Monday, December 29, 2008

Original Pizza Palace

Shirley here, guestblogging again. Although, this may become the more usual setup since Alex finds himself very busy with work/grad school stuff.

Original Pizza Palace isn't quite the real original. About 9 years ago, there was a Pizza Palace in the same location that was a great success, having been there on and off since 1953. It was a popular student hangout with food good enough to please the locals as well. Now the Pizza Palace has returned to the same location, a big house at 604 NW 13th street, after some legal proceedings way too complicated to go into here and some subsequent changes in management. Alex and I were excited at the prospect of trying what was once an age-old tradition in Gainesville. We got a big group of friends together to visit Original Pizza Palace when it reopened a few months ago. Unfortunately, we were embarrassed at having hyped the place up for so many of our close friends. We literally had to apologize to them for putting them through the ordeal that this trip became.


The atmosphere in Original Pizza Palace is actually pretty cool. It is laid-back hippie style, reminiscent of Satchel's Pizza on NE 23rd street (our favorite pizza spot). It is warm and welcoming, with plenty of interesting art and objects to look at, and a thrown-together, homey feel.


Horrendous. Granted, they had only been open two weeks, so it was still busy, but I didn't expect servers to be rude. It took about 2 hours to get a table.

Our server literally ignored us when we asked her to come over many times for missing items or water. An older man came over at one point who seemed to be a manager or superior of some sort, and we told him our server hadn't been over to check on us in about 45 minutes. Instead of apologizing and getting our server, he simply said, "Oh, she's busy, she'll come over in a minute." It took another 10 minutes before she actually did.

Alex and I returned a couple of months later to give the place another chance, and service was much nicer. We got a table pretty quickly, but the food still took a while. Basically, don't expect your server to check on you often, and don't go during a busy time of day. Perhaps they've gotten better with time, but the servers seemed completely unable to handle a busy night.


Good selection of pizzas and pastas. Even a good selection of beer. The menu actually had us fairly excited.


The first night we went, most of my friends were pretty sure they had been served Ragu or some sort of off-the-shelf sauce brand. I had a pasta that was supposed to have anchovy fillets in it, but there was just half an anchovy to one side of the plate. I had never really tried anchovy, so I was pretty disappointed when Alex ate that one and we found out I didn't have any more.

The friends that ordered the pizza didn't really like it. It was a thin crust with minimal toppings and sauce. Not too much flavor to it. It was suspiciously round, far too perfect to be a freshly made crust. Honestly, I feel that the pizza Alex and I make at home using pizza dough from Publix tastes better. When our friends requested some red sauce for dipping to help with the blandness of the crust, after waiting at least 20 minutes for it, it was cold and almost certainly Ragu or some equivalent.

Only one person of the group liked what they got - pesto pasta. And her comment was: "It tastes like canned pesto and pasta from a grocery store." Basically, it tastes good, but why go to a restaurant for it? Its saving grace was its cheap price.

On our second trip, Alex and I decided to try the pizza. It had improved a little bit. It was good, but still not quite up to par with Satchel's, Big Lou's or Mellow Mushroom. It was a decent thin crust pizza, fairly crispy.


Mid-range. It's not cheap, but it won't break your wallet. The pizzas are not large for the price, unfortunately.


I don't like to be mean. Maybe go once during a slow time of day, have some pizza or the pesto pasta, and be able to say you've been there. Don't take someone there to impress them. 3/10 stars...4/10 if I'm being extra nice. 0/10 if I'm only basing it on that first experience on opening night where they apparently ran out of everything and started serving Ragu.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Louis' Lunch

Exploring Gainesville, one might believe that it has little history, at least in a culinary sense. It seems as though sometime around the mid-70's, some enterprising young fellows looked around, realized there were no restaurants, and finally opened a few.

And that's where Louis' Lunch comes in. Opened shortly before the Great Depression, a family business for about 80 years, this is a piece of Gainesville history. And it's also incredibly easy to miss. From Main Street and University, go South on Main Street, take a Left onto 5th Avenue, and Louis Lunch will be to your left on the corner of 2nd street and 5th Avenue.

In Gainesville's downtown before downtown eventually shifted and left it behind, it is now buried amongst houses. Normally a place such as this would go out of business. But they're doing something right, and that's keeping the locals coming.

