On Sunday at 1:00pm a burly bearded bartender bangs a bongo drum beginning “First Call,” the best fifteen minutes in Gainesville.
Every Sunday from 1:00pm to 1:15pm Boca Fiesta serves free pints of draft beer. Right now it is 1:07 pm and I’m eating a rabbit taco at the bar and angling for my second free beer. The bar is flooded with tattooed hospitality employees who serve at and run the kitchens of downtown establishments. They are my competition for getting the bartender’s attention. Because I am not in the scene, I am at a disadvantage. The most I have been able to order during First Call is two pints. By 1:17 the workers have vanished, leaving a line of empty, froth stained pint glasses on the bar.
Boca Fiesta translates from Spanish into “mouth party” and adding verde sauce to my hare meat taco, I agree. It is not unusual to find such a unique taco filling here. Each month Boca Fiesta offers a signature taco to challenge the palate. Tacos of months past have included ground antelope, coconut curry kangaroo, tequila-lime ostrich, and a rattlesnake-rabbit sausage taco. Gator tail meat is not a special filling but a staple on the menu as are your normal meats of pork, chicken and steak. Fear not Vegetarians, Vegans and Pescatarians, also guaranteed is blackened tilapia, locally batched Gainesville tempeh, vegetarian ground beef and all-vegetable fillings. There are also taco salads which go well with their orange-rosemary dressing.
As I chew my last bite of bunny I am inspired with an idea. Why not walk from downtown to campus eating something from every Mexican restaurant on University Avenue? A Mexican scavenger hunt.
The cardinal intersection of Main Street and University Avenue splits Gainesville to the north and south and east and west. From Boca Fiesta I walk north on Main Street to University Avenue where I turn left and walk west towards campus. I pass Stubbies and Steins, the beer bar with freshly prepped German food and an overwhelming selection of brews. Across the street is Durty Nelly’s, perhaps the only bar where I have a chance to meet a girl my age…
See, a pure-play college town, Gainesville caters to the 18-23 year old crowd. The town is their pit-stop. Kids from all over the state come here, pillage with their peers and leave. It makes for a tough demographic for a single 30-year old. Your only hope is to be clever enough to pull off the ten-down rule and date a co-ed. Though I do not consider myself old, high school was half my life ago and I was called “sir” by a girl working at the Chick-fil-A on campus the other day. I hate getting called sir. Gainesville guys in my cohort roam in a libidinal fallout.
Past Durty Nelly’s to the Seagle Building (Gainesville’s tallest), is an uninspired wasteland of failed bars and music clubs. The Venue, formerly The Florida Theater, used to host national acts from the “college music” scene but bad rap act after bad rap act in the oughts slowly rotted its soul and now it has no purpose. Stalwart billiard hall Silver Q does not gleam. A hideous cow print covers the country bar, :08 Seconds. I think a laser tag bar just opened next door. The revival of downtown ended blocks ago.
I soon cross railroad tracks and enter the fringe of what people now call “Midtown,” the strip of establishments between the tracks to the east and the end of campus to the west. Midtown looks like Guadalupe “The Drag” in Austin, Texas or High Street in Columbus, Ohio. So, it looks like crap.
Oh shit there’s a Taco Bell on my right. I forgot about the Taco Bell. “Toxic Belch, Taco Smell, Taco Hell.” There’s no way I’m stopping here because I love Taco Bell and will eat too much, preventing me from completing my mission. Besides, I’ve always been afraid of this one. Legend has it that when this Taco Bell first opened a guy was slugged down in the drive thru by someone wielding a baseball bat. But, to keep my journey pure, I stop at the Taco Bell and order my favorite: Nachos Bellgrande without beans. The pasty, refried beans sog up the corn chips, making them chewy rather than crisp.
Tacos at Mothers?
Further west and across the street is Mother’s Pub and Grill, an Irish-ish themed sports pub. I’m a day early for tacos at Mother’s. Tomorrow the pub will be serving simple ground beef, cheese and tomato hard shell tacos for $.50 apiece. It is just one of their great deals.
After my Wednesday golf game I go with my best friend to Mother’s for their two dollar burgers and one dollar cans of Narragansett Lager. And for $.50 cents more and you can get tots instead of fries. Solid. My buddy jokes that the burgers are made of mouse meat. But for two dollars the burgers are good and I think it is not mouse meat but that Mother’s works a low margin / high volume profit model. I leave Mother’s on Wednesdays having spent less than 10 dollars including tip.
A side note: For the decadent, Mother’s serves an off-menu “garbage plate,” a dish of fries covered in philly meat, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and topped with movie nacho cheese. I’ve yet to try it but I’m sure it’s like it sounds.
I cross U.S. Route 441, a.k.a. 13th Street, a.k.a. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, what have you.
