A Little Too Civilized

We really wanted to like Civilization. Really. We tried.

But you know how you have that one friend that is super nice, and has never said a bitchy thing about anyone, ever. That girl that genuinely likes even the biggest ass in your circle of friends. The girl that’s probably not a virgin, but no one is quite sure. The one that you try to like because she is so sweet and truly nice, but you never know what to talk to her about because you’re afraid of offending her in some way. And she won’t laugh at juvenile jokes.

That’s how I felt about our time at Civilization. We wanted to like it. We tried very hard. But it just didn’t happen.

Months ago we had gone for the first time with two friends. I was still mourning the loss of 2nd Street Bakery. It was like driving past a house you lived in as a child and seeing the new owners painted it a really trendy shade of green. But I sucked it up and walked in there with my big girl panties on. We did have a decent meal there, and the neighborhood cat was panhandling nearby. But we weren’t impressed enough to go back.

Another friend absolutely adores the place with the zeal we adore The Top, and she begged us to give Civilization another try. There’s not much else open on a Monday night on the Northeast side of town, so finally we grudgingly wandered over there for dinner.

It was one of the first cool nights of the year, and the dining room was quite full (there’s a minor acoustic problem because of the one big room), so we asked to sit outside on the patio. The hostess clearly thought we were insane but was too gracious to let it show.

We started with some delish craft beer. Then the Utopian Salad; one to share between us because they are HUGE. I had the Fettuccine della Casa because the housemade pasta and creamy tomato sauce sounded yummy. The Man went for the Thai Shiitake Mushrooms w/Asian Greens. Nothing was particularly bad, although I was trying to get him to switch with me because I liked the flavors of the cilantro and scallions in his dish.

My dish was passable, except for the slightly gritty texture of the pasta and the over-abundance of roasted ‘in season’ veggies on top. This month ‘in season’ meant eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash, all of which make me nervous. I couldn’t escape the heavy butter flavor in the creamy tomato sauce, which is what chefs use to punch up a weak sauce… add more butter. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t $14.00.

The Man had more to say about his dish. Some things I wouldn’t necessarily type here. I liked it better than mine, but again, it still wasn’t all that fabulous. The rice was a touch undercooked. The shiitakes were there but the flavor was not. The greens were nicely done, and again, I liked the balance of cilantro and scallions with the coconut milk. But it’s never a good sign when mere hours after eating out, your stomach starts to make sounds you only hear coming from the bathroom stalls at a booty dancing club after 1AM.

On the other hand, the salad was perfection. The dressing, the toppings, the flavors and textures. Possibly the best salad in G’ville. And of course it’s nice to get good beer with your meals.

This visit didn’t change our opinion of Civilization very much. Our first time there, the general consensus from the four of us was that the salads were perfect, appetizers were tasty, the desert was yummy, but the meals were questionable. Of the four of us, one had a special which was a weak thumbs-up, two were so-so, and my Stroganoff was far too oily to finish eating.

But the staff were painfully nice, knew the menu and the food, were gracious and timely, and obviously cared a great deal about their patrons. And Civilization is another of those true Gainesville businesses, where a lot of emphasis is put on the provenance of the ingredients, support of small business, and deep community roots.

So how could we feel so lukewarm about this place? The food just misses the mark. Punches are pulled. People are playing it safe. Everything is too nice. Aimed at being inoffensive to everyone. And you feel it. This vaguely nice personality that doesn’t seem quite real. A lack of depth or life experience that makes it uninteresting.

I’d rather sit next to that weird older guy at the bar that drinks Negronis and talks about his worst days as an EMT, than sit with the very nice girl who always smiles politely but refuses to laugh at fart jokes.

We’ll probably go to Civilization again. There’s not a lot of choices on a Monday and on the Northeast side of town. It wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t remarkably interesting. We’ve heard better things about the carnivore meals, but are not overly impressed with the veggie selections so far.

Civilization
1511 NW 2nd St
Gainesville FL 32601

352.380.0544

WelcomeToCivilization.com
(Okay… a pet peeve of mine is when restaurant websites have their menu only as a PDF download: Menu)

Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Friday; Saturday brunch and dinner; closed Sunday. Also home of Terranova catering.

Our meal of two craft beers, a salad, and two entrees (plus tip) was about $60.

