By Richie Evans
Few words can describe how lucky Jacksonville Beach is to have Chef Kenny Gilbert open two restaurants in one building—and how lucky I was to attend a preview before the restaurants opened to the public today.
Located on the first floor of the former Seachasers restaurant, Gilbert’s Hot Chicken, Fish & Shrimp has a cozy, kitchen vibe focusing on a simple Southern menu. The stars of the show were the chicken, catfish and shrimp, which come in a sandwich or by the half pound/pound. I tried all of the meats—both “hot” and “not” versions—served on sliders with housemade pickles. The chicken was excellent and tender. The shrimp was juicy and fresh. The catfish practically melted in my mouth. Both the “hot” and “not” versions were great. Personally, I loved the “hot” versions, but diners who aren’t big fans of spicy food may want to opt for the “not” versions.
The specialty cocktails, which Gilbert created himself, feature moonshine or bourbon. I was able to sample the Gilbert’s Proper which included Knob Creek Rye Bourbon, Concord grape juice, rosemary sage bitters, juniper simple syrup and lemon juice; The Truth Serum with Woodford Reserve, brown sugar, lime, peach shrub and club soda; and my favorite: The Ultimate Beast, composed of Ole Smoky Mango Habeñero Whiskey, orange juice, simple syrup,and club soda. The latter drink was perfectly spicy and sweet; in fact, it was so good I found it hard to pace myself. All the drinks were well balanced allowing me taste all the wonderful ingredients while not taking away from the flavor of the alcohol being showcased. They also had a Southern twist by incorporating spices and seasonings used in Southern dishes.
Gilbert’s Southern Kitchen & Bar is located on the second floor and is more upscale in its décor. There were bigger tables, and the colors were more muted than the other restaurant. All along the walls were views showcasing Jax Beach. The menu offerings include dishes from alligator rib tacos to Southern curry made with collard greens. Despite giving off a more “upscale appeal,” it still retains the casual vibe typical of Gilbert’s other restaurants and its beach setting. The views of the ocean are beautiful and a perfect compliment to a menu heavy on seafood.
I tried the mussels and clams, as well as the brisket. The mussels and clams came in a huge pot accompanied by corn and chicken. It was almost as if the ingredients have been marinating in that pot for days because everything soaked up the flavor of the sauce and broth. The brisket was so tender and flavorful. Each bite was moist and didn’t need sauce, but that didn’t stop me from dipping it into every sauce they have.
After reading this review (and checking the menu), you may have difficulty choosing which restaurant to dine in. But not to worry: guests can order food from either menu—just ask your server for the other menu. The specialty drinks are available in both locations, as well.
Final verdict: Gilbert’s Southern Kitchen & Bar and Gilbert’s Hot Chicken, Fish & Shrimp offer some of the best food and drink in the city because of the simplicity of the ingredients, while maintaining a complexity of flavor. Most restaurants at the Beaches serve tacos and burgers and don’t have much character. BBQ food in Jacksonville is also a tad bland because of the amount of chains. At Gilbert’s you can taste the love and commitment to deliver a truly amazing culinary experience. The food is fresh, tasty and perfectly simple!