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As Tastes Change, What Is Jacksonville's Signature Dish?

Jacksonville’s culinary landscape is continually evolving, but a few signature dishes have survived the shifting landscape, as new plates make their mark.One relative newcomer, shrimp and grits, has become a staple at many Jacksonville restaurants, as noted in a recentFlorida Times-Union article.

Dave McDonald, author of local restaurant review website Jax Food Critic, has been hearing local buzz around another traditional Southern favorite.

“I often get asked about biscuits and gravy,” McDonald said. “Jacksonville is very fond of them.”

McDonald cited what he said was the "amazing" offerings at Maple Street Biscuit Co. The eatery first opened in 2012 in San Marco and has since expanded to a second location in Jacksonville Beach.

McDonald said he also is frequently asked about shrimp and grits, and he noted another regional, albeit not traditionally Southern, favorite that has gained popularity in the city—chicken and waffles.

When asked on Twitter, followers of both McDonald and WJCT said the city is home to several well liked tacos, notably fish tacos.

“I think Jacksonville is still in the process of figuring out our culinary identity,” said Cari Sánchez-Potter.

Sánchez-Potter is the owner and producer of The Legend Series of pop-up dining events and the general manager at Intuition Ale Works with a M.A. in gastronomy from the University of Adelaide.

She said while both shrimp and grits and biscuits and gravy are popular, they aren’t signature to the city.

In previous Times-Union articles, the Lubi sandwich and barbecue ribs have been cited as city favorites.

There is one dish both Sánchez-Potter and Caron Streibich, “Bite-Sized” columnist at Folio Weekly and co-founder of Jax Truckies food truck group, agree is unique to Jacksonville—the camel rider.

Credit Nate M. / Yelp
The Stan Hudmon Club Rider at Whiteway Delicatessen on Jacksonville's Westside.

The camel rider, or rider for short, is a sandwich tucked into a pita, often served with a side of tabbouleh salad.

The New York Times profiled the dish in July 2012, calling it a “totemic food” for the city.

Asked about how the city’s food scene has evolved, Streibich said that over the last 15 years there has been a big shift and emphasis on locally grown produce and seasonal flavors.

“While Jacksonville is behind other major cities in many regards our food scene and quality of the chefs and restaurants has vastly improved over the past 10-15 years,” Streibich said.

“People are demanding quality and are experimenting with more diverse menu offerings,” she said, citing the listing of local farms like Twinn Bridges and KYV Farms and other local supply partners on menus.

Despite what remains a slow period of economic recovery across the country, Streibich said some of the city's newest restaurants, like Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails at the Town Center, and Hawkers Asian Street Fare and Corner Taco, both in the 5 Points section of Riverside, are thriving.

You can follow Patrick Donges on Twitter @patrickhdonges.

Patrick Donges served as WJCT's Digital Content Editor from August 2013 - August 2014.