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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen – Amelia Island, Florida

Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen – Amelia Island, Florida

I like Americana.  I seek it out, so when I saw Gilbert’s sign and the initials BBQ and a huge smoker outside, replete with the billowing clouds bearing the seductive aroma of long-roasting meat, I pulled in.  Sure, I was hungry, but I could have stopped anywhere.  No lack of good restaurants on the island, including a plethora of those advertising BBQ.

But first, I need to give you a glimpse and insight of my taste for Barbecue.   Texas?  Yep.  Mostly beef and the tantalizing tang of red sauce.  North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia?  Yep, every time.  Vinegar Q sauce in NC.  Mustard based sauce in SC.

The south is proud of it's barbecue and each state doesn't mind telling you whose is best. I remember clearly when I asked one of my compatriots from Texas about NC Q and his definitive answer:  I don’t trust people who put vinegar on their barbecue!

I’m different. I don’t play favorites until my taste buds vote.  Mention BBQ and I’m ready to pull in and dig in, even though I’ve come to expect the Q will be the star of the show, covering for lack luster mayo-soaked cabbage slaw and fries who last felt the sting of hot oil a while back.

Having weathered the worst, when I sat down amid the souvenirs of the southland of years past, I’d already decided to stick with Q and avoid the rest.  Then I saw the menu.

Collard greens.  Braised Brussels Sprouts. Cheese grits.  Mac and cheese, using pimento cheese.  Fried green tomatoes with Datil Pepper sauce.  Courtesy of our well-trained and well-mannered server, Connor, I soon was well informed in mouth-watering detail.

Gotta stop and tell a bit more about service at Gilbert’s.  Our other server, Sidney, was equally well informed and courteous.

And, had I known more about the Chef-Owner, Kenny Gilbert, I wouldn’t have been surprised at the prompt, courteous and superbly trained staff.

A bit about Kenny Gilbert.  Go to his home page to read the remarkable experience this Chef has, but I’ll give you the short answer:  Worked at first class restaurants around the globe.  Did well on Season Seven of “Top Chef,” and brought to Gilbert’s a level of superior cuisine never seen before in an almost inconspicuous BBQ restaurant.  Unpretentious in the extreme, Gilbert’s could easily compete in taste and service with restaurants costing ten times as much and requiring reservations two months in advance.

Underground is in the name and for a good reason.  The locals know about it, of course, but too many out of towners do not. I’ll do my best to change that.

The pork ribs and ‘burnt ends’ were smoked to soft and seasoned perfection.  I have never tasted BBQ of this quality and this satisfying.  I’ve been to dozens of BBQ restaurants, but for the life of me, after eating Kenny Gilbert’s BBQ, I can’t remember the others.

Fried Green tomatoes

And how about the so-called sides, all of which are first class stars in their own right?  The fried green tomatoes were tender inside and golden and crisp on the outside, with the batter light enough to still let the tomatoes shine.  Datil sauce requires finesse. After all, Datil peppers are hot enough to make a hungry hog swear he’d never eat again.  Not this time.  The Datil sauce brought out the sweetness of the pepper, with just enough bite to tantalize without raising any objections.

I could have feasted on the collards and the Brussel sprouts alone. Had to stop to save room for the BBQ.  I’m an unrepentant carnivore! Cheese grits?  Mac & Cheese?  Top of the line. Flavor on top of flavor.

One last comment about the ‘sides.’  The flavors meld so well with the spiciness of the Q.  When you get a plate full of a variety of foods, all of which compliment each other, you know you're dealing with a first class chef. 

When you sit down in Gilbert’s, you’ve found it all.  Food on a par with some of the best, service by well trained and well informed wait staff, and such a congenial atmosphere you’ll feel comfortable whether you just finished a round of golf, or are on your way to cocktails at the country club.

When you come to Amelia Island, even for a short time, do yourself a favor and let Gilbert’s take you to a new level of BBQ cuisine.

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