Nestled away inside TPC, the Sawgrass Marriott may not be what most people think of as a destination for a Friday night dinner. In fact, we will guess that many of you may have driven past it dozens of times and never noticed the entrance. Last week we were invited out to Vernon’s, their fine dining restaurant inside the Marriott, to enjoy a bourbon tasting off their new bourbon cocktail menu as well as a dinner featuring several new items from their recent menu revamp. While the Sawgrass Marriott looks and feels exclusive, their restaurants are designed for visiting foodies and the customer service is unparalleled in making you feel comfortable and at home even if you’re not a guest of the resort.
We began the evening downstairs in the bar with their bar bites menu to accompany our bourbon tasting. I will admit I was a little fearful of the bourbon cocktails, I’m much more of a wine drinker. There were three bourbon cocktails featured for us that evening including a traditional old fashioned, a bourbon sweet tea, and a bourbon mint julep. I selected the bourbon sweet tea hoping the element of sugar would help me with enjoying the bourbon and I was right. The bourbon had blackberries muddled into the bottom of the glass and the sweet tea took away the kick of the bourbon to make it a smooth, refreshing cocktail. Along with our drink sampling, we were offered a decadent summer spread of creamy pimento cheese, sharp charcuterie, flaky homemade biscuits, pickled green beans, and hot boiled peanuts. Growing up in Mississippi, this was spot on in capturing the essence of the deep south. The biscuits dissolved in my mouth and paired perfectly with the sweet and creamy pimento. Fair warning on the spicy boiled peanuts, they are HOT. I mean HOT. Make sure to preorder the bourbon to stifle the heat while you eat them, otherwise prepare for some tears.
After our appetizers, we went upstairs to Vernon’s to begin our menu tasting. I appreciated that while Vernon’s is clearly upscale with dramatic table settings and a luxurious interior that it still felt like it was nestled in the old south. Floor to ceiling windows look out over up-lit oak trees and the golf course. Throughout the meal we had the pleasure of having the chef introduce each course to us and explain his influences behind it. For our first course, we had a pairing of “tender tips and frites” which is the chef’s Miami influenced spin on poutine and a fried green tomato salad. The tender tips were a simple and clean dish of jalapeno, lime marinated beef tenderloin tips, peppers, onions, and potatoes with small cubes of cheese. I loved this dish. It felt like deconstructed poutine because it was fresh and the flavors were crisp. There was no heavy feeling after eating it (I scraped the cast iron skillet it was delivered in). The light and mild lime flavor was what made the dish. The salad was phenomenal. The base was all local peppery greens and it was covered in pickled onions, candied pistachios, red pepper vinaigrette, and fried green tomato croutons. First off, let me explain that candied pistachios should be served on everything. Everyone at the table was hunting through their salads trying to find more of them. The fried green tomato croutons were delightful, but left me craving an entire fried green tomato as an appetizer. It felt teasing but is probably a good option for those who don’t indulge in fried foods often. It should be noted that the greens used within our salads were all GYO farms aquaponic greens. The Sawgrass Marriott is also working on establishing their own garden to grow their own sustainable produce for the restaurant to supplement the already local ingredients that are sourced for their dishes.
Following our first course, we were brought out three shareable platters of entrees for us to sample. The diversity of the dishes really gave us a taste of what they were capable of in the kitchen. The first dish was seared scallops over cauliflower ravioli, broccoli pesto, and pea tendrils. This entree is what dreams are made of. Honestly it is one of the best meals with the most perfectly balanced flavors I’ve had in Jacksonville. The scallops were sweet and mild with a salty and crispy sear on the top. They were placed over tender ravioli stuffed with cauliflower puree and sitting in the broccoli pesto. The flavors were dramatically simple and fresh, the simplicity of the flavors stood out to make this outstanding. It was an overwhelming group favorite and an absolute must order.
Our second entree was the Sawgrass Hot Chicken and Waffles, a play on the now famous Tennessee hot chicken. This was a crispy fried chicken breast served with herbed waffles and maple syrup. I actually wanted this dish to be spicier. It was described as being “smothered” in hot sauce which I was excited about, but it was served without that. The batter had some heat to it but lacked the magical pairing of hot sauce and maple syrup. I also was not a fan of the herbed waffle. It was too herbal. I understand where the chef intended to go with this recipe but I think a sweet waffle would pair better with the spicy chicken.
Our final entree was the Smoke Shack Brisket Meatloaf. Meatloaf instills fear in a lot of people, and all of us at the table were unnerved before we tasted it. This meatloaf is unlike any I have ever had anywhere else. The brisket is shredded and pulled then reformed into the meatloaf. It is then seared on top to create a crispy layer of meat and served over mashed potatoes, roasted shallot beef au jus, and covered in fried onions. This meal is comfort food at it’s finest. You get the tender texture of perfectly barbequed meat but in a completely unique form. I loved this, I think it’s an ideal entree to order in cold weather to warm your soul up.
We reached the dessert course right as the sun was setting over the golf course which created an even more beautiful view. I highly recommend scheduling your dining experience within that time frame. For dessert, our on-menu course was a carrot and oatmeal cookie sandwich stuffed with lemon curd homemade ice cream. I am a sucker for anything lemon flavored and this was no exception. The ice cream was phenomenal. Even though the cookies were dense the ice cream left a light flavor that completely cleansed my palette after all the heavier entrees. The carrot and oatmeal flavor combination was phenomenal. This is a seasonal dish and the ingredients rotate during the year. I have my fingers crossed for pumpkin themed ice cream sandwiches in the Fall. The chef then presented us with something whimsical and off menu. We were served “spaghetti, meatballs, and garlic bread” except all dessert themed. What does that mean? White chocolate “noodles”, strawberry “tomato (fauxmato if you will)” sauce, truffle “meatballs”, white chocolate “parm shavings” and pound cake “garlic bread”. This was a culinary masterpiece. I love seeing this level of creativity and passion in food and the best part is it was equally as delicious as it sounds. Granted, you do have to get past the mind and mouth confusion of thinking you’re eating spaghetti. While we were oohhhing and aaaahing over the creativity in that dessert, one of the Marriott employees was telling us there was a grown up PB&J on the menu that is equally as creative. With wide eyed excitement we all asked if we could have that as well. Hands down, without a doubt, the grown up PB&J is the best dessert I’ve ever eaten. Served in a martini glass, it includes scoops of grape sorbet and frozen grapes. Below the martini glass are shortbread bars filled with the lightest and pillowiest whipped peanut buttter mousse that has ever existed. This dessert is decadence in it’s finest without losing the absolute true comfort flavors of peanut butter and jelly. I would go back simply to order this.
It’s encouraging and exciting to see big name hotels moving towards the sustainable farm-to-table movement. Sourcing local produce and meat is not something normally associated with resorts, nor would you often consider going to a resort just for a meal when you live in the same city. The Sawgrass Marriott feels like a retreat away from Jacksonville even if it’s just for a few hours. We can’t wait to go relax under the spanish moss and enjoy more of their gourmet offerings.
Note: From time to time we’re invited out to try a restaurant. This meal is usually comped as this one was. We’re under no obligation to write a positive review or any review at all when we’re invited out to try a place. Every review you see on our site will be an honest review of the place whether or not the restaurant provided us with the meal at their cost.