Not long ago, Chef Kenny Gilbert announced that he was parting ways with the ownership team behind the multi-concept group of restaurants including Gilbert’s Beach BBQ, Gilbert’s Hot Chicken & Fish, Seachasers Lounge, and Gilbert’s Southern Kitchen and Bar. Although nothing has yet replaced the hot chicken or BBQ concepts, the upstairs dining area, with its amazing view of the Atlantic, has rebranded–if only slightly–by dropping the former celebrity chef’s surname from the signage and enlisting the culinary aide of Chef Darin Ball.

Chef Darin’s menu leans heavily on fresh seafood which he meticulously sources daily from local vendors. You’d think great seafood at the beach would be a no-brainer, but even passably decent restaurants on the water, not to mention fresh and local, are hard to come by. But if the items sampled from the recently relaunched fall menu are any indication, that tide is changing (pun intended).

southern kitchen and bar redfish reuben

Redfish Reuben 

The surprising star of the show is, believe it or not, the Redfish Reuben. While the only things traditionally Reuben-y about this arguably sacrilegious situation are the marbled rye bread and the inclusion of coleslaw between the sheets, this is just hands-down a damn fine sandwich. It is available blackened, grilled or fried and although I likely would have opted for the blackened version, it works remarkably well fried.

Even the best fried fish sandwich has a tendency to devolve into a horrible, albeit delicious mess, but the breading on this bad boy clings to the filet of flaky, tender redfish like it’s holding on for dear life. Cajun remoulade and long slices of dill pickle complete this unexpected masterpiece.

southern kitchen and bar herb-crusted grouper

Herb-Crusted Grouper 

Don’t let Chef Darin’s ability to make a magical fish sandwich fool you into thinking he can’t do wonders on a dinner-worthy set-up as well. His pan-seared herb-crusted grouper with pesto gnocchi is also a thing of beauty if you’re looking for something a little more sophisticated. Provided it comes out of the kitchen as perfectly prepared as the plate I tasted, seafood lovers should be flocking to Southern Kitchen and Bar to see what else this up-and-coming chef has up his sleeves.

The new menu doesn’t start and stop with seafood. The authenticity of the carnitas slider, with its tropical slaw, impressed me to no end. Most people try to pass off pulled pork as carnitas but one bite into these tender, browned chunks of fried pork confirm that this is indeed the real deal. The shrimp lollipops dipped in remoulade are a treat as is the fried avocado. Although not sampled, rumor has it the chicken wings are also fire.

In a refreshing twist, Chef Darin’s menu also includes a substantial vegan section. Fried cauliflower shows its versatility as an appetizer and in a taco. A vegan jambalaya makes an appearance but the black beans on the side don’t go far enough to bulk up this dish that would benefit instead from blackened tempeh or tofu as an optional protein.

Elevated seafood with a view… at last!

Oh, and you can still count on a great beverage program with whiskey and moonshine-focused cocktails that are sturdy enough to stand up to the food but refreshing enough to be worthy of the beach.

Rebranding a restaurant is hard but as long as Chef Darin is in it for the long haul and the food quality remains at its current level, Southern Kitchen and Bar’s new recipe could be a successful one that brings elevated seafood and ocean views together.  At last!

Pro Tip: Many of the items on the menu are available as half portions and Chef Darin admits that he doesn’t hold back on the sides so make this move if you’re on a budget.

Bold Bites is a collaboration between Void Magazine and Edible Northeast Florida. If it’s BOLD and ridiculously tasty in the 904, we’ll try it. Follow @boldbites on Instagram.