Have you visited Jacksonville lately? There seems to be a culinary renaissance underway, but it’s sluggish and can’t get all the gears in place to truly get rolling.
Thankfully some chefs have planted themselves in the city, busily trying to put the city’s culinary ecosystem on the map. One of whom is former Top Chef contestant, Chef Kenny Gilbert. No ordinary chef, dude has cooked for Oprah Winfrey. That’s it. You really don’t need any other names, even though his celebrity rolodex would be the size of an extra-large Charmin ultra-tissue roll. He is a chef’s, chef.
And he’s at Silkie’s Chicken and Champagne Bar, which is the result of Black American culinary excellence taking a trip around the world and returning with souvenirs for the family. His cuisine is soulful expression with unsurpassed skill and ability to transform a drop biscuit into an epicurean masterpiece.
Chef Gilbert is the Georges Auguste Escoffier type chef of a very different pedigree. So why is he making biscuits? Because he f@#$%*& felt like it. Biscuits are typically fluffy and buttery drops of goodness intervening between cheese, sausage, and eggs for breakfast.
Not Chef Gilbert’s biscuits. His are of a very different variety. They are Black excellence personified into a lump of dough baked to perfection with a profound self-identity embracing Asian fusion while paying homage to Chef’s Southern African-American cooking ancestry.
Each biscuit has a wholesomeness that is buttery, soft interior, crisp edges, and slightly tart, paving way for his outstanding condiments to adorn either as a topical spread or an unimaginable filling. You see, Chef Gilbert’s biscuits are what you call drop biscuits, which you’re familiar with if you’ve had the misfortune of dining at Red Lobster. It is simply a biscuit made with a quick and simple dough that’s dropped directly onto a sheet pan and baked in the simplest definition. However, there is absolutely nothing simple about the biscuits here.
The flavors come in four flavors – classic buttermilk, jalapeno cheddar, truffle gouda, and plantain ginger. I loved all of them except for the plantain ginger, which was way too sophisticated for my palate. The other three were divine.
Each comes with an assortment of jams and butters, but you can select whichever flavor you want. That’s what I did. To make things easier on you, get the biscuit sampler, and hell, you might like my least favorite as your number one!
After getting over how amazing the biscuits were, my next experience was the vegetables! Right. From biscuits to vegetables seems like an unlikely transition, but after tasting the Steamed Green Beans and Turnips that were served with a haricot verte, turnips, pesto, sea salt and herbs or my favorite the baby bok choy with gochujang honey sauce, fermented black beans and toasted sesame, you will totally understand why.
Have you ever had baby bok choy? If not, let this be your introduction – it was the best and the sauce is the star. Gochujang is a Korean flavor that is a trifecta of equal parts spicy, sweet, and savory. You can even get some heat from the sauce if you are looking for its evolving and complex flavor profile.
The bok choy almost took on a meaty texture, as the sauce is routinely used as an animal protein marinade, but Chef Gilbert does what the f$%# he wants, so he created this vegetarian masterpiece. The other salads were delicious, but I highly recommend the baby bok choy for a real experience in the vegetable area.
Next up, was the truffle smoked gouda mac and cheese. Delicious. I didn’t think I was going to like it, because I’m not a gratin person, but somehow, as he does in very renegade fashion, Chef Gilbert went to a French kitchen and then came right back to Jacksonville with this mac recipe that would please both sides of the Atlantic.
The sandwich list was poppin, but we selected the Korean. Of course, Chef Gilbert decided that he was going to show me that the ginger biscuit has a place in my stomach. Well, the Korean did just that. The sandwich comes with a perfectly fried chicken breast, the gochujang honey sauce, and kimchi watermelon rind.
The fried chicken is outstanding in both the sandwich and the BOMB A$$ chicken and waffle with pineapples that just set it off in a good way. We also had the FL/GA BOY chicken sandwich and it was exceptional. One of chef’s ancestors must have given him the fried chicken’s uniquely delicious recipe in a dream, because I don’t have a comparison. My favorite sandwich was The Classic, which came with a delicious fried chicken thigh, jalapeno cheddar biscuit, and a homemade Alabama white bbq sauce. I would request the jerk chicken thigh in this biscuit as well. That white bbq sauce and jerk chicken would pop!
Changing gears, we moved on to the potato soup that incorporated a cheddar and Monterey jack cheese that made me forget about my lactose intolerance. The ride back to the hotel was very challenging for my nephews/cameramen. Sorry nephews.
Next up was an AMAZING noodle dish that might have been removed from the menu, so take this article to show the server the photo. If it’s on the menu, GET IT! If not, I feel sorry for you.
The City of Jacksonville is struggling to find a food identity, but the struggle can be assisted by simply building off this chef’s foundation. Not just for the Black food and drink ecosystem, but also in general because this is quite possibly the best restaurant in Jacksonville, and definitely one of the best in the nation. Additionally, don’t forget to grab a gift box of one of chef’s spices and seasonings. My favorite was the jerk seasoning.
This chef is a brother I respect immensely in and out of the kitchen. He is responsible for some of the most recognizable brands in the industry but has often taken the humble road and remained anonymous.
Thankfully, this isn’t one of them. You can visit this dynamic eatery at 1602 Walnut St, Jacksonville, FL 32206 or call them at (904) 330-0576.
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