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Amelia Islander

Kelley's Courtyard Cafe

Jun 30, 2014 01:01PM
Kelley’s Courtyard Café is owned by the Gass family, a clan of lifelong Fernandina residents. Executive Chef Michael Gass is in charge of all things culinary. Mike got his start cooking right here in Fernandina before attending culinary school at Johnson and Wales, Charleston. Pat Gass, Michael’s mother, in addition to working as a Fernandina Beach City Commissioner, pitches in as book keeper and office manager. I recently visited Kelley’s with my friend, Sherry, for dinner in their charming courtyard on a warm, lovely evening.

Our server, Laura, started us out with a glass of Edna Valley Chardonnay for me, and Fleur du Cap Sauvignon Blanc for Sherry. The California chardonnay, a bright and lively wine, had a pleasant acidy, and the South African sauvignon blanc was fruity and balanced, perfect for our appetizer course of Barbecue Shrimp. Chef Michael is a shrimp expert, a true local who knows the merit of fresh Fernandina shrimp. This dish uses local shrimp, grilled with pepperoncini, and topped with his caramelized onion and applewood bacon barbecue sauce. The shrimp and pepperoncini are threaded on a beautiful skewer and served with the restaurant’s famous cole slaw. There is also a balsamic reduction drizzle, a nice touch. The shrimp and pepperoncini were spicy, but the shrimp flavor shined through, and the cole slaw cooled the heat from the spicy sauce. I love that Chef Michael makes his own barbecue sauce, and the delicious cole slaw is a family recipe.

Our salad course was a Mandarin Chopped Salad, a mixture of edamame, mixed lettuce, mandarin oranges, carrots, broccoli, and cashews, tossed in Kelley’s own ginger soy vinaigrette. This salad is out-of-this-world perfect, with a clean taste and a nice mix of crunch. The dressing is sweet and salty, bursting with the flavor of ginger.

For our main course, we decided on the nightly Chef’s Special: Crabby Artichoke-Stuffed Flounder. Kelley’s always offers a wonderful special, a surprise, where Chef Michael presents his latest gourmet creation. But they also offer a “Blue Plate Special,” which is a home-style diner-type dish like country fried steak, made from scratch. Sherry and I opted for the flounder, which was served with flash-sautéed vegetables (carrots, spaghetti squash, and spinach), cheese grits, and tropical salsa. This entrée has a little bit of everything. The fish was tender, and I loved the rich, artichoke flavor. With the entrée, we enjoyed a glass of Bridalwood Pinot Noir, one of my favorite summer red wines. It goes well with both seafood and meat, with dark fruit flavors of raspberries and cherries. Sherry calls pinot noir “the velvet scarf” of wine, and I can see what she means!

My favorite dessert from Kelley’s is Granny Mott’s Blueberry Squares, but I decided to try something new, Cecile’s Caramel Pie. I love real caramels, and this dish reminds me of something from childhood. It’s like a soft, gooey, smooth caramel in an Oreo cookie crust, topped with whipped cream and a bit of chocolate syrup.

What a lovely meal we enjoyed in a warm and friendly atmosphere! Kelley’s is a true family owned and operated restaurant, and a Fernandina Beach favorite, featuring fresh foods for the whole family, craft beer, and fine wines. They also provide on- and offsite catering. For more information, visit www.kelleyscourtyardcafe.com or call (904) 432-8213.