Eminence, quality, and meticulous, all of the words that describe me when I’m finished getting a haircut with thoughts of being hand-picked by Tyra Banks for America’s Next Top Model. Okay, that maybe a little too far, but let a man live! I often have to remind myself that I don’t live in a fantasy world, so picking a restaurant to describe how I would feel is the next logical step to help me feel good. Gilbert’s Southern Kitchen & Bar describes how one would feel after being hand-picked by Tyra Banks. Without any doubt you’ll leave the restaurant feelings satisfied, rejuvenated, and slightly discouraged, and that’s only because it’ll be challenging to find another restaurant like it’s kind in the area.
Gilbert’s is led by Former Top Chef contestant Kenny Gilbert, who has worked in fine dining for years before opening a restaurant of his own. I had the opportunity to dine at this establishment with two other Jacksonville food bloggers. An up and coming food blogger in the Florida scene (IG:food_less_travelled__) and another prominent figure in the area Trice (Pronounced TrEEce) . During the visit we were able to learn a lot from the way Chef Kenny operates his establishment, from the meticulous ways he trains his staff to the different ingredients he uses to put ordinary dishes into a category of its own. The restaurant sits right on the beach and is connected to two of his other restaurants. If you’re looking for a date night place to have a good meal then enjoy a walk along the beach then this is the perfect place for you. The interior of this restaurant is amazing with its high ceilings, an open kitchen, and a view that overlooks the water.
During my visit I was able to try over eight dishes that ranged from Turnips to Alligator Rib Tacos. I’ll start with the smaller dishes before I get into the main dishes. The first dish that was ordered was the Cast Iron Sizzling Turnips. Think of TGI Friday’s Sizzling Chicken and Shrimp dish, now throw it away, because that dish has absolutely no merit to be in the same category as this African-American inspired dish. You have Turnips cooked in a lemon garlic butter and topped with crushed peanuts. When’s the last time you had sizzling turnips? Exactly. Never. Stop. You’re lying. Well, I won’t call you a liar, but I’ve never had them. I wouldn’t have dared order this dish anywhere else, but I figured since I was out-of-town, I might as well try something new. Who knew that this dish would be so flavorful, earthy, and well-balanced. Huh? Of course you can hear the sizzle in this dish, don’t be silly.
The second dish that was ordered was the Alligator Rib Tacos. Yes, tacos, made from Alligator meat. What better way to try Alligator then at a Florida restaurant where they’re known for having these mini dinosaurs roaming around in their backyard. If you’ve never tasted Alligator then this is the perfect time for you to try them. A lot of people say Alligator taste like chicken, although people always try to correlate a different kind of meat with chicken so therefore you can eat it, I’m here to tell you the s*** does NOT taste like chicken. It taste like Alligator. It has an earthy texture to it, an after taste to it, and almost has the same consistency as pork. Alligator is one of those love it or hate it things, nothing in between. Unfortunately, I am not you, I can be in between, and that’s what I am. It’s not one of those things that I would order everyday, but to be able to try it inside of a taco with salsa verde, pickled onions, and cabbage, made me feel less stressed about trying baby dinosaur meat.
The next three dishes that were ordered were the Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends, Shishito Peppers & Cauliflower, and Broiled Gulf Coast Oysters. You ever have Burnt Ends before? Aren’t they the most succulent pieces of meat you’ll ever have off the grill? Well, these pieces of meat were kicked up a notch with creativity and flavor. The Smoked Pork Belly Burnt Ends were made with Sweet Tomato Molasses BBQ and topped with Pickled Pineapple. The sweetness of the pineapple to go with the smokiness flavor of the pork was like no other. This was a finger-licking good meal and the portion size was incredible as well. I wouldn’t order that dish without getting a taste of some vegetables to balance out your overall appetizer experience. That’s what we have the Shishito Peppers & Cauliflower for. Think of vegetables being grilled and topped with a vinaigrette dressing, unbelievable! I know you’re wondering how hot the Shishito Peppers are, but don’t worry, you have a 20% less chance of actually devouring one that will require you to drink a glass of milk. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night, because I love vegetables and the spices that were added to this dish. The last appetizer to round it out were the Oysters. These weren’t just any oysters. These were Grilled Oysters topped with Foie Gras Butter, “Gilbert’s Greens”, Andouille Sausage, and Cornbread Gratin. Yes, Cornbread Gratin. What? You thought you would have regular grilled oysters? Absolutely not. This dish was creativity at its finest. Foie Gras Butter and Cornbread Gratin. When was the last time you had the two at the same place? Don’t answer that question. Taste the oysters, they’re life changing.
As for the main courses we decided to keep it traditional with Fried Chicken and Macaroni and Cheese, but we had to get something non traditional like Gilbert’s Smoked Wagyu Beef Brisket. The Gilbert’s Smoked Wagyu Beef Brisket was made with a black bean mole, sweet plantains, radishes, and cornbread crumble. The dish was so pretty, I contemplated on eating it, but nothing is too pretty to eat. (Get your mind out the gutter 🙂 ) The beef was tender, juicy, and meaty, and the black bean mole worked well with the sweet plantains. I thought the beans would be dry, because I hate beans and generally beans are dry, but they worked well with the sweetness of the plantains. Plantains aren’t generally a dish in which I would order, because I never got into them, but the more I ate them at this restaurant the more I’m thinking about seeking them out more. The radishes were a great topping to bring out color to this dish, but the overall meal was drool worthy.
The last meal that was ordered was the Fried Chicken which was presented in a bucket and the Macaroni and Cheese. The Macaroni and Cheese was made with Cavatappi Pasta, Pimento Cheese, Black Pepper Queso, Cheddar, and Saltine Cracker Gratin. The macaroni and cheese was okay, until, you started chewing it and all of these different flavors started to explode in your mouth. I had to look up and ask if I was really tasting what was described on the menu. Stupid, I know, but still, there are so many restaurants that describe what’s in the dish, but you can’t taste it. I was thoroughly pleased with this dish, but I was more frustrated that I didn’t order it with crab meat. If lobster was offered to go along with this dish, I’m pretty sure I would ask for a pint of it to go home with me. The Fried Chicken was made a little spicy and included Datil Pepper Honey. Think of Spicy and Sweet, but not general tsos chicken. Think of your mouth-watering from the thought of sinking your teeth into a crispy piece of Fried Chicken and your taste buds melting with the sweetness of the pepper honey only to be followed by a kick of the hot flavor of the peppers.
Overall, this restaurant is a catch a flight or make an excuse to take a road trip to Jacksonville. Good food, quality atmosphere, and it’s Black Owned, what more could you ask for? A beach near by? Yes, it has that too. Chef Kenny Gilbert exemplifies excellence, understanding, and passion. He is meticulous with the way he operates his restaurant from everything such as waiters/waitresses not using their hands to bring out silverware to tables, but instead placing them on a tray, to making sure orders are fulfilled to the customers enjoyment. This place represents Black Excellence.