Chef Paul Becking left Santa Barbara, Calif., to forgo "flashy, frilly" food for "simplified" fare.
Installing his C St. Bistro in a tiny restaurant a block off Jacksonville's main drag, Becking lacks the space to execute an elaborate repertoire. Nor does he have time — while waiting on the handful of tables — to present each plate "garnished all to pieces" with "three or four sauces."
Instead, C St. Bistro's small, "local-centric" menu features fresh, seasonal produce and high-quality meats. Although Becking has given up pandering to the gourmet palate, he's eager to accommodate diners' dietary restrictions and concerns.
"It's even things like salt and the types of oils that are used," says Becking. "Let me know, and we'll get you something."
Customers most often cite various reasons for eschewing wheat, says Becking. Because he prepares dressings and most condiments from scratch, he ensures they're free from gluten, a protein that occurs naturally in wheat but often is added to processed foods. If he can't decipher all the ingredients listed on a product label, says Becking, he sets out to make his own — and make it better.
Likewise, Becking's house-smoked meats and fish lack the preservatives in commercial counterparts. Sausage is made on site and top-sirloin burgers are ground to order.
"No pink slime here," he says. "People are happy to hear it."
Becking, 38, learned the meat cutter's trade at The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point, where he worked for about a year before opening the bistro in February 2011. He still purchases most of his meats from The Butcher Shop and Medford's Southern Oregon Fine Meats.
"I wish we had him back, because people miss him," says Cameron Callahan, co-owner of The Butcher Shop. "He was always cooking something."
Becking signed on with The Butcher Shop to learn sausage-making, says Callahan. The chef's training shows in his C St. Breakfast Plate, which pairs pork sausage or house-smoked bacon with two Kurth Family Farm eggs, fingerling potatoes and toast or salad.
Main-dish salads juxtapose the "classic" Caesar and iceberg-lettuce wedge with a Mediterranean assortment of goat cheese and Italian deli meats, along with Becking's signature combination of organic greens, including kales and chards, with fresh and dried fruits, drizzled with peach-balsamic vinaigrette.
Greens and house-made pickles lighten the menu's copious meats — to be expected from a former butcher. Six-ounce burgers with roasted potatoes range in price from $11 for the classic "Americana" to the $15 "Gourmand" topped with house-made pastrami and a sunny-side-up duck egg.
Callahan attests that restaurant burgers prepared with prime-grade beef are unusual, not to mention ones ground to order.
"Most all restaurants want it pre-pattied ... because of the labor savings in it," he says. "A lot of restaurants will use a ... nongraded product because it's so much cheaper."
Becking's food, says Callahan, is about "quality first, price second."
About a dozen hot and cold sandwiches also showcase Becking's care with meat: pit-smoked, pulled pork shoulder, roasted turkey, smoked salmon, duck confit, even bacon "jam." The brunch menu features more of the same, as well as house-made beef jerky thinly shaved into bechamel sauce and finished with spiced sea salt for a decidedly elegant take on "chipped beef on toast."
Condescending to an omelet and an herbed waffle, albeit topped with duck confit, Becking says mainstream breakfast dishes "bore" him. Mustard Seed Cafe across Fifth Street serves a plethora of pancakes and such, he says, so he honed his menu down to a half-dozen, "thought-out" specialties from $8 to $14 served all day.
Friday and Saturday dinners are a collaboration with local wineries, who pour vintages and varietals to complement Becking's farmers market-inspired menus. Availability of local produce determines his risotto, prepared to order, as well as vegetables served with the bistro's steak or chop of the day. Fish or shellfish of the day comes from Port Orford Sustainable Seafood.
Prosciutto-wrapped cod with orange-caper butter was a recent dinner special, along with fava and morel risotto. Fleeting delicacies also yield appetizer specials, says Becking.
"Squash blossoms are popping out — I'll do fried squash blossoms."
Entree specials range in price from $22 to $24, about $15 more per person with a two-glass wine pairing. Macaroni and cheese for $16, duck hash for $19 and burgers also are on the regular dinner menu. Fixed-price dinner menus with choice of meat or fish, a first course and special dessert for $30 are planned this summer.
About half of C St. Bistro's limited seating is outdoors on the white-picket-fenced front patio. Dinner reservations are recommended.