[Girl21]

Test-Driving Tempo Bistro To-Go

Tempo Bistro To-Go

Tempo Bistro To-Go has been high on our list of places to try for quite some time. The Man and I rarely have a day off together, so we are usually limited to dinner restaurants. But the elements of the universe aligned perfectly and we were finally able to check off one on our list.

I’ve been watching from afar as Tempo Bistro evolves (stalking on Facebook, I admit), and I adore the food culture that drives this tiny lunch shop. There’s a heavy, passionate emphasis on in-season, locally grown and sourced, natural and organic ingredients to make flavor-driven sandwiches, salads, and soups. A little bird told me that they’re looking to get their bread from Mosswood in Micanopy, which will bring me back again just to try that out.

The Man and I were both hungry, and let’s be honest, more than a little cranky. So the snippy negotiations on where to get lunch, and what to get, took much longer and involved more bruised feelings than necessary. We settled on Tempo Bistro’s “Piedmont” and “The Blueprint” sandwiches, with a side “Far Eastern” salad. I sent The Man to pick up our order, which is always a bad idea when he’s hungry. He returned with a large bag that included a bottle of ginger ale, a bottle of root beer, potato chips, and Flour Pot Bakery cookies (oatmeal toffee and ginger) which I’m sure were too tempting while attempting to pay and go.

All of the food was lovely. The bread was knobly and whole grained. All of the greens were fresh and tasty. The dressing made my tongue do that little prickly shiver like all of my taste buds doing The Wave. It was all done simply, efficiently, and elegantly. Even the packaging was environmentally friendly.

Tempo Bistro, BlueprintThe Blueprint: “Blue and goat cheese, Tempeh, roasted walnuts, red bell pepper ribbons and microgreens, pressed with mayo on multigrain”. Not only do I love, love, love blue cheese and goat cheese, this sandwich was pressed, so all of those lovely little cheesy and furry goat flavors came out just a little more. I’m not a huge fan of tempeh only because I know what it really is and it’s kind of gag-tastic. But the tempeh in the sandwich was very mild and added a nice texture without being too fungal like it can sometimes get. I cannot emphasize enough how much I love this sandwich and will be eating it again.

Piedmont: “Sliced roasted turkey or Tempeh, granny smith apple, goat cheese, red onion and spinach on multigrain”. We of course got the tempeh instead of turkey. The apple, onion, goat combination is always fun and flavorful. Again, the tempeh was nicely underplayed so the nuttiness came out to support the spinach without tasting like feet. And yes, I know tempeh is a wonderful protein source, so my brain knows it should be eaten. This is also a great sandwich. Next time I might ask for a little extra goat cheese just because I love it so much.

Far Eastern Salad: “Seasonal lettuce, napa cabbage and basil with toasted almond, microgreens, red bell pepper, shredded carrot and sesame ginger dressing”. When I licked the lid of the little container of the dressing, my tastebuds did a little dance. I’m a salad addict, as you may well know, and I could eat this three times a week. I especially loved the little flavor bursts of basil that lurked in the greens.

So in case you haven’t noticed, we are both giving MAJOR thumbs up to Tempo Bistro. The Man actually looks like he wants to go back right now. He keeps hanging over my shoulder and telling me what he wants to get next time we order there. (“The Sadie” has sauerkraut which makes him drool, and “The Caribbean” has him titillated.)

The shop itself is in a tiny space next to the Starbucks at 16th Ave. and 13th St. There are a few tables in case you want to eat in, but I recommend taking out (it’s “To-Go” for a reason). It can also get awkward to park during busy times of the day, and that parking lot is a disaster to get out of and go in certain directions. But it’s totally worth the trouble of getting to the bistro. The food is delish. The people are genuine foodies. And it’s a local business that supports local business. You can’t go wrong.

Tempo Bistro To-Go
1516 NW 13th St
Gainesville FL 32601
352.336.5834

Hours: 11:00-5:00 Monday-Saturday

Our lunch: $33.00
Two sandwiches, salad, two drinks, two cookies, chips, and tip. Worth every penny!

[Girl21]

Not Very Garlic & Ginger

Garlic & Ginger

I hate walking out of a restaurant and feeling incomplete. As if something is missing. Like the ‘yum’.

