Jacksonville has been to the food scene what the British Isles is to European cookery. They have never identified themselves as a city with culinary prowess. At most, it has been a culinarily boring city with chain restaurants, okay bar-b-que, and poorly treated seafood. But there are now chefs and restaurateurs who are working to break that mold. They are determined to show the world that Jacksonville is more than mediocre. Whether it is with shrimp and grits in a paper boat out of a food truck or seared scallops on a china plate in a brick and mortar establishment, Jacksonville’s food profile is on the rise.
The Salty Fig is a prime example of such endeavors. The Salty Fig was welcomed with open arms as a food truck, but now Jacksonville is ready to experience their new dining room in Riverside. They are taking the term “Southern Gastropub” and running with in the correct direction. You see fingerprints of the Southeastern United States all over the menu. There are many traditional culinary delights with the modern twist of the gastropub. They even go as far as using moonshine and bourbon to create drinks that speak of the South, which are just the drink Callie and I choose to begin with.
The Salty Fig Manhattan, fig infused Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Averna Amaro, house made rhubarb bitters, $10
The classic Manhattan with a proprietary twist. They not only chose to use a whiskey more attuned to the South (bourbon), but also chose to infuse it with their namesake -figs. Their take uses Averna Amaro instead of the usual sweet vermouth. The fig infusion, along with a little help from the Averna Amaro, helps to soften the cocktail creating a much smoother drink than the traditional version. The presence of the bitters is just as noticeable as a normal Manhattan, however, the rhubarb flavors get lost in the mix. The cherry on top is tuned into one of the infused figs in the bottom of the glass.
The Dark Moon, Catdaddy moonshine, lemon, agave nectar, apple juice, ginger ale, $9.
I have no confirmation of where the name comes from, but I am sure it is because this drink will sneak up on you. It is a light, refreshing lemonade with a bit of carbonation. Nothing too sweet or sour, you can barely tell the moonshine is in the cocktail. A sure treat for the sweltering summers to come in Jacksonville.
The Salty Fig offers six other specialty cocktails, all of which sounded more than intriguing. They also offer twenty bottled and canned beers and eight tapped beers of local, craft and big beer companies. As well as a wine list that consists of more than 25 reds, whites, sparkling, and blends.
Crawfish Goat Cheese Croquettes, tomato coulis, sweet potato butter, $10.
A well-presented plate of four fritters with traces of crawfish sprinkled with goat cheese and finished with the accompaniment. The dish was not bad; it was just not what they said it was. Being a croquette, it should have been a large amount of crawfish meat bound together with a goat cheese béchamel. There are certain things that allow for artistic direction, misleading a customer into what they are buying is not. After delicious cocktails, the appetizer left me and my dining companion wanting. The flavors and components were there, but there were elements missing in the execution.
Cochon de Lait, braised pork, jalapeno cornbread, poached hen egg, mushroom fricassee, scallion hollandaise, $20.
Cochon de Lait traditionally is an open pit roasted suckling pig, usually basted with copious amounts of wine, butter and Louisiana style hot sauce. The Salty Fig’s take is a braised pork dish served over cornbread which did not seem to have jalapenos in it by flavor or sight. The egg was poached decently; it was a little over done, but still had a nice creamy yolk to ooze over the ingredients below. The mushroom fricassee was nothing special. The scallion hollandaise was just hollandaise with scallions sprinkled over it, no infusion of flavor at all. All together the dish was good, nothing done bad, but nothing to wow the guest.
Grilled Cobia, spring ratatouille, pork belly tapenade, $24.
Though the dish may be a little early for spring, it pronounces those bright, sweet flavors we associate with the first spring harvest almost dangerously. The cobia was beautiful and perfectly cooked. The Ratatouille was not forced by using out of season ingredients yet still had the body and flavors you would expect of the classic French dish. The pork belly tapenade brought a nice salt and acid to the dish, though the pork belly gets lost really quick in the dish, the smell is prominent when first brought to the table.
Nothing piqued our interest from the dessert menu of beignets, pot de crèmes, and cobbler.
The Salty Fig is doing a difficult thing in a city that still loves its meat and potatoes, but they are doing it at the right time and in the right place. Being in Riverside and offering fare such as they do will allow them to grow to an audience that is ready for what they bring to the table. They still have some things to improve on, namely execution and pricing. Twenty dollars for an okay braised pork dish is a little pricey, especially when they have the fresh cobia priced at an appropriate twenty four dollars. I will not be standing in line to eat dinner here, but a nice lunch of their Plant City Strawberry Salad and a Sunday afternoon original cocktail are probably in the near future.