Kelley’s Courtyard Café offers dishes with pizazz – from Southern classics and comfort food to fabulous desserts – all in a delightful courtyard in downtown Fernandina Beach.
Kelley’s Courtyard Café is going into their third year in business in historic downtown Fernandina Beach, and owner Michael Gass is offering up some of his family’s famous recipes. My friend Sherry and I stopped by Kelley’s for dinner one evening and were thrilled that Chef Michael was able to visit with us for a bit and make some menu suggestions. Kelley’s is a family tradition on Amelia Island, with nearly every family member blessed with superb cooking skills and a love for food and entertaining.
Our server brought us each a glass of Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc, a lovely summer French wine. While many sauvignon blancs are very fruity and citrusy, Sherry pointed out that the French variety, a white Bordeaux, is floral and softer on the palate. As the wine lost its initial chill in the summer heat, it actually improved in flavor as we drank it. How nice! We shared a plate of Fried Green Tomatoes with Roasted Red Pepper Remoulade and Tropical Fruit Salsa. This is a wonderful appetizer: the tomatoes are crispy, with a cornmeal crust, and it is very moist within. Chef Michael makes his own remoulade, and it shows. The salsa is a combination of pineapple, honeydew melon, watermelon, yellow bell pepper, and cilantro.
Michael makes a unique Curried Spaghetti Squash Soup that we were eager to try. The base is chicken stock, with sautéed spaghetti squash, celery, onions, carrots, coconut milk, and curry. It is a splendid soup, full of flavor yet still very light and healthy. We also ordered Allie’s Salad, named for Michael’s wife, which features baby spinach, tart apples, golden raisins, and honey toasted almonds in a poppy seed vinaigrette. The dressing was sweet and satisfying and paired well with the other ingredients.
For our entrees, Gary suggested their special that evening, a Potato Chip Encrusted Lane Snapper, served with Chorizo Macaroni and Cheese and Collard Greens. We also decided to try their Blue Plate Special: Bacon-Wrapped Barbecue Meatloaf served with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes and a Vegetable Medley. In true diner tradition, each night Chef Michael offers up a different Blue Plate offering, giving new pizazz to traditional comfort foods. The homemade meatloaf is covered with thick cut bacon, and the barbecue sauce is coarse and fresh-tasting. Sherry and I both agreed that Chef Michael needs to bottle and sell his secret sauce—it was fantastic. The mashed potatoes were light and fluffy, made with red skin and russet potatoes, and his medley of summer squash was tender and buttery.
The Snapper—my favorite fish—was delicate and slightly sweet, and the crust added a nice balance to that flavor. There was a bit of beurre blanc drizzled on the fish and a fruity salsa. The macaroni and cheese was creamy and a little spicy, and the collards are a simple and yet perfect recipe—slow simmered with onions, green peppers, and jalapenos. Both entrees were truly delicious!
Perhaps my favorite part of the meal was Granny Mutt’s Blueberry Squares, served with vanilla ice cream and warm blueberry compote, a Kelley’s family tradition. Not only is it the best blueberry dessert I’ve ever had, but Chef Michael is pleased to share the recipe with anyone who asks. The secret to this dish is lots of fresh blueberries and plenty of love. Kelley’s offers indoor and outdoor dining, as well as a fine selection of sandwiches, plus on- and off-site catering. They are open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner.