By Michael Gass
Photo by William Raser
Photo by William Raser
There are many ways to experience Fernandina Beach and Amelia Island. Few are more fun than scooting around the island on 50cc of two-wheeled bliss. Recently, I went on a little scooter ride with a friend, and after a tour of the island, we slid into Wicked Bao just before sunset for some take-out.With social media, local gossip, and millions spent on tourism, you’d think that Fernandina Beach wouldn’t still have its secrets, but somehow my friend Josh had never been to Wicked Bao. The restaurant is situated on the edge of the downtown Historic District on North 2nd Street. The streets have plenty of lighting at night, with public parking nearby, and the lingering scent of 5-Spice and the lure of authentic Asian food draws you in.
Owner Natalie Wu has developed a restaurant that just feels like fun, with a lively atmosphere. Along with her mom, Doris, and a hardcore crew of loved ones, friends, and culinary students, Wicked Bao makes everyone feel welcome and turns the curious into devoted fans. We placed our food order, and while it was being prepared, Josh and I enjoyed a cold Lucky Buddha on the porch.
When our beverages where finished and our food was in the bag, we putt-putted around the corner in time to see the sun begin its daily disappearing act. We parked our bikes on the riverbank and sat on them as we enjoyed our meal. I am a sucker for Grilled Octopus. At Wicked BAO, it comes dusted with a blend of Asian seasonings and spices, grilled tender with crisp edges, and bursting with flavor. It is not exactly finger food, so we ate it first.
Next, we enjoyed a batch of steaming hot Rice Tots. Think Ore Ida, minus the spuds, served with Sriracha aioli and sweet chile sauce. Afterward, we shared the Pork Belly Bao. These come three to an order, which makes sharing a snap. A bao is a steamed pillow of bread filled with braised meats, pickles, and condiments and is pronounced like, “bow your head and thank God for friends who turn you on to awesome restaurants.” The Pork Belly Bao is filled with succulent braised pork, pickled mustard greens, and cilantro, and dusted with powdered peanuts. This thing is worth the trip all by itself.
Lots of places out there offer dumplings, and most of those places buy them frozen, but I’ve had the pleasure of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Mom Doris in the kitchen at Wicked Bao making their Pork Potstickers by the hundreds. They are bonafide and should not be missed. If you’ve tired of chicken wings tossed in modified food starch, msg, and artificial flavor, come get some Chongqing Chicken Wings. The wings are dry rubbed with a mixture of ground spices and chili peppers. These wings are sneaky, disguising themselves as mild when you begin, and intensifying as you indulge in their eye-watering awesomeness.
Next time you are wondering how to spend the evening, go rent a scooter and eat at Wicked BAO. They are open Monday through Saturday from 4 to 9 p.m. Stop in for drink specials and a $5 Happy Hour menu Monday through Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m.