It all started out well enough. Several friends had discovered Garlic & Ginger and said it needed to be tried. We were invited out finally, and prior to heading over there, we looked up the menu online. The website was out-of-the-box generic, but at least it didn’t look like a child had designed it in 1998. And the menu was also in Korean. So these were possibly good signs.

We had somewhat high hopes for the place even though it was located in a storefront in a Publix shopping center at the end of Archer Road, past the Land of Chain Restaurants. There were hand lettered signs in the window announcing the place was now open seven days a week. There were only three tables full on a Tuesday night at 8:00. Still nothing terrible.

The first little alarm bell went off when we cracked open the menu. Almost nothing on the drinks menu. And… flip … no, flip… back up, um, what’s Korean for ‘vegetarian’? Even after asking the waiter, there were a total of three things on the skimpy menu that didn’t include beef, pork, sea food, or similar. Not a tragedy, I know. But in Gainesville, it’s rare to find a restaurant that doesn’t have at least some obvious vegetarian options. Even these were somewhat sketchy.

Our tablemates had the huge ‘Seafood Paradise Special’ platter which arrived in a sizzling cast iron skillet. I ordered the Tofu Jab-Chae, sweet potato noodles with veggies and tofu. And The Man had the Tofu Dolsot Bibimbap, a hot pot with rice, veggies and an egg (and posibly some meat products clinging to the egg from something left on the fryer). Oh, and the green tea which was as fresh and tasty as Kool-aid.

My dish was ho-hum, and somewhat difficult to eat the long, sticky noodles with my metal chopsticks. I eventually mastered the knack of rolling the noodles around without elbowing The Man in the head. The Man was terminally underwhelmed by his dish, which even doused with copious amounts of Korean BBQ sauce. Our table mates had a few complaints about their dish being different than they normally got.

I like to think the kitchen was having an off night. I can only hope. Because our one time experience left me feeling like a mediocre Korean restaurant got bought out by a college student fresh out of the UF with a marketing degree and zero interest in food. The only thing going for it was they obviously used fresh veggies and tons of mushrooms. Not a lot of garlic or ginger from what we could tell.

It was a sulky ride home after, with both of us pouting about the experience and our determination to not repeat it. We were full, but there was very little flavor in the whole meal. In our opinion, Garlic & Ginger didn’t live up to its name.

Garlic & Ginger
5847 SW 75th St
Gainesvile, FL 32608
garlicnginger.com

[Girl21]

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]

Satchel’s, Get the Bumper Sticker

Satchel's Pizza
Satchel's Pizza
Satchel’s Pizza

If you live within 300 miles of Gainesville, you’ve seen the bumper stickers on everything from the ratty Subaru wagons to dusty Lexus SUVs. Hand-lettered, artsy signs asking forgiveness for being late because the driver was at Satchel’s. Contrived cute hippie statements worthy of Be Here Now. These are the great, galloping herds of the Satchel’s temple cult.

You may sense a slightly sarcastic note here, so I have to confess. We live mere blocks from Satchels. Close enough that when the wind blows, I can smell hot cheese, burnt dough, and patchouli. In the early days when I first moved in to this house, I ate Satchels often. Too often. I burnt out–no pun intended.

Reluctantly I’ve started eating there again. From time to time, friends play live music at the Lightening Salvage stage, and of course The Man drags me out for live music, pizza and beer. (I protest at the lack of air conditioning in the Salvage area in the dead of summer while eating hot pizza.) I’ve once again become intimately familiar with the menu.

I am well aware of how many people adore the kitschy decorations at Satchel’s. Here’s me going out on a limb to have an opinion (rare, I know). The place is kind of cool, and obviously a lot of work went into it all. It gives me the shivering willies. I can’t help but imagining a trailer park in Arizona completely populated by alien enthusiasts in aluminum foil hats. End opinion.

That aside, the food is spectacular. The salad is a delicious meal in itself. The calzones are deadly pockets of yum. They’ve got a small selection of beer and wine. As for the actual pizza, there’s a great selection of toppings, and the crust and sauce taste handmade. The good kind of handmade. If you’re lucky and smart, you’ll call ahead and get them to start a deep dish pizza for you since they have a limited quantity of the crusts, and they take a while to cook (I suggest basil, garlic, and black olives on top!). In fact, I suggest calling them with your order as soon as you get in the car to head over there, since it can often be hugely busy and you might wait an hour for your food.

