Built in 1908, the historic yellow-frame house known as the Vidal House is the place The Fat Tuscan Cafe has called home since 2008. Diners settle into the golden-yellow dining room at intimate tables made from warm wood, standing beneath stained-glass lighting and bright floral paintings. The kitchen staff cook delicious meals from fresh, seasonal ingredients to emulate an authentic Italian caf?. Pasta noodles tumble into zesty sauces, while house vinaigrette drizzles crisp salads. Along the brick-paved courtyard and clustered around a burbling fountain stand wrought-iron tables for diners to eat al fresco among lush greenery.
For 35 years, downtown Gainesville's Wine and Cheese Gallery has held court in a quaint white wood house that INsite Gainesville writer Jennifer Coleman calls "reminiscent of a classic French bistro.? Owners Bunky Mastin and Wade Tyler curate a larder with more than 3,000 varieties of wine, an international selection of cheeses, rich chocolates, and gourmet lunch items served on the charming patio bistro or inside at Panache, the shop?s restaurant.
Panache's chefs pull from the Gallery?s stock to harmoniously blend flavors in sandwiches such as The Normandy, which combines brie, apples, and cinnamon on french bread and is garnished with a miniature beret, and the turkey and havarti, which is balanced by an Adriatic fig spread. Patrons can also nibble on the quiche du jour or hide their faces from exes in soups that vary depending on the whims of the chef, with one recent creation involving sage matzo balls in the affairs of a ginger-chicken broth.
With only the freshest meats, cheeses, produce, and bakery items, Harvest Thyme delights delicatessen devotees with a full menu of breakfast and lunch options. In addition to fresh breakfast options, Harvest Thyme crafts a lunch menu full of midday masterpieces. Try an albacore-tuna apple-melt croissant with granny smith apples, melted jack and cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts ($7.25), or a grilled caribbean chicken wrap with jerk sauce, melted jack-and-cheddar cheese, fresh pineapple, onions, lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and carrots in a sundried tomato wrap ($7.50). Arrive early to acquire a fresh-baked muffin ($1.95) or surprise a loved one with a fresh-baked bouquet of a dozen bagels ($8.95) instead of thorny and inedible roses. Harvest Thyme strictly uses Boar's Head meats and cheeses, which do not contain any fillers, gluten, trans fat, or artificial ingredients, to construct its sandwiches, wraps, and life-size statues of William Taft.
Sweet Mel's combines food and drink in a way not seen since the invention of the banana milkshake, offering a lengthy lineup of burgers, beers, and mixed drinks inside a red and black bar. From their perches on exposed-brick walls, hungry TVs can only dream of sampling what they see?pork chops, deep-fried Oreos, beef patties sandwiched between funnel cakes (The Sweet Mel), and foot-long hoagies packed with slabs of ground beef and bacon (The Boss). To wash down big meals, bartenders pour a steady stream of martinis and specialty cocktails, and fill 100-ounce towers with beer, the only beverage that does not immediately curdle when poured into a tower. A wide array of events puts the corner stage to use, with $1 drafts on Mondays, trivia on Tuesday, and Shakespearean-style readings of the menu specials every day.
In the kitchen at Mark's Prime Steakhouse, cherry and pecan flicker and pop in a wood stove. The smoke penetrates into thick cuts of U.S.D.A. beef and fresh seafood brought in from Mayport in Jacksonville. For filets, strips, or bone-in rib eyes, chefs singe a flavorful crust over each chop's juicy center before plopping it onto a plate sizzling with butter.
Servers with black vests and bow ties escort the prime proteins to diners' tables, where their conversations dance over dinner music by mid-century crooners, and light from the ceiling's stained-glass dome splashes onto dark woods. Nearby, martinis, classic cocktails, and a wine list—which has garnered Wine Spectator's "Award of Excellence" every year since 2004—rest on a vintage bar. Salvaged from the La Concha Inn in Key West, the tiger mahogany bar was built in 1873 during an era when bars were called saloons and bears were called mega-squirrels.
According to their menu, Big Lou's chefs pledge allegiance to Italy's cuisine, but they prefer the way New Yorkers cook it. They bring this distinctive style of pizza to sunny Florida, rolling out paper-thin crusts topped with heaps of gooey cheese and savory toppings—including gorgonzola, hot sauce, tempeh, and meatballs. The staff serves their red and white New York-style pizzas by the steaming-hot pie or in monstrous slices, and guests can choose to customize their own gourmet pizza with a subset of more than 30 toppings. As calzones and Stromboli bubble up in ovens, chefs also create hot and cold subs, as well as a short list of carefully crafted timeless Italian dishes. Baked ziti, stuffed shells, and lasagna emanate ambrosial scents on the casual eatery's classic red-and-white checkered tablecloths—there's no reason not to use pieces of lasagna as checkers. Outside, alternatively, an expansive patio hosts live bands on the weekends.