“Southern Hospitality Plus International Cuisine Specials.”
That’s how the Amelia Island E-Magazine described Chef Kenny Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen on its 2015 opening. This brotha’s knowledge of food and his commanding looks, it’s no surprise I’ve been following his career ever since he came on the TV scene in 2010 on Top Chef. From then on I’ve delighted in every formal and informal plated and original creation of his I’ve seen and read on social media. From his appearance at different food festivals to his dinner at the James Beard House here in NYC. Apart from being well known for his time spent wooing viewers on high-rated television cooking competitions with a bold cooking style he has his own spice blend line that promises to have you cooking like a big dog.
Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen is not Chef Kenny’s first restaurant in the state of Florida, but it was at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island where he started his professional career in the culinary industry. The return of a beloved son to pay homage, perhaps?
So when asked what I wanted for my 31st birthday, after thinking long and hard I ditched the partying, bought a plane ticket and headed to north Florida. To the Underground Kitchen, by way of Amelia Island.
We made it!!!
With no difficulties, a reservation for an early Saturday evening dinner for two was made. The drive from downtown Jacksonville to Fernandina Beach could not have lasted more than 40 minutes. But I’m no driver and was more concerned with taking selfies, manning the music playlist and reviewing the online dinner menu. As I changed my mind on which menu option I anticipated ordering after reading every other delicious description.
You can’t miss this spot, with three smokers out front that made me instantly think how serious the chef and staff must be about their smoked and grilled offerings. The Underground Kitchen’s vibe is good. The décor of this relaxed spot: jars of pickled everything, enameled basins, pots, pitchers and cookbooks sat on shelves while posters hung on peachy colored walls.
Skillet Cornbread and Drop Biscuits.
Pickles, Alaga Cane Syrup Butter, Green Tomato Jam.
As these hit the stainless steel table top I knew, I knew it would be delicious. We had to pace ourselves after trying the drop biscuits and the cornbread with the cane syrup butter. For we had more food to eat. I’m no fan of pickles but these were delicious!
Crispy Smoked Pork Belly.
Local Peaches, Butter Pecan Puree.
Everything tastes good with pork belly! The butter pecan puree tasted like overnight oats. The combo reminded of breakfast frankly. That’s why I eagerly made a ‘breakfast’ sandwich out of this dish and the drop cheddar biscuit.
Time to get down to business
Southern Style Curry.
Collard Green Curry, Roasted Okra & Garlic, Rice Cakes, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Steamed Jasmine Rice.
Chef Kenny is known for mixing flavors. On reading of this curry dish and being Trinidadian my birth instincts kicked in, I had to order the curried lamb option. A rice bowl, a fragrant mild curry dish loaded with pulled lamb, okra and steamed rice, enough to satisfy three to four people. The consistency was reminiscent of an African soup especially with the fresh cut okra. Thin, chewy slices of rice cakes I enjoy eating in Korean food was a nice touch to the dish.
We would have been satisfied here, but no we had to order a shit ton of meat. I mean why the hell not!!
Gilbert’s Ultimate BBQ Sampler.
Grilled Sausage, Two Bone Pork Spare Ribs, Gator Ribs, Pulled Pork, Smoked Duck Leg, Pulled Turkey Drums, Two Smoked Lamb Meatballs, Pulled Smoked Lamb Shoulder with Half & Half BBQ Sauce, Grilled Texas Toast, House Pickles.
It’s a must try for the meat lovers and adventurous eaters.
You can tell the best seller, the waitress rattled off the meat selection without even looking at the platter. The smoky, bold flavors came out. We sampled everything, but I thoroughly enjoyed the smoked duck leg, pork spare ribs, grilled sausages and the pulled lamb slathered with the half and half bbq sauce. I need this sauce poured on my whole life! The flavor of the smoked lamb meatballs was on-point but I didn’t like the texture. It was my first time trying ‘gator’. Tender, not too fleshy meat that tasted like fish. Marlin, I ate as a child and on my visit to Barbados. The next day I had the left overs it tasted like chicken. LoL, I would try it again!!
Always room for dessert
Bourbon Pecan Pie.
Pecans, Alaga Cane Syrup & Molasses, Bourbon, Spices.
By this time we were slumping into a food coma but the small pie served sliced in two warm halves came and woke us up! The sweetness was not overpowering, and the molasses was a pleasant flavor.
With generous shareable portions & Chef’s specials, a relaxed dining experience and a fair pricing I’m happy I made this a part of my birthday celebrations. Wish they served liquor, I would have enjoyed a bourbon after dessert.