There are two reasons I travel to Houston, Texas. The first and foremost is to visit our son, Eric, daughter-in-law, Leslie, and four-year-old grandson, Luke. The second is to gorge myself on friend Ron Craig’s Luling City Market’s BBQ brisket, smoked beef links, and bring home as many bottles of the Market’s BBQ sauce as I can jam into my luggage.
Now, thanks to Chef Kenny Gilbert of Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen at 510 South 8th Street, I have only one reason, and that’s to visit our son and his family. And since I enjoy visiting Houston about as much as having a sharp stick in the eye, I think the next time I’ll try and convince Eric to pack up the family and head to Amelia island.
I’ve eaten a lot of BBQ in my lifetime with the best I’ve ever tasted coming out of joints in Texas and Houston’s Luling City Market topping my list of “Best in Show.” I’m partial to brisket and until I tasted Chef’ Gilbert’s, I never thought I’d find anything that could even come close to Houston’s Luling City’s. But Kenny did it. And, it’s $302.50 a pound cheaper than Luling City. Of course that includes a $300 roundtrip airline ticket to Houston. Without the airfare it’s still $2.50 a pound cheaper at $14. While part of Luling City Market’s charm is that it serves its portions on butcher paper, Kenny will actually toss in plates.
With Kenny’s takeout I can always buy jalapenos and slice my own raw onion and I have enough Luling City Market sauce in my cupboard to last until I signal sympathetic son Eric that I’m running low and have him ship additional supplies. I prefer the spicy Texas style sauce over the too sweet deep south stuff that folks hereabouts sprinkle on pigs. And if you like pigs Kenny serves oinkers as well as turkey, ribs, chicken, and even alligator during his Friday & Saturday 11 am – 2 pm express lunch and to go dinner deal. I’ve heard nothing but raves on all of ’em, but my focus in the BQ area is on brisket. And you can even get a burnt ends beef brisket sandwich for just nine bucks.
But wait! There’s even more great stuff coming out of Chef Kenny’s smokers. He told me this past February that he would not only be smoking briskets, etc. but that smoked mullet was on his “to do list” based on a recipe from his Florida-raised Mother’s side of the family and he has come through with flying colors. Brace yourselves Amelia Islanders because we are now home to one of the best smoked mullet creations I’ve ever tasted and Kenny’s is the only place hereabouts that smokes and serves this tasty delicacy. He has one big fat smoker in the parking lot devoted solely to mullet as once mullet has been smoked in it, the flavor would permeate anything else laid on that grill.
I took home a $15.00 ($16.05 with tax) platter last Friday that included two huge mullet filets sitting on a slice of Texas toast, along with sides of potato salad, Brussels sprouts coleslaw, and BBQ baked beans. If you don’t want a platter the mullet sells for a very reasonable $12 a pound.
I don’t pretend to be a restaurant critic as all I know is what I like. And I really, really like Kenny’s smoked mullet and BBQ brisket. The sides were tasty too, but for me the main attraction was the mullet and brisket and the fact that I no longer have to fly to Houston for BBQ brisket or drive across state to Cedar Key for mullet.
Gilbert’s is open for lunch Fridays and Saturdays, 11 am – 2 pm, with the smokers working overtime in the parking lot, just like a Texas ice house, except without the country-western band. Brunch is Sunday 10:30 am to 2 pm and dinner runs Wednesday to Saturday, 5-9 pm. They’re closed Sunday evenings and all day Tuesday.
Chef Kenny and his smokers give me another reason to never leave the island except to evacuate and then I’d stop and pick up to-go orders on the way off. Call ’em at 904/310-6374.
A Fast Woman: Laura DiBella, our Nassau County Economic Development Director, who works hard to portray our area to companies as a prime place to do business, is leaving competitors in the dust literally, as she just took first place overall in both the men’s and women’s field last week and shattered the course record for women by four minutes in the 9-11 Memorial 10 Mile Race in Washington, D.C. along the Potomac River. She also nabbed the Key West Bridge race for the second time recently, shattering the women’s record in the process and is next headed to Chicago for a race. If you’re a single guy and you’ve ever seen the gorgeous Ms. DiBella, lace up your running shoes, but be prepared to be disappointed….you’ll never catch her.
