Flaco’s at Night

Flaco's Pig Sign, Downtown Gainesville

I spent a great deal of my youth skulking around downtown Gainesville at night. My older brother was in a band and I discovered that any girls with a band were let into clubs without being ID’ed. Not that I drank at that age. Seriously, I went to T.G.I. Friday and had an ice cream coffee drink on my 21st birthday, and that was my big first drink. I kid you not.

We hung out downtown, and I lived off of Mountain Dew or the Jamocha milkshakes at the Burger Barn while the boys schemed about scoring drinks and girls and stardom. This was back in the time of Hardback Cafe, Florida Theater, Insomnia, Purple Porpoise, and all of the random parties the band played in the rat warren of the student ghetto. If we were lucky, we would eat at Kesl’s Coney Island. If it was late, we ended up at Taco Bell.

Not that I’m saying anything bad about Taco Bell (don’t sue me!), but with age, my expectations for late-night food have increased to include the criteria that it must at least be edible. Carbs and protein are the food requirements after midnight. I’m a salad fanatic, and I wouldn’t touch the stuff late at night. Warm carbs and protein are what the stomach requires.

Fortunately Flaco’s is within walking distance of many of the usual places we hang out with friends at night these days, and it’s open until 2:30 AM Wednesday through Saturday. Just enough time to wander down there for some to-go food after having a pint or two. In case you’re wondering if it’s open, they provide that big neon pig sign to light the way. If you want to find it, Flaco’s is right across from the cow building. You know what I mean.

Flaco’s is a Cuban bakery and coffee shop. Firstly, if you’ve never had Cuban coffee, do not attempt this without a diving buddy. Secondly, if don’t know much Spanish, you can still order food at Flaco’s because they’re prepared for people like us (unlike some of the Cuban places in Miami which you might be physically removed from for asking “What’s quee-so?”). Their menu has nice little descriptions that are easy enough to be understood when you’re tired and can’t focus your eyes well.

They’ve got a lot of great hand-food and bowls of food, so you can eat and run (stumble), or you can sit around their stylishly shabby dining areas and enjoy the gorgeous smell of good food cooking. It’s a bit moist in the summer, but in the cool months, it’s lovely. Like someone’s kitchen. By ‘someone’, I mean ‘someone who cooks well and often’.

You can find hot sandwiches (yes, a few vegetarian options), salads, ‘plates’ & ‘bowls’, arepas, empanadas, coffee, drinks, and beer. They’ve even got a taco bar Saturday after 10PM. I’ve not been to take advantage of this fabulous event, but I imagine all of the celebrities attend.

Our usual late night to-go has narrowed down to queso blanco arepas, and two Donna’s Turnstyle sandwiches, one with black beans and one with lentils. I’m an arepa fan–cornmeal patties with a slab of fresh cheese half melting in the middle. There are many ways to make arepas, not all of them good, but Flaco’s are delish.

The Donna’s Turnstyle sandwiches are simple Cuban bread with swiss cheese, mustard, pickles, and either black beans or lentils, and pressed to warm. A far cry from the late-night burritos from Taco Bell that I was always convinced must contain the recycled wasted from liposuction clinics.

Flaco’s is the kind of place I would have felt at home at in my stupid youth. Miss-matched second-hand furniture, interesting art, a kind of rumpled and angsty mood at night. The food is honest and tasty. The pigs are a bit creepy in a fun way.

Flaco’s
200 West University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
352-371-2000
www.flacosgainesville.com

Donna’s Turnstyles – $4.95
Queso Blanco Arepas – $3.50

Hours
Tues | 11:00AM- 4:00PM
Wed- Fri | 11:00AM-2:30AM
Sat | 12:00PM-2:30AM
Sun & Mon | Closed

[Girl21]

Homemade Pickled Carrots

Pickled Carrots

I often live vicariously through my friends. Fortunately, I can reap some of their rewards yet not pay the fines or do the jail time. So far.

Take for example, my sister, whom I adore above all others except maybe The Man. I got to buy all of the itty-bitty socks and skater shoes and toys for her baby, but I didn’t have to grow huge like a melon and then actually give birth. She’s the kind of ultra-patient, baby-sign-teaching, granola mom I would like to be … in theory, one day, when I’m ready. And as a granola mom, she’s also into all of those handicraft things that people used to do because they had to, because Wal-mart and the internet didn’t exist.

Our most recent gift from her incessant handiwork was a collection of “canned” goods which aren’t actually canned. More like jarred goods. Our favorite, judging from how quickly it disappeared, was the jar of pickled carrots.

I’m not a huge fan of pickles, but The Man is a cult-follower. He’ll eat just about anything pickled (anything vegetarian). Apparently people around the world have pickled almost everything they can get into a jar, pot, or bin over the last few thousand years. Things that Mother Nature never intended people to eat, what to speak of pickle and save for later. The WHO (World Health Organization, not the band) has issued a tentative warning that people who eat pickled vegetable as their only veggie source have an elevated cancer risk. So no, these don’t count as your daily source of vegetables apparently.

But they are fun garnishes and additions to meals. Especially the all-knowing, glorious sandwich. A few slices of bread, some gouda, mustard, sprouts, and these carrots–yum! And pickled carrots are a world away from ‘pickles’ as we Americans know them… suspiciously shaped and ridged cucumbers that are the butt of a few bad grown-up jokes (haha I said butt!). Pickled carrots retain their earthy flavors, and get infused with the salty, soury, dilly, peppery flavors of the brine.

