Chef Howard Kirk with Food and Beverage Today

Howard Kirk refines his culinary experience

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Keeping recipes as close to tradition as possible is what chef Howard is all about

That devotion to authenticity and  gastronomy unfettered by fusion was part of what helped him form the culinary philosophy he lives out each day at 13 Gypsies.

After leaving Munich he lived in Canada, specifically Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver, falling in love with poutine (Canada’s exquisite answer to cheese fries).  From there he arrived back in Jacksonville, helping to open his mother’s restaurant Sangria House for about five years before deciding to strike out on his own and open 13 Gypsies.

13 Gypsies

Chef Howard traces the established migration patterns of the gypsy population of Europe through his offerings. Despite dabbling in India and France, he solidly stakes the menu in Spanish and Italian traditions. Although some of the tapas are certainly hearty enough to make a meal out of, it’s all about the small plates rather than heavy entrées. The atmosphere is friendly and sometimes diners even pass food between tables, asking for recommendations from regulars.

Bread is an essential part of the meal for Chef Howard. “It’s just the way I was raised,” he says, explaining his commitment to cooking fresh bread daily.  A meal is an incomplete thing without it. They make a European peasant loaf and flatbread from scratch. Bread is so important to him that he makes sure his loaves are vegan-friendly. Although he doesn’t have many vegan customers, he strongly believes that no-one should go breadless.

That’s not to say that he believes in eschewing meat. His menu is proof of that. The popular fresh sausage dishes are actually made from scratch, a rarity in most kitchens.

Out of towners should try the roman gnocchi as an introduction to 13 Gypsies fare. This savory dish can win over even a cynical diner.

At the meal’s end, the flan and the tres leche are favorites. The flan is perfect in texture and has a light, sweetness that doesn’t overpower. The tres leche banks on its creaminess, which buoys up the sweetness of the dessert.

Tables are in demand. Their short week (they’re open Tuesday-Sunday with a break between lunch and dinner) and low number of tables mean that locals feel lucky if they can get a table at the last minute. Most of their diners are savvy enough to plan ahead or call to ask if there have been any cancellations. So far they’re keeping the place small so it’s manageable and still in the parameters of a genuine bistro.

“I wanted to open something small, something that you’d more typically find in Europe, which is kind of a gamble…I thought it could work here, and thankfully, it has.”

Chef Howard Recommends:

If you can’t get a reservation at 13 Gypsies, here are a few local hotspots the Chef frequents and recommends.

La Cena has what Chef Howard calls “the most genuine Italian food in the city.” It’s expensive, but worthwhile for those with a discerning palate.

On the much lower end of the dollar scale, Chef Howard loves the downtown Burrito Gallery, which has local art on its walls and gigantic burritos on your plate. “It’s simple food, but sometimes simple is best.”

Orsay serves French soul-food in an admittedly swanky setting in Riverside. It’s one of Chef Howard’s favorites.

The mid-priced Chew stops short of being trendy because it‘s just so good. Beautiful plating, outstanding  croque monsieur, nifty little salads, stunning sandwiches and “an excellent chef with formal culinary training,” make this a great place to nosh for Chef Howard and everyone else that happens to be downtown.


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