Brunch, Sunday’s Happy Place

Brunch. To me, that meal is often associated with a hangover, or at least an uneasy feeling that food and sunshine are not worth rolling out of bed for early on a Sunday morning. But you might need to brave the young day due to friend obligations, the inability to work the coffee maker, parental units needing your attention, or your half-grown kids wanting to overtly hit you up for money. So you agree to brunch. *sigh* At least you should eat well.

Any brunch place worth its salt will have three things: bottomless cups of coffee, optional outdoor seating, and a menu that offers sweet and savory breakfast and lunch dishes.

Not required, but definitely appreciated, is a place that also offers typical brunch drinks like mimosas and bloody marys. Of course here in Gainesville, we’re limited by some archaic laws that don’t allow alcohol to be served before 1 o’clock on Sunday. So if you require some hair of the dog, time it so you arrive around 12:30 because most servers will kindly announce when they are allowed to take orders for adult beverages.

So where to go in Gainesville on a bright Sunday morning? We have our standard haunts that are veggie friendly, but are always open to suggestions. We would recommend starting with one of these:

• Leonardo’s 706 (or just 706)
High on the list because they have some delish standard menu items including omelets, benedicts, tofu stirfry, pancakes and french toast. Or commit to the buffet if you like big breakfasts because it’s packed with goodies. They have some great never-ending coffee, as well as the fancy stuff that requires a French accent to order, and noteworthy alcohol-mixed drinks (their mimosa is a favorite). It’s a bit pricey when you look at the menu, but you get a full bang for your buck because the minute you sit down, you’re served with their famous brunch punch (citrus, ginger, and watermelon) and mini-muffins (usually chocolate, cream cheese, berry, etc), and you’ll be delivered hot latkas (crispy potato pancakes). First rate service and an eclectic menu makes this a standard for us.
**Midtown, 706 W. University Ave [find them on Facebook!]**
Website: Leonardos-706.com

• The Top
“The Top?” you say. Why, yes. They’ve revamped their brunch offerings. If you like their dinner menu, you won’t be disappointed in brunch. They even have some decent vegan options which can be hard to come by. I absolutely recommend the Cuban bread with guava jelly and goat cheese to start with. Or they have vegan biscuits and gravy. The menu changes from week to week depending on what they’ve got on hand, but it usually looks like pancakes and grits, and home fries, and other hot comfort food that is better with syrup or hot sauce. And as always at the Top, you’ll get enough food to take some home for later. My only caution is that the pancakes tend to taste like the griddle, an oddly cloying cooking oil flavor. A bonus of the Top is that you don’t get a big wait time like at some of the other places. If you show up at the crack of 11:00, you can get your pick of tables. [They post that brunch is from 11 to 2. Check the chalkboard and specials menu.]
**University and Main, a block north, just follow the smell of food**

• The Flying Biscuit
Yes, this is a small chain restaurant, but it’s not sold its soul off yet. If the bright Disney-like interior design doesn’t wake you up, and regular coffee doesn’t sound appealing, try one of their insane drinks… you can get four shots of espresso in a bowl-size cup with whipped cream, or a Guinness (yes, the beer!) with shots of espresso in that. Once you’re awake and you’re grazing the menu, you’ll see there is almost no end to options. They’re all pretty good. And don’t even think about leaving without trying their biscuits. I heartily recommend one of their huge omelet meals if you know you can eat a lot. If you are not into big breakfasts, make sure to check out their sides menu where you can mix and match grits (light, made with cream cheese), half-order of french toast, soysage, ‘moon dusted’ potatoes, and more. Good food for good prices, and the staff are fun people. There is always a waiting list, but it’s worth it! [It’s posted that they open at 7am but that’s not verified, and who the heck wants to eat that early on Sunday anyway?]
**Northwest / Thornebrook area, near Fresh Market [find them on Facebook!]**
Website: FlyingBiscuit.com

• Ivey’s Grill
I have to add Ivey’s because they don’t have much for veggies, but do I love their potato pancakes. The coffee is good, and they have some great specials. Absolutely worth checking out. The small dining room is relaxed, and theres usually a wait time or it’s pretty busy. A good regular client base means good food and good service.
**University and 34th, next to Sunflower**
Website (incomplete): IveysGrill.com

• 43rd St Deli
Many people are partial to 43rd St Deli because they have a lot of options at reasonable prices. Ever since they closed the one on 13th St to make room for the huge CVS, I’ve hesitated to make the drive across town to one of the other locations. They earned a good following because of their real down-home cooking style, and there’s plenty of veggie and vegan options as well. Hint: check out the specials menu before anything else. Brunching here will definitely not break the bank.
**NW 43rd St location, behind Zaxby’s & Las Margaritas**
**SW Williston Rd location, just south of I-75**

That’s not the final list of options, but this is where we generally think to go first when someone says “Brunch!”. There are a few other places we want to check out over time, and we’ll add them as we gather info. If you want to suggest something, we’re open to ideas.

