Monday, October 11, 2010

Ten Good Things in Tallahassee

I first came to Tally in November 2005, and returned to Austin last week from my last planned trip there. Over those 5 years I managed to eat out. A lot. Mostly I ate the sort of middling sustenance that gets one through the day when traveling. A few times, I got to partake in the memorable.

Sitting here, back in Austin on a sunny day off, I was just thinking through the places I'd go back to should I get back to Tally at some point down the road. And here it is, in no particular order.

1. Best Place to Stay: The Aloft

Technically, the Aloft is not food. But it is the sweetest deal going in Tally accommodations. Aloft is a Starwood hotel, and it makes a big deal out of being the pipsqueak version of the W. Hipster without being too precious, the Aloft pretty much nails the cheap hotel formula. Comfy bed, modern interior design, perfect mid-century design desk chair, good espresso in the lobby.

And the clock. The bed-side clock rocks.

2. Best Bar: Level8 at Hotel Duval

I am not cool enough for this bar, but I love it anyway. Level8 opened up sometime in 2009 with the slick boutique Hotel Duval. While an 8th floor panoramic balcony in another town might face you at a brick wall, in Tallahassee it presents a view over the rooftops and trees, out toward the setting sun. Drinks and bar food are about what you'd expect - nothing earth shattering - but the people are all trendy and beautiful, the breeze is refreshing even on sweltering summer afternoons, and the whole deal is a step away from Florida small town and into something cool in a whole different class.
Photo - SheltonDean Designs

3. Best Dinner: Cypress - Cypress Restaurant on Urbanspoon

One of the first posts I wrote in Tallahassee was in reference to a lovely evening at Cypress. Nothing's changed since then. Cypress is easily the best restaurant in town, hitting the right notes on service, on wine, and on food. It's fancy, but it's a foodie fancy - nothing for show, all for taste. When folks came into town for a quick visit, for team celebrations, for goodbyes or welcomes, if I had anything to do with it, this is where we ended up.

4. Best Lunch: Kool Beanz - KOOL Beanz Cafe on Urbanspoon

The basic rule that nice restaurants do not name themselves with whacked spelling does not apply to Tallahassee. Nowhere is that on more blatant display than Kool Beanz. A cozy place with a pretty patio and an ambitious menu, Kool Beanz is as good a lunch as I've had in town. It's not fast-food cheap, but for what it is - creative American cuisine made from fresh, sometimes local ingredients - it's exceptionally well priced. I've been for dinner as well, but I think the fancy/casual atmosphere does better at lunch. Menu changes often. Never a dull visit.

5. Best Cheap Eats: Gordo's - Gordo's on Urbanspoon

In the grand scheme of basic cleanliness, Gordo's is about as low on the scale as I'm willing to visit. That said, this is college-dive Cuban done right. The arroz con pollo is better than any I've had at even far more upscale spots; the maduros, totally on point. Weakest points at Gordo's are the sandwiches, which I found kind of bland.

6. Best Pizza: Momo's - Momo's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Slices as big as your head. Like Galapagos wildlife left to evolve in an isolated environment, Pizza in Tallahassee has grown to proportions I have never seen in the outside world. An XL Momo's Pizza is 30 inches across - 700 square inches. And it's not just enormous, it's really fabulous pizza - thin crust, beautifully spiced kind of punchy sauce, huge array of fresh toppings. Momo's and Decent Pizza are nearly identical in these respects, and both are contenders here, but I'm giving the nod to Momo's because they came first. I prefer the north location for the huge patio and the lack of insanely loud (but pretty good) music that they incessantly play down at the campus location.

