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RESTAURANT OF THE WEEK
A PERSONAL REVIEW OF RESTAURANTS AROUND THE WORLD

CLARK'S FISH CAMP
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA
Updated Review

This is a ramshackle institution in Jacksonville that sits right on Julington Creek in a beautiful water setting.  When you think of a "creek" you probably envision a small little stream.  This particular "creek" is as big as many rivers and it's really scenic.  Think of a "Huck Finn" setting and that's what we have here! The restaurant is billed as "The People's Place" where the locals eat in a section of town known as Mandarin.

Now that we've dined at Clarks probably a couple dozen times, I think the following two statements can be made for Clark's:

Clark's is a very good restaurant.
Clark's is a horrible restaurant.

It all depends on what you order!  We haven't tried everything on the menu but we'll give you an idea of what direction to take while dining here.  First we'll cover the appetizers.  The conch fritters are quite good.  Crispy and light on the outside, gooey inside with chewy bites of conch.  And those chewy little nuggets prove it really is conch!  Our very favorite appetizer at Clark's is Brinda's Seafood Bake with garlic toast.  It's a creamy, cheesey mix of fish, shrimp and crab and goes perfectly with the garlic toast.  The fried dill pickles are passable but very greasy.  We recently tried an onion loaf with jalapeno rings and it was good.  As for the things you should not try off the appetizer list we'll start with the steamed clams.  First of all they are not little necks or cherrystones.  They would appear to have traveled from some far away nation and I'm sure they did.  They were kind of white colored with an odd, dark streak.  Weird!   I've eaten clams all over the world and I've never seen anything that resembles these flavorless, rubbery odd balls.  Turns out I was at a grocery store later and saw a big box of frozen clams just like the ones that appeared at Clark's.  Their birth place was Vietnam.  I have nothing against Vietnam but since we've got abundant clams right in our own backyard, why not use the fresh stuff? 

Some friends told us that we had to try the prime rib stuffed portabella mushrooms.  We did and it wasn't very good.  The meat tasted old, like from last night's unused meat.  Maybe we just got a bad batch but I wouldn't order them again.

For the main courses, just about any fried seafood item will turn out quite well.  We've had all their fried seafood platters and they're all good.  The fried conch is extremely good.  Their huge cut of prime rib is very good although it doesn't look appealing on the plate for some reason. Just avoid the fancy stuff and you'll be okay.  One time I made the terrible mistake of ordering the "jumbo shrimp" Caribbean style.  It was awful.  There were two skewers, each with five medium shrimp.  They had been seasoned with something like Old Bay on one side only and then cooked some way, maybe even micro-waved.  They were awful!  Another diner once tried stuffed flounder.  Not good.

This is not the type of place that PETA members would patronize.  There are dozens if not hundreds of stuffed animals of every type throughout the shack -- everything from raccoons to big, wild cats.  Inside, diners sit at big, wooden tables.  Outside picnic tables are provided.

Part of the Clark's experience is to come a little bit early and observe the wildlife in the water around the place.  Chances are good that you'll see a small alligator or two (we've seen many) and lots of turtles.  On our last visit we saw a four foot water snake meandering around in the weed filled water.  And keep an eye around the edges of the creek and you'll see great blue herons, great egrets and other beautiful water birds.  Keep an eye up in the sky over the creek and you're likely to see an osprey.  Manatees also visit the creek.

Before we dined here for the first time, we asked locals about the place.  We heard the same theme over and over again.  They told us that Clark's used to be good a long time ago but that it had gone to hell in a hand basket and wasn't worth going there now.  I would disagree with that and as I mentioned earlier, if you know what to order, you should have a nice meal here.  The servers are very friendly and you can't beat the "old Florida" ambience.

Despite the sentiment of some people I talked to about Clark's, it is extremely popular and the big parking lot fills up fast.  I've seen near fights break out over a parking hole.  And often on a busy Saturday night, people park on the little, tiny street leading up to the restaurant often walking several blocks to Clark's.

If you're ever in the Jacksonville area and want to try something local and unique, give this place a try.  Maps to the restaurant along with menus and other details are on their web site here.  But get here early!  They open at 4:30pm.