[Girl21]

Desserts: Shrikhand

Low fat desserts…

No! Come back! Low fat desserts are not horrible. I swear.

Okay, so it’s not a German chocolate cake, but it’s simple, it’s easy, and it tastes good. And yes, it’s pretty low in fat since it’s basically yogurt with some spices and a bit of sugar and maybe fruit.

Shrikhand is a dessert from India where many dishes are milk-based and most are pretty rich. Ghee is the best part of butter and it’s in everything. Except this dish of course.

You’ll need only a few things, and as ever, good ingredients make all the difference. First of all choose a good yogurt, preferably natural, organic, whole milk, etc. Yes, pick the highest fat content type. I love the cream top style from Stonyfield. You’ll want a 32oz/2 lb container for this. It serves about four people.

You’ll need about a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of ground cardamom. If you don’t know if you like cardamom or not yet, I’d use a smaller amount because it’s easy to use too much. Cardamom is great in coffee by the way. If you use a French press, sprinkle some in with your ground coffee before you add the hot water. Tasty!

Confectioners sugar is easy to come by. You’re going to need about a half cup of finely ground sugar because the yogurt will be too dry and cold to dissolve regular sugar well. Got it? Half a cup. Once you have made it a few times, you could adjust up, but the sweet tends to overpower the other flavors.

And last but not least, saffron. Possibly the most expensive single substance on the planet by weight. Never cheap-out on saffron. It’s just not worth it. The good thing about saffron is that it goes a long way, so you only need a little. You can get Spanish saffron pretty readily. Look for the highest percentage of red saffron strands you can find or afford. The red strands have the most flavor; yellow has less. If you can get your hands on Indian saffron, consider yourself lucky and pay whatever price is asked. You only need about five threads of saffron for this recipe.

I’m going to shamelessly plug one of my favorite spice catalogs for a minute, and you’d best pay attention because they’re good people and have a good selection of reliable-quality spices. Take yourself over to www.penzeys.com and request a catalog. I always buy online, but the catalog covers a good deal of what they have and has fun recipes to try out. They know spices and they know customer service.

Shrikhand IngredientsSo back to shrikhand… and the weird things you’ll need to “cook”. (Yes, there is no actual cooking involved here, so it’s actually a kid-friendly recipe.) You’ll need a small mixing bowl, a medium mixing bowl, a spatula or wooden spoon, a two-by-two foot section of cheese cloth, and a metal strainer.

The best thing is if your strainer fits over your bowl leaving a space of a few inches underneath it. Because, well, here goes…

Line your small mixing bow with the cheese cloth. Bring all of the edges out neatly because you’re going to be wrapping this up around the yogurt in a minute. If you chose cream top yogurt or other creamy style, you’ll need to mix it up as much as possible so it’s pretty even consistency. Pour the yogurt into the bowl/cheese cloth, then pull all of the edges of the cloth up tight around it like a little hobo running-away bag. You can tie it off with twine, ribbon, twist-ties, what ever. I twist it up and use one of those wooden clothes pins because I find them very handy in the kitchen.

You’ll see fluid already escaping the fabric. This is the excess whey, and the more you drain off, the better your shrikhand will be. Carefully plop this cloth covered yogurt in the strainer you’ve propped in your medium bowl. The whole goal here is to let the moisture drain off the yogurt, drip through the strainer, and collect in the bowl. So you can check every hour or so and pour out the whey in the bowl as it collects.

Put bowl, strainer, and yogurt in the fridge like this for at least four hours to drain. The more ‘natural/organic’ your yogurt, the faster it will drain. Four hours is minimum. I usually let it go over night, or at least 8 hours. Like I said, the more moisture you drain out, the better the shrikhand is. You’ll even consider re-tying the top because the body of the cloth-covered yogurt will contract.

After your shrikhand is drained, pull it out of the fridge and unwrap it. It’ll seem more the consistency of soft cream cheese. Roll it around gently in your hands to get it all off of the yogurt off the cloth, then scoop it into a mixing bowl. First the 1/2 teaspoon of cardamom. Then roll the saffron threads between your fingertips to break them up a little and drop them in. Mix this up and return to the fridge for about a half hour. Add the powdered sugar and mix well, then return it to the fridge for another half hour. Mix one last time and you’re good to go.

