Tall Paul’s Brew House

Tall Pauls Brew House
It’s a college town, so there are always new bars and pubs popping up and then disappearing like mushrooms after the rains. We have a few favorites already and it takes something unusual to get us to go to a new place. Friends were going to Tall Paul’s Brew House. We wandered past the empty Ti Amo (Sovereign) building (sob sob) and found the newly rehabbed frontage of Tall Paul’s. Is it good or bad that it’s right near the courthouse? A sobering reminder to call a cab when in need?

I’m a bit of an architecture geek, and of course The Man has a history with carpentry, so we both love old buildings that have been restored, remodeled, or just intelligently repurposed. This was merely one of those old brick buildings on a side street of downtown Gainesville that just sat festering for a long while until someone tossed some money and sweaty labor at it. The high plank ceilings have open beams, and the big space of the one giant room is classic but refreshed.

Of course, this is kind of the downfall of the place. It’s a giant cavernous room that echoes horribly. There was a band there the night we went so it was impossible to have a conversation unless you were attached to the person’s ear like a leach. Plus I’m just too old to pay a cover charge to hear a band doing old Doors songs with more volume than finesse. Even when the band took a break (thank you!), the crowd created enough noise that we were actually joking about trying to use sign language to communicate.

On the other hand, the beer selection was a good excuse to stay and make the best of it. This was not the college bar line up of Bud, PBR, and Yuengling. Not quite Stubbie’s and their 400+ beer options. But you can find something interesting on their menu. And of course they have wine, cider, and Lindeman’s Lambic (flavored) beer for you non-beer drinkers. But this place seems to be the work of beer geeks. I would watch the taps for fun surprises.

They’ve got the usual fooseball and curling tables. It was crowded, but I might have seen a pool table? And obviously there’s a place for a ‘stage’ so more live music might be on the schedule. Most of the seating is box benches (kind of cool looking) in rows along stainless steel tables. Very flexible seating, so if you’re in large group, it’s easy to push tables together and get casual. And as a bonus, it looks like the front windows slide all the way open, which may or may not help with the no-smoking-inside issue if you’re with a mixed group.

The bar itself sticks out into the room like an awkward elephant, and the bar staff probably could use a little more experience handling a crowded environment. It was three deep at the bar that night, not only because of the crowd, but the staff were chatting up the patrons instead of serving beer at high speeds. The tables were bussed promptly (I suspect they were desperate for the glassware that night though). The Man eventually got himself a Cigar City Dry Stout that was more coffee than beer, and I had a cider (I have to appreciate a place that has cider on tap).

It would be nice to go back on a weeknight to see how the place is underneath the noise and crowds. Even though it’s been open a few months, the patrons haven’t quite figured out if this is their bar yet, it seems. Friday night’s crowd was a strange mix of G’ville strata and I was imagining a Sharks vs. Jets kind of dance/fight breaking out to see who claimed the bar as their own. Overall the place felt a bit like Palamino, or what would happen if Stubbies and The Bull had a love child.

Tall Paul’s Brew House
10 SE 2nd Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
352-505-0990
on Facebook

[Girl21]

Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Carrabba's Pizza

Family, friends, and food all belong together. In the perfect world of TV commercials, everything is delightful in such situation. But you and I are real people, and we know that’s complete BS. Of the three, there’s usually at least one that is cringe-worthy.

Perfect example: wedding rehearsal dinner. At Carrabba’s. Two families meeting and mingling. Random friends gossiping. Food and drinks available by pointing at the menu and pretending to be able to pronounce the names of Italian dishes.

So your alarm came on and is telling you that this is a rant about Carrabba’s. Well its not. Nyah!

It’s a rant about the dumbing down of food.

After a long afternoon of standing in the sun for the wedding rehearsal (sweating buckets), and being crowded all up between the merging families (all of them lovely but loud), I was in dire need of a glass of wine and a chair in the air conditioning. I got the chair. And the air conditioning. The wine was of the Welches vintage. I suppose that’s what I get for settling on a glass of house red.

