simply cannot imagine how difficult it is for those who don’t have the type of support Operation New Hope gives.

Favorite book?
“The Alchemist” because it reminds us of the value and lessons from our own unique experiences, and it’s also a beautiful love story.

If you could go away for a week all by yourself, where would you go?
Someplace beautiful where I could talk and listen to God without interruption.

Why do you read the CRACKER JAX blog?
It makes me laugh! And I learn new things about Jacksonville and get a better insight on health-related stuff too.

Wackiest photo op?
Had my photo taken with Sarah Palin at a political fundraiser I helped with. I actually like Mama Grizzly and what she stands for, mostly. But I’m also entertained by her infamous sound-bites and ability to add new words to the dictionary.

What’s your go-to ice breaker story?
During college break, a friend and I were pulled by casting directors in Times Square to appear on an MTV Hip Hop show called Direct Effect. It was mid-December and we were bundled-up head to toe. We thought this sounded a little crazy and fun so we agreed. Once we got into the studio, we realized that many of the locals had purposely planted themselves in Times Square in hopes of getting on the show because off came multiple layers of clothing and these folks were clubbed out!  My friend and I stood there in our poofy sweaters feeling pretty silly. We found out Snoop Dogg and Ludacris were performing on the show..and Snoop Dogg was kicking people out if they couldn’t dance. My friend wanted to bolt out of fear of being humiliated on national television. I talked her into staying by telling her we could just copy everyone else’s moves, plus I secretly felt like I had some moves of my own. Snoop Dogg made his way across the room as he rapped the lyrics to “Gin n Juice.” We were pretty nervous as he came our way, and then he stopped right in front of me. We danced a short tasteful little number and then Snoop carried on. A few people back at school saw it on TV and couldn’t believe their eyes. We survived the experience and had a lot of fun. My friend and I still love to share laughs about it. 

 

Tell us something about yourself that few people know.
I grew up wanting to be a famous dance choreographer, but everyone thought I was crazy and that there was no future in it. Yeah, right. I could have chased my dream. Have you SEEN So You Think You Can Dance?

 

Be sure to follow Jennifer on Twitter. She’s @JennSymmes

And stay tuned for more Spotlight interviews with CRACKER JAX subscribers!

 

 

Just Saying

2 Jan

1 Jan