Today’s eating adventure is Chowder Ted’s. At first glance, you would probably assume that it’s a dive – a hole in the wall – an undiscovered treasure. But unfortunately, I think A LOT of people think that Chowder Ted’s is their little secret (guess we can’t be BFF’s Ted). It’s been making a splash for awhile now, and as far as I can tell, it’s on the top of a lot of “Must Eat” lists in Jacksonville. It’s up past the JaxPort in the middle of nowhere – no sign (on the road or the building), just a white mailbox before the world’s tiniest bridge. When you pull up, you see a small shack and no designated parking spots…no parking spots are for upscale, big city, elitist eating. Not here. But both you and your car get amazing views while you eat, as it’s right on the water.
Stroll inside my friends. The offering is the same as the outside – five six or seven tables (if you want air conditioned eating that is – there are open air tables on the screened in porch area) and a small bar that seats about five or six. It’s an open kitchen, but mysteriously never gets too hot or too noisy because of it. A few small TVs on the wall, undoubtedly playing sports of some kind. A smattering of fishing and beer memorabilia. Homemade, handwritten signs advertising their offerings. The point is – come in, sit down, enjoy yourself, and leave your hoity-toitiness (sp?) at the door. The same waitress will great you every day with a smile and AMAZING service.
Now – here is the insider tip to Chowder Ted’s. GET THE SPECIAL. That is, get the special if they haven’t already run out for the day. Mahi Mahi is on Thursdays and Ahi Tuna is on Fridays and some other days. Basically, a fresh fish roulette. And it is FRESH – off the boat, caught that morning, sourced right down the street fresh. And you can taste the difference. Sadly, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to get my hands on the Ahi Tuna Steak Sandwich Special. I would sell my first born child, my kidney, my soul to the devil if I could eat that every day. No frills. Just a FAT fresh ahi tuna steak, seared to perfection, lettuce, tomato, special sauce on a bun. I guess I should just shorten that to “heaven on a bun” for ease and effectiveness. My mouth is watering already like Pavlov’s dogs…and I haven’t had one in several months.
I got the Mahi Mahi special today (second time going for this special, first success). The fish was incredibly succulent and the blackening seasoning was SPICY – just how I like it. The mango salsa was nothing to write poems about, but it was the perfect accompaniment to the fresh, juicy fish. Something just as refreshing and slightly sweet to cut through the heat. Unless slaw is sitting proudly like a crown atop a pulled pork BBQ sandwich, I usually ignore and discard the dressed-up vegetable side. The asian dressing on this coleslaw was not too overpowering (as some tend to be with the sesame), but the rockstar of the meal is always the fish/protein, so it kind of plays the part of middle child (sorry middle children of the world, swear you are still loved!). I saw on one of their special menu boards that they had fried crawfish tails today…it was beyond difficult to pass up those undoubtedly delicious gems, but I’m coming for you next time, mudbugs!
The previous outing to Chowder Ted’s allowed me to try their Cajun Burger (after pouting about the 86’ed Mahi Mahi special, I was assured I would not be disappointed with this one). The Burger was FAT (or PHAT…I think both incarnations of the word are appropriate here). It was a big honking juicy piece of meat – just what the doctor ordered for a post-meal coma. This burger came also on the spicy side (hello – when do I not try the spicy stuff) and came with their secret sauce on the burger. One of my eating partners was impressed I finished the whole thing as a girl – a challenge and accolades I’ll willingly accept – but it definitely wasn’t easy. It’s highly likely that while you are eating, you’ll see countless pots exit the kitchen and enter the dining room. When I say pots, I mean literal pots. The tiny pots you heat a cup of soup in or boil very tiny amounts of water in – the kind at the back of your cabinets that have been passed down to you from your mom, her mom, and her mom’s mom. These unassuming vessels, however, contain their famous chowder (or is it chowdah?). The pot should tell you all you need to know – just good food without any frills. Don’t worry – it’s also on the list of “Things to Be Devoured” on my next trip to CT’s (if you beat me to it, let me know how it is!).
Insider Tip #2 – Get the onion rings. And no matter what meal you get, get extra sides of their secret sauce. The onion rings are some of the best I’ve sampled. Crispy, not overly greasy. And they stay together! How many onion rings have you had where you take one bite, and the entire strip of onion comes out in one fail swoop and leaves you looking like you learned your eating manners from a caveman? Not so here – the onion stays put with its crispy exterior sealant – exactly where it should be. The secret sauce is an orangish concoction…which I’m guessing definitely contains mayonnaise and their blackening season. It’s a bit on the spicy side too – so beware if you’ve already ordered something spicy or can’t handle the heat. Either way, always an excellent choice with the fries or onion rings. My other usual eating partner at Chowder Ted’s swears you need both their secret sauce and the greenish chunky “hot” island sauce they leave on the table – regardless of what you are eating. I’ll let you be the judge, but I’ll say it’s not a bad idea. It’s a pretty tasty combination, and that island sauce is pretty damn amazing too.
Insider Tip #3 – BRING CASH and be prepared to wait. Yep, cash only establishment. In a crazy world where no one carries cash, it is an inconvenience, but I understand their need to eliminate or lessen the fees associated with each swipe of a customer credit card. Plus, the food is so good and their reputation is so amazing, people are willing to pay via this soon to be extinct method. Be prepared to wait. Especially if there are more than two people in your party and can’t sit at the bar and don’t want to melt in this Florida heat on the screened-in porch. Some days there’s a crazy long line, some days you can get right in. Some days you can still get the special at 1:30, other days they’ve sold out by 11:30. I guess the moral of the story is, be patient. You won’t be disappointed. I promise you. Plus, you’re paying for freshness, but day old, frozen fish they bought too much of the day before and didn’t sell.
One last thing – if you go, promise me you won’t blab about it to all your friends. Take only the one or two friends you really like (not the ones you put up with or only hang out with because you loaned them your lawnmower/blowdryer/other appliance) and swear them to secrecy. Otherwise, I might have to talk to management about a secret password to get in, and no one wants that.