Historically, sour has a bad rap. Scientists believe our body’s aversion to sour flavors evolved as a way to prevent consumption of spoiled or unripened foods. Humans inherently reject sour or bitter foods as infants. Fortunately, our tastes can change and develop over time, and a fondness for bitter coffee or sour beer is an example of this phenomenon.

Despite the negative associations, many sour foods have come to be lauded for their health benefits. Often, that’s because food that is fermented or which contains “good” bacteria will have a sour flavor, but with many health benefits. For example, kimchi, a traditional Korean dish made with fermented cabbage, is loaded with vitamins A, B and C, and contains a beneficial bacteria, lactobacillus (also found in sour beers). Kombucha, a fermented beverage of black tea and sugar, is a probiotic that contains large quantities of B-vitamins, antioxidants and glucaric acids. Apple cider vinegar is said to lower glucose levels, aid in digestion and actually help prevent cancer by promoting alkalinity in the body.

Some cuisines are known for featuring sour flavors. Many Asian dishes highlight sour tastes, often in soups, such as Tom Yam soup in Thailand or Canh Chua Ca (hot and sour fish soup) in Vietnam. For a taste of Southeast Asia in Jacksonville, try A Bit of Saigon on Kernan Boulevard.

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“Scientists believe our body’s aversion to sour flavors evolved as a way to prevent consumption of spoiled or unripened foods.”

German cooking is another cuisine that features sour flavors. A number of German recipes have a tart component, including sauerbraten (meaning sour or pickled roast), rouladen (thinly sliced beef wrapped around a pickle mixture) or sauerkraut. Check out German Schnitzel Haus on Atlantic Boulevard to sample these sour Bavarian favorites.

The Southside area of Jacksonville has shown some of the greatest growth in terms of restaurants over the last few years, with more still in the works. The St. Johns Town Center brought a number of restaurants to the area, and new development continues with the addition of Town Center Promenade. Meanwhile, traditional restaurant corridors like Southside Boulevard and Baymeadows Road continue to thrive and see new growth as well.

Chef Kenny Gilbert chose to open his latest restaurant, Gilbert’s Social, on Southside Boulevard, because he said Jacksonville has more potential for growth. Chef Kenny talked to Void Magazine about his latest venture, Gilbert’s Social, the sister restaurant to Gilbert’s Underground in Fernandina Beach.

“My wife is from Jacksonville, and I felt like Jacksonville is an untapped market that I was wanting to get involved with.”

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“… I wanted to bring something to Jacksonville that I felt like was stage one, that people would identify with and support.”

Chef Kenny’s wife even helped him find the location — a building with an open floor plan that he thought would be perfect for a communal dining concept. Unlike a typical restaurant, at Gilbert’s Social, smaller parties are often seated together with other groups at large, communal dining tables. Chef Kenny said he was inspired to try this social dining concept after visiting a restaurant in Atlanta that uses the same idea.

“Kevin Gillespie has a restaurant there called Gunshow, really high-end food, in a casual setting with communal dining,” he said. “I thought it was a really cool concept. They don’t have any menus. Each day the chefs come in and cook, each person is responsible for a couple of dishes, and then they come out and parade around the restaurant. They kind of auction it off, almost like Chinese Dim Sum. So I was inspired by that concept, and wanted to bring something to Jacksonville that I felt like was stage one, that people would identify with and support.”

The menu is similar to that of Gilbert’s Underground, Southern and shareable. “We wanted to have food that would match with that. The idea is that Southern is something great, something that is very communal, very social, in terms of sharing — a bucket of fried shrimp, a pile of pulled pork or brisket, a bunch of sides like turnip or mustard greens, cornbread dressing … that’s kind of what we came up with,” he explained. “It’s a Southern and barbecue-inspired concept, both modern and more traditional flavor profiles, with some international influences.”

Chef Kenny said the feedback on his communal dining experiment has been mostly positive.

“Ultimately, the idea behind this concept is that we wanted to really showcase something that was very positive. Everyone, any race, orientation or gender, we all come together when we break bread. That’s why we really wanted to do it. During a time that the country is so divided, so much drama going on throughout the country, we felt like we wanted to have something where it didn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, black or white or Asian, hispanic or whatever, it doesn’t matter. Just come in and let us feed you, come into our home and let us take care of you.”

When asked about his most popular menu item, Chef Kenny said, “It has to be our brisket. We go through so much smoked beef brisket. That and the pulled pork. Our mac and cheese is super popular, too. When it’s all said and done, brisket is king.”

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“Everyone, any race, orientation or gender, we all come together when we break bread. That’s why we really wanted to do it.”

But he also still enjoys experimenting with different foods and changing up the menu from time to time. Although meat is a mainstay, he likes to branch out, using fresh, locally-sourced produce.

“I’ve been working on some vegetarian items. I’ve been working with a lot of cauliflower as of late. We did a Moroccan spice-roasted cauliflower, with a cashew-cauliflower puree, a garlic herb butter, a black olive crumble, sundried tomatoes and micro-herbs. It’s a really beautiful dish. So cauliflower is one of the ingredients I’ve been playing around with, lately.”

Sour flavors can be sampled at Gilbert’s Social as well. Pickling vegetables are a time-honored Southern tradition, and Chef Kenny uses them to add tartness to many recipes.

“Dill pickles, pickled carrots, cauliflower, peppers, green beans, okra … we use pickles all over the place.”

When it comes to sour, however, he feels it is important to balance the flavor with sweet ingredients.

“I always balance the sour with a sweetener or water and salt to neutralize the sour. The sweetener that I would use would be white sugar or brown sugar, honey, molasses cane syrup — those are typically items that I would use to neutralize the sour. In my greens, we add apple cider vinegar to our turnip or mustard greens. If it was just that on its own without the sugar, I feel like the greens would be too sour or too bitter. But, we actually use a sweetener to balance it out. Not a lot, but just enough to take away that harsh acidity.”

Adding a little sweetness to balance the sour sounds like good advice for life as well as for cooking. Try Chef Kenny’s recipe for his trademark Brussels Sprouts Slaw to add a sour tanginess that’s perfectly balanced with sweetness at your next home-cooked meal.

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“Adding a little sweetness to balance the sour sounds like good advice for life as well as for cooking.”

Brussels Sprouts Slaw

Ingredients:

For the pickled raisins:

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups raisins

For the apple cider mustard seed dressing:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

For the slaw:

  • 4  cups Brussels sprouts, shaved
  • 1/2  cup pecans, chopped
  • 1/2  cup red peppers, julienned
  • 1/2  cup pickled raisins
  • 1/4  cup red onions, julienned
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider mustard seed dressing
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

Directions:

For the pickled raisins:

  • Combine vinegar and crushed red pepper flakes in a pot. Bring to a boil. Add raisins. Allow to steep for at least 30 minutes.

For the apple cider mustard seed dressing:

  • Combine vinegar and mustard seeds into a pot. Bring to a boil. Allow to steep for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

For the slaw:

  • Combine the shaved Brussel sprouts, pecans, red peppers, red onions, dressing, and salt in large bowl and mix well and serve.