Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille

The gastropub is one of the biggest and most welcome trends in the modern culinary landscape. What could be better than paring responsible quantities of quality beer with quality food?

the speckled hen

Jacksonville's newest gastropub is The Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille and it's already generating quite a buzz despite being open for only a matter of weeks. Situated just north of the movie theaters at the Avenues on US 1 in a spot previously inhabited by a Beef O'Brady's, it's clear that The Speckled Hen intends to rely on much more than location to bring in business. While it may seem like an odd choice of venue, that part of town is sorely lacking in the dinner and drinks department, making this ambitious newcomer the logical choice when either of those are in your plans and you happen to be in the neighborhood.

the speckled hen

The draft beer options are a little slim at the moment but they do have some good brews available, including Duke's Cold Nose Brown Ale by Jacksonville's very own Bold City Brewery. I think there were about eight taps up and running when we visited and I can only assume that they plan to expand their collection as the restaurant gains some momentum.

the speckled hen

But although this place is a self-proclaimed "Gastropub" (and rightly so), the food really is the centerpiece of the experience. Rather than dabbling in clever variations on typical bar food, the creative minds behind The Speckled Hen have instead taken their influence from the cuisine of the surrounding landscape with an incredible variety of Southern themed dishes. Reading through the menu, it's hard not to order one of everything just to try it all. Among the many appetizers (which we regrettably did not get to try) there are gems like Duck Fries, Wood-grilled Datil Pepper Glazed Chicken Drumettes, King Crab Mac N' Cheese, Beer Braised Short Rib Spring Rolls, and Pickled Shrimp. Out of these items and the rest of the appetizers, there's not a single one I wouldn't love to try.

the speckled hen

Moving onto the entrees reveals even more oddly delicious sounding meals like the Root Beer Glazed Bone-In Pork Chop and the Crispy Fried Cornmeal Crusted Catfish. It was a tough decision but I ended up settling on the Wood-grilled Sweet Tea Brined Chicken Breast which was covered in melted goat cheese and sweet red pepper "chow chow" and served over some pieces of their chipotle cornbread. I've had some pretty amazing meals over the past few months, both locally and in distant cities, but this one may just top them all. While one may be tempted to write off some of the quirkier menu items as gimmicks, there's no denying their brilliance after a few glorious mouthfuls.

Be excited, fellow Northeast Floridians. Things are getting interesting around here and The Speckled Hen just upped the game. This is one place I won't have a hard time revisiting in lieu of trying something new.

Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille on Urbanspoon

Speckled Hen Tavern & Grille
9475-16 Phillips Highway
Jacksonville, FL 32256


Frederick Wright said...

Great review of a very promising restaurant. I felt the same way when reading the menu -- I wanted to try everything, from top to bottom each dish was a winner. Actual execution was lacking for our meal, just a touch, perhaps because they'd been open only a short time and are still fine-tuning. I can't wait to go back.

Andrea Gonzales said...

We checked out Speckled Hen this past Sunday evening after reading your review. The ambiance was great and our server was very nice and fairly attentive. We had the sausage trio appetizer, which was delicious. Following appetizers, however, our experience took a turn for the worse. It took WAY too long to receive our entrees (despite the fact that they were not busy, only 2-3 other tables and they all already had their food) and they were lukewarm, at best. I ordered the Sweet Tea Chicken after reading your glowing review and was quite disappointed - again, it was lukewarm and I just felt like it wasn't as good as I expected. Maybe it was an off night...I will keep an eye out for more reviews and maybe try again if it seems like my experience was a fluke.