(BPT) - This is the golden age of food. Diners are passionate about quality, freshness and experience. And like a performer feeding off an enthralled audience, chefs are putting more energy and dazzle into the restaurant experience.
This is great news for travelers. No longer are you limited to bland roadside diners serving up runny eggs and greasy club sandwiches.
“Today, great dining can be found in any corner of the world,” says Caroline Chance Earls, co-founder of Gainesville Food Tour. “And travelers can use this to their advantage. They can make stronger connections with the new places they visit, and they come home with great memories of food experiences that appeal to all the senses.”
How do you seek out the best dining a new town has to offer? These are qualities that foodies like Earls watch for.
The fried chicken is glorified and celebrated.
Batter and a secret blend of herbs and spices just don't cut it anymore. Look for restaurants that put a bold new spin on this traditional southern fare.
“Blue Gill in Gainesville has a very creative take on fried chicken,” says Earls. “The secret ingredient is pork rind, which crisps up the fried breading in very satisfying way.”
The atmosphere appeals to multiple senses.
A dynamic environment is crucial. To foodies, this is a sign that if the owner cares about giving them an experience like no other, this translates into great food.
This is definitely the case at Satchel’s Pizza, Earls says, a local favorite in Gainesville. “It has this assertive hippie personality that gives customers an unusual and memorable dining experience. Where else can you eat excellent pizza in a treehouse or a VW bus?”
The vegetables get top billing.
Fresh, beautiful produce adds color, texture and a fresh deliciousness to your dinner. If your salad is a sloppy afterthought built of iceberg lettuce and wedges of hard, pinkish tomatoes, that means it’s time to reconsider.
“The Top is a fun restaurant that has a flair for making produce sing,” Earls says. “Even though they serve plenty of meat entrees, what’s nice is that vegetarians and vegans also get delicious, thoughtfully created meals. In fact, this restaurant is famous for their vegan chocolate cake.”
The ingredients are local.
Foodies who care about what’s on their plate are skeptical of restaurants that truck in ingredients — frozen meat and bagged vegetables — from a national supplier. Restaurants that tout local ingredients demonstrate how much they care about creating well-built meals.
Crane Ramen in Gainesville is one such dining spot that comes to mind, Earls says. “Their meats, eggs and poultry are locally sourced, and their vegetables come from growers within 100 miles of Gainesville. What you get is a hip vibe with deeply flavorful food.”
There’s an emphasis on simplicity.
More people care about their health and the quality of their food, so they like to recognize and identify the ingredients, which produce fresh, authentic flavor notes as they mingle together.
“Cilantro Tacos is this great, straightforward Mexican food experience,” Earls says. “You can mix and match fresh and delicious ingredients to create your own tacos, burritos and fajitas. And their deliciously marinated meats come about as close as you can get to the real thing from a Mexican street truck.”
The fare pays homage to a heritage.
Food traditions reveal much about a people’s creativity and resourcefulness in a time when optimal supplies were scarce. You also open yourself up to a world of new flavor.
The Yearling in Cross Creek is the perfect place to get a sense of the spirit of “old Florida,” Earls says. “It was actually named after the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novel. Come here and you’ll see and taste how they made it work in the 1870s in Florida. You can dine on quail, cooter (soft shell turtle), frog legs or alligator. Then you can finish off your meal with a slice of sour orange pie.”
The beef is fresh and high quality.
When you cut into a fresh, well-marbled, hand cut steak, you have a flavorful, mouth-watering savory experience that you know is worth every cent.
“If you’re looking for steak done right, Embers not only chooses high grade cuts of beef, they cook it on a hickory, pecan and cherry wood grill,” says Earls. “This careful attention to the diner’s experience with meat also carries out in every corner of the restaurant, from the wine selection to the intimate dining room to everything they serve.”
Beginners feel welcome.
No one likes to come off as the unsophisticated beginner. If the restaurant offers helpful information that allows you to take it all in at your pace, it’s a great sign that an owner has a passion for the food and wants to share it with others.
“There’s this great sushi and sake restaurant here in Gainesville that uses technology in a creative way to help beginners find their best meal,” Earls says. “Before you head into the Dragonfly, you can create your own custom menu that filters the entrees by your flavor preferences and the occasion. My personal favorite is ‘impress your date’ menu.”
A vivid landscape of flavor awaits in northern Florida. For more ideas and adventures to fill out your memorable vacation, visit visitgainesville.com.