Mayport's Safe Harbor may be your perfect lunch spot. (Lose the Jimmy Buffett, please.)
4379 Ocean St., Ste. 3, Mayport
Caron Streibich covers dining out throughout Northeast Florida. If you have information about new restaurant openings, menu changes or other food-related news, contact her here. Streibich is also the host of our regular Folio Weekly Bite Club gatherings. Follow the Bite Club on Facebook or Twitter to learn more about it.
Off the beaten path in Mayport Village lies a hidden gem with remarkably fresh seafood, reasonable prices, outdoor seating and speedy, friendly service.
Upon arriving, we found a sprawling counter with fresh fish and seafood galore. Looking to our left, we saw an oversized menu hanging above a smaller counter.
We ordered, then took our number and headed outside to a spacious covered deck overlooking the river. A nice breeze wafted through the air as we sat down to the sounds of Jimmy Buffett and seagulls cheerfully gawking in the near distance. Our lunch arrived minutes later.
I was impressed that, for $5.99, I could get a dozen steamed oysters with cocktail sauce, melted butter and a lemon wedge. After devouring all 12, I dug into my blackened scallop basket ($10.99), overflowing with crisp crinkle-cut French fries, a cup of coleslaw and two hushpuppies. Believe me when I say that these were some of the freshest, most perfectly cooked scallops — my plastic fork cut right through them! — I've eaten in a while. And the slightly sweet hushpuppies had nice crunchy exteriors and warm, moist centers, and were accompanied by a mild Thai chili dipping sauce. The coleslaw deserves praise, too, as it was lightly dressed instead of being slathered in mayo like at some restaurants.
If fries and coleslaw aren't your thing, there are other side items for $2.99, including fried okra and buttermilk ranch, a twice-baked potato, bacon black-eyed peas and green bean medley.
It was my first visit, so I was interested in exploring the menu further. The shrimp po'boy ($10.99) — available with grilled, blackened or fried shrimp — looked tempting. A soft, oversized hoagie roll was stuffed with shredded romaine, juicy tomato slices, rémoulade and freshly breaded shrimp (we ordered it fried). While messy, it was also bursting with flavor.
The shrimp tacos ($10.99) are also winners. Tossed in a datil pepper sauce, the shrimp were bite-sized, and the basket they arrived in was stocked with build-it-yourself fixings — warm corn tortillas, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce and crema.
Safe Harbor offers wine and domestic bottles and cans of locally brewed beer. I chose to cool off (it was 81 degrees in December!) with a can of Green Room Brewing's Pablo Beach Ale ($5).
There were also soups, salads and sweets on the menu, but I was much too full. I'll be back soon, though.