Always serve shrikhand chilled. I like to serve this in a bowl with fresh fruit. Peaches are great because they don’t overpower the subtle saffron flavor. Or drop some mango puree in there with it and a drizzle of honey. If you get it thick enough, you could pretty much ice a cake with it, which could be fun. This is great to serve after a spicy Indian mean because it’ll cool off your guest’s sizzling tongues and offer a gentle flavor after the big fireworks of curry.

You can find many variations of shrikhand flavors depending on what gets mixed in. Mango puree is great as long as you drain and press as mush fluid out as you can. Or finely chopped pistachios is another traditional addition. I suggest having fun with it. Just go for lest wet additions and you’ll be okay.

If you want to save it over night, you’ll see it continues to separate. Just pour out the excess fluid and stir it up. Good for a few days in the fridge.

[Girl21]

Pesto Asparagus Sandwich

Pesto Asparagus SammieGarlic herb focaccia
Stone ground mustard
Pesto
Sliced cheese… Muenster, provolone, mozzarella, swiss, etc
Marinated asparagus

We love easy meals that taste like they came off a trendy SoHo bistro menu. And a sandwich that takes two minutes to assemble is a fantastic option for picnics, pool parties, and impromptu lunch work-dates.

We can usually get all of the ingredients we need at our local grocery shop. (Buy local to support community businesses!)

Start with a light bread, preferably herbed or flavored. I love this rectangular focaccia made by a local bakery. If you’re looking to assemble in a hurry, make sure to pick something already sliced!

Mustard varies by personal taste, but we like a stone ground, medium flavor style. Something with a good flavor that won’t take control of the sandwich. As for pesto, those little good-quality jars in the gourmet or health food sections are guilty little pleasures. After all, fresh is best, but who has the time or resources often?

Slather opposite sides of your sammie with the mustard and the pesto. Then apply a layer of your preferred cheese. We use Muenster, provolone, or swiss because it’s fairly easy to find pre-sliced and good quality. We settled on Boar’s Head Muenster last time and it was perfect.

Before you seal up your sammie, slide in a few stalks of marinated asparagus for texture and flavor. Look for the right kind of jarred asparagus though because it can be very bad if you go the cheap route. Look at the heads to make sure they’re still intact so you don’t end up with mushy asparagus slugs.

Suggested accompaniments: blue corn chips, black bean humus, and dry cider or real ginger ale.

Mwah! Delish!

[Girl21]

Vittoria’s Italian Coffee & Pastry, Daytona

Friends and I discovered this pastry shop by accident on a girl’s weekend to Daytona. A few months later, on a trip with my boyfriend’s family, I nervously suggested it for breakfast. It’s one thing to over-eat sugary pastries with girlfriends. But his family is Italian and I wasn’t sure if this Italian pastry shop would be scoffed at as not Italian enough.

Suffice it to say it was a big hit. Vittoria runs the place and she’s a five-foot-nothing Italian lady from New York who’s been in the business forever (you can read the yellowing newspaper articles framed on the wall). And the cafe is a tiny little converted storefront decorated exactly like your grandmother’s house was when you were a kid. Well, my grandmother’s at least.

She makes everything by hand from real ingredients. Don’t look for fat free or sugar free anything here. Aside from a broad selection of traditional pastries and cakes, she also does panini, coffees, and special requests. Call ahead by a day or two and she can make just about anything on request. Some of these pastries I had to Google when I got back just to find out what it was I had breathed down.

Mmmmm… cannoli, tiramisu, cream puffs, almond cookies… I am drooling on my keyboard as I type. If you’re in the Daytona area, you absolutely must stop in and have a few goodies. Last time we were there it was still a cash-only shop, so we recommend bringing at least $100 on you… trust me.

Vittoria’s Italian Coffee & Pastry
3106 S Atlantic Ave / Van Ave
Daytona Beach Shores, FL 32118
(386) 788-6063

[Girl21]

Fresh Kool-Aid Shakes

It’s probably a good idea to avoid restaurants with an apostrophe-n in the name.

Steak ‘n Shake gives us a very good reason with their Kool-Aid shakes… choose from grape flavored or tropical punch.

Have you tried this? I died a little bit inside just seeing an ad for this taste sensation. But how bad could it be? Probably as good as their fresh guacamole! Made from scratch daily!

We’re not saying that the term “good fast food” is an oxymoron. There are quite a few places you can get meals made with identifiable ingredients that are actually prepared on-site by heathy staff members that don’t purposefully use their bodily secretions as ‘special’ seasonings.

And for legal purposes I’ll add that I’m sure Steak ‘n Shake is a fine dining establishment that regularily passes all of its health inspections.