Can I preface this by saying I prefer Carrabba’s to Olive Garden? The food is less out-of-a-freezer-bag than the OG. The atmosphere, a little less Disney. The menu is smaller, and has significantly fewer vegetarian options, but they are willing to switch around many of the options so you can customize dinner without raising the hackles of the waitstaff.

I grudgingly chose the Quattro Formaggi pizza (fancy way of saying “personal cheese pizza that’ll cost you upwards of $10”), and the aforementioned house red wine that was sugar water with an aftertaste of grape Nehi. It was something to do with my mouth while trying desperately to not say something stupid to the bride’s mother and brothers nearby. The rest of the menu seemed heavy on cheese and this was not something I was willing to risk the night before the wedding.

These chain restaurants cause conflict in my brain. I hate that they dumb down food. They squeeze any originality out of the food. In fact, each and every dish tastes pretty much the same. On the other hand, they provide diversion so that the real restaurants aren’t too crowded for the rest of us. And they usually have clean restrooms.

So I do approve of places like Carrabba’s, Chili’s, Applebee’s, and the OG. They’re great for family events with picky kids, retired grandparents, and those out-of-town relatives that are hard-pressed to name more than three types of cheese (the correct answer is: white, orange, and grated). Just don’t expect to enjoy the food there. Go with something safe and pray you don’t get indigestion.

(Please note that I completely edited out the following phrases:
“…is to food like New Kids on the Block were to the music scene in the ’90s…”
“…texture and flavor of a kitchen sponge…”
“…wine could remove warts and cure cold sores…”)

Oh, and I do have to thank the waitress who was fabulous in the face of the insanity of 25 guests with a wild variety of food issues. I hope someone gave her a martini or a swig of moonshine afterwards.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill
www.carrabbas.com
Gainesville’s is at 34th and Archer Rd (yes, with the trees on it)

[Girl21]

Ichiban Sushi Downtown

Ichiban Sushi Downtown

I am a vegetarian and The Man is a pescetarian. Yes, that’s a real word. It’s basically a vegetarian that also eats seafood. Fancy, right?

There are people in the world who sometimes actually say things like “I love sushi!”, or “Oh my god, if I don’t have sushi soon, I’m going to die!”. I’ve never been one of those kinds of people. My sister has been trying to convert me for years though, bless her cotton socks. I guess as a vegetarian, raw foods are just a little more common than most diets. So yay!, it’s rolled up can get dipped in ponzu or umeboshi instead of flat on a plate. Woo hoo! (Note sarcasm.)

Well, along comes The Man and his family who are all a little sushi crazy. And I find myself at sushi places more often. The family favorite has always been the Ichiban Sushi up on north 43rd St (in the same plaza as 43rd St Deli and Las Margeritas), but now that there’s one opened up downtown near Emiliano’s, we’ve been going to that one more often.

Of all the times I’ve been, with all of the assorted friends we’ve taken to dinner, I’ve not seen anyone unhappy with the food. Except for when they eat too much and sit there carefully as if they’re about to explode raw fish out of their ears. The Man generally goes a little crazy when he orders rolls and pieces, and I let him order for me because he knows his way around the menu. (I’m going to let him talk about his favorites in another post since that’s a whole book.)

My favorites are the asparagus and the veggie rolls, and I always have to have a wakame salad (cruncy threads of seaweed). And of course inari to finish–little fried tofu pockets stuffed with slightly sweet sushi rice. Inari can be savory as well, but at Ichiban it is a lovely little two-bite sweet to end a meal. Or just order about ten of them and that can be your meal, if you’re crazy like me. But really, don’t do that. More than once anyway.