My sister used the more traditional bay leaves, coriander, pepper corns, and dill in a basic brine, but added cloves of garlic and rings of jalapeno pepper as well. Not that they were spicy. They added a depth of character and lots of frilly notes to the basic flavor profile. And of course the love.

I can’t help but think about my sister spending a few days straight shopping, washing, cutting, mixing, jarring, labeling, and putting up this vast collection of veggies. The same sister that used to tag along behind me, whining at me to play with her, is now doing grown up things like raising a son and teaching herself old-world skills that women abandoned in the ’40s when god invented supermarkets and credit cards.

Eating home-canned pickled carrots out of a jar while sitting on a milk crate on the back porch doesn’t sound so glamorous. It’s not so far from our humble childhood. We used to talk about being career women in a big city, living in a trendy apartment and eating at restaurants every night. I’m happy that life happened this way instead. She gives me homemade gifts because she’s a grown-up these days, and I give her fart jokes because I’m not. It’s an even trade.

[Girl21]

La Cantina Pizzolato Prosecco, 2007

La Cantina Pizzolato Prosecco

This bottle of wine almost inspired bloodshed and mayhem. I am not kidding.

You may notice the cute string-wrapped top on it here. Something a little different from the crowd. Well, I could not open the damn thing. The Man was about to burst a vein in his neck from trying to be civilized while wrestling the wine-screw and the bottle. I almost ran to the utility room for a screw driver and a hammer to open it. (It’s not glamorous, but it works. I promise.) Finally with a primal grunt, The Man ripped the cork out, threw up his hands like a bull fighter, and exited stage right.

It was a lot of hoopla for a timid bottle of organic prosecco. La Cantina Pizzolato is from the Veneto region of Italy (hint: Venice), a once highly agricultural area that is slowly turning to tourism and small industry, as well as guys in boats singing as they steer through canals. This region has sea-level lowlands, but also some high alpine peaks, so there’s plenty of ideal farmland to grow the prosecco grapes for this traditional sparkling wine.

I’ve had a rant or two about prosecco before, so I won’t get back into that again except to say that prosecco is pretty similar to Champagne. Because of its regionally protected status, all Champagne originates from the Champagne region of France. So we call it sparkling wine. In this region of Italy, it’s made with prosecco grapes, and varies greatly in quality and characteristics from bottle to bottle.

If you’re on a budget like me and 95% of the rest of the humans, you might consider finding a prosecco you like rather than splashing out on an expensive Champagne for an event. Most people can’t tell anyway. You can hunt around and find some absolutely wonderful prosecco, in whatever price range you feel comfortable with, and in general it tends to cost less than its Champagne cousin.

Pizzolato is a smallish vintner with a range of wines, including spumante and dessert wines. They do put an emphasis on natural and organic processes and ingredients, which is emerging with the growing demand.

This bottle of prosecco gave us a good fight to get open, and proved to be fairly shy but sweet. There wasn’t a developed flavor curve or any distinct notes throughout the course of drinking it. It was bubbly though, with persistent, fine bubbles that would lend itself well to spritzers, mixed drinks and punches. And at this price, you wouldn’t hesitate at a few chilled bottles for an afternoon at the beach or mimosas for Sunday brunch.

It wouldn’t hurt to have a screw driver and hammer ready though, for when you pull the wine out of the fridge.

La Cantina Pizzolato
Prosecco, IGT Veneto, 2007
$5-7

[Girl21]

French Toast, The Top

French Toast, The Top

Growing up, we had a tradition of a big pancake breakfast on Sunday mornings. Which developed my personal tradition of a good cry on Sunday also. The sugar overload (and eventually the added girl hormones) made me unpleasant company for a few hours midday Sundays.

Like all traditions, we tend to carry them on without thinking about it. So when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll order pancakes when we go out for brunch on Sunday. Or French toast, if it’s good.

I wasn’t raised eating anything with eggs, as we were on the more conservative side of vegetarianism. So I missed out on years of fried bread and egg products such as French toast. I hear it can be a horrible train wreck of a dish if you don’t know what you’re doing. And of course, the internet being the educational tool that it is, I am a little nauseated to find out what passes for French toast in parts of the world. For the sake of argument, I’m only taking about the bread dipped in egg mixture, fried, then doused in sugary goodness.

I’m partial to the French toast at Leonardo’s 706, and it looks like it’s pulled right from a cooking magazine cover. But I adore the ugly stepsister that they serve at The Top. This is not pretty sliced bread, fried to look like golden lace, and daintily dressed with powdered sugar. This is knobby wedges of coffee cake, syrup-soaked and lumpy, with tasty, crispy bits and chunks of fruit. It’s warm and dense. It’s not particularly pretty, even decorated with banana slices. And on the side are a few slabs of The Top’s house-made seitan bacon, looking suspiciously like leather. This is a French toast that would cut a bitch if she had to.

The Man may or may not have figured out the connection between the French toast and seven cups of coffee, and the sulking and pouting I am prone to on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe he’s just into that kind of punishment. Or maybe he just chalks it up to general “women’s issues”. Because there’s never a hint of reproach in his voice when he asks me if I’m going to order the French toast. Although, later on, he does offer to head-butt me until I stop crying. Isn’t love grand?

The Top
Vegan French Toast [with Seitan Bacon]
Sunday Brunch menu only, $8-10

[Girl21]