WJCTNews.org's "Hidden Gems" is a new web-only series checking out some of the great places in Jacksonville you may not know exist.
It may seem strange to call a restaurant that Jacksonville Magazine recently said has the "Best Downtown Hamburger" and "Best Downtown Takeout" a hidden gem, but the guys at Chomp Chomp think the title fits.
"That's us!" says Mark Lynn, who co-owns the restaurant with Ian Chase (who also owns The Fox Restaurant in Avondale) and John Touchton (who, along with Lynn, used to work for Chase at The Fox). The three of them, as well as everyone who works in their kitchen, love to make sure their restaurant has a fun atmosphere by not taking themselves too seriously. This is on full display when you walk in to see heavy metal-themed barstools and a cardboard box that's permanently labeled "free kittens."
Located near the corner of Ocean and Adams Streets in downtown (next to Burro Bar), Chomp Chomp offers an affordable selection of what they describe as "chef-inspired street food" and "classic sandwiches with a twist." A look at their chalkboard menu shows an eclectic mix of flavors crafted by their chef Ian Jernigan - everything from cheeseburgers to chicken satay, bahn mi to jerk chicken. I personally recommend the Westsider, a buffalo chicken sandwich topped with blue cheese and celery coleslaw.
They offer a good selection of vegetarian and vegan options as well, including tofu versions of most of their sandwiches.
The menu also shows their love of creating humorously named specials like an "Italian catfish" sandwich (which is actually chicken with mozzerella and prosciutto), a Super Mario-themed Portobello mushroom burger they call a "1-Up," and a corn dog they've dubbed the "Charles Mingus Dingus" in honor of the Jacksonville Jazz Festival. They update these specials all of the time, and often have ones themed for a specific event or date (for example, a recent special celebrated singer Morrisey's birthday). Touchton says that specials can often become fixtures on the menu if they're requested enough by customers.
Another thing to note is that nearly everything at Chomp Chomp is made in-house, including all of their sauces and dressings, and their curry/jerk spiced potato chips. One exception is their bread, which they get from local bakery French Pantry.
Along with being ranked in Jacksonville Magazine's recent "Best of Jax" issue, Chomp Chomp also enjoys high ratings on both Yelp and Urban Spoon. So, again, why consider it a hidden gem? Well, it can be easy to miss the restaurant's stylized window sign while driving by (they've recently added another sign to help with that), and the owners say that they spend no money on marketing themselves. I, like many, learned about it through a recommendation from someone - which is exactly what the owners want. They rely solely on customer word-of-mouth to drive new business, and trust that their food will bring people back for more.
"When a new person comes in, we know that they'll be back next week," says Chase, "and we know that they're going to bring their friends with them."
Chomp Chomp is located at 106 E Adams Street in downtown. They're open for lunch Tuesday-Friday, for dinner Thursday-Saturday, and open till 2:00AM Fridays and Saturdays. Because of the restaurant's small size, seating can be an issue at times, but the food is just as amazing as takeout.
Seriously, try the Westsider.