I guess I’m overdue for a post and to provide some updates on things going on around town. I’ve been busy traveling (you can follow along on my Instagram @keneatsgainesville) and will be gone again this weekend to make a pilgrimage to Silver Pond Restaurant for one last meal under its current ownership. Anyways, here’s some juicy nuggets for y’all.
- Root & Pecker has permanently closed. This past Monday, May 13th was their last day in operation. But unlike what some people are saying, they are a separate entity to CYM and neighboring Big Island Bowls, and those businesses are still open. A new concept by different owners is already beginning to take shape in its place, I will have more on this once things become concrete. The reason for closing was not provided.
- Rockeys Dueling Piano Bar downtown is indeed closing. But if you recall my previous post about the upcoming Keys Florida Grill & Piano Bar, it is a joint venture between the team behind Emiliano's Cafe and the team behind Rockey’s. The piano bar will live on as part of the new restaurant, so it’s not really closing…it’s just relocating.
- The daughter of the husband and wife team behind Arepas Milko, is opening her own food truck with her husband. Tinker Food Truck debuts this Friday, May 17th at 6 PM until midnight at 3300 SW Archer Road. They’ll be serving Venezuelan burgers, perros (hot dogs), arepas, tequenos, and more. One of their menu items, a Double Burger with a beef patty, pork chop, bacon, cheese, cabbage, and housemade sauce is already making a buzz on their Instagram.
- Nine Spices Fondue is a new Asian hotpot restaurant from Orlando who recently opened a Gainesville location off 34th and Archer next door to World of Beer. Diners cook their own meats, veggies, and more in a pot of stock, and the different ingredients make their way around the restaurant on a conveyor belt. Not sure why they call themselves fondue though...
- Darby's Eatery & Desserts has been open for a hot minute at 1323 South Main Street serving sandwiches, burgers, wings, barbeque, and from what I hear…some very solid Southern cuisine. I haven’t had a chance to make it out there yet, but I’m told Soul Food Fridays have been quite the hit. It’s the day where you can find oxtail, pig’s feet, chitterlings, and more.
- The Asian invasion continues with a new Filipino restaurant as well named Nenita’s at 2445 SW 13th Street. Items like pancit, adobo and rice, and lumpia will all be available.
- Some of you have asked about the delayed Irish 31 Pub at Butler Town Center. I'm told they are now on track to open in August.
- Fans of the Impossible Burger at Loosey's and Dick Mondell’s are out of luck as Impossible Foods, the makers of the burger, is unable to supply a lot of smaller accounts right now. They won’t admit it, but many people (including me) believe it’s because of their new deal with Burger King. But the company is offering an apology to fans, if you fill out some info on this site, they’ll send you a gift: https://impossiblefoods.com/berightback/
I’m sorry I’ve been slacking, in addition to travel and other things that take precedent in my life, I’ve had to uh…reach deep for some motivation. But I’m still here and I’m still doing this, albeit at a much less frequent pace. An overdue updated Best-Of list will be coming shortly.
This is a little bit of a departure from the usual content, but I feel compelled to write a fitting eulogy of sorts to one of the most beloved restaurants in my life; Silver Pond Chinese Restaurant in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Yes, I know this is not Gainesville related, but the restaurant is near and dear to me as I’m sure it is to many South Florida transplants in town (both Chinese and not Chinese). It is what I consider to be the best Chinese restaurant in the entire state.
Silver Pond opened around 1991. The chef/owner, Yam Kin Yuen and his family had just moved down from New York. At the time, my father was just also going out on his own and starting his own Asian grocery and food wholesaling company. The details are muddy because Asian parents aren’t exactly open books, but in one way or another, my dad became involved with helping Chef Yuen, or “Kin Gaw” (“Brother Kin”) as we all call him, in getting stable footing under him. A friendship was struck, and in a world where loyalty has given way to whoever can cut the best deals, they have continued to do business together for the last 28 years.