Sad News: Friend John Harris died last week leaving a void for many of us. I’ll miss the personable Mr. Harris and wife Barbara perched on the seats next to me at John Springer’s piano bar in the Centre Street Alley Cat on Thursdays but can’t express it better than the Fernandina Beach Police Department, which posted the following: “The FBPD is saddened by the passing of Police Auxiliary Corp (PAC) member John Harris. John was a founding member of the PAC and devoted many volunteer hours to special events and local parades. His much-loved duties were the hours he spent helping the students and parents at Southside Elementary School as they arrived for and left school each day. On many days too, John was at the Jasmine-Citrona intersection helping manage middle school and high school traffic. John was the Vice Commander of the PAC and was honored as the FBPD Volunteer of the Year in 2013 for his devotion to the Fernandina Beach community. Our condolences and thoughts go out to John’s wife Barbara and his family.” Services for friend John will be at Oxley-Heard Funeral Home, 1305 Atlantic, Monday, September 21 beginning at 2 pm and a gathering of friends and family starting at 4 pm at Karibo, 27 North 3rd Street, Fernandina Beach.
Living Life Cozy With Home Brew: For folks that want to keep up with the latest in the extreme comfortable clothing fashion arena there is now a PajamaDave website touting the “cozy life” styles among other interesting items available at local character PajamaDave Voorhees’ downtown 12 South 2nd Street Pajama Life store. Go to www.pajamalifeusa.com and sign up for his newsletter and upcoming blog. You’ll be treated to information on upcoming sales and news from the latest Pajama Life shop now open in Key West. Dave says since it’s now starting to cool off that means it’s brewing time again and Dave’s striking, sexy blonde fiancé, Zan Maddox, will be brewing beer starting this week, which means Dave gets the beer and his customers get the store’s notorious dog beer biscuits. How does a guy snag a gorgeous blonde girlfriend who also brews beer?
The Jaguars Times-Union: A letter I wrote last month to the Florida Times-Union complaining about that newspaper’s excessive coverage of Jacksonville’s hapless NFL football team prompted a lead editorial by Editorial Page Editor Mike Clark a few days later headlined: “In Jacksonville, you can’t overcover the Jaguars.” And for the past several weeks the paper has gone out of its way to prove just that as it took the massive over-reporting of the city’s inept footballers to new heights with its “Second Coming” front page headlines, multiple color photos, and more inane drivel about a group of losers than I ever thought possible, even by the low standards set by these editorial amateurs. The coverage even extended to a nutrition column in the “Life” section where the bumbling writer plodded on about how to get gluten-free beer and edibles at a Jaguars game. I AM NOT making this up. Almost the entire front page of the Sunday, September 13 paper was devoted to the son of team owner Shad Kahn, who handles statistics and analytics for the team. Imagine that! The owner’s son has a job with the team! And there was a huge color photo of him on page 1A standing grinning between dad and the Jaguars’ general manager. Inside Section A was another full page about kid Kahn while stories about the Arizona highway shooters, the failures of Obamacare and mass killings in India were relegated to just a few paragraphs in the very back pages. There have also been entire special sections analyzing the team’s bumbling loss to Carolina with an entire column on the front page of the Metro section congratulating apparently brain dead season ticket holders who sat through every miserable minute of each home game from the beginning to the end of last year’s dismal three-game-win season. Early in my career I worked as a sports writer and I’ve lived in five other cities with NFL teams but I’ve never seen anything as over the top as this rubbish. At least the paper admits it. But what about folks who subscribe to a daily newspaper for actual news and not a team newsletter full of puffery and hype about an incompetent group of bunglers employed by a for-profit entertainment corporation? There aren’t enough trees left on the planet to print a Times-Union if this wretched team ever had a winning season. I paid $413 for an annual subscription for this crap?
