There’s a new fish camp in St. Augustine
When it comes to finding freshly prepared seafood in Northeast Florida, locals will tell you to go to a fish camp. Historically, fish camps were the places that men would set up camp alongside the water, fish all day, then enjoy their catch in the evening with a few drinks and tall tales. The design of fish camps today pays delicious tribute to this remarkable heritage, especially at the recently opened St. Augustine Fish Camp on the bank of the San Sebastian River.
Located a stone’s throw from St. Augustine’s historic attractions, just south of the St. Augustine Distillery, and nestled into a seafaring port that includes both working fishermen and recreational sailors, this exciting new eatery caters to locals and visitors alike. While you won’t have to catch your own fish, there’s an exceptionally well-stocked bar with an esoteric selection of wines, local brews, bourbons, and spirits; an extensive menu of seafood dishes inspired by Southern culinary traditions; and a warm, friendly, and casual vibe that makes visitors feel more like family than guests.
The restaurant itself, expertly designed by the renowned Jacksonville architectural firm Cronk Duch Architecture, is built on a foundation that once supported a commercial scallop operation. While the only evidence of its history are the doors that serve as a decorative backdrop in the reception area, the restaurant has an aesthetic that is directly influenced by its working waterfront. Complete with an 80-foot dock for individuals who prefer to arrive by water, a coquina beach that runs along its bank, and plenty of outdoor seating, this is the perfect spot to eat, drink, and enjoy the passing parade of commercial fishing boats, recreational craft, kayakers, and the occasional pod of dolphins.
Operated by restaurateurs Ben and Liza Groshell, St. Augustine Fish Camp is the seventh restaurant to open as part of their incredibly successful family of restaurants and fish camps managed by the Southern Table Hospitality group.
“This stretch of the San Sebastian River is very much alive. Based on numerous requests from our patrons for a Fish Camp in St. Augustine, we knew the aesthetic and vibe of this working waterfront would be an ideal location,” Liza Groshell says. “The restaurant is conveniently located near St. Augustine’s historic district. It has plenty of parking, lots of space, and is both casual and comfortable.”
When it comes to the kitchen, the culinary team includes Chef Ben Groshell (also CEO of Southern Table Hospitality), Executive Chef Sean Crowell (a recognized culinary talent in Northeast Florida), and Culinary Director Sergio Zucchelli (a longstanding member of the Southern Table Hospitality group’s team, ensuring the success of all four Fish Camps).
When we asked the staff which dishes were house favorites, the response was unanimous. While not on the menu, their Bay Scallops on the Half Shell (served in a creamy tomato sauce) is regularly featured as a daily special appetizer. Another appetizer that’s a regular among daily specials is Fish Bites (fried fish of the day served with shoestring fries and sriracha lime aioli). Suggested with equal enthusiasm, and deservedly so, are their main dishes—Spicy Seafood Linguini (served with sea scallops, shrimp, calamari, clams, garlic, and white wine) and Fish Camp Shrimp & Grits (served in a white wine butter sauce).
Of course, you can always kick back with a dozen or so freshly shucked oysters, some fried gator tail (served with Cowgill’s datil pepper aioli), and one of their artfully prepared cocktails. If you like gin, the Cucumber Basil Gimlet (Nolet’s Gin, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, cucumber, fresh basil, and lime) is both flavorful and refreshing.
For the purposes of Cinda’s Cellar, we were introduced to Pan Seared Scallops (served on a smear of carrot puree topped with candied Nueske’s bacon and fried rosemary). Sweet, rich, and flavorful, the scallops, bacon, and carrots offer their own distinctive flavors and are the perfect complement to each other as well—this dish is remarkable. Presented alongside a glass of 2018 Rombauer Carneros Chardonnay, displaying all the classic characteristics you’d expect from a well-made chardonnay, this is a flavor-forward and thoroughly enjoyable culinary duo.
It’s important to note that the sous chef who created this dish is Nick Groshell, a recent graduate from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and, yes, Nick is Ben and Liza’s son. Family ties do not stop there: Their daughter, Maxine, looks after front-of-house issues across all of the restaurants in the Southern Table Hospitality group while their other son Jacob takes care of operations at Southern Provisions, the wholesale side of the business.
If you have room for dessert after all of this, check out their Bread Pudding a la Mode. While this is a dish that changes regularly, the bread pudding featured during our visit was cranberry with drizzles of white chocolate and caramel served with vanilla ice cream.
Between the upscale culinary offerings, comfortable and casual setting where fashions from shorts to suits are equally welcome, and vibrant riverside setting, there’s no doubt that the newly opened St. Augustine Fish Camp will receive rave reviews and become a highly sought-after destination on the St. Augustine culinary map.
St. Augustine Fish Camp, 142 Riberia Street, (904) 827-7000, staugustinefishcamp.com.
By Jeffrey Spear
Get sous chef Nick Groshell’s recipe for Seared Scallops with Candied Bacon, Carrot, and Rosemary (pictured at left) here.
Pair it with:
Rombauer Chardonnay 2019
Grapes: Carneros, California Chardonnay
Description: Pale light yellow with a green hue. Aromas of ripe peach, honeydew, and lemon rind intertwine seamlessly with vanilla and spice. The aromas are followed by flavors of lychee and yellow peach which meld perfectly with the cream texture, vanilla and slight butter. The finish builds with more peach and spice, while the acidity maintains the freshness and structure. The wine will continue to gain weight and depth over the next 12 months, revealing additional notes of nectarine, butter, and spice.
Rombauer Vineyards was founded in 1982 by Koerner and Joan Rombauer and sits on a tree-covered knoll overlooking the Napa Valley. The winery features caves that extend for over a mile into the hillside. The caves provide a constant temperature and humidity which result in optimum conditions for aging our wines. Rombauer wines are consistently ranked high in the wine trade journals.
Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it is grown and how it is made. California produces both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines. Somm Secret—The Burgundian subregion of Chablis, while typically using older oak barrels, produces a bright style similar to the unoaked style.