Jacksonville’s impressive history is often talked about in terms of the remarkable events, people, and places that have given it character. When it comes to culinary impact, one of the most enduring and highly regarded restaurants contributing to the cool and groovy vibe of the city is bb’s, a perennial favorite in the Southbank neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from the St. Johns River in historic San Marco. Independently owned and operated, bb’s is celebrating twenty years of warm and friendly hospitality, an award winning wine list, and consistently creative deliciousness emanating from its kitchen.
For many of its most ardent followers, their most important attribute is an exquisite range of house-made desserts, most notably Carrot Cake, Salted Caramel Mocha Cake, Bread Pudding, and Tropical Orange Gran Marnier Cake. It’s not surprising to see some of these customers going out of their way to carefully inspect the cakes on display and select their dessert in advance, often before they’ve even been seated.
This being said, its reputation as one of the best restaurants in Northeast Florida was not built upon sugar alone. Referencing experiences in Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and New Orleans, coupled with a Puerto Rican heritage, Executive Chef Tito Quiñones creatively executes American and ethnically inspired dishes in a manner that consistently wins praise from patrons.
While some restaurants are formulaic and simply respond to whatever might be trending, bb’s takes a noticeably different approach. Chef Quiñones explains, “We like to be creative and have a little fun in the kitchen, finding inspiration from global cuisines and infusing it into the dishes we serve.” He continues, “Offering plenty of flavorful and intriguing choices on our menu is just one of the many reasons we’ve endured for so many years.”
It only takes one visit to appreciate bb’s creative menu. From appetizers including Pepperjack Bacon Arancini (with Cajun cream sauce), Duck Wonton Napoleon (caramelized onions, green apples, boursin cheese, balsamic syrup drizzle) and Shrimp Lollipops (sweet Thai chili, cilantro sesame aioli) to main dishes such as Halibut (parmesan crust, potato lobster rissoles, balsamic basil butter, haricot verts) and Grilled Qalbi Marinated Chicken (wasabi mashed potato, tri-color cauliflower, garlic sweet soy reduction), every dish is memorable.
Of note is bb’s extensive wine list. With an abundance of familiar reds, whites, and bubblies to satisfy every palate, there’s also an impressive selection of chef-driven favorites for the serious oenophile.
For our purposes, we were looking for something that would pair nicely with Orin Swift’s Eight Years in the Desert 2018 California (Red Wine). According to the winemaker, creating a wine that fully exploits the character of Zinfandel with added nuance and complexity from Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Grenache requires the Goldilocks principle: If grapes are picked too early, the wine will be stemmy. Pick them too late, you could end up with an improperly developed wine. It’s quite clear that, when tasting Orin Swift’s Eight Years in the Desert, the grapes were picked at exactly the right time.
Recognizing the bold and distinctive character of the wine (true to form for this remarkable California winemaker), we requested a dish that displayed equal strength in terms of flavor and style. Without hesitation, Chef Quiñones recommended BBQ Pork Cheeks – a dish influenced by the increasingly popular cuisine from America’s South. A bed of risotto (in place of grits) that incorporates sweet corn and Vidalia onion coupled with grilled peach halves and a bourbon brown sugar sauce elevates this dish way beyond ordinary. It’s also worth noting that the kitchen sources its humanely raised Danish “Red” Duroc pork from Beeler’s, a sixth generation, Iowa-based, hog farm recognized as “The Original Hogfather.”
Assuming you might fancy a cocktail to kickstart your meal, bb’s maintains a nicely stocked bar and an intriguing list of craft cocktails. While the basic b. (pumpkin infused vodka, kahlua, cream and pumpkin spice simple syrup) caught our attention as the perfect autumnal drink, the Tea-Off (tropical tea infused vodka, simple syrup, fresh mint, San Pellegrino limonata) sounded exotically refreshing, and the Paper Plane (bulleit rye whiskey, aperol, amaro) was elegantly simple, it was suggested that we pair the BBQ Pork Cheeks with Thyme on My Hands, a curious yet satisfying cocktail made with High West Double Rye, muddled thyme and fresh peach, maple simple syrup, and bitters.
With hospitality second to none, culinary delights streaming from the kitchen, seductive sweet treats in the pastry case, and libations galore from the bar, you’ll be well looked after. With this in mind, there’s no doubt that bb’s will endure as part of Jacksonville’s cool and groovy character for at least another twenty years.
By Jeffrey Spear
bb’s restaurant and bar, 1019 Hendricks Ave., 306-0100, www.bbsrestaurant.com. Open Monday – Saturday.
Pair it with:
Orin Swift Cellars Eight Years in the Desert 2018
Grapes: Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Grenache
Description: The wine opens with ripe raspberry and blackberry, dark plum preserves, chocolate, and hints of black pepper and clove. The palate is packed with blueberry, black cherry, cocoa and spice, with a velvety finish.
Working with Zinfandel requires use of the Goldilocks principle – pick it too early and you end up with a stemmy wine; pick it too late and you risk a stuck fermentation; pick it just right … Zinfandel tends to have more acidity than other grapes at the same sugar levels, making it necessary to let them ripen more than usual. Resulting in alcohols rarely seen below 15%.
Eight Years in the Desert is the newest masterpiece from Orin Swift Cellars. Their winemaker, Dave Phinney, has recently been named Winemaker of the Year by Wine Enthusiast.
The 2018 vintage marks the third release of the eight-year passion play known as Eight Years in the Desert. While the wine will continue to evolve, the labels have a pre-ordained nature: all born from the original eight featured in the limited edition, they will release in sequential order. Much like the wine, the labels are a complement to the spirit of the project. All the wines are double blind tasted and, over ten months, slowly assembled into the final blend.