Updated: Aug 23
One evening at Chili's, Richard and Marlene told me about Barbara Jean’s. Richard and Marlene are the parents of a friend in Orlando. They were kind enough to meet up with me in that first month after moving. They even shared the contact info of their friends who played trivia weekly with the team name "Smarter Than a First Grader." It was a great olive branch in helping me adjust to living alone in this unfamiliar city. The couple shared some of their favorite Jacksonville secrets during the weeknight meet-up. Barbara Jeans was on the list of places I just had to try.
An Online Dating Invite
Intrigued by the name and motivated by the recommendation, I decided I would go to Barbara Jean's one day. It was a bit of a tall order, as I didn't have any friends in Jacksonville. It was just me and my dog Gus in those days. In order to recruit some company to go visit the new restaurant, I added a tagline on my online dating profile that said “Let’s go to Barbara Jean’s!” Following the posting, I got messages from guys assuming I’d been there and it was on my list of favorites. Every once in a while I’d explain, no, I haven’t been there yet, but I am looking for someone to visit it with.
Eventually, one charming guy invited me and we nailed down plans. I was late to the date but the drive there was beautiful. Magnificent houses lined the river and trees shaded the roads that wound back to this boathouse-style restaurant.
Perched on the St. John’s River
I finally came across the place. It was somewhere between a cozy family restaurant, boathouse, and country club alcove and a touch of downhome, riverfront comfort. It was welcoming. There was inside seating, a small bar, a few TVs with games playing (it was a Sunday), and a deck beside the water for outside seating. This was one of the 4 cold nights in Florida where sitting outside was a bit much, so we stayed in.
The first thing we tried was the highly recommended crab cakes. This tasty treat was unlike any other crab cakes I’ve ever had. Often crab cakes taste more like imitation crab, bread crumbs, and filler ingredients – rather than the main event. This had delicious, big bites of fresh crab. They also had lemon and a horseradish sauce, but neither was really necessary with the rich flavor of the appetizer.
There was a menu with some exciting alcoholic drinks, but we stuck to basics and didn’t explore these options.
Just Like Grandma’s Cooking – Maybe Better (shhhh)
If you are ever missing the comfort of your grandma’s cooking, this is the place for you. They have pot roast, turkey and gravy, fried chicken, and all those hot dinners that make the home inviting. Even the bread basket they bring to the table is full of treats. There was moist cornbread with jalapenos, dinner rolls, and a sweet bread that my date thought was pumpkin. All three tasted fresh and flavorful, falling apart with each bite.
Because I couldn’t pick just one thing, I got the “veggies” sampler which lets you choose a mix of sides. Though they were listed as veggies, many options were much more. I tried squash casserole (it was my least favorite, but definitely interesting), green beans (so tasty!), and broccoli with cheese and rice (devoured this!). I also got a loaded baked potato. I definitely had a full meal left over for lunch the next day. My date had an enormous Caesar salad.
Things at our table had subsided to a simmer. I learned how my date was studying engineering at UNF and what his thoughts on OKCupid were. Our conversation quickly grew stilted. Our server was friendly and on this quiet night, only a few families and couples filled the restaurant. I saw a coworker from Web.com at what looked like a family birthday celebration. All different generations sat at the table and enjoyed each other’s company. I started ruminating about how when I return here I will sit outside by the river and order the pot roast.
We skipped dessert and went our separate ways. While we would have a second tepid date playing paddle ball on the beach, it was not meant to be. There was nothing that would equal my first date with Michael.
Celebrating the Nocatee House
Two years and one wedding later I returned to this sweet spot on water. I returned for an amazing dinner with Michael and his parents, Donna and Paul. They were visiting from Virginia and closing on their forever home in Del Webb. We did sit inside and I didn't try the pot roast, but it was still epic. I loved the selection of dinner breads which included a sweet pumpkin bread, jalapeño cornbread and honey wheat bread.
I had the pecan chicken fingers with Mac and cheese and broccoli and rice casserole. I paired it with their seasonal Sam Adams which tasted a bit like the sea dog blueberry wheat ale. I sampled my dad's tuna steak which was phenomenal! Even my husband's codfish sandwich was cooked completely perfectly. We had the melted brownie and ice cream and we were totally stuffed. A great meal to celebrate mom and dad's new Nocatee dream home!