Posts Tagged gainesville

Good Times in Gainesville

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”!

Me on the right, with two very pretty lady friends.

reception aftermath

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.

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Heading To The Cabin

I haven’t heard from the second winner of the Appetite For Reduction giveaway, so I’m hoping the third time’s a charm!

The new winner is number eight, Autumn Tao.  I’ve e-mailed you!

The day after Christmas, I flew to the east coast to spend time with my family at “the cabin”.  A few years back, my parents bought a cute little cabin in Clayton, Georgia, so now they head up whenever they can, and I was happy to be able to join them as well as my brother and sister-in-law.  I didn’t anticipate when planning my trip that Atlanta and northern Georgia would experience a big snow storm beginning on Christmas day!  I’ve got lots of pictures, so I’ll try to keep the text short.

For comparison, the same tree in October.

We didnt spend much time out here on this trip!

death icicles

I was a little concerned about finding vegan food in small-town back-country northern Georgia, but my mom assured me that I would find enough to eat.  The Ingles grocery store there was pretty well stocked, and downright pleasant!  Between what my parents brought, stuff we bought and local restaurants, I was plenty well fed.

Oatmeal with bananas, Back To Nature Harvest Blend trail mix (good stuff!) and agave nectar.

cute little kitchen set up

Possibly my favorite sandwich:  hickory smoked tofurkey, hummus, mustard, pickles and mixed greens, with baked chips and my mom’s veganized ginger cookie.

We found this really delicious, locally made bread at Ingles.  It even said “vegan” on the label!

My sis-in-law had never seen snow (I know!), so upon arrival she immediately jumped out of the car and made a snow angel.

bustling downtown Clayton

bookstore kitty!

For dinner, we went to Mama G’s.  The pizza crust was confirmed as vegan, so I ordered this delicious personal pizza with broccoli, garlic, artichokes and sundried tomatoes.  It was really tasty!

my family at Mama Gs

Yay for beer that I can’t get at home!  Ingles lets you build a six pack from single bottles, so I got to try a variety.

Tofu scramble breakfast made with onion, mushrooms and what I could find at the cabin – salsa, garlic salt, mustard and dried cilantro if I remember correctly.  My parents had some for breakfast too, although my dad wanted a swipe of Miracle Whip on his 🙂

Brother and SIL in Franklin, NC

On the way back to town, we stopped at Fatz Cafe, a local chain, for lunch.  I knew there wouldn’t be much for me on the menu, but what I did end up ordering was pretty tasty.

house salad (minus cheese, bacon and croutons) with raspberry walnut vinaigrette

baked sweet potato, loaded up with salt and black pepper

We stayed in for dinner that night – spaghetti, focaccia and roasted veggies.  I started to feel under the weather this night, but I wasn’t going to miss…

Our day trip to Asheville, NC, and lunch at Laughing Seed Cafe!

Before we left, I fueled up with peanut butter and banana on cinnamon raisin toast.

While we waited for our table at Laughing Seed, we walked around and checked out some shops, my favorite of which was The Spice & Tea Exchange.

I bought little packets of ras el hanout, zahtar and spicy cocoa mix, but I wish I could have bought a lot more!

When we finally sat down at Laughing Seed, we shared two appetizers.

pakoras - tri-pepper and squash-onion

crispy wontons with delicious sesame-ginger dressing

Moms plate - roasted veggies and sauce over toast, and a salad (their menu changes seasonally and this meal isnt listed any more...)

Dads "Lumberjack" - seitan with spinach and gravy over toast, and mashed potatoes

My Havana Cuban, with vegan cheese spread instead of swiss, and carrot soup. Didnt really taste like a Cuban, but it was good!

coconut cream pie; I dont love coconut usually, but this was nice!

Vegetarian food isn’t always my family’s favorite (I’m looking at you, brother!), but everyone found something on the menu that they liked well enough.  I thought the Laughing Seed Cafe’s food was really nice, and I’d love to go back sometime.

