From food truck to Jacksonville restaurant

From food truck to Jacksonville restaurant
From food truck to Jacksonville restaurant

Jacksonville Beach | A top Jacksonville chef widely known for his popular food truck cuisine has opened a long-awaited brick-and-mortar restaurant that showcases modern Filipino cuisine and warm family hospitality.

Abstract Filipino Essence celebrated its grand opening Monday at 1500 Beach Blvd. Unit 215, where it joins mainstays Mojo Kitchen, BBQ Pit & Blues Bar and Engine 15 Brewing and newcomers 1928 Cuban Bistro and Lone Wolf Co. sandwich shop, both of which have opened in recent weeks.

At Abstrakt, chef and owner Jojo Hernandez offers a menu of Filipino food with a “twist”. It reflects family meals at home, but also explores ingredients and cooking styles native to other world cuisines, such as making fresh pasta and sushi and using French or other cooking techniques, he told the Times-Union.

“I infuse all this flavor in my Filipino roots. That’s why I call my food 80/20. It’s 80 percent family recipes that I love to eat and then I put my 20 percent twist on it,” said Hernandez, a founding member of Jax Filipino Chefs.

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The menu at Abstrakt Filipino Essence pays tribute to his parents, Maybelene and Ely Hernandez, and his wife, Desiree, and their three children, ages 1 to 10.

“My biggest influences are my parents and my wife. … I don’t do things for myself anymore, I do for them and my kids,” he said.

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But the menu is not just for the Filipino community, he said.

“I cook for everyone… but I want to elevate Filipino food and share it with the whole community,” he said.

On the menu: Filipino food with a twist

Fans of Abstrakt will find many of their food truck favorites and more on the menu at the new restaurant, including:

  • Lumpia ($9): A mix of ground pork and beef, mirepoix vegetables, sweet chili dipping sauce and atsara salad
  • Street Food Fish Balls ($9): Chef’s catch with savory brown sauce and a stir-fry sauce
  • Salmon Kilawin ($12): Salmon with pickled jicama, quail egg, sinigang broth, toyomansi gastrique, toasted pinipig and sili oil
  • Chicken Pancit ($18): Spicy chicken, Lola’s garden vegetables, Canton noodle mix and Silver Swan soy broth
  • Chicken Tocino Bowl ($19): Marinated chicken thigh, garlic rice, Brussels sprouts, ginger soy glaze and maple riracha aioli
  • Shrimp Singang Ramen ($23): Butter garlic shrimp, tamarind broth, Nanay’s garden vegetables and a soft-boiled egg
  • Steak Silog ($38): Tanduay-glazed New York strip steak with a poached egg, arroz caldo korokke, garlic herb mushrooms
  • Pork Belly Sisig Bowl ($21): Pork, roasted garlic rice, red onion, atsara, ToyoMansi and a fried egg
  • Braised Oxtail Kare Kare ($35): Oxtail with jasmine rice, bagoong fragrant eggplant puree, green vegetables, peanut butter emulsion and peanut gremolata

And for dessert, there’s the Ube Cheesecake ($8), made with cream cheese, sweet purple yams and a graham cracker crust; and Halo Halong Himagas ($17), a sharable dessert with cassava, ube macapuno and cheesecake, turon, flan, sago plus seasonal house-made ice cream.

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For owner Jojo Hernandez, a culinary journey

Hernandez was born in Libertad Tayug, Pangasinan, Philippines and emigrated in 1995 to the United States.

When he was 17, Hernandez embarked on a culinary journey that has taken him from a humble fast food restaurant to exclusive country clubs and finally his own restaurant.

Along the way, at his parents’ urging, he earned a medical assistant degree in 1998 and began working in a doctor’s office, but soon realized “it wasn’t really my style.”

“I said cooking is my passion so I had to go back to school…. and I’ve been cooking ever since, he said.

His first restaurant job was flipping hamburgers at Burger King in 1998. After his doctor’s visit, Hernandez attended the FTCI School of Culinary Arts in St. Augustine – becoming an apprentice from 1999 to 2001.

Next year, Hernandez became sous chef at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club. Hernandez continued to work his way up in kitchen and restaurant management, then served as executive sous chef at the Florida Yacht Club in Ortega for 18 years.

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In March 2020 – despite the COVID-19 pandemic – Hernandez took a leap of faith and launched the Abstrakt Filipino Essence food truck.

The colorful food truck quickly became popular, drawing customers at each stop who patiently waited in line for Hernandez to serve lumpia, pancit, Chicken Tocino Bowl and Pork Belly Sisig Bowl.

To focus on brick and mortar, Hernandez has pulled the food truck off the road.

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Abstract Filipino Essence is open 5:00 PM to 9:00 PM Monday through Thursday and 5:00 PM to 10:00 PM Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. Hernandez hopes to add lunch service in the coming months.

Teresa Stepzinski is a dining reporter for the Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter @TeresaStepz or reach her via email at [email protected]

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