So slavish followers and creepy decor, vs. distinctly delish pizza. Kind of even battle there. The thing that throws it for me is the culture of Satchel’s business practices. There are stores I don’t shop at because I don’t agree with the mood of the company and the way they interact with their community. Satchel’s strives to exhibit the gold-star standard of how a business should treat its employees and its community. This is the good side of the hippie culture (yes, I’m a direct descendant of hardcore hippies, so I know what I’m talking about).

If you’ve never been to Satchel’s, here’s a few things you need to know. There is seating in the old van parked out front, as well as around back past the gift shop. Yes, they have a fun gift shop. Parking is lousy, especially when it’s busy. They do catering, and you can do carry-out orders. This is a cash-only establishment (but they have an ATM in the hall). The deep dish pizza is the best, but they only prep a quantity and can run out. You will not be able to look at everything they have decorating the place.

This is one of those places that is intrinsically Gainesville. For good or bad. G’ville was a haven for hippies through the years, and these flower children grew up, had kids, had grandkids, and evolved their ideals to survive in the real world. Then there’s the poor Southerners who couldn’t escape to the big cities, and the college kids (some of whom can’t escape G’ville even after their multiple degrees have been earned). So we have this gumbo of unusual local characters and transient upwardly-mobile youths.

You’re highly likely to meet this gumbo at Satchel’s. If you make it through dinner without seeing someone you recognize–well, I have to wonder how long you’ve been living in the area. In fact, if you’re reading this and haven’t been the Satchel’s, you must have just moved here this year. But that’s okay. Go to Satchel’s try the salad and the deep dish pizza, and buy a bumper sticker to put on your car so you’ll blend in with the locals. And no, it’s not an excuse for being late.

Satchel’s Pizza
1800 NE 23rd Ave
Gainesville, FL 32609
www.satchelspizza.com
352-335-7272
Tuesday-Saturday | 11:00am-10:00pm

[Girl21]

Chopstix Cafe

Chopstix Cafe

We’ve been going to Chopstix so long, we probably lack complete objectivity about it as a restaurant. It’s just one of the places we like to go when we want good vegetarian options at good prices. We’ve come to expect the slow, ultra-casual service as much as we expect the ever-changing view of the water out the big windows. It’s usually crowded with college students and locals during rush times, and almost empty the rest of the time. The menu hasn’t changed much over the years. Neither has the food. Neither have the giant fish sulking in their tanks. In fact, the only thing that changed was the family’s little kids, who went from baby carriers to homework at the big bar.

Even when they burst out of the mold and opened their Bistro location up on the NW side of town, it was pretty much the same thing but in a nicer facility. The menu is slightly different up at the Bistro, but the staff are easily recognized from the Cafe/13th St restaurant.

And then rumor hit that they were renovating the old place recently. What? Who allowed this to happen?

We had to swing by for a late lunch to see what had happened. It was possible they had obliterated all of our old memories along with the chintzy Chinese wall art and the rip-off of Hokusai’s Great Wave over the sushi bar. I would be happy if they replaced the wobbly cafe tables and chairs that sent my Thai iced tea cup skittering wildly at random moments.

All said and done, it’s the same old place, but with a gentle make-over. The dining areas have been reworked significantly for better flow. The deck out back has been given a little TLC and a bunch more tables for those nice days you’d like to sit and watch the water of Biven’s Arm. The giant bar that dominated the room to the right of the entrance has been reduced and sent far down to the left next to the new carry-out door and counter. That old bar space now has a fancy glass wall separating the restaurant from a chic WhiteBerry frozen yogurt franchise, finally providing a tempting dessert option.

The pan-Asian menu still hasn’t changed much, which is a good thing by the way. There are still a lot of vegetarian options, sushi, bento, and drinks. The gargantuan bowls they served everything in seemed to have shrunk just a bit. The same faces and same casual service attitude remain. And yes, there is still the random fly buzzing wearily against the windows to get out.

Chopstix Cafe
3500 SW 13th St
Gainesville FL 32608

352-367-0003

M-T | 11AM-10PM
F-S | 11AM-11PM
Sunday | 12noon-8PM

Prices: Medium ($10-20 per meal)

[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]