With Southern charm, rich history, and wonderful food, The Florida House Inn is a delicious find for residents and visitors alike.
The Florida House Inn is Florida’s oldest operating inn, located in the heart of historic downtown Fernandina Beach. Its rich history is obvious everywhere you turn, from its charming rooms and Southern hospitality to its marvelous menu offerings from the Florida House Restaurant, the inn’s Southern bistro. The Florida House Inn is a family affair. Innkeepers Emily and Marshall Sands keep thing running smoothly, and Chef Susannah Sands is Marshall’s mom, the former owner of Susannah’s in Jacksonville. Classically educated by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, Susannah has catered parties for the likes of Margaret Thatcher, General Colin Powell, and former President George H.W. Bush. Thankfully for Amelia Island, she’s now cooking up some fabulous dishes right here in Fernandina Beach.
I invited my friend Terry Smith to join me at the Florida House for lunch. Terry, a local musician and songwriter, is also a foodie, and a great cook himself. We brought along our appetites and were eager to sample some of Chef Susannah’s specialties.
Our server, Patrick, started us out with sweet tea (of course!) and a cup each of She Crab Soup and Tomato Bisque, served with tiny corn muffins and homemade biscuits. Three cheers for the bread basket! I have not given up carbs, and the muffins were delicately sweet, while the biscuits were light and buttery. The crab soup was loaded with lots of lump crabmeat, and I loved the fact that it wasn’t over-seasoned—this soup is all about the crab. The tomato bisque had a surprising addition of goat cheese, which gave the soup a slightly tangy nature. Both soups were superb. We then each had a bowl of Shrimp and Grits, and, wow, does Susannah know how to cook grits. Cooked in chicken broth, they’re served with large, succulent local shrimp, and the sauce is extraordinary. Made with prosciutto, chardonnay, and cream, and then topped with scallions and lemons, this is shrimp and grits at a whole new level!
The Florida House is well-known for its family-style dining and their famous fried chicken, so we sampled a few bites of those remarkable Southern goodies—a yummy fried chicken breast served with okra and tomatoes, mashed red bliss potatoes, and macaroni and cheese. The chicken is brined in buttermilk and amply seasoned, before being coated with batter and fried. Each bite was perfect. This is definitely the way to cook chicken. The potatoes had a surprising hint of nutmeg, the vegetables were fresh, and the okra sublime.
We swore we didn’t have room for dessert, but there it appeared miraculously on our table, and so we dug in anyway. A giant slice of apple cranberry pie was served warm with vanilla ice cream, and another plate held a dollop of scrumptious chilled lemon soufflé with fresh blueberries. Oh my, what a wonderful ending to our luncheon. The pie crust was golden and flaky, the fruit tender and sweet, and I loved the fact that Susannah threw a few pecans in there for good measure. The soufflé was light and delicious. If you think you don’t have room for dessert, order this sweet treat anyway—you’ll be glad you did.
The Florida House is open every day for lunch and available for special events throughout the year. Charm, history, and delicious food make the Florida House Inn & Restaurant a noteworthy and delicious find for residents and visitors alike.