The name is unique and mascot is somewhat of a mystery, but the newest restaurant in Jacksonville Beach promises warm hospitality along with tastes from around the world.
The G.O.A.T. Tapas & Bar celebrated its grand opening Wednesday, promising innovative interpretations of international cuisine inspired by the global travels of its executive chef George Thomas and owners Farheen Shahbaz and Luke Shinners.
The restaurant at 311 Third St. N. — just two blocks from the ocean — offers an eclectic menu focused on fresh-from-scratch dishes with seasonal ingredients that reflect authentic cuisines from across the world.
“It’s a mixture of global cuisine because we have traveled so much. So, we are not going to be specializing in one cuisine. We want people to experience what we have experienced,” Shahbaz said.
“We want people to experience different cultures here,” she said.
Global comfort food tops the menu
Thomas said they’re doing “travel-style small plates … but essentially it’s comfort food.”
“It’s not a fusion on the plate. Each plate is definitely true to where it is from,” Thomas said. “If it’s a Vietnamese small plate then it’s Vietnamese. If it’s Lebanese then it’s Lebanese. If it’s interior Mexican then it’s interior Mexican.”
Thomas said the first thing he did was take the doors off the kitchen. He wanted guests to be able to see what the cooks were doing and how they were doing — treating the food with respect from preparation to plate to the customer.
“I take care of the food. We don’t do anything pretentious here. We buy really good ingredients, treat them really well and just let them do their thing really,” said Thomas, who has been cooking for 27 years.
Although at the beach, Thomas said the restaurant isn’t focusing on seafood as much as its competitors.
“We’ve focused a little bit more on vegetarian options, game birds such as quail, pork, beef,” he said.
Appetizers include corn and grilled mushroom empanada with salsa verde ($11) to a sweet potato with mole, salsa Seca, Queso Fresca and toasted coconut ($15), beets and lebnah with dukkah, honey and citrus ($14) and pataya bravas, which are crispy fried potatoes, paprika and roasted garlic aioli ($10).
Among the seafood dishes are a spicy charred octopus with grapes Marcona almonds and Ajo Blanco ($15), a crispy whole fish with sweet and sour Thai eggplant and rice coconut curry (market price) and pan-fried shrimp toast with chili sauce ($16).
Topping the entrees are chicken liver mousse featuring blueberry Agrodolce, pistachios and white chocolate ($14), hanger steak with Agi Amarillo and salsa verde ($34), grilled chicken featuring Romesco, Marcona almonds and smoked paprika ($21) and charred quail with honey and Urfa ($18).
Desserts ($9) include Nida’s flan or mango and coconut cake.
The restaurant also offers a chef’s choice of cured meats and cheeses with crostini, nuts and fruits for two people ($15) or four ($26), according to the menu.
The bar features craft beer, cocktails and wine.
G.O.A.T. founders are friends, restaurateurs
All three are restaurant veterans.
“I’d say between work and travels, we’ve probably hit half the globe,” said Shinners, a restaurateur about 30 years in New Jersey, his native Ireland and New York.
Although this is the first restaurant that Shahbaz has opened, she is no stranger to the business. Her husband, Azhar Mohammad, is senior executive chef at TPC Sawgrass.
Shinners and Shahbaz, with help from their spouses and Thomas, renovated the restaurant located in the space formerly occupied by The Blind Rabbit.
Shinners and his wife, Genilda, who’s from Brazil, became friends with Shahbaz and Mohammad after their children became friends at school.
“We’ve been talking about it for two years that we should open a restaurant. We found this space and then we found George and everything fell into place,” Shinners said.
“We’ve done all the work ourselves, so we’re vested in this,” he said.
Thomas previously was a chef in Austin for 16 years, opened two restaurants in Puerto Rico and also worked at Taverna San Marco in Jacksonville, he said.
“I trained at the school of hard knocks. I started cooking when I was 14 and haven’t stopped. I love it,” he said.
As important as the food, they said, is the hospitality.
“When people who enjoy food, drinks, and great company get together, they want to share that with other people in the community. This is what birthed the idea of The G.O.A.T. Tapas and Bar,” they said.
The inspiration for the G.O.A.T. name
The restaurant’s logo is a handsome-looking goat with a mischievous twinkle in its eyes. Various and sundry goat-related signs and other items can be found throughout the restaurant.
Besides triggering visions of the cute, quirky and often delicious farm animal, G.O.A.T. is a phrase that commonly stands for “Greatest of All Time” and typically refers to athletes or others considered the best at what they do.
That may or may not be the underlying reason for the restaurant’s name and fun logo.
Asked why they chose the name Shinners, Thomas and Shahbaz all smiled and hesitated.
“We heard that when Jacksonville was formed it had a lot of goats roaming around,” Shahbaz said.
“I don’t know if it’s just local folklore, but we heard that there was a herd of goats that used to go up and down Ponte Vedra Beach and Jacksonville for years. So, that’s also a link to the name,” Shinners said.
Shinners also said they didn’t want a name that was complicated or hard to remember and the G.O.A.T. fit that bill. Plus they figured people would call it The GOAT anyway.
“We’re looking to basically be that place where you can go where it’s comfortable. You know the people there, the chef, the bartender, the waiter, the waitress and it becomes that very homey comfortable place. That is what we’re striving for, the feel to get people to come in,” Shinners said.
Seating about 216 people, the restaurant initially will be open for dinner service but plans to add weekend brunch in the future, they said.
The G.O.A.T. is open 5 to 10 p.m Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday; and 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.