Blue Gill offers quality food and service, but has its foibles


Fresh-caught grouper and octopus are offered at Blue Gill along with crispy pork shank, roast chicken with mac and cheese and other items.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 3:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 3:38 p.m.

My favorite dish at Blue Gill is an appetizer called “tongue in cheek.”

Facts

Blue Gill Quality Foods

Location: 1310 SW 13th St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Cuisine: Nouveau Southern
Atmosphere: Family friendly, but sometimes noisy
Service: Good
Libations: Full bar, about 40 wines
Info: 872-5181, bluegillqualityfoods.com

Please keep an open mind as I describe it:

Beef tongue is sliced, blackened, topped with confit of pork cheek and served with potato frites and chopped peanuts.

I can guess what you're thinking:

“Yeah, right. I'll order that for my last meal in prison, or with my next tripe salad.”

If you've never tasted tongue, or cheek, you probably think it would make you retch. Trust me. It's fabulous, most of the time, and a gorgeous dish, too. It looks like a piece of dark toast (the tongue) topped with a thick square of yummy bacon (the cheek). ($9)

The restaurant's name is an inside joke, a play on words that incorporates the chef and co-owner's name. The owners are Chef Bert Gill and wife Tara, who also have two other local dining establishments, Mildred's Big City Foods and New Deal Café. All use local, organic ingredients whenever possible — and even when nearly impossible.

Blue Gill, opened in 2011, seems designed to sit squarely in the middle of the Gill empire. It's more upscale than New Deal Café but not quite the fine dining attempted at Mildred's. Prices are in the middle, too. Entrees run $8.50 to $21. Daily specials can cost more.

The menu has sections devoted to “Pig,” “Cow,” “Bird,” “Vegetarian” and so on. I especially recommend the crispy pork shank, roast chicken with mac and cheese, and the fresh fish or salad of the day.

There is a first-class burger here, too, which is no surprise as Chef Gill is known for gourmet burgers. This one reminds me of the $36 burger (topped with truffles and stuffed with fois-gras) at Daniel Boulud's bistro in New York City.

Chef Bert's is not as lavish as that, but neither is the price ($9.50).

Gill's features ground beef with a nucleus of shredded roast pork. The monster is grilled to order, topped with smoky local bacon and spicy pimento-cheese spread, and served on an excellent roll.

The combination is killer (wink). Just be forewarned that it's messy. I eat it with a knife and fork.

Another favorite is coconut cream cake to die for, and I might die for it, literally. It's so good I have ordered two pieces — one to share with my dining companions and one for later. It's a huge square of white layer cake with whipped cream frosting and a snowcap of shredded coconut ($5). It's fabulous, most of the time, and easily serves two or three.

Bert Gill is as close to a celebrity chef as there is around here, and with good reason. He's a talented, creative cook, a successful restaurateur, and he did a popular weekly segment on WCJB-TV news for years. He has built a following, and Blue Gill is likely to increase his legend.

But (and it's a significant but) Blue Gill is not perfect. Consistency is a problem.

The food seems to depend too much on who's cooking today. My beloved tongue in cheek occasionally is off because the ingredients are out of balance. I've eaten it two nights in a row and barely recognized the second serving.

That fabulous coconut cake has been known to arrive frozen in the middle, which pretty much destroys the illusion of house-made freshness.

These things don't happen often — but often enough for me to believe I see a pattern of little things that easily could be fixed.

The service is as good as it gets in Gainesville (which I wish were a higher compliment than it is). Servers even know how to open bottles of wine, a sad rarity around here.

But I find the wine list pricey and uninspired.

Wine markup of three times retail is fair at this food-price point, I think, but some of Blue Gill's wines are priced at 4.5 times retail. That would be tolerable if they were hard-to-get wines, but I've bought a bottle at Publix for $8 that is $36 here. The corkage fee to bring your own wine is steep, too, $15. I usually just order iced tea and tell the server why.

You may think I'm just nitpicking, and I am. That's what critics do; we try to make restaurants better for everyone, including the restaurants.

Now, go try that tongue in cheek. It's one of the most creative dishes I've had — here or anywhere — in a year, and I am not writing that with my tongue in my cheek.

David Carlson has been writing about food and wine for more than 20 years. Email him at dave@carlsonfamily.net. Dining is done anonymously and without advance notice. All meals are paid for by The Gainesville Sun.

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