Thursday, April 21, 2011


We, in America, charicature people and things we love and admire. An example that stands out to me is Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a leader who should be seen for his multiple dimensions and talents, but is more often reduced to a few sound bites. This deification distracts us from the travails he undertook to serve and understand his God. His skill and inspiration goes way beyond the sound bites that we accept from the media. Take another look. I recommend Taylor Branch's series on the civil rights era.

That same sort of deification oversimplifies other public figures that we value in the South: Marjorie Rawlings who some now see as a Cracker Scarlett O'Hara; Robert Frost who is too often thought of as a beardless Santa Claus figure walking in the snow with twinkling eye;, Will McLean, who struggled within himself and, at the same time, produced the best songs ever written about Florida and its landscapes.

The deification trap should be avoided. Delve further into each of the above-named artists and you will be enriched and encouraged to make your own contributions. You will quickly realize the obstacles that they overcame are much like your own.

We do something similar with ethnic cuisines. Our experiences with these rich and varied foodways is more often the "sound bite version" sold to us by corporate restaurants. They, more often than not,"the greatest hits" and the full dimension of these varied cuisines is never available to the Gainesville diner.

Mega corporations provide us plastic imposters of the real thing in the form of Mexican, Chinese, African-American, and Southern restaurants that serve one-dimensional dishes and only a few examples of what, otherwise, are diverse cuisines. Much of our local corporate food venues food are about as exciting as a flat tire.

My recent readings of books like Lynn Rosetto Kaspar's SPLENDID TABLE or Diana Kennedy's loving portrayals of Mexican cuisine make this disparity between the "real thing" and the impostors all the more clear. We need to use the perspectives of these food writers as the benchmark of what we can and should expect from our restaurants. The food we are served by our corporate restaurants/providers misses the target big-time.

That knowledge makes a journey down Archer Road all the more painful. By our patronage, we have contributed to the construction of a comic book gallery of restaurants serving pseudo-versions of ethnic foods. Their offerings are not prepared by a chef in her kitchen, but rather in a factory kitchen that ships frozen, over salted, preserved food kits that are re-heated or fried to resemble real food. There is nothing local, fresh, healthy, or tasty in this style of restaurant management. Besides being mal-nourished by these pseudo foods, we have been indoctrinated that these are the limits of our options and that vegetables/meat/poultry that we consume can only come out of a box and not of our neighbor farmers' fields.

I live near University and 34th Street. When my wife goes out of town, I sometimes give up cooking. I love to cook, but for one it is a royal pain. As a result, I sometimes give in to convenience and consider going out for something in the neighborhood. I always come to the same conclusion as I survey the desolate landscape of west Gainesville food. Restaurants west of NW 7th Street just plain s%ck.

THE ANSWER IS TO "GO EAST YOUNG MAN/WOMAN". When you do you will find that the palette of Gainesville restaurants is multi-faceted and a pleasure to behold. The east side features any number of restaurants whose chefs cook in-house with fresh and local ingredients. Their dishes arrive at your table have that invisible "love" factor that we all seek in a meal.

A menu of my favorite restaurants in town includes: The Jones (my number one), Ruby's (African-American par excellence), East End Eatery (contemporary, lunch fare, Sunday brunch), La Tienda (primo-Mexican), Terrell's Ribs. The east side has other establishments that receive rave reviews that I have still not tapped into. The Top and Cafe C come to mind. More are opening. All are cozy, warm places with friendly service.

If you want good food at reasonable prices you can find it in Gainesville and, in most cases, you will find it east of NW 7th Street. There is hope on the west side such as Pho Hanoi and The Gengis Grill, but when I head east in Gainesville my options are many and I am never disappointed.

So, please patronize these fine restaurants. When someone produces a tasty, wholesome product and uses locally produced foods it is good for our economy, your health, and your community. Reward these food venues with your business and avoid the fast-food pseudo-restaurants like the plague.

In short, go east, buy local.

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