BITE-SIZED

Not Your Ordinary Fish Camp

Unexpected flavor combinations make this hidden gem worth finding

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Arriving at this tucked away spot along Roscoe Road gives the feeling you have discovered a hidden gem in North Florida’s dining scene. A lengthy line of patrons eagerly awaiting a table will quickly remind you that this secret has spread quickly. Call in a reservation, and you’ll be golden.

The interior features soothing pastels, large windows that draw abundant natural lighting and a simple open layout that allows for gazing at the intracoastal waterway. This comfortable, laid-back atmosphere blends seamlessly with a menu that focuses on using simple ingredients to concoct complex flavor combinations at reasonable prices. The result is quintessential Ponte Vedra: a refined personification of traditional Coastal Florida cuisine infused with influences of the traditional farming roots of Palm Valley and a reliance on ingredients like the datil pepper.

The specials are carefully written across a blackboard in colored chalk, and several vie for attention. The fried artichoke hearts with a creamy lemony aioli and lemon wedge are a must; bite-sized with a light cornmeal crust and sprinkled generously with shaved parmesan, they're light enough not to ruin your appetite for dinner.

The grilled octopus and white bean salad with a slightly spicy but not overwhelming datil pepper vinaigrette is a flavor and texture explosion: Chewy, warm pieces of seasoned octopus contrast the creamy oversized white beans served atop mixed greens, colorful julienned carrots and chunks of tomato. If you’ve never had octopus, I urge you to give it a try. The Asian-inspired chopped tuna salad combines almond slivers, tomato, black sesame seeds and chopped seared ahi tuna drizzled with spicy Siracha and wasabi.

The pan-fried cod sandwich is a big piece of fresh flaky white fish resting between thick tomato slices, crisp lettuce and a toasted hoagie roll accompanied by a light turnip slaw and pile of seasoned wedge fries, which I enjoy dousing with tangy malt vinegar.

Other popular items include Mayport shrimp and grits, blue crab cakes and, if you’re into sharing, a low country boil with shrimp, clams, crawfish and Andouille sausage for two. The fresh fish selection changes frequently, making each trip to PVFC an exciting new adventure.

After being let in on a secret, it's only fair I share it with you: Order Palm Valley’s bread pudding for dessert. It’s made-to-order, so inform your server when you pick your entrée because it can take quite awhile to prepare on busy nights. This sweet delicacy changes based on the availability of seasonal fruits and is dusted with powdered sugar then topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Since it’s made to order and not baked and reheated, the treat is light, not dense like other bread puddings.

Another tip is to try an early dinner Sunday evening when the restaurant is less crowded. Enjoy the relaxed beach vibe at this off-the-beaten-path hideaway and lose yourself in the experience. Just make sure I get in line first.

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