16 June 2007

Deep Fried Jacksonville

Jacksonville is one of those cities that doesn't even really belong in Florida. It gets cold in the winter; Spanish is not the PRIMARY language spoken; and, anywhere else in Florida, hosting something called "The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party" would be considered a badge of honor - not Jacksonville. No, Jacksonville is a misplaced southern city. Most folks realize that the rest of the state is not part of "The South," but rather is at the end of the off-ramp from a secret exit off of the Long Island Expressway.

I decided to take a few days last month to see the ACC Baseball Tournament in Jacksonville. From previous visits, I have found Jacksonville to be lacking somewhat in viable dining options. Fortunately, just prior to this trip, I found out that my cholesterol level was at a very respectable 151. Armed with that information, and taking into account Jacksonville's southern roots, I went out in search of some serious fried critters.

My first serious food stop was Clark's Fish Camp. This place was recommended by a serious foodie buddy, so I was really looking forward to it. Finding Clark's is a bit of a challenge. It isn't on any main road - requires a number of turns to get to from any direction, and is past a road sign that reads "DEAD END." I am kind of amazed that I made it there. I didn't get an exterior shot of this place because I arrived in the evening, with very little daylight - and there ain't much lighting on the exterior of this place to take photos. The parking lot (and adjoining street) was PACKED with cars.

Clark's is famous for their wildlife theme. Greeting you as you walk in the door is this nature scene...

"Florida Kitsch" is the best way I can describe the decorations that are not dead/stuffed animals...

This was the antler chandelier (one of many) that hung over my table....
If you want to see the food, continue down below the fold

I ordered the fried shrimp and fish combo, with fries and mac and cheese.
My buddy recommended the shrimp, and I should learn to take his recommendations very seriously. The shrimp was the star of the plate - by far. They were flavorful and plump - and were not overpowered by the light breading and frying process, which can often happen. Tilapia, which I like (in general), is not a fish that is coducive to frying very well. The nature of the fish is that it takes it's flavor from the preparation - and the frying didn't do well - it tasted like nothing. Catfish, cod, grouper (yeah, right!) - anything would have been better than tilapia. The fries were probably a little better than OK - and the mac and cheese was ordinary. It wasn't until after I left that I realized that my plate did not include the promised hush puppies. I was plenty full, so I didn't even notice them until I was discussing my dinner with a friend later on.

I screwed up on the ordering - should have just gotten the fried shrimp. However, my plan was to hit O'Steen's in St. Augustine at some point during the weekend, and I knew I would be having their fried shrimp (maybe my favorite), so I balked and split the meal with fish - my bad.

I do not often order dessert, but I was in the mood. What better way to end a deep-fried meal than with...
deep-fried cheesecake with a raspberry sauce. Mmmmm...good. I tried to get a picture of the inside of one of these bad boys, but the lighting would not not cooperate with my camera (and/or operator), and all the photos came out too blurry to use. I ate about half and took the rest back to the hotel. Bad move - this wasn't something that fared well after cooling off substantially. The cheesecake was wonderful warm. It was almost just a different dessert altogether than just to think about cheesecake. I have never even tried any of the deep-fried "fair" food (fried snickers, twinkies, coke, etc.). It just sounded good - for that night. The texture changed completely (not soggy), though, when they cooled - again, not horrible - but, it just wasn't the same experience that I had earlier. While they were no longer hot in the hotel room, they weren't cold, either - just room temperature - and it just didn't work for me.

If I am ever sentenced to be in Jacksonville again, I would give this place another shot - but, I will probably stick to the fried shrimp!

Clark's Fishing Camp • 12903 Hood Landing Road • Mandarin, FL 32258 • (904) 268-FISH (3474)

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