Jackson’s Steakhouse, a Pensacola fine-dining establishment, hosts a media-tasting event twice a year. Founding Executive Chef Irv Miller introduces his seasonal menu each spring and fall. Scenic 98 Coastal was fortunate to be included. 

Held in the private dining room, the Director of Marketing, Public Relations, and Events for Great Southern Restaurants, Maria Goldberg, served as our host for the evening. Maria adds to the flavor of anything she is involved with, and this night was no exception. 

As she welcomed the local media group assembled, she explained that the purpose of the menu tasting was to introduce the 2024 Spring Preview Menu and to let us know that Chef Irv and the entire staff wanted to hear honest feedback on what we thought of each dish and cocktail served. “There will be a pop quiz at the end, and your comments are important,” she tells us. 

“This event serves as more than a promotional event. Chef Irv produces lovely meals, and I encourage you to try every dish, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan, because I promise you, whatever he prepares, it will be the best version of that dish you may ever have an opportunity to try.” This proved true.

A printed menu was at each place setting, so we knew what to expect throughout the evening. As we found our seats and met our table guests, we were offered a cocktail from the bar. Maria gave us a little background on Jackson’s Steakhouse, which faces Plaza Ferdinand, where, in 1821, General Andrew Jackson accepted the transfer of Florida to the United States from Spain.

Collier Merrill, whose family is from Pensacola, and with brothers Will and Burney, decided to enter the restaurant business years ago. “It started with what is now the Fish House Restaurant in what was formerly the Steak and Ale,” says Maria. “ Not much was happening along Pensacola’s waterfront at the time, and Collier is all about giving back to Pensacola.”

“Each of you has been a big part of this, and fine dining is an important aspect of having a great place to live, work, and play. Tonight, you are our friends and taste tasters.” Maria tells us that the last few years have been greatly affected by hurricanes and the pandemic, and this is the first time in several years that Jackson’s has been able to host this event. 

“The restaurant industry has retracted since Covid. We stopped serving lunch at Jackson’s after Covid because we just didn’t have the staff. Then Collier’s mother said she missed having lunch at Jackson’s, so we reinstated it on Fridays.”

As Chef Irv tells us about tonight’s menu tasting, we experience our first featured cocktail, a White Sands. It was soon a crowd favorite. Expertly created and presented in a rocks glass, it is made of Astral Blanco tequila, fresh sour mix, triple sec, St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, freshly muddled cucumbers, with a cucumber wheel garnish. 

With two appetizers and three entrees of smaller portions, we can experience the new items he is introducing. Chef Irv explained his thoughts about the Steakhouse Hummus set before us, described on the menu as Whipped hummus, extra virgin olive oil, salsa macha, East Hill Honey, Mission Farms’ microgreens, and grilled naan. 

“The grilled naan, the bread served to accompany the hummus, is a non-issue!” He does have a welcoming sense of humor! “I wanted to capture all the flavors in one bite,” said one of our tablemates.

It was fantastic, as was the second appetizer, Hickory-Wood-Fired Smokies. It featured premium beef, pork, smokey bacon sausage, bourbon, Steen’s cane syrup chile glaze, and C&D Mill rice grits. It was a hit with all the guests, especially the C&D Mill rice grits, which we learned are available locally. They are creamy and delicious.

We were served Red Snapper, Za’atar spice-encrusted red snapper, napa slaw, roasted cashews, ginger dressing, and clementine mandarin butter sauce for our first entree. Even those who were not partial to fish loved it. Many commented on the light crust with the clementine butter sauce.

Our next entree tasting was a Joyce Farms’ Frenched chicken breast, Dijon-sherry cream sauce, sauteed cultivated wild mushrooms, and tomato pearl couscous.   The mushrooms are cultivated by a grower in Mobile, Molino. They were crispy and delicious. There was much pro-and-con debate about the couscous, especially the Kalamata olives. Chef Irv was listening intently.

Our second cocktail of the evening was served. Called a Blackberry Bourbon Smash, it is described as Whistle Pig’s Oyr Piggyback Rye, house-made blackberry and mint syrup, fresh citrus, topped with Lovo prosecco, and fresh blackberry garnish. “Perfect with the Lamb Chops,” said one of the guests, which was our last entree.

The Lamb Chops were outstanding: rosemary garlic marinated, open-fired grilled asparagus, charred red onion petals, and BG196 Mustard demi-glace (curried 196 days). If there ever was a perfect lamb chop, this was it. One guest remarked, “I love trying new things. I’m going to tell everyone I know to order the lamb chops.”  

As we concluded, we each had an opportunity to go around the table and comment on our favorites. It was all excellent, beginning with the Steakhouse Hummus. My favorite entree was a toss-up between the red snapper and the lamb chops. The White Sands cocktail is a go-to, especially in warmer months. “It would make a great boat drink,” said our new friend, Liz, when it came to her turn to voice her thoughts. I agree.

We enjoyed meeting the staff at Jackson’s throughout the evening. It is an excellent team graciously delivering a fabulous fine dining experience, which is not easily done these days. Collier Merrill spent time saying hello to each guest. By design, he is a humble and under-heralded asset for the City of Pensacola. Always friendly and engaging, he has helped move the area forward in many ways.

And what more can I say about Maria? Getting to know her has been a true delight since Scenic 98 Coastal came into being two years ago. She is always helpful and accommodating. 

The new Spring/Summer menu will begin on Friday, April 12. I certainly made new friends at the menu tasting, enjoyed excellent food and drink, and l look forward to returning to Jackson’s Steakhouse soon! 

Apr 10, 2024
Epicurean Delights

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