Story by Katie McPherson
Looking back on the coronavirus pandemic, we have probably all found a few new favorites: favorite shows to binge-watch on weekends, favorite ways to workout at home, or new favorite hobbies that allow us to get out of the house safely. My husband took up disc golf, for example, while I have become addicted to TikTok and making cookies. I did not anticipate finding a new favorite restaurant during quarantine, but if 2020 taught the world anything, it is to expect the unexpected. And Silkie’s Chicken & Champagne Bar has been exactly the kind of good surprise my community needed in such a draining year. It even opened on Election Day, November 3, 2020.
Jacksonville, Florida is called “the bold new city of the South” thanks, in part, to its booming craft brewery scene and ever-expanding list of local eateries. You could visit for a weekend, do nothing but eat and imbibe, and barely scratch the surface of the incredible culinary finds around here.
I live in Springfield, one of Jax’s historic neighborhoods, located just outside downtown. Houses here date back to the early 1900s, with a few from 1896 that somehow managed to survive Downtown Jacksonville’s Great Fire of 1901. People here know each other by face and name, lend each other tools and helping hands, and come together often at our local bars and restaurants. It is the kind of old-fashioned community I thought did not exist anymore, where residents really know and care about each other.
We have some notable neighbors around here too. Chef Kenny Gilbert joined the neighborhood two years ago. You may know him from Top Chef, Season 7 (chefkennygilbert.com) or making Thanksgiving dinner for Oprah on Instagram (bit.ly/IG-Oprah-ChefKenny) or because his spice blends made her list of 2020 favorites (bit.ly/Oprah-2020Fav-ChefKenny). He has lived and worked in Jacksonville off and on since 1992 and moved to Springfield for that community feel.
Gilbert closed his other beloved Jacksonville restaurants, Gilbert’s Social and Gilbert’s Underground Kitchen, in late 2019 to focus on new ventures. Getting into the Silkie’s location was one of them, specifically because the brick building held special memories for Gilbert and his wife, Anna. “When we first started dating, we would go there to Three Layers to have coffee with her dad, who we care for now. She wanted that space for awhile — literally had her sights set on it for 10 years,” he said.
Local businesses open because they want to share their love of food and service from their perspective. They bring compassion and soul, pure and simple. We do this from the heart every day. That feeds the soul of the community.Chef Kenny Gilbert
Opening a new restaurant concept with a new menu in a new location was, understandably, nerve-wracking for the couple. Fear was their biggest challenge, he said. “Fear of the unknown. Will people come out to eat? Will they only do takeout? Will they come at all?”
With a menu like Silkie’s, I am not sure how you could keep people away. Gilbert describes it as a chicken and biscuit concept paired with champagne cocktails, a mixture of Southern cuisine and continental influences. I call it comfort food with unexpected, exciting flavors and the chance to see a talented chef at work (the Silkie’s kitchen is open to the dining room).
My favorite dish at Silkie’s is their biscuit sampler. It features four distinctly flavored biscuits — plantain ginger, truffle gouda, jalapeno cheddar, and classic buttermilk — each paired with a house-made jam, butter, and pickled vegetables. The spiced pecan and orange blossom honey butters go well on any of them (or, if I am being honest here, on a spoon straight to the mouth).
In terms of entrees, I love the truffle gouda mac and cheese with blackened chicken, while my husband opts for either the Flavor Bomb or Korean sandwiches. The Flavor Bomb is a truffle gouda biscuit with a fried smoked chicken thigh, all smothered in orange blossom honey and Gilbert’s signature Fernandina Beach hot sauce, clearly living up to its name.
Gilbert himself recommends the Market Street sampler, which is a chicken lover’s dream: a fried chicken breast, fried smoked chicken thigh, jerk chicken thigh, chicken salad, hot sauce, honey, Alabama white barbecue sauce, and, naturally, biscuits and pickles to boot.
If you happen to dine at Silkie’s for breakfast on a weekend, the chicken and waffles is a foolproof choice my husband never deviates from. I am partial to the biscuits and gravy, which is topped with an unconventional brown gravy instead of white and loaded with flavor. Because I have been pregnant since Silkie’s first opened, I have not had a chance to dive into their cocktail menu just yet. That said, the mango nectar mimosas and Red Bottoms wine-based cocktail are on my post-baby must-try list.
In the last five years, Springfield has seen Main Street, its commercial corridor, light up with new bakeries, coffee houses, pizza joints, breweries, a boutique, pet specialty store, ice cream shop, and more. Silkie’s is just a few blocks off that main drag. Of course, it is my selfish hope that there will always be an empty seat and no shortage of biscuits for little old me. But as each new business adds a unique personality to the area, it seems like Springfield is becoming a foodie’s dream destination for other Jacksonville residents and out-of-towners alike.
“Local restaurants are the heartbeat of the community,” said Gilbert. “Local businesses open because they want to share their love of food and service from their perspective. They bring compassion and soul, pure and simple. We do this from the heart every day. That feeds the soul of the community.”
Where to Find Them
Silkie’s Chicken & Champagne Bar
Social Media: @silkiesjax
Chef Kenny Gilbert