Check any list of Jacksonville’s top restaurants and you’re bound to see perennial favorite bb’s. Their cuisine is self described as American Continental, but pan-Asian and classic European influences have entered the repertoire over the years, creating an amalgam of flavor and style that co-owner Barbara Bredehoeft calls “One World Cuisine.”
Situated in Jacksonville’s toney Southbank area, just minutes from San Marco and the downtown business district, the industrial chic style of the restaurant has changed little over the years. The mood is lively and unpretentious. bb’s is a place to see and be seen, and on any given night the dining room will be filled with local luminaries, regular patrons and travelers, many of whom have been drawn to the place based on solid online reviews from Trip Advisor.
The open dining room with its long banquette and snug tables rings with lively conversation. Activity in the kitchen can be observed over the high counter. The small room fills fast, and for years there was a no-reservations policy. The advent of Open Table changed that, and reservations are now not only accepted, but often necessary. The hostesses are instructed to keep a few tables open for the walk-in trade, and most nights there is at least a short wait.
General Manager Jonas Loh has been with bb’s since 2007. After working with Ritz-Carlton in Asia, he arrived in the states in 2002 and attended Johnson and Wales in Providence, RI. He first came to bb’s as an assistant floor manager, and when former GM Alan DeVault moved on to open Black Sheep, Jonas took over sommelier duties and eventually became general manager. With his culinary training, he is equally comfortable working with front and back of the house operations.
Loh appreciates the laid-back Southern style of Jacksonville. He is proud that bb’s presents an upscale atmosphere without pretense or stuffiness. “We’re not New York, we’re not Chicago. People ask about the dress code here, I tell them it’s whatever makes you feel comfortable,” he explains.
Bredehoeft credits him with shifting the culture of the restaurant and building a dedicated, highly functioning team, as evidenced by the extremely low staff turnover. “Service means more than anything to us. Relationships are paramount here,” she notes.
Loh is transitioning into a managing partner role, a big step for him and for Bredehoeft. He affords her peace of mind with the knowledge that things are running smoothly while she divides her time between bb’s and its sister restaurant Biscottis in Avondale.
The one-hundred seat restaurant is open six days a week. The menu here is fresh, local fare prepared from scratch, with ample portions and affordable prices.
A favorite appetizer is Polenta Styxx – thick slices of cheesy creamy polenta, stacked Lincoln log style on a pool of blue cheese vinaigrette. Sharing is encouraged, but make sure you scoop plenty of that magic cheese sauce.
Strong choices for lunch include White Truffle Pizza with roasted mushrooms, shaved parmigiano, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto ham and arugula, and the Grilled Fish BLT on herbed focaccia, with roasted tomato remoulade and applewood smoked bacon. The Pan Asian Chop Chop Salad and an ever popular Grilled Salmon Salad are also in high demand.
Dinner crowds enjoy a seasonally inspired set of entrées with nightly specials that take advantage of local produce and an array of fresh seafood, meat and poultry.
Luscious but light pappardelle pasta is studded with Sapelo Island clams, P.E.I. mussels, braised octopus, pickled shrimp, saffron cream, shaved fennel, and cherry tomatoes.
The Alder Wood Smoked Pork Tenderloin with apple preparations, roasted onions, grilled sweet potato, and brown sugar and Georgia pecan sauce elevates a classic Southern comfort food taste profile with clean, modern presentation.
The dinner menu especially showcases the talent of bb’s executive chef, Chris Cohen. A graduate of the New England Culinary Institute, his technical skills are matched by his inviting, simply elegant presentations. A relative newcomer, he will have been with bb’s just two years this May.
We are impressed with the symphony of flavors, textures and temperatures he produces in the presentation of a Pan-seared Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast. It is plated atop a coconut scented sweet potato purée, accompanied by Brussels sprouts and baby carrots. The dish is napped with a sweet black currant sauce, and topped with cool, crisp julienne of watermelon radish.
From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday, a popular brunch menu is served.
There is an award winning wine list with several by-the-glass selections, as well as a full bar.
A few years ago, they created a separate entrance for the restaurant’s gourmet take-out business, and nearby hotel guests and river bank dwellers take full advantage of this option. This spring some small renovations to the bar area are planned.
One icon of the restaurant that hasn’t changed over the years is the glowing dessert case in the back of the main room. Whatever you may have heard about the desserts at bb’s and Biscottis is most likely true: They are legendary. bb’s signature Croissant Bread Pudding with golden raisins and currants is a best in class example of the not-to-be missed dessert offerings. Enormous slices of layer cakes and tortes are delicious, shareable favorites as well.
For lunch, brunch, dinner and decadent desserts, bb’s lives up to its slogan: it is indeed a groovy place to be.
bb’s, 1019 Hendricks Avenue, 306-0100, www.bbsrestaurant.com.
Mon. – Thurs. 11:00 a.m.–10:30 p.m.
Fri. – Sat. 11:00 a.m.–Midnight
Sun. – Closed
Article written by Nancy White
See wine notes for Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012