It's reached the point that I roll my eyes every time I hear about a new Southern-style joint, but when Chef Kenny Gilbert opened Gilbert's Hot Chicken, Fish + Shrimp in Jax Beach, I started drooling. We met Chef Kenny at his second restaurant, Gilbert's Social on Southside Boulevard; once you taste his food, there's no turning back.
The menu is simple and gets the job done. Dealer's choice: fried chicken, fish or shrimp, with or without sauce. Each fried morsel is served on a bun or flat on a plate and includes a side. Sandwiches have a side, house pickles and rémoulade sauce; on the "Just the Meat" section, sides are à la carte. Sides include Stewed Tomato & Okra ($4/$8), Anna's Mac & Cheese ($9) and House Applesauce ($4/$8) (OMG, so good), which is veg- and vegan-friendly; there's also a Fried Green Tomato & Smoked Tofu ($9) option for non-carnivores.
Hot sauce lovers will dig into Chef Kenny's sauce-drenched chicken, fish or shrimp. Made with local datil pepper, the sauce is packed with flavor, though it might not be "hot" enough for heat junkies. For folks who actually like to taste their food, it's great. If you're torn between hot or not, get the sauce on the side. Regardless, you have to try it-that's an order! If the heat gets to you, cool off with a cocktail.
The bar features rows of moonshine and whiskey, which gets a big checkmark in my grade book. Choose from among interesting drinks like the fruity Hey Y'all-Ole Smoky Strawberry Moonshine, strawberry purée, lemon juice and prosecco ($12). Personally, I'm all about the 1st Street Smoke House ($12). As cocktails go, it's not too sweet. The apple is smoked over pecan and oak, then infused in the sweet apple cider that's used in the cocktail. Smoke is a mysterious drink ingredient; if you're new to it, the Smoke House is a good way to test the waters. I'm not usually a huge fan, but the sweetness of the apple tones down the smoke and vice versa, creating a very drinkable concoction.
The best way to dig into the menu is to go with at least two friends and just order it all. I recommend one each of chicken, fish and shrimp and pass the plates. Tried-and-true faves: Smoked + Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich ($12), the Catfish Fillet ($13), which takes up the whole freakin' plate, and Local Wild Shrimp (1/2 lb. $13; 1 lb. $25).
One word from the wise: Skip the BLT Biscuit Sandwich ($13). Everything's on it, from pork belly to pickled green tomato, and it is delicious-but having a biscuit for a bun creates serious structural integrity issues! Oh, and another thing: If you'd like to order something off Gilbert's Southern Kitchen menu, which is upstairs from Hot Chicken, you can definitely do so and vice versa.
This is the only true "hot chicken" place in Jax, so slide on over and dig in.
If you have a recommendation, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.