Once I turned 21, the Gastropub quickly became one of my favorite kinds of restaurants. I like to go out to bars with friends. When a bar offers food as well, it makes then environment to hangout and relax so much easier. If someone gets hungry, you don’t need to leave. Everyone can get what they want.
Gastropubs are a hybrid between a bar and a restaurant. Now yes, it’s true that many bars serve food. Likewise, most restaurants serve alcohol. It’s really the expectations that are setup by labeling your place of business a gastropub that sets it apart from other places within the food industry. A gastropub typically offers a higher quality, elevated, and fresher experience from the rest. It doesn’t just serve drinks. They create their own using flavors you won’t find anywhere else. Likewise, it doesn’t just offer bar food. Gastropubs take bar food and elevates it to a whole new level. It finds a way to balance familiar flavors with new experiences. The best gastropubs take their unique food and drinks and use them to form their own identity.
Naturally, one of the first spots my wife and I found when we moved out to the west coast was a gastropub. When we moved back to FL, I searched for the same thing. I am happy to say that I think I finally found that place in Jacksonville. Located near the riverside area on San Marco road, Kitchen on San Marco offers a gastropub experience with southern flair.
Walking into Kitchen on San Marco, I was caught by the atmosphere and service. I made a reservation online ahead of time. We were shown to our table immediately, there was no waiting. I should note that they were not busy at the time. I assume we would have been seated immediately even without the reservation. It was nice to have the option to make one. It picked up by the time we were leaving with satisfied patrons enjoying their meals and time. The restaurant featured a large bar seating area, roomy booths, and high top tables. The atmosphere was warm and inviting. It seemed like the kind of place that allowed for both a nice dinner, or a place to relax and keep the drinks flowing – the perfect combination for a gastropub. Our server was super friendly. She knew the menu well and kept the drinks refilled. She checked on us frequently, but wasn’t annoying. Before I get into the food and drinks, I have a small disclaimer. According to the Kitchen on San Marco website, their menu changes seasonally. Therefore, the food I discuss in this review may be unavailable when you visit.
We started our meal with a BBQ duck confit biscuit with cole slaw and French fries. The plate looked a little sparse, but it was a wonderful dish. Creamy biscuit? Check. Moist Duck? Check. Hand cut French fries? Check. It hit all of my expectations. Generally, my personal preference for BBQ sauce is Texas style – thick, sweet, and spicy. The BBQ sauce on this duck was more of a vinegar base. Likewise, I tend to prefer a creamer cole slaw. However, due to the creaminess of the biscuit and the natural fat duck contains, it worked perfectly. The vinegar in the BBQ sauce and the cole slaw cut through the duck and the biscuit, making the dish nicely balanced. The well-seasoned French fries were a nice complement to the biscuit. I felt like there was enough food on the plate for this appetizer, it just needed to be on a smaller plate.
I forgot to take a picture, but to go with the food, I ordered the Bramble drink. The Bramble is described on their website as “Tanqueray, St George Raspberry Liqueur, and Lemon Simple Syrup”. The drinks here are strong. You get your money’s worth. This drink was like hard raspberry lemonade. It made Mike’s Hard Lemonade seem like regular lemonade. I enjoyed the drink and would come back just for the drinks and a good conversation with friends.
For the main course, I ordered the short ribs which were served with cheddar grits, fried okra, in a red wine reduction. Short ribs are one of my favorite cuts of beef so I was excited to try this. I didn’t even need a knife to cut it. The meat was fall apart tender and quite moist. The grits were creamy and very cheese. It might have been too much if not for the red wine sauce. This sauce really helped to add depth to the dish. The acid in the wine cut through the fat in the beef and cheese in the grits. The fried okra was covered in a crunchy cornmeal breading which added much needed texture to the dish. The microgreens on top were a nice garnish, but they didn’t add anything to what was on the plate. Overall, I would go back for this dish alone.
Finally dessert. We ordered the triple stack bourbon blondie. This is the only part of the meal I have real criticism for. Let’s start with the good. I tend to find most blondies have the same problem; they are too sweet. Here is one area this dessert really shined. The flavors were balanced. The brown butter and bourbon flavor came through; this blondie had complex flavors that I appreciated. Likewise, the ice cream tasted fresh and the bourbon flavor came through. I appreciate that they were able to serve the blondie warm, and still have the ice cream retain its shape. That’s enough to know that it was assembled and brought right to the table. There were two things I felt could have been improved on this dish. The first was the texture of the blondie itself. It wasn’t as moist as I expected it to be. It was a little too dense. And stacking three of them on top of each other made it even denser. Likewise, I felt it needed a sauce to tie it all together. A salted caramel drizzle (or even a bourbon caramel drizzle) would have gone a long way into making it a more complete dish. Regardless, I enjoyed this dish and would order it again. I just think it’s a good dessert that is just short of being a great one.
In the end, I really enjoyed my experience at Kitchen on San Marco. It’s a gastropub with a welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff, excellent food and drinks with a southern twist. I could see this place being a regular visit for me.
Kitchen on San Marco
1402 San Marco Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL 32207