But really? Kool-Aid shakes?

[Girl21]

Cidre Bouché

Cidre Bouche Brut de Normandie
2007

Cidre BoucheThe most annoying thing about randomly buying a bottle of something-or-other to try is that sometimes you kick yourself for not picking up more than one bottle. We found this at Dorn’s while mooching around for something besides the three bottles of wine we came for. I’m not a beer drinker but am more than willing to explore cider. The French label made me hesitate (nothing to do with that fact that I barely passed my required French classes in high school). I thought we might be overpaying for a sub-par bottle of something the French wouldn’t make their nervous little dogs drink.

This cider was lovely though. Very light and sparkling. Very good mouth feel. Balanced flavor curve from beginning to end. Very fruity without even the slightest hint of insincerity. Absolutely no doubt that the flavors of the cider were the elements of its origin, from the dry soil and clovered orchards, to the tight and tart apples, to the oak aging barrels. This cider tasted of the story of its creation.

For a 750mL bottle of cider in the $10 price range, we were glad we took the risk of random selection. If the price jumped to $18 or $20, it would still be worth it.

Recommended as a solitary drink, or with cheese and other light snacks so you can thoroughly enjoy the delicate flavor palette.

www.calvados-dupont.com

Flying Biscuit for Brunch

You’re with family or friends and everyone in the group wants something different to eat. It’s Sunday morning. You’re hungry. You don’t want to deal with this before you’ve had a cup of coffee.

Simple. Flying Biscuit. It’s a small chain from Atlanta. Our Gainesville restaurant is one of the few not in Georgia. It’s up near 43rd and 16th/23rd a few doors down from Fresh Market and Dorn’s. They open every day at 7AM.

It’s a medium size restaurant. A bit on the cute side with their interior design. Southern style food in a we-don’t-cook-everything-in-lard kind of way. It’s always busy on Sunday morning. Even if you call ahead to get on the list (and we recommend that you call ahead) the wait can get to be 1+ hour. But that’s a good sign.

Flying Biscuit for BrunchThe menu covers breakfast and brunch in depth, from omelette to grits (oh the grits!) to pancakes to french toast. And of course, biscuits. And let me tell you, if your meal doesn’t already include a biscuit, order one on the side. That is the whole point of the place, and you’ll thank me for the advice. Big, fluffy, sprinkled with seasoned sugar, and spread with cranberry apple butter. Num num num.

But most important before the food is caffeine. Duh! Coffee. Can’t tolerate your breakfast-mates until you’ve woken up the old grey cells, right? If you don’t think a good old cup of coffee is good enough, you can get a Steamer, which is basically four shots of espresso and steamed milk (or soy milk) in a BIG cup. Better yet, confuse your brain… get a Guinness with two shots of espresso. Yes, beer and coffee. What better way to wake up?

As vegetarians, we’re happy to find any place that recognizes our second-class status. Flying Biscuit has Morningstar Farms soysage patties, several variations of tofu scramble, and even organic oatmeal pancakes. And they’ve got a few healthier dishes in case you want to sooth your guilt and go for some collard greens or black bean patties.

The menu is laced with some other options if you’re not in a breakfast mood. They offer salads, sandwiches, wraps, burritos and daily stoup (that would be where soup and stew meet into a perfect bowl of goodness). Honestly, I’ve never been in a non-breakfast mood walking into that place though. A switch gets thrown in my head and I MUST order something I can put butter or syrup or apple butter on.

If you’re like me, you have a hard time settling on one thing on the menu. Especially when you look around and see the amount of food you get with each order. Which is why I love a corner of the menu where the sides live. They’ve got half-orders of some of their best goodies. That way you can choose the things that tickle your drool circuits without overdoing (much). Half order of french toast. One pancake or biscuit. A bowl of grits (probably the yummiest restaurant grits EVER!). A bowl of fruit. Soysage patties. Mix it up and pack your tummy with exactly what you want.

The prices are fair; you get a lot of food for your hard earned dollars. I don’t think we’ve ever been there without taking food away for later. Usually the car ride home. And might I suggest ordering a few biscuits to take home? Trust me on this.

www.flyingbiscuit.com
(Yes, they’re on Facebook too!)

4150 NW 16th Blvd.
Gainesville, FL 32605
Phone: (352) 373-9500

Hours: 7AM-9PM (Wed-Sat)
7AM-4PM (Sun)
7AM-3PM (Mon-Tue)
Tables & Booths (some outdoor tables, and breakfast bar stools)
Service: polite, personal, efficient
Payment: All of the usual options

[Girl21]

Salad Days

“So what do you eat?”