7. Best Sweets: Lucy and Leo's Cupcakery - Lucy & Leo's Cupcakery on Urbanspoon

Cupcakes hit Tallahassee a few years later than they hit Austin, and Lucy and Leo's pretty much sums up the trend - tasty, a little fru-fru and obsessively cute. L&L's, named after the owners' dog and the dog that lives next door, takes up the front half of a little shop. The back half is a quaint little shop full of art, handmade clothes, and little DIY knick knacks. They compliment each other nicely. As for the cupcakes, L&L rocks the best buttercream in town, and hits some pretty killer inventions. The lemon cupcakes in particular, topped with a little blueberry, are to die for.
Photo - Lucy and Leo's

8. Best Groceries: New Leaf

New Leaf was the best grocery store in town before they expanded. Now, with a bunch more wine, a ton of local produce, a pretty stellar selection of meat and cheese, and a more navigable space, they're way, way out in front. Still, New Leaf is no Whole Foods, and shopping there requires some flexibility, almost like a farmer's market - they've either got the best damn grapefruit in town, or they don't have grapefruit at all. Always an adventure.

9. Best Park: Southwood

This one has really, literally, nothing to do with food. It's just a really good park. A postcard-perfect park, with a trail winding a mile or so around a lake, under monumental old oaks draped with Spanish moss, and across beautiful little wooden footbridges. When my family was down in the summer, we went here nearly daily (that's my daughter reading her book under one of the giant oaks). The pool is off limits to non-residents, but the rest of the park, including a modest but lovely playscape, is open to everyone and just about perfect.

10. Best Random Find: The Soup Swift - Soup Swift on Urbanspoon

The Soup Swift may very well be the best soup-and-salad place physically connected to a retirement home in the South. Soups are creative, constantly changing and often a little daring, salads are well executed, and the place is just about as cute as you can make a linoleum-tiled, windowless cinder block establishment. A coworker refers to it as BYOD - Bring Your Own Doily - which is about right. The trick with the Swift is to get a seat at one of the half dozen picnic tables outside. Perched there, under the umbrellas, dipping into an expert gazpacho or lemon grass curry and munching a crisp salad is an unexpected pleasure.


EWojcik said...

I stayed in Aloft, despite my distrust of companies with ambiguous pronunciations, in Charlotte.

I bought that clock after my first stay.

Unknown said...

I am totally there with you on

a) the annoying pronunciation (and type treatment, come to think of it)


b) the buying of the clock.

I'm working on the buying of the desk chair, but that's proving more complicated.

Good to hear from you Eric.

Unknown said...

I moved back to Tally after living in Hawaii. We're no Austin but we've got our fair share of fine little locally owned businesses. Next time you visit Lucy & Leo's come on down the stairs to my shop/gallery, Bali-HI Trading Co. ( You'll love our island lifestyle treasures and fine local arts as well. I am definately gaining wt. being downstairs from L&L!

Tales of Whimsy said...

Fantastic list :) Thanks!

Unknown said...

This is a pretty good list EXCEPT for the Gordo's part! I am Cuban and this food is no good! On the same street is a new Cuban restaurant called Latin Xpress Cafe and it is so delicious!! You feel like you are in Miami eating at one of their cafe's. But they are new, so that is probably why you did not know about them. But, definitely try it...:)

John Boy said...

Lucy Leo's! Blah (sad face) Cake Shop hands down has the best cupcakes in North ahh hek Florida.....

Food Glorious Food.. try it you will love it.

If you like sandwiches try Hopkins they have a very unique Menu FYI they have some of the best cakes in town their Hummingbird Cake gives me smiley face.

Fat Sandwich is good..

If you like Steaks "Marie Livingston" moderately priced....

Anthony's Wood Fire Grill Good...

Trust Tallahassee has a lot of Good LOCAL spots just got to know where to look....

Worth Mentioning
Black Bean (Cuban Food)
El Jalisco gives the the drunk face... Best (Strongest) Margarita in town

Another Broken Egg
The Cravings Truck (catch-em on twitter)

G and G Jamaican Cuisine not a sight to see but the food is belly popping...
The Curry Pot....
The Far East....
The Essence India...

That should be enough for now


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