The last time my daughter, Sophia, and I were at the historic Florida House Inn together, we were in a family wedding in the courtyard. As flower girl, she processed around the top walk, down the stairs, past the fountain, and into the trellised corner. Last Sunday morning as adults, we reminisced with brunch on Leddy’s Porch, with orchids hanging like magic over the courtyard and fellow diners streaming in.
No longer a passageway to the courtyard or a place to get away for a private conversation, the porch has become a focal point of the dining area. Entering the Florida House Inn from the front, you pass The Mermaid Bar, while entering through the rear courtyard, you pass the giant mermaid fountain. Mermaids greet you whichever way you enter Leddy’s Porch.
The inn was built in 1857 by David Yulee to house workers on his railroad; during the war, it housed soldiers, and then postwar, it was purchased by Major Leddy and his wife. They turned it into a fashionable hotel, where luminaries of the era visited or stayed. The ghost of Major Leddy’s wife might have stayed a bit more long-term, it is said, for her lavender scent has been known to waft through the bar on occasion.
If only we could ask that tree: In the center of the entire property is an oak whose measurements suggest it began life in 1772, at which time the English flag flew—well, despite objections from the King of Spain, but that’s another story. What tales that oak could tell!
Our own brunch tale began with Bloody Marys, Pimento Cheese, and Fried Green Tomatoes. The olive-okra-pickle garnish was its own treat, as was the subtle burn of the pimento cheese and the firm bite of the three tomato cutlets. We could’ve made a meal with these by getting the Grilled Pimento Cheese sandwich or Fried Green Tomato BLT, but we were there to explore.
The Fort Clinch Platter, The Hoss, and the Breakfast Bowl were mighty appealing, but we picked Fried Chicken & Waffles and Saltmarsh Shrimp & Grits. House-made jams with the light Belgian waffle got our breakfast started, while the generous serving of delicately fried chicken completed our lunch. The Shrimp & Grits was savory and similarly satisfying.
Under the umbrella of Saltmarsh Hospitality Group, Ernie Saltmarsh and his family have restored and revived several beloved Fernandina historical spots, including Beech Street Grill, Down Under, and other grand venues for special events. Fernandina native Chef Matthew Kennedy unites the restaurant concepts as Food & Beverage Director. Our server Chrissy said she enjoyed working at both Beech Street Grill and Leddy’s Porch.
With hints of Confederate jasmine in the air, we listened to the train whistling a few blocks away and watched a frog peeking out of a birdhouse a few feet away. Sophia was sure the orchids were real, but I contended that they were just too perfect. She was right, and furthermore, they are the work of Brian Saltmarsh. Luckily for Leddy’s Porch and the rest of us, Brian is moving to the island and bringing his orchid interests with him. That, too, is another story, but look for his blooms to proliferate on Leddy’s Porch at the Florida House Inn.