Delicious crab cakes and fat shrimp. That’s how a friend described her last meal at Barbara Jean’s Restaurant in the Jacksonville, Florida area. That was enough to pique my interest. There are four restaurants in the chain. The one my friend suggested is in Ponte Vedra on the Intracoastal Waterway.
While enticing, it is south of where we’re staying and we are heading north on I-95. Instead, we opt to try the original restaurant in Saint Simons Island, Georgia. Saint Simons Island is a lovely little upscale area with world-class golf courses, a lighthouse near a pier and Spanish moss hanging on the trees. It’s dripping with quaint.
Barbara Jean’s is on the main drag surrounded by souvenir, clothing and islandy home furnishing shops. On a Monday at noon in the middle of summer there are plenty of empty tables. We’re seated quickly.
Prices are on the high side. We consider getting a couple of appetizers including a $5 cup of she crab soup and sharing the shrimp & grits but are told that if we want to share, they’ll tack on a $3 charge to the already steep price of $16.99.
My husband Mike orders a 5 oz. crab cake sandwich ($11.99) and I opt for the shrimp & grits and with a cup of the she crab soup instead of the two veggies that come as sides.
The she crab soup is unremarkable. Instead of chunks of crab, it’s full of pellet-sized bits of crab. It’s thick and creamy but a bit fishy. I am forever ruined by the delicious crab bisque I had at Route 12 Steak & Seafood in Corolla, NC. (Read about it here.) It set the bar high and this doesn’t come close.
On the flip side, the shrimp & grits are quite good.
Thick slices of andouille have a really nice kick and the shrimp are fresh, fresh, fresh. There are chopped green onions and jalapeños (I think) on top of the creamy grits. My only complaint is that it is served in a tiny bowl, making it difficult to eat. I would have preferred a wider, shallower bowl. By the time I reach the bottom of the bowl, I’m too full to make a dent in the grits.
Mike’s crab cake sandwich is just okay. Trying to be a bit healthier, he orders it with just coleslaw but it arrives with a pile of fries too. To avoid temptation, he asks that they take those off the plate. I try a taste of the crab cake. In my opinion, it’s just okay. I don’t know what the binder or seasoning is in this cake but it’s missing that super sweet taste of fresh crab.
The breadbasket is worthy of a mention. While the wheat roll is very good, the jalapeño cornbread and the pumpkin bread are outstanding. Batter to make them in your very own kitchen is available by mail order but the very steep starting price of $39.95 (plus $35 for shipping!) is stunning. That’s a lot of bread for bread. At that price, it is less expensive for me to drive 650 miles round trip to pick it up myself. It was good, but not THAT good.
Service for us is just fair. Our waitress isn’t particularly friendly and we have to try to flag her down a couple of times.
One nice thing is that they tack on an extra $0.25 to the bill that goes directly to the local land trust. We are fine with that but you can ask them to remove it if you don’t agree.
If you are looking for a break from the monotony of an I-95 drive, Saint Simons Island is about a 15 mile detour each way. We enjoyed stretching our legs with a walk to the end of the pier.
Lunch at Barbara Jeans was basically good but I think $35 plus tax and tip for a total of $44 is a tad excessive for this down-home style lunch for two.