Texas Travel

Visit Jacksonville: The Tomato Capital of the World

By Chet Garner 1.10.18

The charming East Texas town of Jacksonville has more to it than meets the eye. It’s the tomato capital of the world — a lot of people don’t realize that. So if you want to know about tomatoes, that’s where you go. And the first place you go to is the Tomato Shed. 

You say tomato, I say go to Jacksonville. 

The Tomato Shed is a farmers market that’s been run for decades. David and Austin Claiborne have been bringing tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers to their shed since way before farmers markets were cool and trendy. If you’ve ever bought a tomato in East Texas, you’ve probably already eaten one of his tomatoes, as he sells to numerous grocery stores.  

The tomato obsession in the town goes much further than one farmer’s shed. It’s become part of the town’s heritage. One year, there were actually more tomatoes produced in Jacksonville than anywhere else in the world. There are concrete tomatoes all over the town painted by locals and businesses alike. The town holds the world record for the largest bowl of salsa ever made — it’s now cut in half and proudly displayed on the “Welcome to Jacksonville” sign. The other famed “Tomato Bowl” is the high school football stadium, so called because, well … tomatoes.  

Grab a bite to eat. Or two or three.  

In our recent episode of The Daytripper, we explored Jacksonville’s marinara-flavored past. We made some notably non-tomato-related stops along the way — but I have to say the fried green tomatoes at Sylvia Mae’s Soul Food were exceptional.  

Sylvia Mae has been making soul food since she was a baby and whips up some smothered pork chops and collard greens that will make your eyes roll back in your head, they’re so good. 

For dessert, we headed downtown to Ritual, an amazing, hybrid salad-and-sandwich place with an upstairs yoga studio. They make exceptional homemade desserts so we had to indulge in a big meringue filled with lemon curd, fresh berries, homemade whipped cream, and gold leaf (I felt pretty fancy) — and then did some yoga.  

Ritual was started by a girl who lived in Austin for many years before moving back to her hometown — she wanted to help her town get some restaurants and culture you can usually only find in big cities.  

Jacksonville

Stay healthy, then get dirty. 

After getting a little froufrou at the yoga studio, we decided it was time to stir some stuff up, so we went to the Mud Creek Off-Road Park. You have to bring your own UTV (basically a big souped up golf cart), to go through the mud. But soon you’ll be lost in 4,000 acres of trails through the red dirt and swamp pits of East Texas. The perfect place to get a little (or a lot) of mud on the tires.  

Jacksonville

Calm down and dig in. 

For dinner, we went to a place called Sadler’s Kitchen, which has been serving Jacksonville since the 1940s. Their homemade brisket enchiladas, steaks, and farmer’s market veggies have made it the kind of institution that will last forever. It was like grandma’s fresh-from-the-garden home cooking.  

I was pumped to find all these things. When we go and start planning out a show, we want it to be something that catches people off guard. Something that gives you a glimpse of a life you didn’t know existed, a town you never knew was so fascinating. Jacksonville was like that. 

Chet Garner’s Texas Emmy Award-winning show The Daytripper explores small town life, history, food, and culture in Texas. Catch his episode on Jacksonville airing Feb. 17 on your local Texas PBS station.