by Damon Noisette // photo by Agnes Lopez
While it’s probably premature to declare Jacksonville a bonafide dining destination, the presence of Sbraga & Company in the revitalized Brooklyn neighborhood is a milestone for the city’s culinary scene. Top Chef season seven winner Kevin Sbraga was successfully courted by Unity Plaza and 220 Riverside developers, Hallmark Partners, and opened his first restaurant outside of Philadelphia in November.
Sbraga & Company’s kitchen team features a mix of his core staff and local talent. Chef de cuisine Greg Garbacz has worked with Kevin since his first restaurant, Sbraga, opened in Philly in 2011 and sous chef Ian Fleischmann and pastry chef Erika Weisflog both hail from Jacksonville.
The restaurant is expansive, seating up to 175 guests including the two private dining rooms, raw bar and chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen. Many of the meats are cooked on a pair of wood-burning parilla-style grills that raise and lower via cast aluminum crank wheels.
The menu is distinctly Southern and seasonal, split into small and large plates for sharing. The composition of the menu encourages diners to order a number of the small, reasonably priced dishes called “snacks” and “crops” and split them all as they come out.
By far my favorite item was the hog & hominy ($9), a small plate with pulled pork served over creamy cheese grits, baby corn and bits of crunchy hominy. Two orders were not enough. The mushroom escabeche ($9) is an explosion of flavor and packs a hint of heat thanks to serrano chiles, as is the salmon crudo ($11) with its jalapeños, strawberries, red onions and jicama. Charred and chewy, the grilled octopus ($12) with spicy fried okra is a treat for diners willing to go a little further for their proteins.
The smoked meat platter ($26) is something for every carnivore—pulled pork shoulder, juicy beef brisket, chicken wings, yeast rolls (baked on site) and house-made pickles. Sbraga’s “Country Captain” ($23) has a pair of spicy fried chicken breasts over almond rice, and just enough to split with a partner. The pappardelle ($16), with its hearty vegetable sugo and goat cheese, would be a suitable choice for someone looking for his own entrée. One upside to sharing is having room for dessert. My waiter called the chocolate molasses pie ($8) a “Snickers on steroids” and he wasn’t kidding. The pecan-pumpkin ice cream offset the sticky richness of the dessert cleverly.
Season’s Eatings: The menu changes seasonally. Some items for the winter include shrimp ceviche with poblano, whole bronzino, squash with dumplings and wilted greens with garlic, shallots and olive oil.
Happy Days: Happy hour is 5-7 PM, Monday through Friday, with $5-$7 cocktails, beer and wine, served with complimentary snacks like popcorn, marinated olives and house-made chips.
Park it Here: Complimentary valet service is available after 5 PM Thursday through Saturday. Public parking is available around Unity Plaza and in the Magnolia Street lot adjacent to the complex.
Sbraga & Company 220 Riverside Ave. 746-0909; sbragadining.com