Lord, if I had a buck for every time I heard that, I’d be driving the tricked-out Beemer I’ve been wanting. Admitting to being a vegetarian seems to elicit a reaction comparable only to a child finding a jellyfish on the beach for the first time. Suddenly you go from being a fellow human to something tentacled beamed down from Sirius.

I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life…including those formidable years in school, which is partially responsible for me being the well-adjusted optimist I am today. It’s kind of like A Boy Named Sue. Growing up as a vegetarian with an odd name has certainly earned me the Self-Confidence Badge in life. And of course, I’m fluent in Sarcasm as a result as well.

Later on in life, when going out to restaurants with non-vegetarian friends, you get the usual… “I’m sure you can eat here. They have salads. I think.” Yup. Because that’s what we eat. Salads.

Never mind that there as many kinds of vegetarians/vegans as there are individuals committed to their choice of diet. I don’t need to go there. I did try to break the stereotype when I could though. A little gentle education by example goes a long way. Maybe a few less people in the world think vegetarians eat only salads.

My big secret is that I really love salads actually. Not because I’m a vegetarian. But because they’re a yummy meal that can be ready in five minutes and cover all of the food groups and nutritional requirements you feel like owning up to. And since it’s all fresh ingredients limited only by your mood and creativity, you’ll never eat the same salad twice.

In public and with non-veggie friends, I try to make a point of NOT eating salads all of the time. Maybe I have a little chip on my shoulder and need to prove a minor point. But in the privacy of my own home, drapes closed to the world, I do partake of salads often.

Salad DaysSpinach and lettuce, with a little chopped curly parsley. Dried cranberries, blue cheese crumbles, white corn, and a drizzle of pesto Italian dressing. Maybe a light snow of pecorino or asiago cheese. Well that was just today. Tomorrow it will be a little different. Depending on my mood and what’s handy in the kitchen.

My salad habit will have to stay at home for the most part though. I dream of a world where vegetarians don’t have to squelch the urge to punch people every time they hear that question. Its a small dream and a tiny mission. But we can’t all be Mother Therese I guess.

[Girl21]

Food DJ

I’m in love with a food DJ.

What? Yeah, I said it. A food DJ. He is the Ron Hardy or Frankie Knuckles of food remixing.

Hm… I could go on a not-so-clever tangent using all kinds of DJ slang, but that would be annoying. Let’s assume you even know what phasing, bubble scratching, and hamster-style is and move on to the food.

So what is a food DJ? We were at brunch last weekend with friends, all single guys, and the three of them look over at my DJ with the admiration guys have for the silverback male of the bunch. He had masterfully layered, condimented, and sliced his meal into a magical combination on one plate. We’re talking about a full Southern brunch pulled together into a delightful fusion of food. A single land mass. A Pangea of breakfast yumminess.

I’ve been watching out of the corner of my eye since. Every chance he gets, he brings together flavors and textures, a little here, a little something else there. Nothing is plain. Nothing is straight up and simple. Umeboshi vinegar is a favorite base track. Organic stone ground mustard. Pecorino or gorgonzola cheese. Dried cranberries, fresh ginger, lime zest. The little thrills that change the deep, predictable flavors of every-day meals.

He is a musician with the cutlery, the salt and pepper mills, the chilli sauce bottles. There is percussion and bass in the cheeses. High feathery notes in basil and parsley. Indistinct, intoxicating vocal samples of garlic. Long, low grooves mixed over the rhythmic breads. Slippery transitions in olive oil from sharp pasta sauce to mellow whole-grain cappellini. Scratch beats of chocolate. Zig zag beats of garam masala.

Our house is his night club. Our kitchen is his DJ booth. I am his number one fan, hovering at his elbow. He spins the plates and drops the tracks together. And he closes his eyes, lost in the moment. Enjoying the flavors.

[Girl21]

Flock, Smoking Loon

The old adage “you get what you pay for” doesn’t always apply to wine. In fact you pay for what you’re willing to pay for. So drink what you like, not what’s on the price tag.

Case in point, this nice little line from Smoking Loon. Flock? So many jokes, so little time. Right?

We’re always on the look out for a decent bottle of dinner wine for under $10. So we picked this up on a random trip to the grocery store one evening. If anything, we wasted a whole $7.99 on a corporate marketing ploy. Anyone who’s bought tickets to Disney World knows a sting much harsher than that.

It was very nice. An interesting collection of fresh flavors. A beautifully balanced flavor curve from start to finish. Lovely little fruity notes. It certainly made us sit back and go “huh, should have gotten another few bottles”.

Flock
2007 Dry Creek Valley Old Vine Zinfandel
$8-10
Donandsons.com | Flock

[Girl21]