"The food bloggers absolutely rave about Nippers, and yet Nippers seems to fly under the radar without the fanfare of some other restaurants in Jacksonville. Why do you think that is?" One of the many questions asked in this really great exploration of Nipper's Restaurant from the culinarians at Eat Drink Jax! Join us after the jump for details!
Tell us about Nippers.
Nippers was born from what I like to do. I wanted a place with a sports bar area, a beautiful waterfront dining area so that you can use it as your home-away-from-home for special events, and then a deck on the outside. Those are the three things I love.
We want a place where someone comes in, dines, and then stays. Our whole mantra is "come for the food, stay for the experience." Whether your experience is watching the game, enjoying the waterfront view or listening to live music 7 days a week inside or on our outdoor tiki deck. So our goal is to bring someone in and then keep them for the day.
…are people staying around?
Oh yeah! For hours and hours.
How long has Nippers been open?
We opened May 16, 2011.
Was the concept the same from the beginning?
Yes. I wanted the inspiration of the Caribbean, but with Southern, coastal cuisine and an international flair. I wanted food that anybody could eat. In the Caribbean you can get some authentic conch fritters. Overall, I wanted a more accessible coastal cuisine type menu with international flair. That's what we've done.
Who is your demographic?
If you go to the Caribbean you see people of all ages. There's no one demographic. Everyone likes to relax on a vacation spot on an island.
Mac n Cheese with Scallops
Shrimp and Grits
Black Beans and Veggies
What is coastal cuisine?
It's a lot of fresh coastal seafood. We do a lot of daily fish specials. We've got a special menu that includes 3-4 seafoods, a couple of meats, and a couple soups. So every day when you come in there's something new and different. We have consistency in our favorite items and our specials allow us to try out new things.
Can you give some examples?
From an appetizer perspective we've got an Ahi tuna poki which has a Hawaiian feel. We have conch fritters which is certainly a Caribbean feel. We have baked oysters which is a New England feel. So, it's not any one particular geographic type of food. It's an international splattering of food but prepared in the Southern coastal way.
What attracted you to your location?
I had a personal connection to that location. I started my first business when I was 19 in that building. I've known and been friends with the owners for a very long time. I never thought the building was being used for the right thing. It was nightclub after nightclub. I kept looking down from my office and thinking it would make the perfect beach bar restaurant.
The food bloggers absolutely rave about Nippers, and yet Nippers seems to fly under the radar without the fanfare of some other restaurants in Jacksonville. Why do you think that is? Does your location hurt you at all?
We've done some advertising but not a ton and that's probably part of it. I also think there's a lifecycle to every brand that looks like a bell curve. You can hype up a brand and have it take off, then quickly crash down again. Or, you can grow organically over time and let the roots settle in really deep.
So, for us, the location allows us to create a kitschy, super cool place on the water. It's not in your face but rather it grows more by word of mouth. That may be one of the reasons why we're getting so much positive attention from the bloggers - they tend to want to share things when they discover something new that's not being shoved and thrown at them.
We want to be the real deal. There's nothing made up or faux about Nippers. Our conch isn't just a bunch of bread - there's a lot of conch in there.
Where did you get the name, Nippers?
There's an inspiration from the Islands. A nipper is a young island boy that likes island sports. That fits in with our island theme.
What makes Nippers special?
If you want to come to Nippers just for a drink and to have a good time, you can do that. We have a drink called Rudy's Bad Habit that outsells all other drinks by 12 to 1. So, you can just come in to have a Bad Habit or two and enjoy yourself. But you can also come in and taste some of the most exquisite food you'll find in Duval County. I think that's what makes us special. I'm a big believer in keeping it simple. And if you're going to be in the restaurant business you better have good food. If you combine that with the other fun experiences you've got a winner.
What make the food so exquisite?
I call our whole concept "barefoot chic." In other words you can come in wearing your flip flops and your hat on backwards, or you can come in a sports coat and pants - and believe me, people come in both ways. I needed to differentiate my food from anyone else in the city, so I went out and I hired a chef by the name of Kenny Gilbert who was just coming off the show Top Chef. I knew that nobody in Jacksonville had ever participated in a show of that magnitude and he was leading the pack in season 7 for a while and had a good chance to win. I got hold of Kenny and had him bring in a team that he'd worked with for a number of years. He came in to create a menu and a series of taste profiles that were second to none. The leader of the team that came with him was an individual by the name of Omar Callazzo who we refer to as "Chef O." Chef O took over after Kenny moved on and is responsible for total kitchen management. He knows how to create food that could come from a Ritz-Carlton and bring it to Nippers on the waterfront in a tiki environment. That's the hybrid - being able to produce chef-driven food in a casual environment - that makes Nippers unique. And that's where we deliver on our idea of barefoot chic.
Chef O is very creative. He blows me away every time I taste something new. He makes me crave it.
What's his style?
Chef O can create a flambé or a burger and both will be at the top in terms of the taste profile. If you remember the BASF commercials that said "we don't make the products, we just make them better" - well, I think of Chef O as the BASF of food. He's the guy who can take any food and make it amazing. I hate to pigeonhole him into any one style because he's so good at delivering on such a wide range of styles.
Where was he before Nippers?
He was with Kenny for nearly 7 years. He attended the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. He's worked at places like the Ritz-Carlton and 9545 in Telluride, Colorado. When he was at 9545 as Executive Chef the local paper, the Telluride Daily Planet, described his food as being so good "it will buckle your knees."
Can you recommend a few dishes to give people a sense of what Nippers is all about?
On the appetizer side I'd definitely recommend the Ahi tuna poki, the baked oysters, and the conch fritters. I also love Chef O's version of the wedge salad. It has Andouille sausage instead of bacon; it's really good. The caprese salad is different - it comes with a marmalade and is fantastic. The conch chowder is to die for - it's our mainstay soup and is on the menu every day.