The Gainesville Food Scene
Gainesville, Florida is my kind of town - with a quintessential Southern look, small town charm, and a vibrantly diverse, multi-cultural feel - it strikes a sweet chord with the best of all worlds. The canopy of live oak trees dripping with veils of Spanish Moss is a lovely backdrop for all the gems you'll find here, especially for food lovers. Y'all, the Gainesville food scene is hopping! That funky shack dotted with shiny hubcaps on the outskirts of town is serving up some of the best pizza in Gainesville, tasty calzones, and their own house-made soda pop. Hip eateries in historic downtown Gainesville will serve you the best burger you've ever had or a plate of spicy, hand rolled udon noodles. Twice a month there's a festive food-truck rally with good live music, a chill vibe, and a huge selection of tasty treats that'll knock your socks off. So where do you begin to take it all in? One of the best ways to get started discovering some of the best restaurants in Gainesville is by taking the Gainesville Food Tour.
Gainesville Food Tour
Owned by husband and wife team Ryan and Caroline Earls and with an easy-to-remember name, the weeknight and Sunday morning downtown walking food tours are as much an introduction to the city itself as it is to the food. The Gainesville Food Tour runs about 3 hours and visits 5-6 local eateries, all within walking distance from the historic downtown. (They also occasionally run Sip & Savor Food & Drink Tours, evening tours which might include a craft spirits or craft beer tasting.) While you'll love the plentiful food offerings on the tour, this is more than just your average food tour. You'll hear a good amount of historical background, early history of Gainesville and the people who helped make it what it is today, which nicely complement the food focus of the tour. Many of the restaurants are set within centuries-old buildings and parks, which adds to your appreciation for the growth and redevelopment of the town over time.
I love food and how it reflects the local culture, so I try and take food tours wherever I can, and I've taken some good ones in Virginia and abroad including Tuscany, Venice, and Bologna. Here are several great restaurants we visited on our recent Gainesville Food Tour:
STOP 1: Sweetwater Branch Inn
This grand old Inn is among the National Register of Historic Places in Gainesville’s Bed and Breakfast district and a popular place for local weddings with its picturesque setting. Owner Cornelia Holbrook loves sharing traditional Southern hospitality with her guests and authentic food prepared with fresh, local ingredients. It was beyond delicious!
The Dish: French Toast Casserole with English custard and apple compote, drizzled with spiced apple butter and finished with a dollop of fresh whipped cream.
STOP 2: Loosey's
You gotta love a restaurant that elevates simple food to art. No pretense here at Loosey's, just good food well prepared, like it should be. The bar atmosphere is casual and the food is a purist's dream.
The Dish: The Baconator Slider was delish. Ground applewood smoked bacon stuffed inside a small mound of prime beef, topped with sauteed onions and a bacon strip. With French Fries, prepared authentically and twice fried. Simple. Food. Done well.
STOP 3: Liquid Ginger
Tucked into the corner of the former Gainesville Daily Sun building, Liquid Ginger is a modern contrast to the historic setting, and the food was fresh and yummy.
The Dish: Traditional and flavorful Pad Thai, sauteed eggplant cooked to perfection with jasmine rice.
STOP 4: Patticakes Cupcakes
For dessert, our group loved the cupcakes from Patticakes which are baked on site. Their standard flavors are Red Velvet, Black Tie and Vanilla on Vanilla with other flavors occasionally added to the menu.
The Dish: Assorted cupcakes including their specialty Red Velvet.
The Gainesville Food Tour is a perfect introduction to the awesome food scene in Gainesville and Alachua County. Walking gives you a good overview of the historic downtown and ideas for additional eateries you'll want to try before you leave. The dishes at each stop were plentiful - not just a bite - and whet your appetite to come back and sample more of the menu. Tour tickets cost $55 USD which is a good value for the food tastings, info, and overall food experience. The friendly and engaging owners Caroline and Ryan personally run the tours, and their love of good food and the Gainesville food scene is infectious. I highly recommend the tour!
I was a guest of VisitGainesvilleFL during my stay and food tour, and greatly appreciate the tour. However, as always, all opinions are my own based on firsthand experience.
When You Go
- Tickets for the Gainesville Food Tour must be purchased ahead of time through their website. For the tour price of $55 USD, you receive tastings at 5-6 restaurants, gratuity for the servers and chefs who will take care of you, a very full belly, and an overall good time.
- Wear comfy shoes and bring an umbrella or light rain jacket.
- They suggest having a light breakfast before their Sunday tour, but bring your appetite just the same.