We passed by a gingerbread house contest - Dr. Suess house!

This house had its own garden, adorable!

last breakfast at the cabin - pita with peanut butter, soy yogurt with trail mix, and coffee

We said goodbye to the cabin (and the snow) and drove down to Florida, where my parents dropped me off in Gainesville, where my friends were getting married on New Year’s Eve.  I was pretty sick with a head cold by this time, but I only had two nights in Gainesville so I tried to make the best of it!

I met my friend Jackie for lunch at Boca Fiesta, which opened up soon after I moved away and now seems to be all the rage.

herbivore menu section!

Vegan queso! You could tell that it had been thickened with flour, but the flavor was good. I dont complain about vegan queso, ever.

I got a giant burrito, salad and collards. This was so much food, but I managed somehow.

That night, my wonderful friends Janeen and Mark got married!  I won’t post many pictures for privacy’s sake, but here’s one – look how pretty!

A few of the other guests were vegan, so there was a vegan-only food table.  Sadly, not everyone got the memo, and there wasn’t much left by the time I got there!

I had some vegan drumsticks, pakoras, mac n cheese, and vegan cheese and crackers, which was plenty enough for my sick head and tummy.

The cupcakes on the table were vegan!

We held sparklers instead of throwing rice, which was only slightly terrifying.

Despite catching a death-cold that ended up lasting three weeks, and having the worst flight home ever (my ear didn’t pop on the way down from my first flight, and I had to walk around the airport basically deaf and miserable), my trip was so fantastic!  I only wish that I could have spent more time with my friends and family.

On a side note, check out xgfx.org, a new vegan and gluten free website run by three lovely ladies – Allyson of Manifest Vegan, Kittee of Cake Maker to the Stars, and Jessy, my favorite happy-faced vegan!

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Merry Christmas!

My Christmas tree

…and my parent’s Christmas tree.

Happy Holidays!  I  traveled from California to Florida a few days ago visit my family.  I have a two week break from both work and school, and it has been so nice to completely relax.

On my first first full day here, Christmas Eve, I went to Gainesville to have lunch with some friends.  We chose Reggae Shack, as they had recently expanded the restaurant.  It’s so good!  Their menu specifically states that all their vegetarian items and sides are vegan.  I ordered way too much food, starting with the Veggie Patty and Festivals.  (Sorry for the horrible quality – I forgot my camera and used my phone instead.)

The veggie patty was good but not nearly the best thing I’ve had there, it was kind of like a hot pocket with a seasoned seitan filling.  The crust was quite sturdy.  The festivals, on the other hand, are always amazing.  They’re fried sweet corn dough goodness, with a hint of coconut milk.

My entree choice was the “vegan steak”.

It doesn’t look like much in this picture, but the vegan steak is so good!  It’s seitan in a sweet and spicy sauce, served with rice and peas, cabbage and plantains.  I’m sure their other veggie entrees are all really good too, but I almost always go for this one.

We also went to Ward’s (my favorite Gainesville grocery store) and Gator Beverage (my favorite Gainesville beer store) and hung out at the dog park for a while.  I was quite the nice time.

We kept Christmas Eve dinner simple, as we were heading out the door for church.  My mom made baked spaghetti, with a separate one for me including some FYH cheddar she had bought.

Mom was planning a breakfast casserole for Christmas morning for the rest of the family with very non-vegan ingredients, so she found this recipe on vegweb for a vegan overnight breakfast casserole and bought the ingredients for it.  I added tofu and tempeh bacon to the layers for more substance.

Mom also made vegan pumpkin muffins!  She’s the best.  The casserole turned out fine – it was certainly edible.  I’d like to make it again sometime, tweaking the ingredients and pumping up the flavor.

The rest of Christmas Day was spent opening presents and playing with the Wii my brother and his fiancee got.  I am abnormally sore today from too much  Wii’ing.

Today, we had our extended family Christmas gathering and made a feast.  I handled the veggie items while mom cookied the ham, bread and pie.

