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RESTAURANT OF THE WEEK
We headed to the Palm Coast area one Sunday to check out the Ginn Resort at Hammock Beach and stumbled upon JT's completely by accident. Isn't it funny how that happens? It was nearly 2 in the afternoon yet the place was packed with locals. That's a good sign!
From outward appearances, this looked like your typical North Florida seafood shack, as the restaurant's name would suggest. And upon entering the restaurant, that's exactly what it looked like. But the specials that Sunday told a different story.
The regular menu was full of all the usual suspects for a place like this. Fried shrimp, clams, fish, gator, oysters, crab cakes, etc. They also had chicken, steaks, sandwiches, chowders and salads. But as we checked out the special menu for that Sunday, wow, what a surprise! Fancy, gussied up presentations and my wife and I both went with items off that special list. We usually avoid fancy stuff but it all sounded good.
First of all, we started with an appetizer on the special menu -- smoked fish spread. Usually restaurants serve a tiny portion of heavily smoked fish spread along with Saltine crackers. Here a huge dollop of fish spread came with fried, flour tortilla triangles. Nice touch. The fish was excellent although we detected absolutely no smoky flavor at all. Still it was a nice start to the meal. I wanted to start with an order of steamed clams. However I've been burned so many times on clams around this part of Florida that I resisted. For some reason these days the clams are way too small to amount to anything (they now use little necks whereas before everybody steamed cherrystones which are perfect) and in a majority of the cases they are overcooked and come out like a small rubber band.
My wife ordered a red snapper special served with mashed sweet potatoes and a pineapple, cranberry salsa. Now you won't find that at very many seafood shacks! Sounds like a weird "foo foo" combination but my wife ate every last bite of it and pronounced it excellent. I went with a mahi mahi special. The fish was coated with Japanese panko bread crumbs, lightly sautéed and served over a bed of linguini and topped with a little marinara sauce and some freshly ground parmesan. The fish was perfect in every way. The dish was odd in that the linguini came with absolutely no sauce whatsoever. Just boring noodles. All it needed to be perfect was a little garlic laced butter and some parsley. I did manage to bring the linguini to life with a little salt and I scraped the marinara sauce off the fish and kind of mixed it in with the noodles although there wasn't much sauce. And each of our dishes came with a "gourmet" touch of scattered paprika and parsley flakes around the edges of the plate.
My wife and I argued over the merit of those gourmet touches. My position was that this place was a seafood shack and should stick to the plan. She said why not add the gourmet touch? It reminded me of my favorite restaurant on the island of Aruba -- Brisas del Mar. When we first started dining there in the 80s, you saw a sweaty, large, local woman slaving away behind the window in the kitchen. Fast forward to today and you see a guy in the kitchen with a 10 foot tall white chef's hat towering on his head. For me -- bring back the local lady!
Either way we enjoyed our meal here. Prices were reasonable. The lunch specials on Sunday were in the $11 range and there was plenty of food.
If you're staying at the Ginn Resort, just down the road, and you don't mind slumming it by resort standards, this might be a fun meal for you.
I must say in discussing this restaurant with one local resident in the area, she said they had been disappointed with it. I just wanted to mention it!
JT's is located on scenic highway A1A in Hammock or Palm Coast, whichever you want to use as an address although technically, JT's is located in Hammock, Florida. You'll find their web site here along with directions, menus, etc. Enjoy! We did!