One of Jacksonville’s most culturally and historically significant neighborhoods is Riverside-Avondale. With its lively Five Points commercial district comprising a wide range of eclectic and intriguing shops, bars, and restaurants, there’s always something new and exciting going on.
One of the most awaited events in the ‘hood was the opening of Derby House Diner on the corner of Park and Margaret Streets. While locals may remember this eatery as Derby on Park (if you’re old enough, you may even remember this was originally a Texaco station), it has changed hands and is now owned by Chad Munsey and Michael Schmidt – owners of The Bearded Pig in San Marco and the Rec Room, also in Five Points.
Described as a modern American diner, this is an indication that a few changes to the traditional diner formula have been made. While the overall footprint of the restaurant is familiar, it has been given a significant makeover – opening up the patio space, installing new furnishings, and presenting an engaging new menu.
According to Munsey, “This iconic restaurant was, for the majority of its sixty years, a diner. We celebrate this history, starting from the ground up, with a few modern touches and a completely new menu that responds more to the tastes and preferences of this community.”
With starters including Buffalo Fried Green Tomatoes (buffalo-pimento cheese, bacon, green onions, blue cheese crumbles) and Devilled Eggs (fried potato croquette, Parmesan tuile, pickled onion, avocado mayo), sandwiches such as Patty Melt, Reuben (made with house cooked corned beef), and Crispy Catfish Po’ Boy, a variety of salads and burgers, and tempting main dishes including Blackened Salmon (sweet potato-quinoa hash, wilted greens, pesto, kale crisps) and Boneless Pork Chops (whole grain mustard mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, ranch compound butter), it’s easy to see that the culinary heritage associated with the “diner” moniker, along with creative infusions of regional flavors and ingredients, has been embraced.
Of course, you’ll want to have an enjoyable cocktail or glass of wine or beer to accompany your meal. With its well stocked bar, there’s plenty to choose from to quench your thirst.
For the purposes of this column, we paired a bottle of Pomelo 2017 Sauvignon Blanc with the Blackened Salmon. This sauvignon blanc is a light, fragrant, and refreshing wine with fresh bright citrus notes. Considering the warm summer weather (we opted to dine on the patio), it was a wonderful accompaniment to our meal. Of course, a cool white wine enjoyed alongside a tasty preparation of salmon is always a great idea. That being said, we sampled a variety of dishes on the menu, all of which paired exceptionally well with this eminently drinkable wine.
It goes without saying that no respectable diner, even this modern American diner, is complete without its breakfast foods. While Derby House Diner only serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, the breakfast offerings are substantial. There’s Chicken and Waffles, Biscuits and Gravy, Corned Beef Hash, Bagel and Lox, Eggs Benedict and many other deliciously compelling options.
When asked what’s good, Munsey suggested, “If you like French Toast, this is the dish on our brunch menu worth trying. That being said, we’ve got a lot to offer. The best dishes tend to be the ones you’re in the mood for.”
For individuals with lifestyle preferences or dietary needs that call for vegetarian, vegan, and/or gluten free options, Derby House Diner has gone out of its way with a surprising number of menu options including the Beyond Bowl (ground Beyond Burger, farro, Brussels, pistachios, kale, romesco sauce) and Ancient Grain Salad (farro, orange quinoa, kale, blueberries, spiced sweet potatoes, pistachios, smoked tomato vinaigrette).
For patrons seeking gluten free options: Derby House Diner uses corn meal and rice flour exclusively in all of its fried foods, meaning that everything that comes out of the fryer can be enjoyed without hesitation. If you’ve been craving a side of fries, or feel compelled to try the Broccoli-Chick Pea Fritters or Fried Pickles, go ahead and dig in.
It’s obvious that the culinary traditions that started in Five Points so many decades ago have taken root once again in Derby House Diner. Everything is affordably priced, well presented and worth checking out. This is traditional diner food elevated a notch, and made accessible for everyone.
By the way, there’s a curious cocktail on their menu called Naked ‘N’ Famous (Vida mezcal, Aperol, yellow Chartreuse, and lime). If you happen to notice anyone running around the Five Points intersection in their birthday suits, this could be the reason why.
Derby House Diner, 1068 Park Street (at Margaret), 379-3343. (Call for hours.)
By Jeffrey Spear
Pair it with:
Pomelo Sauvignon Blanc 2017
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Description: Aromas of fragrant white blossoms lead to white peach, melon and ripe citrus on the palate complemented by a lovely lemon curd finish.
Light and ripe, this Sauvignon Blanc is energetic and bright. White grapefruit and a line of minerality keep it geared up while making it a magical pairing with seafood or appetizers; it is a wonderful summer wine. White peach is perky on the finish.
The rich, red volcanic soils of Mason Vineyard in Lake County provide ripe Sauvignon Blanc flavor and body year after year. Fruit from the coastal influenced Monterey County and from the mineral rich soils of Clarksburg provide added complexity to our blend.
Our various blocks are harvested at optimal ripeness and then separately fermented in stainless steel tanks at cold (50°F) temperatures to retain varietal character and bright, clean fruit flavors.