Poor Burrito Brothers. It is surrounded by new competition, has never had parking and now it’s trapped in a church, literally. Burrito Brothers rents space from the Presbyterian Student Center. One day an older alum asked me where Burrito Brothers was and it was hell to guide him.
“So it’s next to a church now?”
“No, it’s in the church building next to the Target Copy and next to the new church where Burrito Brothers used to be before they demolished the entire corner of 13th and University.”
“It’s in between the churches?”
“No it’s in the church owned building.” I confused the guy. He walked away and I saw him pull aside a young girl who likely had no idea where Burrito Brothers was or tried to tell him the same thing I had told him. That it’s in the blessed church.
At least I know where it is. I push through the wooden door and enter the small, tree-shaded patio. The old Burrito Brothers used to be a closet sized room with a kitchen, a counter and no seating, so the patio is an improvement. When they moved to the Presbyterian Student Center, employees and customers got room to breathe. The line is long so I have time to contemplate the menu which I have had memorized since I was ten.
A lit green neon sign in the order window spells “GUAC.” Like Krispy Kreme, when the light is on, it’s fresh and ready. The hottest menu item is the standard guacamole and chips which sells out fast so the light is often off.
Burrito Bros’ red sauce is the best in town, not spicy but, rather, imbued with spices. They pair the red sauce with their beef filled products but you can get it with any item. The chicken filling is usually paired with the verde sauce which is not as good. I like the beef here but one of my friends, a Chipotle devotee, complained, “It’s like hamburger meat.” It is actually called ground beef, and it is good. I recommend a black bean and beef primo burrito fully loaded and double wrapped to prevent it from spilling everywhere. They sort the black beans by hand and strain the choice ones perfectly.
Burrito Bros. is forever uniquely Gainesville. A UF alum tried to open a large Burrito Brothers on Dale Mabry Boulevard in Tampa, Florida but it closed in a year. I was living in Tampa at the time and was furious when it closed. The owner had nailed it. The food tasted exactly the same as the Gainesville restaurant because he got permission to use the same recipes and cooking techniques. The guy poured his life into replicating his favorite college restaurant and failed. I still admire his passion though. I’ll be cheesy (unintentional Mexican food entendre) and say that it is worth spreading the “gospel” of this church / restaurant.
Walk out Burrito Brothers, pass a Target Copy and, bam, there’s a Chipotle. More Mexican food. I’m starting to get the meat sweats. And what do I add to a discussion of Chipotle? Just visit their website.
Nothing screams gringo Mexican food more than Chipotle. Since McDonaldization is now vernacular I’ll mention that the word is relevant when scrutinizing the franchise. In fact, McDonalds was a major shareholder in Chipotle and helped vault it to its current success. Some hold grudges and boycott Chipotle because they associate it with the Big Mac. But check your corporate finance. McDonalds is fully divested as of 2006, so that should minimize some criticism. Give Chipotle a chance to define itself.
I say that and then order a 1,000 calorie barbacoa burrito bowl. I struggle to wade through the mound of guacamole, dollop of sour cream and pound of cheese covering my ounce of meat. I leave half of my bowl uneaten. I’d take the remaining 500 calories home with me but I’m walking and do not feel like lifting weights too. What a waste.
Further west is 101 Cantina. I already wrote a review of this joint here: https://timothyeat.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/101-cantina
More like Tijuana Frats. I am surrounded by sorority girls in their blue and orange Greek letter jackets. Am I interrupting chapter? I am not complaining though.
I order the special, chipotle lime pork enchiladas, and grab a variety of sauces from Tijuana’s signature hot sauce bar. The hot sauce bar is not overrated. My favorite is Jason’s Mom’s Sauce made with citrus and habanero. As the label says, “It’s sweet. It’s spicy. Nah, it’s Swicy.” Tijuana Flats has a great sense of humor and color. The walls and ceilings are covered with doodles and murals.
Tijuana Flats is proud of its origins and its success as a fast Mexican restaurant chain. It was founded in Orlando, Florida in 1995 by Brian Wheeler, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida who received seed money from his father to start the business. Brian did not let his father down. Tijuana Flats now has over 50+ restaurants in multiple states. The parent company also asserts itself as a player in the hot sauce game. I don’t know what the margins are in hot sauce but Tijuana Flats is committed to distributing a large selection so they must make some money off it.
Tijuana Flats has soft crushed ice and the bubbly waitresses continually fill up your cup. My enchiladas are good but the beans are mush. Remember, Burrito Brothers is the place for black beans.
My journey west has ended in Tijuana. I cannot look at another bite. I am losing blood to my brain. My stomach feels swicy and I am dizzy with food. I left my car downtown where I began and have an hour walk back to it. Maybe I will stop at Bistro 1245 for dessert along the way? Most likely not.
Meat sweats. I love them. I turn around and walk east.