I recently spotted Howard Kirk, the chef at Riverside's 13 Gypsies, dining at 5 Points' Corner Taco, which prompted a question: Where do local chefs choose to eat when they're not at work devouring their own culinary creations? After all, these guys know food, so maybe their choices can inform ours.
I put the question — four questions, actually: 1.) What three restaurants do you frequent the most in Northeast Florida? 2.) What's your go-to dish at these places? 3.) Why do you eat most often at your favorite spot? 4.) What's your guilty culinary pleasure? — to four high-profile local chefs. Their answers were illuminating.
Scott Schwartz, 29 South Restaurant (Fernandina Beach), chef for 23 years
1. Taverna, Black Sheep, Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails.
2. Taverna's pasta with pork Ragu, Black Sheep's pastrami sandwich topped with chicken liver mousse, and Moxie's fried chicken livers or the short rib.
3. The restaurant I eat at most often in Northeast Florida is Taverna because I love the simple approach to classic Italian cooking.
4. Good old-school soul food at the Soul Food Bistro. My wife only lets me eat there a couple times a year, but sometimes I sneak in a lunch with the boys. Always finish the meal with a slice of hummingbird cake.
Chris Dickerson, Corner Taco (5 Points), chef for 8 years
1. Orsay, 13 Gypsies, Pom's.
2. Steak frites at Orsay, duck shu mai at Pom's, chorizo at 13 Gypsies.
3. The restaurant I eat at most often in Northeast Florida is Orsay because it's so solid.
4. Chocolate soufflé at Roy's.
Tom Gray, Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails (St. Johns Town Center), chef for 18 years
1. I have many favorites — too many to mention! When I'm with my family, we try to hit spots my son enjoys, so that usually means Sakura for sushi and Picasso's for the pizza.
2. Sakura's tuna salad, octopus salad and the sushi rolls. At Picasso's, Chef Chris knows I'm in the house when "The Gift" is ordered with the Mediterranean crust, marinara on the side.
3. The restaurant I eat at most often in Northeast Florida is Taverna because, when it's date night, it's close to home and offers fresh, flavorful choices.
4. Ice cream. Just can't get enough — I'm a sucker for anything salty/sweet like salted caramel, or peanut butter and chocolate.
Dennis Chan, Blue Bamboo (Southside), chef for 9 years
1. Just had a great dinner at Moxie. Went to Tacolu for lunch yesterday, and I also love El Ranchito on Beach near San Pablo. But since I have very little time away from Blue Bamboo, Las Antillas across the street from us has the best Puerto Rican mofongo and lechon roast pork around, and I can't beat the convenience.
2. Love that mofongo with roast pork!
3. The restaurant I eat at most often in Northeast Florida is Las Antillas because they're neighbors, their food is excellent and they're a sweet family restaurant.
4. Oh, man, I love the illegal late-night taco stand on University Boulevard after a busy weekend night on the line. Their tacos are $2 each, and my health inspector told me what to order!