Fishing and I are not friends. We’re not even acquaintances. I went fishing once as a child and the only thing I remember was trying to keep from getting carried off by bird-size mosquitoes. Otherwise, it was a lot of sitting in silence. It is not a hobby I enjoy.
However, I understand the appeal, and unbeknownst to us, the shopping center where Blackfly Café is located appears to be the Mecca of fly fishing gear. On one side is Strike Zone fishing. On the other is Blackfly Outfitters. Both are major fishing and fly fishing retailers. Smack in the middle is Blackfly Café and Taproom.
The Blackfly story is an interesting one. Owner Vaughn Cochran is a fly fishing guide turned entrepreneur. Cochran owns Blackfly Outfitters and Blackfly Lodge, a fishing lodge in the Bahamas. Not satisfied with merely filing your tackle box with the best fishing gear money can buy, Cochran also looks to fill your belly with the best scratch made dishes his team can create. He owns Blackfly the Restaurant in St. Augustine and launched Blackfly Café and Taproom in Jacksonville in 2016. He’s also an avid painter and sells his paintings through his own art gallery, Vaughn Cochran Art. A Renaissance Man in every sense of the word.
We came upon Blackfly Café somewhat by accident. We were going to another restaurant, but discovered it was closed on Mondays. Drove to another one, same result. Drove to a third one, same thing. Of all the restaurants in all Jacksonville, what are the chances I’d go to three restaurants in a row that were closed on Mondays? So two hours and a Yelp search for the closest restaurant later, we came across Blackfly Café. The restaurant is beautifully decorated with a distinct South Florida feel. Brightly colored booths and original fishing themed original artwork by Cochran adorned the walls.
Blackfly Café’s menu is varied, but is mostly sandwiches, burgers, salads, and a few entrées. The main attraction is the amount of craft beer they offer. They have over 20 local and regional craft beers on tap to satisfy the snobbiest of beer snobs.
After looking through the menu, we decided to start with a cup of Conch Chowder as an appetizer. According the manager, the Conch Chowder is a family recipe from the chef that runs the kitchen at Blackfly lodge in the Bahamas. When I read the description, I was expecting a white clam chowder, somewhat like a New England style clam chowder. I was surprised when it came to the table and it wasn’t that at all. It was more a vegetable beef soup with bite-size pieces of conch added. It was delicious. It was hearty and warm. The conch added a nice chew, but it wasn’t tough. There was a little back end spice to tickle the throat. This is the kind of soup I would eat sitting in front of my fireplace on a cold night. But living in Florida, I used my fireplace a total of two days this past “winter,” so eating it on a mild spring evening in an air-conditioned restaurant will work just fine.
For my entrée, I ordered the Cuban sandwich with a side of sweet plantains. It came highly recommended from the manager in terms of the sandwich side of the menu. I love a good Cuban sandwich. And part of what makes a good Cuban sandwich is the bread. Blackfly uses authentic Cuban bread shipped in daily from Tampa for their sandwich. It was pressed perfectly, the bread warm and crispy. The mojo pork was nicely seasoned and the house made pickles and mustard added a nice vinegary bite to cut against the richness of the pork. I’ve had a lot of Cuban sandwiches since moving to Florida and Blackfly’s is right up there on my list of best Cubans sandwiches this side of the trade embargo. The sweet plantains were OK. Not as sweet as I normally like them and bit underdone in the middle. But they were side players and didn’t detract from the wonderful Cuban sandwich.
My wife decided on the Shrimp and Grits. Being a southern girl born and raised, she immediately noticed how creamy the grits were and knew it had to be cooked with milk. We asked the manager and sure enough, Blackfly’s grits are cooked with mix of heavy cream and water. Cheese is added for extra dose of creaminess. These grits were fantastic. They were cooked with love and attention. I’ve never cooked grits with heavy cream before, but after tasting Blackfly’s, I’m going to start. The shrimp were blackened and seasoned well, cooked exceptionally, and flawlessly tender. The sweetness of the shrimp paired perfectly with the slight saltiness of the grits. Blackfly’s Shrimp and Grits is definitely a destination menu item for me.
Despite being stuffed from our meal, we decided to order a slice of Key Lime Pie (not pictured). Appropriate given the Key West inspired décor. It was a perfect blend of tart and sweet and a reminder of why Key Lime Pie is one my favorite pies.
Blackfly Café and Taproom wasn’t on my radar of “go-to” places before this visit. It’s tucked away in a non-descript shopping center catering to a hobby I’m not particularly a fan of. So while you’ll never see me in hip waders, recreating scenes from “A River Runs Through It”, their approach to food and commitment to fresh, scratch made dishes definitely got me, hook, line, and sinker.