Good Swill Hunting: Confessions of a Farm to Table Foodie

"Eating is an Agricultural Act" — Wendell Berry

Affordable Local Fare in Gainesville, Florida

Affordable Local Fare in Gainesville, Florida

THURSDAY, 4pm:
On a very cold Thursday in early January I pulled into Gainesville, Florida after a six-hour drive south from Atlanta. I was passed through a year ago for another Orlando conference but didn’t find a go-to farm-to-table place.

I’m writing this at The Jones, a compact college place at 203 SW Second Avenue in downtown Gainesville. I discovered it on the web a week or so ago. School is back in session at the University of Florida (Gainesville’s chief industry) but I hit town at 4pm. Nicely, this place never closes–from the time it opens for breakfast through dinner. And that’s 7 days a week. Wi-fi is available here too, perfect for students.

I hear the breakfast really rocks! That and its vegan dishes is what made the place well-known. Breakfast is a big deal here. That’s reflected by the fact that they offer a few breakfast items, called “Breakfast for Dinner,” starting at 4pm, when they move from a breakfast-all-day approach to their dinner menu. I passed on that, considering I ate 3 eggs before my drive. I’ll be back on Sunday, though, for their Wild Boar Omelette.

The Jones is going through a transition. They closed their small, 35-seat Westside location five months ago and hired a new chef, Michael Sneed, to bring all three meals together under this one 135-seat roof. The building at one time was Ralph’s Burgers and the drive-in window is still in place. That’s no surprise. The generic, sloping metal roof is quite prominent as you approach the eatery.

Inside, the ceiling is being redone. From up there somewhere emanates a great Pandora blues station that they’ve chosen. It’s weaving from Stevie Ray Vaughan to downhome country blues, with plenty of blues harp in between.

The decor is very rustic. I’m not sure what the plan is for it, if any. My suggestion is to start by overhauling the hallway to the bathrooms to make it less forbidding, and completely rehab the Men’s Room. A few planters or an awning at the front door would go a long way to make The Jones more welcoming.

Their mission statement is on the menu: “We strive to source our produce and meat from nearby family farms; organize our workplace around joy and liberation; honor the land and our relationship to it.”

According to the chef (who allegedly picked the groovin’ music) Hawthorne FL grass-fed beef is brought in. (Burgers are $10. Sriracha Sauce is on the table for macho types.) Wild Mayport Atlantic Ocean shrimp (local from Jacksonville) is used in the Shrimp and Grits. Nice heat with Jalapenos on that dish, with organic grits and local wild boar sausage. It’s a very substantial portion ($15.95), served piping hot, and nicely paired with a Left Hand Milk Stout.

My entree was preceded by a tasty cream-based cup of hot butternut squash soup. It was also served very hot. No room at all for dessert. I’d fall asleep at the wheel on my drive to Orlando if I could fit it–which I can’t.

Other suppliers used are Strongtree Organic Coffee, Fox’s Herbs and Jose’s Tempeh Shop. Apparently, Gainesville is also very proud of Wellspring Kombucha, brewed right here in town. They serve it here on tap and mix it into their cocktails such as the Moscow Mule. I’ll report about it on Sunday.

SUNDAY, 10am:
Back at The Jones. Much warmer today but overcast. Spanish Moss on the trees everywhere. This morning’s music selection is oldies. Sorry, but Bill Haley and Roy Orbison isn’t my thing. My waitress raves about the bacon: “The best in town,” she says. How can I resist? I ordered standard fare instead of a Wild Boar Omelette: two eggs over-easy with bacon, two buttermilk pancakes and cheese grits instead of potatoes. A sublime American fried breakfast, I thought, right? What did Steve Coogan say in The Trip?: “Is there anything better than a fried breakfast?”

For $11.95 the portion was huge! Two very large pancakes and a big cup of grits. (The cheese was an extra buck.) Very nice meal! The Cognito Farms Over-Easy Eggs were done perfectly. Yes, the bacon was good. But the Buttermilk Pancakes? They were excellent! Really flavorful and fluffy, and with real butter and real maple syrup! The Organic Grits needed more cheese. Perhaps I should’ve added some Shiracha?

This college place is a really good find, only 15 minutes off I-4. It has a huge vegan menu and they say people are completely obsessed with the Tahini-Ginger Dressing. Did I try the Wellspring Kombucha? Yes. Today’s flavor is Ginger/Lemongrass. Very effervescent and tasty. I can image it fantastic with rum or vodka. But not for me today. It’s 11am on a Sunday and I have to drive to Atlanta. Hasta Domingo . . . .

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