Thursday, July 15, 2010
East End Eatery is an absolute neighborhood gem - thanks to a couple of sweet apps on the iPhone as we passed through Gainesville, we got a taste too.
Last week, we set off on our little vacation-within-a-vacation, driving from Tallahassee to Orlando to overwhelm the kids with the sensory overload that is Disney. Our food in Orlando was decidedly third-rate (with the exception of a cute little breakfast place on the last day). Our lunch on the way there however, at a little out of the way spot in East Gainesville, rocked.
East End Eatery on approach is as plain as they come - a little cinder-block building with a microscopic parking lot, tucked in an out-of-the-way corner of Gainesville.
The minute you walk in the door, however, all that changes. Every detail here, and there are a lot of details, glows with the love and attention its owners have lavished on it. The restaurant is split up into 3 small sections - each full of art and a nice arrangement of light-wood Ikea tables and powder blue chairs. The light pours in from storefront windows. There is a huge and gorgeous play area full of books and a complete toy kitchen for kiddos.
The menu is simple - either brunch or lunch depending on if you're there on weekday or a weekend. I was there on a Sunday, and the menu was half a small page of pancakes, French Toast, and various configurations of eggs and toast.
I had the Eggs Benedict; as a family, we managed a taste of just about everything. And everything was simply on point. Tracy's strawberry pancakes, the daily special, were thin and slightly crisp, beyond delicious. They were the opposite of the dry spongy plate-filling diner standard, and tasted completely and perfectly home made. My dish came adorned with one of the lightest, freshest hollandaise sauces I've ever had - distinctly lemony and a perfect match for the poached eggs and crispy English Muffins. Poached eggs and English Muffins are of, course, par for the course for Eggs Bendict, but these were unusually fresh, unusually tasty. The sausage was flavorful in hand-formed patties, the bacon crisp, the coffee lovely and french pressed. As with the physical space, the care and attention that is poured into this food comes through shining.
I've been coming to Florida for close to 5 years now, just about every week. And no breakfast I've had in that time could hold a torch to this place. Truly fantastic.
Friday, July 09, 2010
Camellia Grill is as old school as they come - a twisty formica counter in front of an open kitchen slinging excellent diner standards.
On the evening of our whirlwind New Orleans food Odyssey, our kids were getting a little tired of unfamiliar foods, and Tracy suggested we check out Camellia Grill for some tried and true diner basics.
Normally the getting there doesn't merit a mention, but this is an exception. To get to Camellia Grill from the French Quarter, you walk a block or two down Canal Street to the first stop on the St. Charles Streetcar line. You pay your $1.25, choose one of the smooth old wooden seats, settle in next to the breezy, wide open windows, and off you go. It's about a 30 minute ride through downtown, past the stunning Victorian mansions in the Garden District, between Tulane and Audbon park, and around the Carrollton curve to a stop under giant trees, right across the street from Camellia. As good as it was, this was not the best burger I've ever had. But it was the best transportation I can remember.
The second thing to mention here is the absolutely out-of-hand gorgeous white Greek-revival building, columns and all, that houses Camellia. It's a lovely structure, looking far larger than the tiny little table-less restaurant you encounter walking in the front door. To eat at Camellia is to eat at one of the 22 seats at the bar, which bends around the kitchen in a sort of squared-off W formation. This is redefinition of open kitchen - this is kitchen as entertainment.
Tracy and the girls all got waffles. Tasty, but nothing too special, these were old-style relatively flat waffles vs. the current Belgian waffle standard. Not to be a sucker for trends, but I prefer the crisp lightness of a good high Belgian waffle, to the sort of pancakey variety served here. Still, it was tasty, and along side the waffle came a giant hopper of melted butter and another of syrup. Melted butter rights most wrongs, and it was a nice touch here.
The burger was better - fresh toppings, and a loose, tender burger on fluffy white hamburger bun. Nothing fancy or trendy here either - just lettuce, tomato, grilled onions and pickles, and a nicely juicy thin hamburger patty cooked up under a press on the flat top.
Had Camellia been a roadside stop in some random strip mall, lined with booths and faux woodgrain tables, serving exactly the same food, it'd be nice little neighborhood joint, no different than thousands like it. But the experience of this place, the history, the streetcar, the big columns, the mushroom barstools, make this place one-of-a-kind and totally extraordinary.
Monday, July 05, 2010
Second stop on our 24 hours of New Orleans food heaven was Croissant D'or Patisserie.
After following recommendations to Angelo Brocato the night before, we eagerly followed another recommendation for breakfast, about 10 blocks from our hotel. Awesomeness was apparent on entry: simple glass case, stuffed with cookies, quiches, and croissants and a gorgeous tiled seating area opening to a lush green back patio.
From the street, it's a bit hidden, but inside, this place is totally the bomb. In addition to the classic ornate tiling, there's funky local art perched everywhere on the walls and a giant internally lit stained glass mural over the back wall, and fabulous sky blue window bays.
We arrived in style - my little one's first cab ride! - and each chose a different pastry. My family is totally getting used to the Grubbus thing, and happily swapped tastes of each other's eats. Together, we had a cherry danish, and raspberry, almond, and chocolate croissants. The fruit items were good, but the class action was the almond and chocolate. Both of these really let the flaky, buttery, light texture of the croissant shine, and the depth of the chocolate and almond flavors was a perfect compliment to the subtle sweetness of the pastry. The danish and raspberry croissant, while also awesome, played a bit too much to the sweet side, and lacked the complexity of the others. I am in awe of croissants in general - easy in concept, these take a lot of effort to make well - and I was positively blown away by the impossible fineness of these in particular.
I had a cup of good dark coffee, and resisted (barely) the temptation to go back up and get another almond croissant all for myself.
This is one of the places that serves as proof that somewhere underneath the surface of the French Quarter, there are actually people that live here. I think that's one of the things that makes New Orleans so appealing - it's full of tourists, but it's not designed around them. Locals sustain these amazing places - not full of glitz, not obvious from across the street, but temples to good food, inhabited by people who live here, people who once lived here, and people lucky enough to have been tipped off.