RE: Weekend on Florida's First Coast
Thu, 03/8/12 7:05 PM
My hotel was the Hyatt Regency, right on the waterfront in downtown Jacksonville. Directly across the street was a rather large yacht, that truthfully, I thought was some kind of restaurant. Instead, the young valet told me that it was a personal boat for new Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. After the nap, I was quite ready for dinner. My destination was a place that has appeared in the Roadfood books for a long time, Whitey's Fish Camp. This would be my first visit here. With a name like a fish camp, I was expecting some rustic backwoods rundown cottage, surrounded by picnic tables. Arriving, I was shocked to see just how big the was and how crowded the parking lot was. Whitey's even has their own hair salon! Knowing this was a Stern's review, I decided to keep an open mind, but this wasn't at all what I was expecting. Once inside, they asked if I wanted to eat inside (immediate seating) or outside (30 minute wait). Now normally, I hate eating outside. Sun, rain, wind, bugs, I would much rather eating indoors. But, with a place like this, right next to the water, I thought it would be worth the wait. And instead of 30 minutes, I was shown to a picnic table in a screened in area in no more than ten minutes. Here is the view of the water from my seat and you can see where customers eating at Whitey's can tie up their boat. The inside looks vaguely like what you would think a fish camp would look like and no doubt that the outside seating here has much better Roadfood atmosphere. I also appreciated that your table is outfitted with everything you could need for your dinner, with squeegee bottles of cocktail and tartar sauce, plus ketchup and most importantly, a roll of paper towels. The menu offers lots of different seafood options, but they are best known for the all-you-can-eat catfish dinner. Catfish isn't my favorite food in the world, but I was impressed that they have wild caught and not farm raised catfish. Foregoing the all-you-can-eat, I went with a two entree combo, with the catfish as one and blackened shrimp as the other. When the food is delivered, it all comes on one big plate, with an empty container on top, to be used for shells, scales and bones. As one of the sides, I went with the red beans and rice, which is listed, strangely enough as a soup, since it came highly recommended by Bruce Bilmes and Sue Boyle in their review. The beans were certainly canned and there was no broth to this soup, but the combination of firm beans and smoked sausage was terrific and this may have been my favorite item at Whitey's. The macaroni cheese side was ordinary and I ate it just out of habit. The blackened shrimp, which came in an approximate 1/2 lb. portion size and were strongly suggested by my waitress Cole, were excellent. Highly seasoned and very fresh tasting, I was glad I listened to her. Even better was the catfish, which I received two fairly large lengths, which comes in a tasty cornmeal coating. And even an inexperienced catfish eater like myself have no difficulty removing the firm fish from the bones. I could have eaten a lot more of this catfish. When I asked if the desserts were homemade and the answer was yes, there was no doubt that some key lime pie became necessary. Not the best version ever, but it was properly tart and sweet, with a pleasant graham cracker crust. Whitey's Fish Camp was a much better experience thatn I thought it would be when I first arrived and I'm glad I gave it a chance. And this place is obviously a local favorite, because it stayed busy during the entire time I was here. From there, it was straight back to the hotel for the night.