People around me ordered Jimmy John’s for lunch. I decided to hold out, and on my way home made my way into Jacksonville’s Riverside neighborhood for a sandwich at the Whiteway Delicatessen. I pulled in front of the deli located on King Street at 3:34. The door was bolted, the blinds were drawn, and the lights were off. Whiteway closed at 3 o’clock.
My heart sunk a bit. After overcoming my initial disappointment I scanned for nearby spots that could satisfy my craving. Pinegrove Market and Deli was a short drive south on Park Street in Avondale. Bungalows, cottages, and green spaces lined the street. I sped past the turn to Pine Grove Avenue, but soon found my way to the small unassuming store front wedged in between modest houses that lined the street. A string of cars fronted the market, and I found a space towards the end of the row near the front door.
Entering the store I was greeted by a smiling bearded man behind the counter, who I later learned was the owner Nadar Bajalia. A meat counter displaying aged cuts of beef stood in front of me. The kitchen was behind. To the left was a collection of well-aged coolers which held a variety of bottled sodas, waters, and beers. I approached the counter and looked over the tri-folded menu. Pinegrove serves breakfast until 11:00 a.m., and then turns its attention to serving up sandwiches, burgers, subs, and salads. I decided to order my first ever Camel Rider (or Camel Ryder according to Pinegrove’s menu.)
In Jacksonville rather than being an ethnic slur, a Camel Rider is a stack of meat stuffed into a pita, topped with vegetables, and slathered with Italian dressing. The Jacksonville Times Union addressed a concerned citizen’s question on the subject in a piece written in 2002 . The sandwich originated in the Bold New City of the South in 1965 when Tarzan Akel tossed some sliced deli meat in a pita and made history. The Pinegrove Market’s version was advertised as honey ham, salami, bologna, with lettuce, tomatoes, banana peppers, American cheese, and Italian dressing in a pita.
I took a seat at a small laminated table, sipped on a ginger ale, and took in the atmosphere. Pinegrove has been open since 1968 and has charm that can only be earned with the passage of time. My name was soon called and I picked up my sandwich from the back counter. The Camel Ryder was accompanied by a pile of fresh cut potato chips and two sweet pickle slices. Meat overflowed from the sandwich and propped the pita wide open. Thick slices of ham, bologna, salami, and American cheese were paired with fresh vegetables and just enough Italian dressing to add flavor to the sandwich without making the bread soggy. The bread was also nice and fresh. The sandwich was delicious. The chips were also an unexpected bonus. They were crisps, salty, and generously portioned. The pickles were also tasty. By the time my plate was clear I was happy, full, and very pleased I had stumbled onto this gem.
Pinegrove is located at 1511 Pine Grove Avenue. The deli is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m., on Saturday from 8 a.m. – 7 p.m., and closed on Sunday. Pinegrove can be found online at pinegrovemarket.com, Facebook, on Twitter @pinegrovemarket, and contacted by telephone at (904) 389-8655.
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