In his 2001 review of the 1954 film “Seven Samurai,” Roger Ebert wrote that director Akira Kurosawa’s primary purpose was “to make a samurai movie that was anchored in ancient Japanese culture and yet argued for a flexible humanism in place of rigid traditions.”
That description embodies the purpose of Dragonfly, Gainesville’s upscale sushi restaurant and bar. It’s no wonder, then, that “Seven Samurai” plays on repeat on two flat-screen TVs in the back of the restaurant.
Unlike other restaurant/bars, which feature sliders and overly loud sports games, Dragonfly is decidedly different. Its foundation is built upon Japanese cuisine and style (so you can order something deliciously traditional like pork ramen). But Dragonfly dares to do more, pulling inspiration from global ingredients and giving way to not-so-traditional menu items, like the “Black ‘n Bleu,” a sushi roll with N.Y. strip steak, bleu cheese and honey wasabi mayo.
Katie Talbert, the front-of-house manager, said everything Dragonfly does is rooted in Japanese cuisine and culture.
“We build our ideas off of an izakaya concept,” she said, which “in Japan is going to be all those little mom-and-pop places that offer small appetizer-sized portions paired with really delicious drinks to awaken your inner zen.”
Essentially, it’s a Japanese gastropub. This style is intimate, Talbert said, and promotes a sense of togetherness, welcoming and family.
Talbert said that Dragonfly introduces you to unfamiliar Japanese ingredients without throwing you into the deep end. It does this by serving, for example, a green tea creme brulee or a tuna flatbread. Foreign, yet familiar.
Dragonfly’s superbly stocked bar also fuses Japanese and global tastes. And as any good gastropub would have it, the bar at Dragonfly is integral to its izakaya experience. And integral to that is the award-winning head bartender, Kristin “Frosty” Amron, who makes it her personal goal to serve you the best drink you’ve ever had. And you should trust her, because she probably will.
Amron said she loves when her customer lets her decide the drink. This type of trust in a bartender is her creative fuel. In Japanese this relationship is called omakase, she said, which means “trust the chef.”
The trend toward omakase has grown since she started working at Dragonfly over three years ago, she said, and with good reason: Amron’s got a taste for Japanese whiskey, herbs and a yummy Japanese citrus fruit called yuzu.
“I went through a phase where I used (yuzu) in every one of my omakase orders,” she said.
Amron got her start in the food industry as a hostess at an Outback Steakhouse, and she worked at Lillian’s downtown when she moved to Gainesville. It wasn’t until she started bartending at Dragonfly that she found her passion for creating alcoholic drinks.
“It’s the best place I’ve ever worked,” she said of Dragonfly. “I wake up every day happy to go to work.”
Talbert said Dragonfly didn’t always have a Japenese-forward bar, but once Amron started bartending, she worked with sales reps to find some of the most sought-after Japanese spirits and liqueurs. Because of Amron’s careful research and interest in Japanese alcohol, she has been able to supply the bar with drinks like Yamazaki whiskey, a world-renowned Japanese whiskey, since before it started winning awards.
It is this passion for uniqueness and care for the customer experience that distinguishes Dragonfly from other Japanese restaurants — and other dinner spots downtown.
“People come here because they know about the talent here,” Amron said of the bartenders and chefs.
“At the end of the day, when you come into a bar and put real trust into your bartender, I think that speaks volumes,” she said. “And that’s something that happens here every day.”
Recipes courtesy of Dragonfly’s bar manager, Kristin “Frosty” Amron.
201 SE 2nd Ave | 352-371-3359
Sunday to Wednesday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Saturday 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
Gangster and the Geisha
Amron won first place in Florida at the Fernet Branca Competition with this drink.
- 1 oz. Japanese whiskey
- 1 oz. Fernet Branca
- ¾ oz. hibiscus simple syrup
- ¼ oz. yuzu (Yuzu is an insanely delicious Japanese citrus. You can find it at Asian markets in Gainesville like Chung Ching.)
Steep 1 tablespoon of flower petals in 2 cups water and 2 cups cane sugar. Heat on stove until sugar dissolves. Refrigerate for future use.
Shake with ice, then serve “up” (aka without ice).
Shochu is a Japanese distilled spirit that is lower in alcohol content than stronger drinks like whiskey. Amron said you can easily substitute vodka, tequila or rum, or leave the alcohol out all together.
- Optional: 1.5 oz. shochu
- 4-5 mint leaves, muddled
- 2 Filthy cherries (Filthy is a brand of marinated cherries used for cocktails. Amron purchases hers at Dorn’s Liquors & Wine Warehouse in Gainesville.)
- ¾ oz. lavender simple syrup
- ¾ oz. lemon juice
- soda water
Mix ingredients and serve over ice. Top it off with soda water.
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