Because I’m not a sushi fanatic, I also explored the rest of their veggie options which includes some delish Vietnamese, Thai, Korean and other noodle dishes. You should try the yakisoba and the pad thai if you want to dodge the sushi one day. And they do serve the usual variety of Asian beers, wine, and some fancy mixed drinks. If you like ginger, try the ginger martini. Yum!

The downtown Ichiban is a nice alternative to the usual downtown restaurants, but it still tries to be hip and trendy. It’s a little less homey than the 43rd St one. And it gets a bit busy, so don’t plan on this being a one-hour dinner. This is a place to go with friends and enjoy a dinner. This is a place to share food, boast about sushi-eating abilities, and do stupid things with chopsticks.

We tend to spend a bit more here than most places we go for a casual dinner, but it’s usually the opportunity for The Man to binge on seafood which he doesn’t do often. The meal can be as inexpensive or “Wow, I ate all of that!?” as you want it to be since you build your own dinner from rolls, pieces, and extras. If you’re on a budget, bring a pen to make a list so you stay on target because it’s easy to let the food go to your head.

And a helpful hint from your favorite food spy, park somewhere a few blocks away. You’ll appreciate the little walk (or waddle) back to your car to get the digestion going.

Ichiban Sushi
(Downtown)
15 SE 1st Ave
Gainesville, Fl 32601
352-376-8220
ichibanflorida.com

[Girl21]

Reggae Shack Cafe

Reggae Shack Cafe

If you’re a vegetarian and haven’t yet been to the Reggae Shack, you best correct that right away.

It’s just good food. I know that doesn’t sound like much of a rave review, but it’s as simple as the cooking. Uncomplicated dishes done in authentic (for Americans) Jamaican style–but so tasty! And lots of it. Yes, yes, I know large portions don’t automatically make it good, but in this case the portions are a bonus because your leftovers are going to start calling you from the fridge at about 10 o’clock.

There’s a surprisingly large vegetarian selection, and the dishes might appear humble, but the flavors fill up every corner of your happy mouth. Don’t be surprised by the random sticks and leaves in the food either because this is real spices and seasonings. Not the powdered pre-blended flavorings in a tine. But real spices. Oh and don’t forget to grab the Scotch Bonnet Hot Sauce if you like that sort of thing.

A few suggestions of what not to miss? The Vegan Steak is mellow and tasty. If you like mild curry, the Curry Seitan is worth trying first thing. And the Veggie Mince Special is one of those yummy dishes that varies from day to day but is always good. Some delish little bits and pieces to try–the Dutty Fries (pronounced like ‘dirty’ without the ‘r’, for all of you white folk), the festivals, and smoothies. Some dishes on the menu are kind of spicy, so look out for these… like anything labeled ‘jerk’.

Most dishes come with rice and peas, steamed cabbage, and fried plantains. The rice and cabbage is better than it sounds or looks. I personally haven’t warmed to the whole plantains thing, but The Man munches them up like a Hungry Hungry Hippo.

There’s also sandwiches, which are handy hand-food. And of course if you have non-veggie friends, this is a great place because all the dishes look the same and you don’t feel like the sole rabbit in a wolf-pack.

Most lunches are going to be around $8 to $10, plus whatever nice extras you indulge in. And it’s worth every penny. I always have a to-go box when I walk out of there. And speaking of to-go, this is one of the great carry-out places since it’s yummy food that can be easily reheated or eaten right out of the box while you sit in front of your computer.

A lot of locals and fans remember Reggae Shack back when they were in the original cramped storefront, but with their expansion, there’s much more space. The bright walls make great photos by the way, so take lots of pictures of your friends shoveling food into their mouths. (Great Facebook fodder.) Good music, cheerful staff, and great location make this relaxed restaurant a fun gathering place. Open every day from 11AM to 10PM too, so awesome for those late dinners…nom nom nom.

Reggae Shack
(near 6th on University)
619 W University Ave
Gainesville, FL 32601
(352) 377-5464
ReggaeShackcafe.com

[Girl21]

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]

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]

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]