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: The 320 South 8th Street’s Halftime Sports Bar & Grill didn’t stay shuttered long as Eric Deady of Parker Construction opened it last weekend, just in time for the start of football season and so far has seen a steady stream of former and new customers. Eric, whose construction company has been actively working on a variety of hospitality venues on the island, has spruced up the joint adding a number of new and very large TVs and was lucky to keep Chef Joe Riley in the kitchen serving up his award-winning chili, wings, and hamburgers, to name just a few menu items. And the parking problem has been solved as Eric purchased the lot behind Halftime for his customer’s cars. Stop by, watch your favorite team, enjoy some terrific beers, and be served by the comely, attentive and sexy gal trio of Ashley, Bekah or Taylor. call ’em at 904/432-8129. Monday, September 14 was the re-launch of the Southern Soul Buffet at Sliders which will be offered 11 am -2 pm Monday through Friday to attract locals as the tourist crowds have faded. I had the buffet last year and it is excellent, a bargain at $9.95, and includes fried chicken every day as well as the following: Monday – chicken fried steak; Tuesday – pulled pork; Wednesday – meatloaf with mushroom gravy; Thursday: pork chops; Friday: baked or fried fish. The buffet also includes seasonal vegetables and fresh cornbread, assorted rolls or biscuits. Just down the street from Sliders on Sadler is the remodeled Seabreeze Bar & Grill that sits alongside the Days Inn & Suites, which is now being directed by its newly hired Director of Sales & Marketing, Kari Gardner, the current blonde, talented and pretty island hospitality professional who made social media headlines not too long ago when she dyed her hair purple, was fired for it from a local restaurant and received job offers from many more because of it. If you haven’t been inside the Seabreeze in a while be prepared to be shockingly surprised and please put out your cigarette before entering. The new decor features all new furniture, a cheerful, bright, airy and open beach look, a long oval shaped bar, and a “Bar Menu” offering a variety of selections from the kitchen of La Mancha, the excellent Spanish restaurant that sits in front of the Days Inn. Patrons can sit on the new outdoor deck and have a smoke or even sit poolside and order drinks and food. The interior also features large screen TVs for college and pro football and a popcorn machine where guests can scoop up a gratis salty snack. Mondays are ladies’ night during which Kari says five bucks buys a cup and from 8-12 the gals drink free wells or drafts while local DJs play tunes. The personable and energetic Ms. Gardner says she’s looking at featuring live music on certain days and a variety of other activities that will attract folks that may have never considered the Seabreeze in the past. Tony’s New York Style Brick Oven Pizza & Restaurant at 1425 Sadler Road next to Publix, run by Italian heritage, Brooklyn, NY brothers Tony & Joey Zori and pizza maker Mark Keller now produces all of its meatballs in-house. A $7.99 parmesan sub sandwich packed with five of these tasty golf ball size sirloin meatballs comes with an order of fries is a bargain meal and hard to eat at one sitting. The innovative Mr. Keller has also come up with tangerine size stuffed meatballs each made with a quarter pound of meat with the sirloin ones offering a choice of blue cheese, jalapeno/green peppers or onion and the chicken ones containing either Pico de Gallo or chicken parmesan. Order them with a side of spaghetti, garlic bread or various cheeses with one selling for $4.99, two for $7.99 and three for $10.99. It’s a lot of food for the price and they are as delicious as Tony’s thin crust pizza. Call ’em at 904/277-7661 or 904/277-7019. They offer free delivery with a minimum $10 order. Steve Raszkin of A Taste of Wine By Steve at 4924 First Coast Highway tells me there are still seats left at the special Italian themed dinner he is co-hosting at downtown South Third Street’s Bright Morning location Wednesday, September 30 at 6:30 pm. The $45 per person plus gratuity charge includes a bottle of wine per couple, bruschetta with son Zach Raszkin’s special meatballs, a choice of chicken Marsala or shrimp scampi with Italian green beans and for dessert, Pavola. Also, Steve’s weekly wine tasting is tonight from 5-7 pm. Call ’em at 904/557-1506. Folks enjoying a brew or cocktail while listening to music at downtown South 3rd Street’s Green Turtle Tavern who get the munchies are in luck as manager Jeff Werder has announced a new “Pub Grub” menu from 4-9 pm with the kitchen offering Cuban sandwiches for $9; a corned beef Ruben for $8; Gyros for $7; a turkey BLT for $7 and a very special hot dog for $5. Tuesdays they’ll still serve up tacos but Mondays the kitchen takes the day off.