Roasted potatoes.

Green Bean Casserole

 

Stuffing from an organic mix

Fresh butter beans with greens from my friend Janeen’s garden

Mom’s beer bread

Mom’s gigantic apple pie

I hope everyone else had a great holiday!  My plans for my last few days here are lunch with high school friends, possible shopping, probably more Wii and definitely as much relaxation as possible.

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Dining Out @ The Top & 43rd St Deli, Cupsidedowncakes

My friend Jackie was in town last Thursday for her birthday and she wanted to go to The Top for dinner, which was A-OK with me.  The Top has a few vegan dinner options, cool atmosphere, generally friendly service, and good beer selection.  What gets me about their menu is that it could easily be much more vegan friendly with just a few tweaks.  For instance, all of the sauces that come with entrees and pastas are cream sauces.  I feel like if they’d offer one or two non-cream based sauces it would open up the menu to tons of options.  Oddly enough, there are more clearly marked vegan options on their Sunday brunch menu than their normal menu.  They have the BEST vegan biscuits and gravy on Sundays.

We started with Sweet Potato Fries.  They come with a dipping sauce that is not vegan, but I’m just fine with ketchup.

sweet potato fries

For this particular dinner, I went with the Caesar Salad, which is no longer marked vegan on the menu for some reason.  The waiter reassured me that it still is.  I add spicy blackened tofu, which they put on the salad while it’s still very hot so it wilts some of the lettuce nicely.  The dressing, while not as great as the caesar recipe in VCON, is quite good and gives you really lovely garlic breath.

caesar salad

Jackie likes vegan cupcakes, and I had two over-ripe bananas, so I took the opportunity to try my first recipe from My Sweet Vegan, the Bananas Foster Cake.  The recipe calls for five bananas and makes two 9-inch cakes, so I halved it and subbed applesauce for my missing half banana.  This was enough batter for eight cupcakes, but I think I overfilled them because instead of poofing up like a cupcake should, they got kind of a flat muffin-top.

bananas foster cupcake

Really this wasn’t a problem at all, but I was feeling inventive, so I turned ’em upside down and trimmed off the tops with a cookie cutter that just happened to be the perfect size.  I ate the trimmings and soaked rum into the “bottoms” of the cakes.

bananas foster cupake

The only real issue I ran into was the frosting.  The recipe tells you to microwave brown sugar with water to make caramel, then mix it into a buttercream frosting.  The first time I microwaved the mixture I let it stand too long and it re-solidified – my fault.  The second attempt, I let it stand for just a minute or two then mixed it in, but immediately the sugar solidified into clumps and the frosting started to melt.  The clumps prevented me from piping the frosting, so in the end I just blobbed in on top.

bananas foster cupcake

So that’s the story of how I invented Cupsidedowncakes.  I may overfill cupcakes again in the near future to see if I can recreate it, because they’re pretty cute and fun to eat this way.  And the verdict on the Bananas Foster Cake recipe is that it’s frickin’ delicious and ridiculously moist.  I would highly recommend giving it a try, although I’m not sure what to do about the frosting dilemma.  Here is the birthday girl enjoying one.

jackie cupcake

Saturday morning we wanted breakfast, and I’m so glad we’ve discovered 43rd St Deli, even if it was a little late in the game.  Now, the trick is, there are three locations in town.  I had heard these myths of vegan breakfast specialties, but never believed because I had gone to two locations not to find much more than a veggie scramble.  Finally I realized it was only at one location where I could find the vegan label on the menu, and it happened to be the one nearest to us (the one on 13th St).  We have been many times now, and the food is always good.  I’ve had their biscuits and gravy, which they do with mushrooms, roasted peppers and savory flavors, the french toast, pan-seared oatmeal cakes with balsamic reduction, and the huge strawberry pancakes, which have strawberry slices baked right in.  All of the vegan dishes are on the Specials menu, and they do change, although I think the biscuits and gravy is kind of permanent.

