Where to Eat in Jacksonville, Florida, according to a Chef

Where to Eat in Jacksonville, Florida, according to a Chef

Last summer, celebrated chef Kevin Sbraga announced that his eponymous dining group, which includes Sbraga and The Fat Ham restaurants in Philadelphia, would open a new outpost in Jacksonville, Florida. Sbraga has strong ties to the Sunshine State—his grandmother was born in Jacksonville, and his alma mater is Johnson & Wales University in Miami—but is still spending time exploring Jacksonville’s dining scene ahead of his restaurant opening in fall. Here are five places you might find Sbraga during his frequent trips to the River City.

1. Jacksonville Farmers’ Market
“The Jacksonville Farmers’ Market is one of my favorite places to buy ingredients. The prices are great, but it’s the abundance of it that I like. Last time I was there, I saw something that was new for me: bullet grapes. And I can never leave without stopping at a booth all the way at the end of the market that sells fresh field peas. They shuck them right there. It’s the same process over and over again, but I like seeing it. Someone could sell fresh peas in the pod and call it a day, but they’re in the booth, taking each bean out, cleaning them and packaging them in a little Ziploc bag so they’re ready to go. I’m inspired and impressed by that. Also, there’s a booth that sold me the first spicy boiled peanuts I’d ever enjoyed in my life.”
1810 W. Beaver St., Jacksonville, FL 32209, (904) 354-2821

2. Jenkins Quality Barbecue
“I’d heard about Jenkins while researching BBQ places in Jax; it’s been around since 1957. We happened to pass the Downtown restaurant, so we stopped in. We all ordered ribs with Jenkins’ hot sauce, which has a little bit of sweetness with a serious kick of mustard and cayenne. We sat down, peeled back the bread, and I took a little piece of meat. My eyes just opened up. By the time we finished eating, our mouths were burning, my nose was runny, and Ben (our director of operations) said, ‘This might be my best BBQ experience ever.’ The funny thing is, we had just finished lunch. We weren’t hungry. But once we started eating those ribs, we couldn’t stop. I’ve had mustard-based BBQ before and I’m not a huge fan of it, but man, Jenkins does it right.”
830 Pearl St., Jacksonville, FL 32202, (904) 353-6388

3. Bold Bean Coffee Roasters
“There’s good coffee everywhere in Philly. With its exposed bricks, Chemex system, and industrial-meets-rustic décor, Bold Bean could fit in among Philadelphia’s coffee shops any day of the week. I enjoy the coffee and the pastries, which range from tomato tarts to old-fashioned pecan sandies. Every time I’m there, I order something different. The number of people in line spoke volumes to me during my first visit—there was a line out the door all morning. If Jacksonville takes its coffee that seriously, they’ll take everything else seriously.”
869 Stockton St., Jacksonville, FL 32204, (904) 855-1181

4. Dos Gatos
“Dos Gatos was one of those names I heard multiple times from people who know the Jax bar scene. It has this speakeasy vibe, since the name isn’t on the door. The décor is dark. But it’s not pretentious or fussy. They have an amazing cocktail list, but I like my classics. Last time I went, I ordered a dirty gin martini. It was perfect. That night I wound up having three. All three tasted exactly the same. That doesn’t always happen. There’s this little booth at the end of the bar, right next to the entry to the back room. Try to sit there. You can see everything, from the bartenders making elaborate drinks to people singing karaoke on Monday nights.”
123 E. Forsyth St., Jacksonville, FL 32202, (904) 354-0666

5. Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails
“Chef Tom Gray’s hospitality makes Moxie one of my favorite places in town. The first time I met him, I was eating lunch there. We got to chatting, and we both went into chef mode; he invited me into his kitchen, and we were talking about grills and comparing notes. Last month, Tom and I hosted a collaboration dinner at Moxie. Tom and his team were first class all the way. From the organization, to the timing and execution, to the quality of ingredients—there’s a passion and dedication they have that is amazing. And for Tom to open up his kitchen to me the way he did, I really appreciated that. It kind of brought me back to Philadelphia. The chef community in Philly is honestly one of the best in the country. There’s a competitiveness but also respect. I saw that in Tom and I love that about him.

Two of my favorite dishes from Moxie are the crispy pig ears and the grilled octopus. Last time I was there, Tom did something with smoked tomatoes that was just phenomenal. It was this explosion of flavor. The menu is always changing, but trust me—ask for that smoked tomato dish and the pig ears. Oh, and sit at the chef’s counter by the kitchen. It’s the best seat in the house.”
4972 Big Island Dr., Jacksonville, FL 32246, (904) 998-9744

>>Next: Wandering Chef: Little Owl’s Joey Campanaro in Miami

Jen grew up in Pt. Pleasant, NJ (yes, the Shore), escaped to school in Boston, and fell in love with travel when she went abroad to study in Australia. After nearly ten years of eating and drinking herself silly in NYC, she finally reached the west coast. Things that makes her happy: the ocean, books, mountains, bikes, friends, good beer, ice cream, unplanned adventures, football, live music.
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