The Florida House Inn on South 3rd Street in downtown Fernandina Beach is as stately and elegant today as it ever was. Be it former presidents, Civil War generals, robber barons, or brides, the Florida House comes alive for all of its guests. I recently had an opportunity to enjoy a lovely brunch with my daughter, Lydia, on the back porch of the inn, overlooking the fountain and their beautiful courtyard.
Several years ago, when we ran our own restaurant across the street, we would cut through the courtyard between the inn and the Green Turtle on our way to work. The girls would always compliment the gorgeous mermaid fountain in the center. As we sat down, Lydia looked up at me with satisfied delight and said, “Ooh daddy, I love it here!” I had to admit, I did, too.
Our meal started out with a mimosa for me and a glass of fresh orange juice for Lydia, who knew right away what she was having: Waffles with Crispy Bacon. First however, Chef Joe Bain stopped by our table to deliver a perfect starter for a warm-weather brunch: an arugula salad with fresh watermelon radish, avocado, and a champagne vinaigrette.
The vinaigrette had just enough acid and sweetness to stand up to the peppery greens, while the avocado made the salad truly luxurious. Chef Joe is a recent addition at the Florida House, who found his way into the kitchen while working at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, where he developed his skills before venturing out to Pittsburgh and then Tampa. Now back at the beach, he’s looking forward to putting down some roots and adding his personal touch to the menu while gearing up for the wedding season.
At our house, we love to nibble on cheese, so we ordered the Pimento Cheese with Lavosh, a crisp cracker bread. Lydia was quite sure that this was the fanciest cheese and crackers she had ever seen. I agreed, and together we dug into the homemade spread and it did not disappoint. This would be a perfect starter or bar snack any time of day.
Lydia’s waffles came out crisp and fluffy, with a pile of perfectly delicious bacon and a fresh fruit garnish that painted a big smile on her face. I decided on the Shrimp & Grits, a classic, but too often, an uninspired chef will sauté the shrimp and hope for the best. Not so this morning. Chef Joe treated the fresh and local shrimp with the respect they deserved and developed the sweet flavor without overpowering them with too much ham or cream. The grits were rich, with just enough texture, and topped with a perfectly poached egg on a nest of fresh arugula.
As our meal drew to a close, I felt remarkably at peace. The courtyard was cool and serene, and our taste buds satiated. Lydia and I strolled out of the Inn with the day in front of us, and we promised each other we’d be back. Leddy’s Porch at the Florida House Inn is open for lunch Wednesday through Friday from 11:00 – 2:30 p.m. and for brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 – 3:00 p.m.