The roving palate

I do a lot of eating out. When you live alone, a single pot roast will rot before you get it all eaten and an entire chicken can sit for days while you’re still trying to consume the last roast. No restaurant in Jacksonville serves entire steers or chickens, so I like to eat around town a good deal. Besides that, I don’t know much about cooking. The only French cooking phrase I know is, “Is okay to microwave!”

Nor am I much of a gourmet, so I’ll leave the really technical reviews to those of you who know what you’re talking about, but were I to review the local restaurant scene I might make a few observations.

I enjoy Hardees, but why do they never put napkins in their takeouts? They advertise many of their sandwiches as “mouth-watering,” and “dripping with goodness,” then leave you only your shirttail to wipe up the water and drips. It’s better just to go inside and grab your own napkin – and if you go early in the morning for the breakfast crowd,the most raucous group in pre-Noon Jacksonville’ll entertain you.

Yeah, I know it’s called the Burger Board, but those tenderloins are pretty great and reminiscent of the days when all sandwiches came that size.

Taco Bell … in my experience, the place where you stand the best chance of them getting your order right. Olé, Baby!

My out-of-town friends are especially impressed with “The Golden Four” around the Jacksonville square … Muggsy’s, Brickhouse, Mulligan’s and Schiraz, and well they should be. Toss those four together with Lonzerotti’s across the tracks and you have some dining spots that make you proud to live here. I especially like the Irish pub-ish-ness of Mulligan’s, and the breadsticks of Lonzo’s, plus the well informed staffs at all these places.

Every place has its quirks and special delights. Leave the Sunday sermon early if you want a seat at Rudi’s Grill. The birthday singers are a bit more on key at El Rancherito than Los Rancheros, but the margaritas are stronger at the latter establishment … so maybe if you drink enough, the singing improves. If Mom and Dad want a little ambiance and a place to have a beer without boring their kids, then Leo’s is perfect. When the fragrance of oregano hits your nose at the door of Leo’s and you hear the music in the low-ceilinged bit of Italy, you know you’re in for a treat.

And thank God that Jacksonville still has a few homey places … Kottage Kafe, Lincoln Gardens – and the town’s secret, tucked around the corner of the square, Norma’s. You’ll be known on your second trip to any of these places.

It’s no secret that I love sushi so the new Fujiyama is on my roadmap. The hibachi grill is a little too noisy for my taste so I opt to sit in the other room and slurp down the seaweed. The Best Buffet may be the only restaurant that keeps the oysters in the dessert rack, but the food is delish. Best sandwich in town? I won’t get into that argument, but my, Head West can turn out a Rueben on sweet bread drowning in sauerkraut that’ll just sink your ship of hunger. Annabel Lee’s is great place for males to lunch since on many days you’re the only man surrounded by tables of well-turned-out women.

Speed test? Jimmy John’s once tried to give me my order before I’d said anything. You can drive about 30 mph through the McDonald’s drive-up without stopping. Kentucky Fried has really worked out a system to make those crispy hens fly out the window. SafeCo is amazing the way they can use fresh food, cook it on the spot and get it to you while you watch the cars speed by on Morton.

Jacksonville’s trickiest catch is trying to find the times when Roger and Shirley Davis set up their Luau Grill on Morton. Bite into one of Reverend Roger’s ribeyes or catch him on day when he has brisket and get ready to melt into the pavement.

This isn’t a restaurant review and this isn’t a ‘Top Ten’ of any sort, a few spots with some delightful peculiarities, and my heart still yearns from the places of the past … the wild atmosphere of Pizzan’s Pizza, where families and parties met after ballgames, Tops Big Boy with the use of its “secret sauce” by pouring Thousand Island dressing over everything savory, the Old Ranch House that would smother your ranch steak with wave after wave of thick milk gravy or New York hot dogs on Morton.

I’ll let the culinary experts debate the real qualities of restaurants. For a 67-year-old bachelor, restaurant hopping may be the biggest thrill of the day.

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