Which means for 28 of my 33 years on Earth, the same kitchen, mostly the same servers, and the same location has fed me and my family for every major holiday dinner. It is the place where my love for food really began. The place where I said “what the hell is that!?” one too many times before trying what it was, and learning what I like and do not like. Even for the last 15 years I’ve lived in Gainesville, we would almost never miss a trip there each time I visited my parents. The food, the staff, and the décor hasn’t changed in decades in a world where restaurants have to periodically reinvent themselves to stay relevant. Some places such as Silver Pond, are institutions that defy this, and are a dying breed.
The restaurant has become a central gathering place for so many Chinese immigrants and their families in South Florida because of the familiar and quality cuisine. It’s the closest thing to Hong Kong in Florida as my parents and many of their friends would say. Yes, they do some white people Chinese food to appease the masses, but our dinners, like many other Cantonese families consisted of dishes like Phoenix Nest Seafood, Crispy Hong Kong Chicken, Cantonese Beef, Crispy Hong Kong Pork Chop, and my favorite Soy Sauce Pan Fried Noodles. No one makes those noodles like Brother Kin. The crispy, salty fried noodles with scallions, bean sprouts, and mushrooms are a mainstay at our dinners there. Even as I type this, my mouth is watering just thinking about them. No one else in Florida does it like they do.
The dishes here are Cantonese perfection. Balanced flavors that are not overpowering, a slew of traditional dishes on the menu, and options that cover both the land and sea are well represented. Service is curt but friendly, as the kitchen churns out dishes at unbelievable speeds. In 28 years, there has never been a bad plate of food put forth. It’s almost robotic-like in consistency. And if you grew up in an Asian household, you know how imperative this is to what your parents would consider to be a good restaurant. It’s a practical, blue collar approach that places emphasis on good food made with quality ingredients, served hot, and served fast. Regardless of what the general public blabbers about on Yelp, ask any Cantonese person from South Florida and they will tell you the wonders of Silver Pond.
A while back, Brother Kin and his family decided it was time to retire and walk away from the business. They have been sold to another veteran Chinese chef in South Florida, and the official hand-over date is set as June 1st of this year. As with many traditional Chinese chefs, their recipes and techniques are not passed on, they do not take understudies outside of family, and much of the cooking was done by them alone. I do not know if the restaurant will be as good with the new ownership/chef, but I do know it will not be the same.
I felt this was important to bring to light, as it has not become wide-spread knowledge that they have sold. I looked online, and there’s no press or bloggers talking about the end of an era for such an important central institution to so many Chinese families in South Florida. It is difficult to fathom a trip to visit my family without eating Brother Kin’s food.
All good things come to an end. I understand this. My hope is to find the time to make one more trip there before the hand-over, and an uncertain new era begins. I implore you all to do the same. Cheers to hoping the new owner/chef upholds the same level of excellence as Brother Kin has for the last 28 years, and Silver Pond lives on for many many more years.
I'm a bit late to the party, but the owners of Emiliano's Cafe and Rockys Dueling Piano Bar are working together on a new restaurant coming to Celebration Pointe. The Keys Florida Grill & Piano Bar will be a seafood restaurant that will also feature live music. It will be occupying the space where the now-cancelled Reggae Shack was to occupy. Here's a look at an early version of the logo.
Construction will begin in May, and their goal is to host some soft opening events by July. The space is currently built out, but they are making a number of changes to a very strange layout and some...interesting decor that was already installed for Reggae Shack.
Stay tuned, as I will have some exclusive sneak peeks of the dining room once construction gets under way.
Don't forget this Sunday is Embers Wood Grill's annual Embers Wine and Food Festival. My friends over at BMW of Gainesville are the title sponsors, and it's going to be a great time as usual. The infamous cheese room, specialty desserts, raw bar, outdoor grill station, and more! It'll go from 2 PM to 5 PM.
There is also a special wine tasting and seminar with Marc Mondavi of Charles Krug on Saturday, March 22nd. Marc is a Napa Valley legend, and a 3rd generation member of one of the area's premier winemaking families. He operates the Charles Krug Winery that has had a legacy of more than 70 years.
