By Amanda Cox
Change can be hard. When a long-standing restaurant in a community closes, bellies collectively mourn for favorite dishes and things one has grown to love.
When a historic building that once housed a local dining institution opens as a new restaurant, it can also be difficult for people to accept the “newness” of it all, expecting their former standbys to still be ever-present and waiting. However, once you’ve tried Proud Richard’s, I think you’ll forget as I did about the breadsticks you used to expect when you had been seated – no disrespect intended to those beautiful, pillowy breadsticks.
Proud Richard’s now occupies the former Lonzerotti’s Italian Restaurant’s space, a historic once active train depot in the Northeast corner of Jacksonville. The new color scheme is fresh and calming, and while there is music playing, it isn’t loud enough to overtake the sounds of people enjoying their meals and each other’s company. The new high-backed booths create a more intimate space for your dining experience; they are lovely and should be appreciated.
The menu is contemporary American, allowing chef and owner Joe Standley a lot of freedom when it comes to seasonal dish changes. Plus, working to source his ingredients as locally as possible is something the whole community can celebrate.
The current menu has a sizable selection of appetizers, so we started with two. Pimento cheese is something that always grabs my attention. In general a nostalgically southern specialty that, curiously, originated in New York, it doesn’t typically make an appearance on menus in our region, so it needed to be ordered as our first selection. All the requisite ingredients were present, including a healthy but not overdone dose of cayenne pepper. It provided an enjoyable heat that was managed by the dairy in the dish and as it should be, the dish was served with saltines.
The house-made pickles we ordered as our second selection were also extremely tasty. Cucumbers, carrots, mushrooms, white radishes, green apple and golden beets all received extended soaks in vinegars and spices. The vegetables weren’t all pickled in the same liquid, making the plate an enjoyable adventure.
For our main dishes we selected the braised pork shank with polenta, gravy, shallot and herbs, as well as the short rib pici pasta.
The pork shank arrived with the meat barely clinging to the bone, and it fell off straight away, giving in to the perfect braise to which it had been treated. The pork was perfectly tender and flavorful. The polenta was quite possibly the creamiest, most lovely polenta I’ve ever eaten, and I would be very happy eating it daily at any meal.
Meat that’s been given a long, slow cook like braising is always a treat. The short rib meat in the short rib pici pasta was equally as tender as the pork; it was made into a beautiful ragù and served over the handmade pici pasta (similar to a spaetzle noodle).
Now, please don’t confuse this ragù with the jarred stuff of the same name at the grocery store – a true ragù is a meat-based sauce with a small amount of tomato added, along with an aromatic blend of other vegetables and spices. Needless to say, we were members of the “clean plate club,” but still couldn’t pass up trying the desserts.
The coffee panna cotta was smooth and creamy, with a coffee flavor that wasn’t overpowering or bitter. It had a caramel topping that wasn’t cloying or overly sweet. The only disappointment was when it was gone.
We also tried what seems to already be a favorite – the bacon bread pudding topped with whipped cream and a maple bourbon sauce. We immediately started discussing adding some form of the dessert to our at-home brunch rotation, which says a lot.
Chef Standley made his appreciation known for everyone who came out, visiting each table to speak with guests. We were happy to congratulate him on his opening and tell him how we enjoyed everything immensely. We will be back, and I encourage all of you to give Proud Richard’s a chance to shine, too. It is a welcome addition to Jacksonville.
Oh, and … breadsticks? What breadsticks?
600 East State St., Jacksonville
Open date: December 8
Tuesday-Thursday, 5-9 p.m.
Friday/Saturday, 5-10 p.m.
Sunday, 4-8 p.m.