Gainesville is so much more vegan-friendly than I would have ever expected, even after my first visit to the town just two months ago. Something I noticed this time around is that tempeh is very popular in G-ville. In fact, the streets are lined with tempeh.
That's not actually true, but it's close to true. Artie's Tempeh is located in Gainesville and they stock many area restaurants with tempeh goodness. There's even a Tempeh Shop, which I hadn't known about until after I returned. (Florida residents, you can order online!)
My first taste of Gainesville tempeh was at The Jones Eastside. The actual restaurant experience was disappointing. For starters, I went there with two conventional meat-eaters who did not like ANYTHING on the menu (and The Jones serves meat). This restaurant is TEENY-TINY and the wait for a table would have been too long for our time frame, anyway. They left to find food elsewhere and I placed an order to-go, which was estimated to take just 15 minutes. 45 minutes later, my order was up. Just in the nick of time. The rude waitress didn't add much to the experience, either.
So WHOOSH! I went with my Thai Peanut Tempeh Wraps in tow, hoping that they were worth the wait and hassle. Luckily, they totally were.
My two tempeh wraps came with a side of sauteed sesame veggies ('cause I can never have too many veggies). Seriously, this wrap was stellar, and I think the most credit needs to go to the Thai Peanut sauce. And the sprouts (because I love sprouts).
After eating much too quickly, as I was pressed for time, I found myself in a blissful daze of complete satisfaction. I may or may not have smacked my lips publicly. The warm, savory, flavorful wrap left me feeling quite content. I would consider going to The Jones again, but only if I had absolutely no other obligations, as that tiny little diner fills up fast.
Later that night, I tried out The Top, an adorably decorated bar and grill on Main Street. This restaurant came highly recommended, and they already won me over with their kitschy decor and advertised vegan coconut rum cake, so I figured this would be a win.
I like to try something different at new restaurants, so when I saw a Fried Green Tomato TLT, I decided to go for it, wheat sensitivity be damned. I'd never had fried green tomatoes before, so I was excited to taste them for the first time.
Unfortunately, this sandwich did not live up to my expectations. For starters, the bread was way too thick. I guess if you liked bread, this would be a good thing, but I don't care much for bread (and not just because of my wheat sensitivity), and I felt like I was eating a sandwich made with two halves of an entire loaf of bread. The thick, fluffy bread dwarfed the flavors of the sandwich's contents, although there wasn't much to taste of the slice of fried green tomato, as it was paper-thin and all I could taste of it was the breading. (Sad.) The ginger slaw on the side was okay, but nothing to write home about.
HOWEVER, The Top redeemed itself (and not just with its adorable army of cute, hipster waiters) with the vegan coconut rum cake. I'd never had a rum cake before, and apparently the rum should be noticeable, according to my dining companion. I couldn't detect the rum, but I could detect the perfect amount of sweetness and coconut and vanilla and deliciousness. They brought out a big freakin' slice, too.
Between the two of us, we just couldn't finish it. This slice was definitely a 3-person job.
The next day, three other ladies and I went to Flaco's for lunch. You may recall that I visited Flaco's when I passed through Gainesville in November. It was a delicious and inexpensive experience, and I was hopeful that the other ladies would enjoy it.
I ordered a Sunshine Bowl, which was pretty much the same as what I ordered last time, only with lentils instead of black beans. Still awesome, still delicious, still hearty and filling and warm and wonderful. (Remember: it was a chilly week in north Florida, so warm meals were most welcome.)
And just like last time, our timing was perfect. After we placed our orders, a line had formed, all the way to the door. This place is popular!
And yes, my meat-eating companions did, indeed, enjoy Flaco's.
My final meal in Gainesville was going to be a badass-looking salad from Leonardo's, but when I walked over there, I discovered that the menu I had read online was not the same as what they had in the restaurant, which was a little disappointing. I continued on foot down University and found Gyro Plus nearby, whose menu was peppered with that beautiful V word: VEGAN.
The woman behind the counter was friendly and knowledgeable about the plethora of vegan options. My jaw pretty much dropped to the floor when she said ALL of their desserts were vegan.
That piece of news made it very hard to focus on "dinner," when I had this glistening showcase of sweet baklavas immediately to my right. But I reigned myself in and went with the falafel platter. (I'd been craving falafel for weeks at this point.) I also added a piece of cashew baklava since I'd never seen that offered anywhere before. Believe me, if money weren't an issue, I would have ordered one of each pastry (for the sake of the blog, of course), but I had to show some restraint.
Back at the hotel, I dug in.
Man. When falafel is good, life is good, don't you agree? These tender, flaky, just-slightly-crispy balls of spiced heaven were just what I needed to thaw out my face and hands after a walk in the cold night air. I savored every morsel. The tabouli was pretty good, too, and I'm kind of picky about tabouli. The hummus was slightly-thick and went well with the tabouli (a little of both on the same forkful). And tahini sauce kind of makes everything a little better in its own way, I think. This was a perfect meal, with the falafel being the star.
The baklava was pretty great, too! Sweet, syrupy, flaky, and warm. I couldn't detect much cashew flavor, but was that a little hint of heaven I tasted? MAYBE!
Gyro Plus gets a big stamp of HVT approval for their selection, prices, and delicious tasting food. Granted, this was not as healthy a meal as that non-existent salad would have been, but it was a nice second choice.
I didn't have time to sightsee in Gainesville this time around, but being so close to the University of Florida made it interesting. I learned that their student population gets around in one of three ways: by foot, by bike, or by Vespa. Seriously, I spotted so many scooters around campus, that now I kind of want one! My sightseeing this time was limited to food, but that's one of the best ways to get to know a city. After this trip, I have a new-found appreciation for Gainesville. Even as we were leaving the town, I passed two additional restaurants that advertised a VEGAN MENU, right on their outdoor sign-age! I clearly have unfinished (vegan) business in Gainesville, and I look forward to returning.