This has been a fun week in Jacksonville as some great restaurants from around the city teamed up to celebrate October as National Seafood Month. Discounted dishes were offered in hopes of promoting the health benefits of eating seafood. Luckily, we get some of the freshest. Any excuse is a good excuse to eat seafood, so I headed to the beach to try a local favorite, North Beach Fish Camp.
Located at one of the busiest intersections in Neptune Beach, only a block from the ocean, North Beach Fish Camp offers a contemporary, beach casual feel. This is a restaurant that serves the traditional oyster po’ boy, crab cakes, scallops and fish filet, but with a unique and classy spin. I was lucky enough to be invited into the kitchen by the executive chef, Mike Riska, who prepared two of his favorite signature dishes: Mayport Shrimp & Grits with White Wine Butter Sauce, and a Soft Shell Crab Po’ Boy. “The key to good seafood is freshness. The biggest thing we focus on is getting fresh quality seafood,” explained Riska. For example, the soft shell crab that Mike was about to throw in the pan was caught less than 24 hours earlier in the St. Johns River.
“I love working with the fish purveyors we have” he continued, “Being right here on the beach is great too, doesn’t get much better than that. We see so much great seafood coming through, it’s exciting.”
The soft shell crab is dipped in an egg wash mixture, then corn meal breading, and placed in a hot pan covered in olive oil. Cooked on each side for a few minutes, then tossed in the oven for another. The bun is toasted sourdough, topped with an Old Bay aioli spread, marinated green tomato salad and sunflower sprouts. Served with a side of thinly sliced French fries, this sandwich is the perfect lunch po’ boy.
Next up is a classic, the Fish Camp Shrimp and Grits. Mike takes Mayport shrimp that’s peeled and deveined, covers them in salt and pepper, then places them in a hot pan for under one minute on both sides. He adds in celery, red onions, red pepper, fennel, garlic, white wine fish sauce, a little white wine and fresh lemon juice. The shrimp are then taken out and placed on top of the grits. The sauce is reduced and slowly poured on top of the shrimp and grits. Even if you’re not a fan of grits, I promise you’re going to love this dish. The shrimp are huge and the sauce is amazing. By far, this is the best shrimp and grits that I have ever had.
Grilled Octopus & White Bean Salad, Fried Gator Tail with Cowgill’s Datil Pepper Aioli and Spicy Clam Linguini all sound amazing and are served daily at North Beach Fish Camp.
Whether you stop in for a healthy seafood dinner, or for a local ice-cold brew, North Beach Fish Camp is something you have to experience.