Jacksonville is lovingly referred to by its residents as “the country’s biggest small town” for its close-knit community feel that thrives in what is the nation’s biggest city by landmass.
Part of this close-knit community feel is the city’s sustainable foodie culture, which has been growing in recent years, but is even more important after the pandemic caused sustainability to be top-of-mind for many.
Congaree and Penn was established in 2014 by Scott and Lindsay Meyer as the area’s first rice mill, but also grows fruits and other produce, features a farm-to-table restaurant and offers agrotourism experiences, like a morning hike with the farm’s goat friends that ends with a delicious brunch. The farm’s 300 acres offers plenty of fun activities for the whole family, plus seasonal fruit-picking experiences and event space for weddings.
Two other restaurants, Town Hall and Prati Italia, are run by Jacksonville’s resident celebrity chef, two-time James Beard Award-nominated Chef Tom Gray, who was inspired during his time working in California to bring sustainability and farm-to-table restaurants to his home city.
“Some of the best things about working with smaller farmers, vendors and producers are that they tend to specialize in one or two things, so you’re often seeing the best of the best…and that translates into flavor,” said Gray. On both restaurants’ websites, guests can find a list of just some of the local vendors, purveyors and farmers who supply the restaurants with fresh, often organic ingredients.
Prati Italia offers delicious Italian cuisine, while Town Hall offers a bit of everything, with a nod to Florida’s traditional seafood heritage. Both of the restaurants feature seasonal menus which reflect the importance of local produce: “Oftentimes we’re looking at produce first to decide how the menu should evolve,” said Gray.
As a way to continue cooking food for people during the pandemic, Gray partnered with a local grocer to offer freshly prepared to-go meals based upon his signature dishes, often offering gluten-free and vegan options.
A quick scroll through the city’s restaurant listing on Yelp displays a wealth of diverse, locally-owned restaurants serving everything from delicious ramen to mouth-watering Brazilian barbecue, offering something for every palate.
For more information on Jacksonville’s foodie culture, please click here.