It looks it's age. Don't expect a spotless stainless steel and white tiled floor sort of place. This is a burger joint. The burger goes down on an old flat top, and the fries are fried in a pot. This is old school, and it's awesome because of that.

Friendly. We went during a very slow time, but I can't imagine they would be any less friendly while it was busy. You go up to the counter to order and they let you know when the food is done. Pretty simple stuff.

About what you would expect. Shakes, fries, a wide variety of burgers, onion rings, and other assorted goodies.

Delicious. The fries are not seasoned heavily, so if you enjoy them salty you might want to put some on yourself. They however are fresh, hot, and enjoyable.

The burgers are fried in such a way that the edges are crispy while the interior is still juicy. It makes for a delicious burger, with plenty of onion, lettuce, tomato, and mustard. This seriously is exactly what you want from a fast food burger. It's sloppy, a little greasy, but phenomenal.

The shake was very good, though not exceptional.

Incredibly cheap. Cost is not an issue here. Bring cash though.


Go. This is part of Gainesville's history, one that relies on customers to stick around. Try it and realize why it's been around for so long.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Jones

After hearing so much about this place, I was dying to try it. But I just did not have the time. With it being on the east side of Gainesville, and only being open until 3; things never worked out.

Until Shirley and I had a day off a few days ago. So, we decided we'd have lunch at this little place.


Nestled between a laundromat and a pawn shop, I'm sure it could be better. However, the inside of the shop has great art, and the place is arranged to make for a warm and inviting dining experience. The place screams having a nice breakfast and reading the paper in the morning.


Friendly, on the ball, and knowledgeable. The staff are all very helpful and made us feel welcome.


I'll be honest, looking at the menu I was very disappointed that we had gone here for lunch instead of breakfast. The breakfast menu looks amazing! In addition to several original dishes, they have basic stuff that is "bare" and has a very low base price, which you then add accompaniments onto for an additional price. Kind of a neat concept, though I can see it being a bit frustrating for some. I'm sure the wait staff would be helpful enough to make it not a bother.

The lunch menu is your basic sandwich fare. They offer almost everything with a vegan or vegetarian option and use tempeh from Jose's Tempeh Shop. I prefer Artie's stuff, but no biggie. I ordered their tempeh reuben and Shirley ordered the tempeh samsara, which was described as the tempeh reuben on a salad.


The tempeh reuben was very good. The sauerkraut was very tasty, the tempeh was prepared well, and the bread (from Gainesville's own 2nd Street Bakery) was very good. An incredibly solid reuben. I had rice and beans as a side, and my only complaint was that it was about room temperature.

Shirley's general opinion of the tempeh samsara seemed to be that it should probably remain a sandwich. It tasted pretty good but the sandwich probably would have been better.

We had a frozen blueberry and honey mousse for dessert, and I have to say it was absolutely fantastic. Probably the highlight of the meal.

Very reasonable. Both the lunch and breakfasts can be enjoyed for under 8 dollars a person.

I would very much like to come back here for breakfast as that seems to be the highlight of the Jones. The lunch is still worth a visit though, so don't fret if you can't make it for the breakfast. A reasonably priced, tasty, and vegetarian friendly option in east side Gainesville.

So, Shirley and I decided to go back to the Jones for some breakfast sooner or later, and felt it would be appropriate to put up the results of our trip for everyone. The verdict? Excellent. Gainesville has a hip, comfortable, and delicious breakfast spot in The Jones.

I ordered the Smoked Salmon Omelet, an omelet folded with red onions, dill cream cheese and smoked salmon. It was accompanied by homefries and some toast. The omelet was absolutely delicious, and the homefries were well-seasoned.

Shirley ordered The Jones Rancheros (don't kill me if I remembered this wrong!), which was very good. Definitely good for someone looking for a unique breakfast.

The Jones is open 7 days a week from 7am-3pm. Check it out.

Pho Hanoi

So there's a new pho place in town, looking to muscle in on Saigon Legend's monopoly on Vietnamese food in Gainesville. This one is on 34th street, just south of Archer Road, across from the Kangaroo. I'm a sucker for pho (pronounced fuh) of all types, and Vietnamese food is always tasty.

To the review...

Unfortunately, Pho Hanoi is in a strip mall. Restaurant owners can't really help this though, so while it's not the most scenic location you can't hold this against them. They have done a nice job on the interior, with a nice paint job and tasteful decorations. The seating is... cramped. But in a way, I think it fits. If you've never tried it, pho is an excellent hangover cure and generally good pick me up. Filing in, taking your seat next to someone else and eating seems a good part of the experience.

