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RESTAURANT OF THE WEEK
When researching good, down home, seafood restaurants in the Jacksonville area several names came up. People recommended a number of places including Clark's Fish Camp, Whitey's Fish Camp, The Outback Crab Shack and others. Gene's Seafood did not come up. Nobody recommended it. Then again nobody counseled us to stay away from it.
When checking out the internet for Jacksonville seafood restaurants, this small chain's name came up. Quite a few people said good things about it so we decided to dine here.
Our meal came at their University Blvd. restaurant. From the outside it appears to be a tiny place tucked in a small strip mall. But once inside, it's a pretty good size place with beautiful aquariums filled with tropical fish from the South Pacific. Many of the critters swimming in the tank were familiar since we've been to the South Pacific (Tahiti, Cook Islands, Fiji) several times. And there was a nice, large bar in back with a bunch of local, salty characters discussing the day's events over pitchers of cold beer.
Surprisingly, only three tables were occupied. Not a good sign! Then again it was early, very early, only 4:45pm. And all of the diners appeared to be locals. That's a good sign!
Our waitress was quick to take our drink order and recite the daily specials. I can't remember what the first one was but the second was coconut shrimp.
In this part of the country, soft drinks are served in huge glasses. My diet coke and my wife's iced tea came in, oh I'd say, probably 24 ounce glasses! We put in an order of conch fritters and fried dill pickles to start. Yes, fried dill pickles! They're very popular in Northeast Florida and they're good!
I've been disappointed with conch fritters so far in Jacksonville. They've been nothing more than glorified hush puppies with no noticeable conch meat. And not very many per order. Here, however, the appetizer order was huge and these babies were perfect! The best in Jacksonville! They were crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. And there were plenty of morsels of good, chewy conch meat inside. Very well done. The dipping sauce was a little strange, however. It was kind of like an Asian sweet and sour but not quite. The fried dill pickles came sliced lengthwise. Many restaurants slice 'em like you'd find on your hamburger. These were excellent and came with a ranch dipping sauce.
My wife was sold on the coconut shrimp the minute the waitress mentioned them as a special. For my meal, I selected a seafood combo for one. My wife's coconut shrimp were very good. They weren't the giant shrimp that some places feature. These were fantailed and with just a light coating of coconut and they were noticeably sweet and tender. Personally I've had better but my wife was extremely pleased. My seafood combo for one was the best fried seafood combo I'd had in the Jacksonville are to that point in time! There are so many seafood houses here it gets confusing! My meal came with a large filet of fish (undetermined on what kind of fish it was but it was very, very good), eleven shrimp, several scallops and oysters, a good portion of clam strips and a deviled crab in a real blue crab shell. The shrimp, scallops, oysters and clam strips were all just as good as the fish. And the deviled crab was the best I've had in the Jacksonville area. It was perfectly seasoned and real crab meat was used and not the fake krab meat. Not that there's anything wrong with the krab stuff, but it was nice to see the real deal. The meals both came with two sides and we both chose the same thing -- cole slaw (which was great) and a small baked potato.
There was so much food that we had to have a human bag before leaving. Notice I said human bag! No way our dog was going to get these leftovers. I took six shrimp home and my wife took seven of her coconut shrimp home to enjoy later.
We weren't expecting too much at Gene's but to our surprise, it was the best down home Florida dining experience we've had so far in the Jacksonville area! We're going to try some of the other branches to see how they compare to the one we hit on University Blvd.
The food was outstanding, our server very sweet and personable, and the atmosphere was just about perfect---very "rustic" and down to Earth. Was everything fresh? I highly doubt it! But fresh or frozen, it tasted great! I don't know why somebody doesn't open restaurants like this in the seafood starved Midwest? I bet they'd take off like a rocket!
We highly recommend this place based on our first but not last visit!
You can find out more about Gene's at their web site here.
Note: Since this review, we've tried several other Gene's outlets and with equally delicious meals. Go there!