After twenty-seven years of operation by the venerable restauranteurs Chef Ben and Liza Groshell, who are also the creators and owners of the Fish Camps and Valley Smoke, it’s no surprise that Marker 32 has become one of Jacksonville’s most iconic and well regarded dining destinations. If you have any doubts, just ask the locals that line up at the door at sunset, eager to enjoy the panoramic view of the Intracoastal Waterway while sipping on a glass of carefully curated wine or an expertly prepared cocktail from Marker’s noticeably well stocked bar.
While the view is certainly worthwhile, patrons come for the exceptional hospitality and service delivered by a team of attentive, friendly, and well informed staff. They also appreciate the well earned reputation for culinary excellence that Marker 32 has earned over the years and have come to expect nothing short of remarkable dining experiences.
When Marker 32 first opened its doors, it was a respected seafood restaurant. Today, with culinary leadership from Executive Chef Michael Ayres, they still serve incredible seafood dishes, a few being Seared New Bedford Scallops (with collard greens, creamy grits, roasted corn, basil, shrimp broth), Shrimp Fettucine (andouille, peppers, pecorino, smoked tomato sauce), and Grilled Szechuan Tuna (wasabi whipped potatoes, edamame, baby carrots, Szechuan sauce). Other high end options include chops, lamb, and duck.
Speaking of duck, we had asked Chef Ayres to suggest a dish that would pair exceptionally well with our featured bottle of wine from California’s Napa Valley – Mt. Veeder Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon. His choice was excellent – Seared Duck Breast served on a bed of parsnip purée and toasted farro with haricots verts, a sprinkling of spicy mustard micro greens and a dark pomegranate demi glace made with a touch of Mt. Veeder Cabernet.
The kitchen pays particular attention to detail when it comes to the selection of ingredients and flavor combinations, and this dish hit all the right notes, appealing to all of our senses with conspicuous contrasts in color, texture, flavor, and aroma. Coupled with the wine’s remarkable balance, distinctive aromas, and unmistakable flavors of rich ripe berries, cherries, and plums with a hint of oak and chocolate, the pairing was exceptional.
Without a doubt, a restaurant that’s been in business for this long has lots of history, including an impressive archive of recipes many that have become house staples. When asking about the dishes that have become longstanding favorites, Chef Ayres suggested we try the M32 Broiled Oysters (bacon, pecorino, spinach, sun dried tomatoes), one of Marker 32’s signature dishes that’s perfect for sharing. This was followed by the Warm Spinach Salad (Swiss cheese, mushrooms, bacon, egg, honey tarragon dressing) prepared under enough heat to allow the cheese to melt prior to serving without wilting the greens. Our seafood selection, the Local Catch Hoppin’ John (catch of the day served over black eyed peas, basil pesto rice, tomato compote), displays an unmistakable Southern influence with a touch of contemporary flavor. At Marker 32, it’s considered a “coastal classic.”
When visiting a restaurant for the first time, it can be advantageous to check out the dessert menu before ordering your meal. If there’s something intriguing or noteworthy, you’ll want to be sure to order conservatively, leaving room for sugary nirvana at the end of the meal. You might even want to place your dessert order in advance, just in case they run out.
Upon inquiry, we learned there’s a pastry chef of considerable talent, Chef Aimee Moses, secreted away in the downstairs kitchen. From this space, she turns out everything from breads and cakes to sauces and ice creams, all made from scratch. As with the starters and main dishes produced in the upstairs kitchen, creations will vary according to the time of year and seasonal preferences.
Not wishing to appear too gluttonous, it was decided that two of the featured desserts (Banana Pudding Cheesecake, Pumpkin Mousse Cheesecake) would have to wait for another visit. That being said, at Chef Ayres’ insistence, we sampled two others – Apple Pie Bread Pudding (caramelized Granny Smith apples, black walnuts, cinnamon custard, vanilla Anglaise, house made vanilla ice cream) as well as Sticky Toffee Banana Cake (banana pound cake, sticky toffee sauce, vanilla shortbread crumble, café con leche ice cream). For both of these dishes, in one word: Yum!
Making the restaurant more inviting and comfortable and maintaining undeniable culinary prowess have been obvious priorities for many years. When asked about some of the changes that have taken place, Chef Ayres comments, “We are upscale without being pretentious. Our menu is elevated but not fancy.” He continues, “Many of our guests come for the view. They stay for the food.” From our perspective, the food is marvelous and a reason to visit all by itself. Coupled with the gracious and friendly hospitality, the view is simply icing on the cake.
Marker 32, 14549 Beach Blvd., www.marker32.com.
By Jeffrey Spear
Get the recipe for Marker 32’s Pan Seared Duck with Farro, parsnips, and cabernet pomegranate reduction here.
Pair it with:
Mount Veeder Winery 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon
Grapes: 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot, 3% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot
Tasting Notes: Deep ruby in color with wonderfully rich, ripe berries and summer cherry pie on the nose, complemented by hints of earth, cedar, rosemary, and dried sage. A supple, well-structured palate that’s full, almost juicy, with a slightly mineral edge. Dark cassis fruit layers with bright blackberry, building complexity with layers of mocha and peppercorn. The wine is dry but finishes with a lovely, delicate sweetness derived from its fruit character and 20 months in fine oak barrels.
Winemaker Notes: “Our Mount Veeder vines speak a language all their own. Becoming fluent in that language, fully understanding all its subtleties and nuance is the trick to making great wine from mountain vineyards. Over the years, we have come to know the contours, dips, and ridges of the mountain and the sequence of ripening that is the key to it all. A Mount Veeder harvest is a Zen-like art of moving across a three-dimensional chessboard. Take the uphill side of the vine only, or the downhill side, or just the north, south, east, or west section. We pick only what’s ready and at peak flavor and ripeness. It’s a complex endeavor, and needs to be carved with precision, matching areas of the block that are at the same level of ripeness, and leaving other areas to mature another week or more.”