For most of my life, I satisfied my clam chowder cravings with two variations: New England and Manhattan. That all changed on a recent visit to O’Steen’s Restaurant, in St. Augustine, Florida, where I was introduced to a third style, unique to the northeastern part of that state: Minorcan. O’Steen’s isn’t the only place that serves it, but I’d heard theirs was the best. I snagged a seat and placed my order. The tomato-based stew full of chopped clams and diced potatoes looked like a standard Manhattan chowder. But when I tasted it, I was overcome with a kick from the key ingredient, datil chiles, which permeated the innocuous looking soup. Their heat gave way to a citrusy flavor similar to that of a habanero chile, but more intense.
Datil chiles are unique to St. Augustine, where they’re favored by the Minorcan population, whose ancestors, originally from the island of Minorca off the coast of Spain, came to Florida in the 18th century to work on British-held plantations. Fleeing harsh conditions, in 1776 they came to St. Augustine. Datils were likely brought to Florida from the West Indies, where similar varieties are found, but whatever their origins, the descendants of the Minorcans grabbed hold of them. Sitting at O’Steen’s, I spooned up the fiery chowder, leaving both Manhattan and New England behind for hotter climes.
205 Anastasia Boulevard
St. Augustine, FL 32080-4504