I was pleased to see a new special that I suspected was vegan, and upon the waitresses confirmation I ordered Tempeh Hominy Hash.  We are fortunate to have locally made tempeh that many restaurants in town serve.  This hash also included onion, shredded potato, mushrooms and spinach.

tempeh hominy hash

The flavor needed to be perked up just a tad, and it was perfect with some Tabasco.  This dish came with choice of one side, but instead of potatoes I subbed their Nutritional Yeast Encrusted Tofu.  This tofu look unassuming, but it’s so incredibly good.  I don’t know how they do it.  I get this tofu every time, no matter what else I’m getting or that it’s normally way too much food.

nooch encrusted tofu

It also came with choice of bread.  I asked for “whatever’s vegan” and she brought me a biscuit.  I didn’t realize their biscuits were so huge when I’d had them covered in gravy.

biscuit

Now that I’ve discussed all this great Gainesville food, I have an announcement:  I’m moving!  To California!  In a month!  BF and I are driving cross-country and hopefully ending up somewhere in the East Bay, near San Francisco.  So for the next month you may have to bear with me while I eat my way through the pantry and freezer, and probably have less time took cook.  I’ll try my best to keep it interesting.

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Dining Out @ Las Margaritas

I was planning on going by the farmers market yesterday to pick up some produce for dinner, but with just a little while left in the workday bf e-mailed me saying that he had a crappy day at work and could really use some Las Margs.  Las Margaritas is one of the few restaurants in town that we both enjoy, and we eat there at least once a week, sometimes more.  BF is Mexican and grew up in California eating authentic cuisine, and Las Margs is about as close as you can get here in central Florida.

Shortly after sitting down they greet you with chips and salsa.  Their salsa is good, with fresh cilantro and a little bit of heat.  Last night it was particularly spicy.

las margs

We usually order beers, which you can get in a 32-ounce mug.  See my hand for perspective.  I don’t come near to finishing this, but the smaller size is only 10 ounces so even if I can’t finish it’s a better deal.

las margs

I wouldn’t dare to call Las Margs vegan friendly.  It’s vegetarian friendly for sure, but so far there are only two things I can order consistently by asking for no cheese.  Don’t get me wrong though, two options are enough to keep me happy.  Last night I ordered what I like to get when I’m trying to be less of a piggy.  Although with those chips and salsa in front of me I inevitably leave overstuffed.

I get a bean burrito and a guacamole salad, both minus the cheese.

las margs

Then I transport the salad onto the burrito and get a nice little meal.  I suppose I could probably order it this way, but I try to keep it easier for the staff.

las margs

Bonus:  On Wednesday nights there is a live mariachi band!  The place gets a little raucous, but as long as you’re in the mood to have a good time it’s okay.  BF requested a song he likes and they played it for us, with a little trepidation about the lyrics.  I don’t think it’s one of their standards.  They do a rendition of the Happy Birthday song, which you’re bound to hear at least twice.  They’ll even dance with you if you’re lucky.

We’ll probably be back within the week, I’ll try to remember to take my camera again to document my standard Las Margs fare.

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Dining Out @ Amelia’s

Yesterday was my birthday (happy birthday to me!) and bf offered to take me to dinner wherever I wanted to go.  Now, bf is very far from vegan and there are only 3 or 4 restaurants that we both like and visit regularly.  I wanted to go somewhere we didn’t normally go, somewhere a little nicer than our standard Mexican or Chinese joint.  I perused the restaurant rankings at tripadvisor.com (some of which are a little surprising) and was reminded of Amelia’s, a nice Italian place downtown that I went to once about 8 or 9 years ago, before I was vegetarian.  All I really remember was an amazing mushroom appetizer and that the prices were a teensy bit higher than we wanted to pay as college students.

