13 Gypsies advertise themselves as “A Peasant Kitchen.” After eating here I know why. They cook like peasants, have the taste buds of peasants and treat you like a peasant.
A typical day when I’m on the road is: work in the morning, workout in the hotel gym, grab lunch, hop a plane (or when in Jacksonville, drive my rental car from Orlando or Tampa) to my next destination, check-in to new hotel, go to dinner. So by the time, I go out to dinner, it’s usually on the later side and the only thing I dislike more than a restaurant that closes at 9, is a kitchen that closes at 8:45. I arrived at 13 Gypsies at 8:30 and was immediately told by my waitress, who looked 13, the kitchen closes in 15 minutes so I better get my order in fast. So I quickly roll through their tasty looking menu.
I had high hopes for 13 Gypsies after seeing it on The Food Network’s show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. The vibe didn’t disappoint. It’s a small restaurant with a convivial intimate feel; nicely lit with candles on wooden tables.
I started with Pastor Rioja for $8/glass made of 100% viura A.K.A. macabeo – one of the grapes in the Spanish Sparkling wine Cava. It had a Sauvignon Blanc character with crisp acidity, a palate of lemon rind, good minerality and a medium finish. It was fun to have it served in a copa – the typical glass used in tapas bars in Spain.
It wasn’t fun, however to have all my food served at the same time. It’s a pet peeve of mine. As I’m eating one dish, another arrives and makes me feel pressured to finish it before it descends to room temperature. Normally no big deal if you’re dining out with lots of tapas eating buddies but with just me, I asked my waitress if she could stage my dishes. That way as I’m finishing one, the next one would arrive piping hot on its heals. She says, NO. It’s out of her control which I think is code for “I don’t care enough to care.” Of course after ordering, I’m quickly faced with a table full of food.
The first tapas I try is the bruschetta del dia which for this dia consisted of roasted peppers, onions, salt and vinegar served on grilled white bread. It was pedestrian. The veggies were cold, extremely vinegar-ed and the bread was a pasty Wonder-Bread-like Texas toast.
After a few bites, I switched to the Fish Tomatino for $9. White flake fish cooked in a sweetened tomato sauce. A Classic Spanish offering. The fish was a good size; firm but still moist with a nice roasted quality. The tomato sauce however tasted like Ragu. A bad mass produced marinara sauce with a strong canned tomato flavor.
I then turned my attention to a fire roasted red pepper stuffed with fontina cheese and cooked in a sweetened tomato sauce for $9. This dish had more problems than Spain in the E.U. The red pepper seemed more jarred than fire roasted. The cheese wasn’t fully melted and tasted like bland mozzarella and it had more of the same odious sauce that was on the fish. It was as dreadful as a dish I used to make when I was a kid: An English muffin with Ragu pizza quick sauce and American singles cooked in the toaster oven. I still remember the jingle for the sauce. Open a jar…of pizza quick sauce. And Open your own…Pizzeria. I don’t think so.
As I’m making my way through my line-up of tapas, the staff turns off the music and lets us dine to the sounds of the refrigerator and clanking utensils.
It was about around this time, 15 minutes after I received my table of food, my waitress finally ask if I was doing good. I said, “fine” which was code for “No, I’m not doing good. I feel rushed, most of my food is cold and I would have enjoyed another glass of wine about 10 minutes ago. And by the way, you are one of the worst waitresses ever.”
Lastly I dug into the only item meant to be room temperature: The Cordoba salad – mixed greens, queso blanco, sauteed shrooms, oranges, sliced almonds and balsamic vinaigrette for $9.
The cheese had a saltiness but besides that was pretty bland. The oranges were nice and crisp with a fresh citrus flavor but someone in the kitchen has a vinegar fetish. Like the red peppers in the bruschetta, it was heavy handed on the salad too.
By the time I finished, the restaurant was as devoid of life as my food had been.
Gypsies and the number 13 are much maligned around the world and this place does little to help either stereotype. If you want to be treated like a valued customer by a well trained staff and enjoy nicely prepared food, go elsewhere. If, however you want to boost your Romaphobia and triskaidekaphobia, then this is your place.
887 Stockton Street
For more information about the author, please visit Brian von Dedenroth.