Gators Dockside, Jacksonville FL

Today’s chapter is going to be one of those entries that is more about us and more about life than about a restaurant. Call it an anti-review, if you will, because while I have nothing bad to say about Gators Dockside, a chain of nineteen restaurants in Florida with a location in Jacksonville’s southern suburban sprawl, I don’t have much that is exceptional to say, either. It is a sports bar, pure and simple, and not at all as interesting as our original destination promised.

Chris had invited Marie and me to come back to Jacksonville to meet some friends and play some games – certainly more her speed than mine, these days – and try out one of his favorite restaurants. Unfortunately, some municipal stupidity has prompted that place to open late on Sundays. Jacksonville sprawls through two counties, Duval and Clay. The good dimwits of Clay County have a really absurd liquor ordinance. There, you’re not allowed to sell alcohol until two on Sundays. Apparently, they had a problem with all 207 Jaguars fans in town trying to sneak booze into EverBank Field.

And don’t tell me there are more than 207 Jaguars fans in town; we saw only one fewer Florida Everblades sticker on cars this weekend than we saw Jags flags flying for a home game. And we saw just one Florida Everblades sticker.

Okay, so it’s probably a church thing. These, all too often, tend to be. So Clay County wanted to help their deacons stem the flow of boozers in church, thus inconveniencing the heck out of any restaurant in their borders that thought about getting some business in with the one o’clock NFL games. So why Brewer’s Pizza, the place that we wanted to go, chose to build in Clay, I’ve got no idea. The restaurant could open for lunch at eleven, like any sensible place would, but since (a) it is a brewpub and (b) people tend to like a beer or two with their NFL game, they probably figured they were just going to lose business to Duval County for three hours anyway and it wasn’t worth the bother.

Basically, a two o’clock lunch was not going to work. Marie and her brother and I got to Chris’s place in the Orange Park neighborhood around 10:45. Some of his other friends were already peckish, so we needed to pick someplace else. Sadly, the area around the mall and Blanding Boulevard is just choked with fern bars and TJ McTchochtke’s-type garbage. Urbanspoon offered Gators Dockside as the best in a series of awful possibilities.

Turns out it was just another TJ McTchochtke’s.

That’s not to say that the experience was necessarily bad. Most of the food was pretty average and uninspired, to be sure, but there were one or two nice things, and the service was exceptional. Between the seven of us and our utterly picky drink orders – ice, no ice, sweet, unsweet, lemon, no lemon, lime – I had to apologize to our server, who was absolutely perfect and deserved an “I was perfect” award, for going to a hell of a lot of trouble to not even get any beer tips. That’s the real tragedy of that county ordinance screwing up our trip to Brewer’s. Even staying in Duval County, the one with a sensible alcohol policy, none of our party drank anyway. But she was a terrific server, and gave our table of seven picky guests who shared sandwiches, turned down any beer, scrimped on appetizers and passed on dessert every bit of her attention, and the management should identify and give her a nice bonus to compensate for the lower check than a similar table might be expected to ring up in a sports bar on an NFL Sunday.

So yeah, this place, it’s family-friendly and corporate and there are big screen TVs to watch the game and they claim to have really good wings with several different sauces. They’ve recently brought their Thai peanut wing sauce back to the menu after taking it off for a while and getting it from a new distributor, but Chris says it’s not as good as it once was. They offer gator tail appetizers – Warren, the Seminole fan in our party, happily chowed down on gator as his entree with all the smug, gleeful satisfaction of somebody whose team finally, unlike ours, got the hell off their bench and did something about their rivalry this season after so many aggravating years – and Monte Cristo sandwiches, which you don’t often find in sports bars. As for me, I had the mahi-mahi sandwich. It was okay. The homemade chips were pretty good. It was an agreeable visit and the chain looks to be a fine place to watch several NFL games across the many big-screen TVs.

Honestly, though, it wasn’t a meal that had anybody raving, and I think that we all enjoyed the fun of playing games back at Chris’s place considerably more than anything on Gators Dockside’s menu, though I am grateful for Chris and his friends for indulging us and driving a little out of the way for something we can’t get here in the Atlanta area when a meal at a closer, mall-surrounding TJ McTchotcke’s would have resulted in similar quality food. As for something more amusingly local, that would have to wait a little while for me to go out and get a snack. Couple of hours, anyway.

(Today’s post wraps up our first calendar year of Marie, Let’s Eat! We’d like to thank everybody for reading, for all the suggestions, kind thoughts, corrections and additions to our blog. We will have a couple more entries before taking a short break in January, but we’ll be eating well, and hope that you will, too! Happy eating, everybody!)