You sometimes hear about vegans going to nicer restaurants whose menus aren’t vegan friendly and asking what the chef can do for them.  Of course, this approach will produce varied success.  Last October we ate at a restaurant in Disney Land (the one right next to Pirates, can’t recall the name) and we had previously informed them about my situation.  Disney is pretty good about that stuff, especially at the nicer places.  The chef came out and spoke to me about what she could do and actually seemed a little excited.  It was really nice to be catered to, but to be honest in the end the meal was just okay flavor-wise.  The food was abundant at least, I had a HUGE spinach salad with warm lemon shallot vinaigrette (the warm dressing on the spinach wilted it a bit and that was really nice, but the shallots were overpowering), some relatively bland but edible couscous, and a plate of broccoli rabe and white asparagus.  I’d always wanted to try those two vegetables but never had a chance, so that ended up being the highlight of the meal.  The chef came out while we were eating to make sure everything was okay, and when I mentioned this she brought me more of each!  Overall, I left full and really don’t mind being a chef’s guinea pig as long as the food is decent.  If nothing else maybe I put it in her mind that it is possible to make meals without animal products.

Back to the story at hand – I wanted to call Amelia’s to see what they could offer me, as they already had a vegetarian section on the menu and I didn’t see why they wouldn’t be able to accommodate, but I kept chickening out and coming up with reasons not to call.  (Side note – I used to be terrified of calling business or people I didn’t know.  I would not do it.  I would not call a store to see when their hours were and always made someone else do it.  Four years of working in phone based customer service cured that pretty well.)  I think subconsciously I didn’t want to ask for special treatment.  I try not to make a huge deal out of my veganism or draw unnecessary attention to it, so asking to be catered to was making me feel uncomfortable.  I mentioned this to bf, and he sweetly offered to call for me.  Call he did, and he spoke to the chef/owner who not only knew what vegan meant, he also knew that most wines aren’t vegan, said he could definitely make me a meal, and even offered to order things they didn’t have on hand if I wanted something special.  I pretty much gave him license to do whatever he wanted, as he seemed to be knowledgeable on the subject.

The meal started with a bread basket containing both standard French bread and a sun-dried tomato bread, both of which I could eat.  The tomato bread was a little dry, but dipped in oil & vinegar it was really nice.  We ordered a bottle of wine to share.  The waiter did the ceremonious opening and cork presenting, then poured just a teensy bit in my glass.  Then stopped.  I looked at it, wondering “is that all I get?” and then bf mentioned that I should taste it.  Doh!  I’m not used to dining at fancy places.  It tasted fine, and the waiter kept refilling our glasses before they were empty so that it was really hard to tell how much I’d had.  We also ordered bruschetta, half without parmesan for me, and that was really nice and fresh.  Our meals came with salad, and the waiter was concerned that their house vinaigrette had cheese in it.  He offered to bring it out dry, and I asked for oil & vinegar.  I thought it was funny that he didn’t consider that option.  The salads had a marinated mushroom and carrot piece, and bf thought it odd that I cut each in two pieces.  It’s so I can enjoy the flavor with two bites!

When the entrees came out I realized I forgot to bring my camera.  It’s my instinct now when I see pretty food to photograph it.  Thank goodness for the camera phone in times of need.

amelias

We’ve got mushrooms with garlic, thinly sliced potato with leeks, and broccoli.  I think the mushrooms and broccoli are regular preparations the chef does and he just left out the butter.  I don’t see how they could’ve tasted any better with butter because all of the flavors were really great.  The potatoes were crispy at the edges, and I had unbelievably never had leeks before!  I now love leeks, and hope to put them in many things.  I thought the broccoli was going to be plain as steamed broccoli usually is, but to my delight it was very flavorful.  I think it was cooked in a large amount of white wine, as it was extremely acidic but not so much that it was off-putting.

The moral of the story is:  Don’t be afraid to ask!  Also, if you’re in Gainesville and you want a nice meal and don’t mind spending a little bit of cash (or if your significant other is paying), give Andy at Amelia’s a call and he will be happy to accommodate you.

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