While thinking about a food and wine pairing for this month’s column, the long-awaited opening of Cowford Chophouse took place just off the Main Street Bridge on the northeast corner of Bay and Main in Downtown Jacksonville. Although the building stood vacant and in disrepair for many years, and much had been said about its status, there is finally new life and vitality at these crossroads that’s worth investigating.
Featuring classic chophouse fare with coastal and southern influences, a beautifully detailed two-story dining room, and a spacious rooftop lounge with a spectacular panoramic view of the city that takes in the cityscape along the St. Johns River, Cowford Chophouse provides a magnificent setting for cocktails as well as truly indulgent meals.
Under the culinary leadership of Executive Chef Ian Lynch (previously presiding over the kitchens at Bistro Aix, Ovinte and Il Desco), the steakhouse menu is distinguished by the inclusion of regionally and creatively-inspired dishes such as Duck Fat Cornbread adorned with Maine lobster and lump crab meat, Seared Tuna with togarashi (a spicy Japanese chili pepper), cucumber, radish, sour plum sauce, pickled plums and mint, as well as a few familiar sides including Onion Strings, Sautéed Spinach & Kale, and Mac & Cheese.
When asked what makes Cowford Chophouse special, Chef Lynch points out that this is a locally owned, locally operated, stand-alone restaurant. He also mentions his wood-fired grill stoked with oak and pecan woods, the charcoal and wood fueled Bertha oven (the only one in Jacksonville), and the attention to detail that infuses everything they make. “Dining at Cowford Chophouse is a unique experience. While we like to push the envelope and offer something different, we also strive to meet expectations and satisfy local preferences,” he says.
Considering the celebratory nature of champagne, and recognizing that a visit to the Cowford Chophouse would be a festive affair, we asked Chef Lynch to recommend something special to pair with our bottle of Ferrari Brut.
If you have not yet tried this bubbly from the Italian region of Trento, it is interesting to note that Ferrari was named the “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year” at the 2017 Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships in London.
Their Brut is a product of 100% Chardonnay grapes, displays notes of ripe apples, caramel, and a subtle fragrance of yeast along with an effervescence (perlage) that is fine and persistent. All by itself, it is a very enjoyable sparkling wine. It’s also a delicious way to enjoy a meal, either as the perfect companion to appetizers or paired with your favorite seafood dish.
Chef Lynch agreed that, while chops are the restaurant’s focus, fish would make a better pairing. Accordingly, he presented us with a Pan-Seared Red Grouper served with puréed celery root, braised leeks, confit onions and a sauce vierge (a French sauce typically made from olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato and herbs).
Being overly curious and somewhat gluttonous, there were a few appetizers, sides, and at least one chop (Chef Lynch recommended the Ribeye Cap “Spinalis”) that we decided should make an appearance on our table as well.
Since the intrigue of the Duck Fat Cornbread prevailed, and the Avocado Crema seemed mysterious, these were the first two dishes we requested. While we were also curious about the Seared Tuna, we agreed this would have to be set aside for future visits. Our appetizers were followed by the grouper and a few sides, including Potatoes Au Gratin and Sautéed Spinach & Kale. Being a fan of delicately fried, thinly sliced onion rings, the Onion Strings were a welcomed addition to the table. We agreed that a side of Mac & Cheese (my favorite food group) would also be reserved for another time.
The grouper was beautifully presented, undeniably flavorful, and completely worthwhile (see recipe here). The lean, slightly sweet, and firm texture of the fish contrasted nicely with the purée, leeks and onions. While preparation may be a bit time consuming, the end result is impressive and well worth the effort.
At the conclusion of the meal, Executive Pastry Chef Michael Bump surprised us with two of his inspired creations – Carrot Cake and Cinnamon Roll Brulée. The former is a beautifully presented confection in a class of its own. The latter, while not as attractive, is a wonderfully sweet, crowd pleasing, sensation.
We were gratified to discover the Ferrari Brut paired perfectly with the grouper, as well as all of the dishes that preceded it. It’s easy to say that every dish that was placed before us, from start to finish, was expertly prepared and presented with tremendous finesse. Coupled with the panoramic views of the city, impressive décor, and impeccable service, the visit to Cowford Chophouse was a thoroughly delightful experience.
101 E Bay St., 862-6464, cowfordchophouse.com.
By Jeffrey Spear • Photos by laird
Read recipe by Sous Chef Riley Oates for Cowford Chophouse Fish of the Day: Seared Red Grouper, celery root purée, braised leeks, confit onions, sauce vierge
Pair it with: Ferrari Brut
Grapes: 100% Chardonnay
Description: Straw yellow with slight green reflections, the nose is fresh and lasting, with significant overtones of ripe golden apples, wild flowers and a subtle, delicate fragrance of yeast. Clean and balanced, with a pleasant finish of ripe fruit and a hint of bread-crust. It is a sparkling wine of pronounced finesse. Perfect served as an aperitif or with lighter dishes, especially seafood.
Ferrari was born in 1902 through the efforts of Giulio Ferrari. After his studies in France, Ferrari returned to Trentino, Italy and planted Chardonnay, which no one had done before. Ferrari was convinced that through the combination of Trentino terroir, the innovative use of Chardonnay and the use of the traditional metodo classico, he could make world-class sparkling wines. By 1906, the awards started to roll in and Ferrari was well on its way to producing what would shortly become the most famous sparkling wine in all of Italy. In 1952, Giulio Ferrari chose Bruno Lunelli, a friend and local merchant as successor for his beloved business. Today the third generation of the Lunelli family is at the helm and the winery continues to be a perennial Tre Bicchieri winner.
By Jeffrey Spears • photos by laird