Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Singleton's Seafood Shack/Pie Heaven - Jacksonville, FL

Hackknife Jr. and I recently made a brief 24-hour trip up to Jacksonville (about a 3.5-hour drive from the Canteen) so that he could participate in a state-wide junior piano convention. In between his sessions, we had a significant amount of downtime that allowed us to explore the greater Jacksonville area a bit, including the local science and history museum (handily referred to as "MOSH") and, of course, some eating landmarks of note. I let the boy pick our dinner venue in return for dibs on lunch - both Guy Fieri and the good folks from Roadfood wrote highly about a seafood shack out by the mouth of the St. John's River, so that's where we headed after a couple of hours at MOSH.

Singleton's Seafood Shack is located in the tiny historic fishing village of Mayport (founded circa 1565, not long after St. Augustine), home to a large naval base. You can find the restaurant right next to the St. John's River car ferry that transports passengers traveling on A1A between Fanning Island and Mayport. Although not much to look at from the outside (shack, indeed), patrons are greeted at the front door by a large display of the day's catch (much of it no doubt recently extracted from the local waters) on ice, including shrimp, crab, oysters, and various fishes.

Singleton's has a large outdoor patio where you can watch the seabirds and giant ocean-going ships navigate the wide river while waiting for your order. We started outside before slinking back into the shade of the covered breezeway.

Wanting both fresh oysters and shrimp, I settled on a cup of steaming hot oyster stew (featuring much cream/butter along with some tasty small oyster meat, some of it chewier than others) before the main course arrived, a basket of peel and eat Florida brown shrimp, cole slaw, and a terrific hush puppy (Hackknife Jr. was kind enough to also let me eat his).

As tempting as it was to try the house Key lime pie for dessert, I opted instead to drive us a short 10 minutes south into Atlantic Beach for some much-heralded pie at Pie Heaven Cafe. Congenial owner and baker Anita Hyde began her own baking business after being laid off from her corporate job with a personal mission to utilize as much of her profits as possible to reduce childhood hunger.

She managed to talk me into buying 2 slices of her wonderful pie, one of which (the Key lime, decadently-rich and custardy) I immediately consumed in the shop, the other (an equally-good chocolate bourbon pecan concoction) kept me company on the long, late-night return drive to Tampa later that evening (ed. note: it's not easy to eat pie when operating a motor vehicle in the dark - be safe, kids, and put the baked goods away until you get home or at least stop at a traffic light)...

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