13 Gypsies prides itself on being “peasant” food – simple, but delicious. While I’m not sure if “peasant” accurately describes the cuisine (it’s much more refined than what you would expect), the food is both simple and delicious. If you’re in the mood for Spanish-esque dishes, primarily of the tapas variety, this is the spot for you. The menu is pretty limited – a double-dozen of tapas, three or four house-made meat/cheese options, and three or four pasta dishes. They do have specials – namely the desserts, the house smoked meat, and the risotto of the day. Limited menu = proud chef and a lack of the feeling of overcompensation.
Let’s divert into the actual ambiance itself. When you walk up, you’ll notice that the space is small. Even the owners will tell you – there are 7 tables and 7 tables only (one outside), so space is limited. You DEFINITELY should make a reservation, especially since the table turnover is understandably slow (they are tapas, so people tend to stay awhile and order in “rounds”). There are funky art pieces on the wall, and only two front of house staff, so don’t be surprised if you can’t get ahold of anyone on the phone the first try – especially if they are busy. It’s a darker kind of vibe too – so it is perfect for a romantic evening or a first date. They have both wine and beer on the menu, and stick close to home with several local brewery options. They are well known for their sangria, so I’d suggest trying that out too – you are in a Spanish tapas restaurant after all!
DJ SnuggleMonster and I made a reservation for 8:30 and were seated right away when we arrived – even got the choice of three open two-tops. We were greeted right away by our server, and received our wine and water at top speed. We needed a few extra minutes to look over the menu and decide our options, which our waiter was more than happy to accommodate. Unfortunately, out waiter forgot all about us for a good 10-15 minutes after it was obvious we were ready to order. He walked over to the table next to us twice without checking on us and even re-stocked inventory. I’m not sure how we were overlooked, but when I made relatively pleasant but pointed eye contact with him, he rushed over and apologized, even offering to comp our wine. We assured him it was fine (everything else was going well and we weren’t really in a huge rush). We ordered our food and he was beyond attentive the rest of the night. No harm, no foul.
We decided to try something from the house-cured/smoked section as an appetizer and chose the Adobo Pork – a sherry vinegar and oregano cured pork with house-made bread. I ordered the Red Bell Pepper Ravioli with Crispy Ham and Gorgonzola. DJSM ordered the Risotto of the day, since he had never had risotto and always wanted to try it, and the fact that the special was House-made smoked pork sausage risotto.
I’m not sure if it was due to the restaurant serving tapas-style food or if there was a miscommunication with the kitchen about the order of things, but my dish came out first, followed by DJSM’s dish about 2 minutes later, and the Adobo Pork “appetizer” about 6-7 minutes later. I understand that in tapas restaurants, its a long-standing policy that dishes come out of the kitchen as they are cooked/ready, and there is no particular order other than that. Our server didn’t tell us if that was the case here, and I assumed ordering something that wasn’t under the tapas menu might have a different setup, so I was surprised when our appetizer came out much later than our main dishes. I will say it wasn’t a big deal, since we both got our food close in time and it was delicious – but perhaps something to warn customers about in the future.
I will stay by saying that my ravioli was INSANELY DELICIOUS. I could’ve eaten two or three helpings of it, it was so good, and so not heavy. When I ordered it I knew that it had the potential to be either really bland or really amazing. I was pleasantly surprised that it was the latter. The filling of bell pepper and Gorgonzola was mild, smooth, and creamy. The pasta was pillow-soft, and the ham was super crispy and added just enough salt. Again, I could’ve eaten about five of these (I know, I know, I said 2-3 servings before), so definitely maybe order it as an accompaniment to the rest of your meal.
DJSM’s risotto was also super creamy and soft. He couldn’t even finish it all, it was so rich and filling. While I will say it kept me coming back for more (with DJSM’s permission of course) and the flavors were excellent and it felt like stick-to-your-ribs-home-cooking, both DJSM and I agreed it was on the verge of being TOO salty. Perhaps the sausage added a significant amount of salt, but the dish was VERY close to being too salty. Like I said though, not enough for me not to eat a copious amount of it. Just have water handy and some bread.
The Adobo Pork was the only disappoint of the meal. I figured it was spanish pork, house-made…it should be pretty damn tasty and pack a punch. While the pork was impossibly tender and pulled apart at the touch, it was just, well, kind of bland. It was like eating boiled meat. It’s hot and it’s meat and it melts in your mouth, but there’s not much there to keep you coming back for more. The “From the Chamber” will probably be the best bet if you go, and I’m hoping that will offer more in the way of flavor. The bread – housemade every day of course – was pretty tasty. A good accompaniment to a hearty slice of meat. Unfortunately though, it didn’t really save the pork. I was hungry since I wanted 5-6 more servings of the ravioli, so I cleaned the plate, but definitely only order it if you have someone who is picky or you are trying to watch your seasoning intake. I think it would be a great idea for 13 Gypsies to offer a combo – meat and cheese, because who doesn’t want a bit of cheese with their meat or vice versa?! Charge me extra for it if you must!
All in all, I think 13 Gypsies is a Jacksonville hidden gem. It is quaint and cozy, and you can tell the chef takes great pride in his work. I would go back and try everything on the menu and take my time doing it, as the restaurant staff makes you feel beyond welcome. I won’t even knock the service, as I could tell it was an isolated incident for our server and he was beyond apologetic about the mistake. Even the two rail-thin basic chicks dressed in their club finery were knocking down 8-9 plates of tapas. And hey, if they can do it, you can too.