What can be said about 13 Gypsies that hasn't already been said by a plethora of more qualified individuals? Once little known outside of its neighborhood, this tiny tapas restaurant is now perhaps Jacksonville's most famous restaurant thanks to an appearance on a Food Network show. As a result, foodies have been flocking to Riverside with their appetites and expectations and leaving with their opinions; or nothing at all if they neglected to make reservations.
Chef Howard, the heart and mind behind 13 Gypsies, has approached his art with a philosophy akin to that promoted by the slow food movement. Almost everything is prepared fresh daily and by hand if possible. Ingredients are purchased personally from local sources and many of the menu items come and go based on the seasons. So while you can't be sure that your favorite dish will be available upon your next visit, the freshness of your food is guaranteed.
Another alluring aspect of 13 Gypsies is the surprisingly small and fantastically cute dining area. With only a handful of tables inside and a couple out on the sidewalk, you're going to either face a wait or be turned away if you don't make reservations. But once seated, you understand how much more intimate of an experience the smaller dining quarters affords.
There's a noticeable Spanish theme to much of the food here owing to the chef's heritage and one could appropriately describe the place as a tapas bar, albeit with its own unique flair. Loving freshly made bread as much as I do, I was excited to see two types of bread available and promptly ordered both. The Spanish Peasant Bread was lightly toasted and had a pleasantly robust flavor, particularly for a white bread. However, the North African Flatbread was my favorite of the two; earthy with a slight hint of sourness.
Most of the sandwiches come on the peasant bread and are quite exquisite. Most of our party opted to share some tapas but on my next visit I think I'll have to go with a sandwich; the couple bites I had of the Grilled Cheese still beckon me to return.
The tapas we ordered included the Coconut Mango Curry Chicken, the Angry Bull (pan seared beef with pacheco sauce, crushed raw garlic, and peppercorns), and the Shrimp Piri-Piri (shrimp sauteed in a Portuguese ginger-lemon sauce). The Angry Bull had an extremely strong flavor, as you might imagine will all that garlic, but not overbearing in its small portion and was probably the most stand out dish. Those not used to tapas be warned, these are small dishes and one will not suffice for a meal. Regardless, they were all uniquely flavorful and were but a small selection of the wide variety of dishes on offer, all of which I'd love to eventually sample.
Congratulations to 13 Gypsies on their new found fame. And to all of you prospective patrons, I again have one suggestion: make a reservation.
887 Stockton St
Jacksonville, FL 32204