The oldest continuous families in Florida originated from the Balearic Islands. Most arrived with Dr. Andrew Turnbull’s New Smyrna colony and moved north to Saint Augustine when Turnbull’s community folded by 1777.
Fishing and shop-keeping were major mainstay occupations of many Minorcans in North Florida so it was not shocking they merged Florida products with those from the Hispanic world. Datil peppers were probably brought to Saint Augustine from Cuba.
The most notable use today of these peppers is in Minorcan clam chowder, which looks like Manhattan clam chowder until it reaches the back of your mouth. The clams, tomatoes, corn kernals, and potatoes are power-zipped by the datil peppers. Over the years tourists to the Oldest City became hooked on the dish – even New Englanders who’d never touch a New York chowder. Saint Augustine became the world’s top producer of the datil pepper.
Chris Way, founder of Barnacle Bill’s Seafood place at 14 Castillo Drive, even started a commercial datil pepper under the Dat’l Do-It brand. Minorcan chowder is a popular menu item at Barnacle Bill’s with locals and visitors. They even put datil on their crusted fried shrimp.
My favorite St. Johns County chowder house is the no frills café called O’Steen’s at 205 Anastasia Boulevard. There is something rustic and seaworthy to have clam chowder in an unfancy establishment. Unfortunately, chowder lovers have found the place and it is usually packed.