An open note to friends (and enemies who nonetheless read my blog): I must apologize to any of you who have been in Jacksonville, Florida in the past 3 weeks who haven't been to two completely fabulous restaurants and one inexpensive & beer-filled brewery. It's all my fault. I should've told you sooner. If there's still time, listen close:
13 Gypsies, a tapas joint with about 7 tables and a menu that manages to encompass cuisines stretching from West Asia to Europe, feels immediately like home -- like a dear friend is cooking for you. A dear friend who specializes in warm, joyful flavors in quintessential combinations, absolutely drinkable sauces, and the freshest, softest, most flavorful grilled flatbread, perfect for soaking everything else up. A dear friend with whom you need to make reservations in advance -- they've got a well-deserved reputation for excellence at extraordinarily fair prices, and especially after being featured on Food Network just this month, 13 Gypsies is going to be booming. I particularly recommend the Roman Gnocchi (cooked in bricks rather than dumpling form), the curries, and ordering a salad so that you have something to cleanse your palate between plates.
I didn't make it into the dining room proper of Orsay, but can tell all omnivores that going to Orsay is imperative due to the lounge alone. Its menu and decor reminded me of Abattoir with a touch more tactile style thanks to the fancier seating & plating -- think if Urban Outfitters were a) actually classy and b) served house-made charcuterie. We shared around several plates during their ludicrously worthwhile cocktail hour (from 4 to 7, all appetizers & cocktails are discounted and raw oysters are half price), and everything was just delightful. I'm still infatuated with their gamey, meaty duck rillette, topped with just enough creamy fat and served in (for serious) the cutest li'l lion-faced pot ever; their lightly roasted oysters, served on the half shell along with bits of bacon to compliment the brine, bits of spinach to compliment the brightness of the meat, and creamy cheese to bind the flavors together; their generous cheese plate; and the priciest raw oysters they had on the menu that day. Their cocktails were all a bit on the sweet side for me, but I'd order their pear jalapeño margarita, layered with flavors of sweet green pear and warming green heat, any time. My other favorite was their Blood Orange Martini, which felt like the least healthy smoothie ever, but I'd save it for a dessert replacement.
When the tap room of Bold City Brewery is open, you can order a sample flight of everything they've got on tap for free, so long as you buy two drinks afterwards. With so much to choose from, direct-to-consumer prices, a friendly (if cramped) crowd, and even some family-style food to purchase if you get hungry, you'll want to stay anyway. My tastes in beer run dark & roasty, but I loved their crisp, clean Killer Whale Cream Ale and complexly floral & citrusy Chinook IPA. I chatted a bit with co-owner & site manager Susan Miller, who said that the scary leap and hard work it's taken to help her son open the brewery has been more rewarding and felt more like fun than anything she ever experienced in corporate management, but hearing it from her was almost superfluous -- the Miller family's passions for good beer and showing people a good time shone in every pint poured and every word spoken by their staff.
And now you know! And knowing is the half of the battle that doesn't involve driving ~5 hours to Jacksonville and eating tasty things while you're there.