So-so. Friendly enough, but a bit forgetful. We received our spring rolls after the pho had been brought out and only after reminding the waiter we had ordered them. It was also only one person covering the restaurant for a little while, so it's certainly forgivable. I'm sure as this place comes into it's own and the employees gain more experience, it will improve.

One very negative point was that Shirley's pho was accompanied by a dirty soup spoon. We're talking several splotches of dried food. This is the kinda thing that can really kill a restaurant for me, so I hope that this was just a very rare mistake.

I'll be honest and say I mostly came here for the pho. Everything else was secondary. But the quick glance at the rest of the menu showed a lot of names that are familiar to me from Saigon Legend, so I assume they are standard Vietnamese entrees. pho Hanoi offers some different choices than Saigon Legend in it's phos. They offer beef, beef tendon, tripe, chicken, and tofu as options. They also have bowls that have a combination of the beef, tendons, and tripe.

I ordered the pho with just the beef, while Shirley ordered the beef & tripe pho. The first thing that struck me upon seeing the dish was that it was not a clear broth as I am used to, you could easily tell the beef broth by it's color. It also had a stronger smell of anise than the pho at Saigon Legend. The accompaniments were the usual lime and bean sprouts, along with culantro and thai basil. This is the first time I've had thai basil in my pho, and I have to say I'm glad they include it. It's delicious.

The beef was sliced perfectly thin for the soup, and the broth was incredibly flavorful. I absolutely loved it. Shirley's pho with the tripe was very good too, and the tripe was very flavorful.

Expect a bowl of pho to run you around 7$. It's a pretty huge soup, so trust me that this is a pretty cheap meal for what you get.


This is a promising new restaurant that offers what is currently the best pho in town. The service could stand to improve, but the quality of the food and the good prices would keep me coming back even if the service stayed the same.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Manuel's Vintage Room

So just a couple weeks ago was my third anniversary with Shirley.  We decided to make it a throwback night, to the days when we would wander downtown and pick some random place to eat at.

We couldn't quite help ourselves about looking up a few places, but I swear we didn't call ahead!  We walked up Main Street past the lovely Stab n' Grab, and found ourselves by Manuel's Vintage Room.  Manuel's took the place of Pio's Pasta Company, and I didn't see too much difference between the two on my first impression.

But anyways, here's my review:

Excellent.  Taking a date for some Italian?  Seriously, go here.  Small, intimate, dim lighting.  Can be a bit loud when there's groups, but it's not too bad.  KItchen is slightly open, so there's something to look at.

Impressive.  The waitress we had displayed a good mix of being knowledgeable and efficient while still being friendly.  Food came out at a good pace, drinks were kept full, and we had a good time. 

I wasn't sure to put this under service or atmosphere, but if you come during dinner you may actually see Manuel.  When we walked in, he was eating his dinner in front of the kitchen, pausing a few times to get up and see how everyone in the restaurant was doing.  Some might find that annoying, I found it pretty cool.  Another bonus for me.

The wine list has a decent amount of choices, but as is par for the course, everything is just too expensive to justify.  I won't hold it against them, as I haven't found a place that's any better about it in Gainesville.

The menu consists of soup, salad, starters, pasta, and entrees.  Fairly standard fare.  The pasta is a 'create your own' deal.  Normally I'm not a big fan of this, as I think it's the restaurants job to tell me what the best they have to offer is.  But the waitress was good with recommending something for us, so it wasn't a big deal.

The entrees are mostly beef, veal, or fish options. 

Overall, I felt the menu was balanced and offered a variety that anyone could enjoy.  I find myself wanting to go back to try some things I didn't have a chance to sample.

To start the meal, we ordered 'Snails'.  I guess they didn't want to call it escargot, but they prepared it very well anyways.  Good texture, good amount of garlic and seasoning, very enjoyable.

For our entrees, we split one of the create your own pastas and the cognac grouper.

The pasta was served with a pesto that was very tasty, if a bit heavy on the cream. 

The grouper was cooked excellently, and the sauce was delicious. 

The meal was a very reasonable portion.

Moderately pricey.  Appetizers go from 6-10$, Entrees from 15-20$

The intimate atmosphere, friendly service, and the good food won me over.  Definitely worth a try.