Back in June, I traveled to Gainesville to attend a wedding and hang with some old friends. The groom was my old band mate, and rather than a rehearsal dinner, he wanted to get the band back together. Between family, friends, wedding guests and old fans who were still in town, we were expecting a sold out show! We hadn’t played together in years and needed a few practices before we were ready to play, so I arrived a few days early and ended up spending four nights in town. I hit some of my favorite food spots, and tried some new ones too.
I got into town on Wednesday night and met a few friends at Reggae Shack Cafe.
I like a lot of their vegetarian dishes, and this time I went with the Vegan Steak – handmade seitan simmered in a sweet Carribean sauce with vegetables. The dish came with cabbage, rice and beans, and fried plantains. I love this sauce; it’s sweet, savory and spicy.
Festivals, which are like sweet fried hush puppies. Not very good for you, but they’re so tasty that I order them every time.
I didn’t even know Red Stripe Light existed!
On my way to visit my parents the next morning, I stopped at my absolute favorite coffee shop in Gainesville, Coffee Culture.
Vanilla soy latte. None of the baked goods were vegan, but the guy at the counter said that they were planning to open their own bakery soon, and would have vegan options in the future.
Needing some solid fuel, I stopped by Bagels & Noodles on University Avenue. This place used to be called Bagels Unlimited, but it seems they’ve made the odd move of also serving noodles for lunch and dinner. Regardless, this whole wheat bagel with hummus and lettuce was exactly what I wanted. The bagel was toasted and chewy, the hummus was garlicky and warm, and the lettuce added the perfect crunch.
Still fairly full from the bagel, I met my parents for lunch in Ocala. Our go-to restaurant in Ocala is Amrit Palace, but my mom had heard of another Indian restaurant getting good reviews, so we gave that a try instead.
Bay Leaf Indian Restaurant has a buffet for lunch and a full menu for dinner. After confirming that some of the buffet items were vegan, we sat down and helped ourselves. I got veggie pakoras, mint chutney, rice, dal, potatoes and peas and tamarind chutney. The dishes were well spiced and slightly spicy, and very delicious.
Coming back to Gainesville, I was in a rush to grab some food before our scheduled practice, so I grabbed take out from my very favorite falafel place, Gyro Plus.
Bad lighting, delicious pita – falafel, lettuce, tomato, pickles and tahini sauce, with a big side of fries.
I knew it was going to be a long night of practice, so I also picked up a spinach pie which I ate in the car during a break.
I needed to fuel up the next morning before heading to another practice, so I grabbed a friend and headed to 43rd Street Deli. They used to have a location on 13th street which was great because they always had vegan items on the menu. That location closed a few years ago, and I was hoping there would be something I could eat at the original location.
They had vegan pancakes on the menu but were sadly out of them, so I ordered the tempeh scramble with rye toast. The scramble was more oily and salty than I would have made at home, but it was a nice, hot plate of protein and veggies, and it helped get me ready for more practice.
We practiced during the afternoon, and I don’t know if everyone knows this, but June afternoons in Central Florida are HOT. It was possibly the hottest I’ve ever been. I went back to my friend Janeen’s house where I was staying and was getting ready for the show that night, when Janeen came home with this:
Raspberry sorbet! She must’ve been reading my mind, and got the sorbet for me when she stopped for frozen yogurt. It was the perfect cold treat to keep me going.
To get a little more family time in, I met my parents, brother and sister-in-law for dinner at The Top. I have a few favorites at The Top but selected a special that sounded really good – Tempeh Chimichurri with steamed broccoli and roasted fingerling potatoes. The chimichurri was much more thick than those I’ve had in the past, but was herbey and citrusey and very delicious.
The show went really well, considering we hadn’t played together in years. I was made to wear a cowboy hat because we covered a Mley Cyrus song. Don’t ask. Don’t ask about the other costumes either…
The next morning I met a few friends for brunch at The Jones. I went to The Jones once or twice when I lived in Gainesville and was never that impressed, but over the past few years I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews so I figured it was worth another try.
The breakfast menu says that almost any dish can be made vegan, and I chose the Blackhawk Burrito – soy merguez, onions, bell peppers and jalapenos in a flour tortilla with organic black beans, topped with salsa fresca and avocado. Served with homefries, organic black beans and brown rice. This was a hugely filling and delicious breakfast.
I wasn’t sure what kind of food would be available at the wedding and was getting peckish by mid-afternoon, so I met Janeen for one last ladydate at Karma Kreme. Karma Kreme opened soon after I moved away, which is probably a good thing. Having freshly made vegan ice cream available that close to home could’ve been bad for my health!
An entire half of the ice cream case is dedicated to vegan ice creams, and they boast a variety of soy, rice and coconut-based ice creams.
Before I got to the sugary stuff, I needed some real food. Not all of their sandwiches are available daily, and I felt very lucky that they had the Tofurkey Reuben that day. Tofurkey slices on rye with sauerkraut, Russian dressing and vegan cheese, pressed and served hot. This sandwich was gooey and fatty and wonderful.
You can’t really see how amazing this sundae is, what with the chocolate ice cream, coffee ice cream, cookie pieces, caramel and housemade coconut whipped cream. It was so good! If I still lived in town, I think I would be giving Karma Kreme plenty of business.
The wedding was great. It was actually at the same venue Janeen’s wedding was at last year, and it was really interesting to see what two different couples did with the same space. It was wonderful to see so many old friends, and the wedding was complete with 40’s brought in from Georgia and a nacho cheese fountain. As my British friends said, “brilliant”!
Sadly, I had to head home the next day. I picked up another hummus bagel on the way to the airport and called it a trip. I always said that it was very easy to be vegan in Gainesville, and it’s even more so now with restaurants like Karma Kreme and Boca Fiesta around, and mainstays like The Top, Reggae Shack, Gyro Plus and Satchel’s still in business.