This is not a drill. It is done and I’m happy to be the first to bring you the official news. We are getting a Cheesecake Factory in Butler Town Center. With this announcement, I’d like to also address a few rumors that have been swirling around for some time now because there has been a slew of misinformation out there. While it’s not a restaurant I’m particularly attached to, I know a lot of you have been clamoring for it, and I’m excited that their choosing Gainesville for a location continues to legitimize our city in the eyes of excellent restaurants around the state of Florida and beyond to look at us for future locations. Butler has made the announcement official as well, and with that…here’s a few Rumor/Fact points:
Rumor Patient Zero: I will admit I contributed when I made a fake announcement they were opening as my April Fool's joke in 2017—it has been a downward “fake news” spiral ever since.
Rumor: You son of a biscuit! You just made a post squashing this at the end of January saying it wasn't coming!
Fact: Yes I did, because nothing was signed at the time and things were still very much up in the air. Yet people were talking about it like it was definitively opening, and these deals fall through all the time. I can tell you for a fact that nothing was signed until this past Monday, March 11th 2019. The rumor at the time also said it was going next to PF Chang's, which it is not. It's going closer to Whole Foods at the Town Center entrance off Archer Road, behind Grub Burger. Go back and read the post again, but this time read between the lines!
Rumor: Cheesecake Factory was definitely coming when PF Chang's was announced, they always open together.
Fact: They had no interest in the Gainesville market, and was not planning on coming when PF Chang's signed on (Feb 16 2017). It wasn't until they saw the reception to Whole Foods opening here (May 9, 2018 with 2,000 people in line) that they began to reach out to Butler Enterprises, but even then it was very early on and nothing was even close to concrete. And that was only May of last year, so this has happened relatively quickly.
Rumor: I heard from my friend's neighbor's friend's mom who knows this person in the know who knew what was going on from another person's friend's dad's brother's uncle that Cheesecake Factory was coming for like 3 years now. This is old news!!!
Fact: See comment above, Gainesville wasn't even a blip on their radar until Whole Foods opened in May of 2018, but nothing was set in stone. People have been claiming direct knowledge of this for years now when nothing was even set in motion until 10 months ago. Rumors have been swirling about opening in various locations around town, but I'm told Cheesecake Factory wanted direct visibility from Archer Road and it was non-negotiable.
I can tell you now that the lease is signed and plans are submitted as of today to the City of Gainesville. The restaurant will be over 8,000 square feet with a giant outdoor bar and patio. This build-out will happen very quickly as the exterior shell building is already there, and the plan is to be open by football season this year.
Dick Mondell’s Burgers & Fries, a new drive-thru burger restaurant, recently opened at the beginning of December, occupying a long vacant space at 412 SW 4th Avenue. It’s very much a part of the continued revitalization of the immediate area, namely with the budding 4th Avenue Food Park. No, Dick Mondell is not a real person, and yes, the menu is littered with teenage jokes about the male anatomy. While calling their signature burger the “Big Dick”, asking customers if they’d like “Dick Sauce”, and stamping their bags with “Bag of Dicks” can be viewed as marketing genius, or uncomfortable and in poor taste, there’s no arguing the food is legit.
I’ve heard some people refer to this as the “gentrified” local burger drive-thru, a hipster interpretation of local stalwarts like Mac’s, Sandwich Inn, and Bev’s Better Burgers. You can expect to spend at least $10 here upwards to $17 for a burger, side, and shake. While yes, the prices are higher ($8 for an 8 ounce “Big Dick”) and the paint is a bit shinier, to dismiss it as a “gentrified drive-thru burger joint” would be doing your tastebuds a tremendous disservice.
First of all, the co-owners are legit, having both attended the CIA (Culinary Institute of America, not the government). They’ve put together a menu that offers more diverse options than other local drive-thrus, including a chicken burger and two vegetarian options (the excellent “Impossible” burger that is close in taste to a beef burger, and a house-made veggie burger). A gluten-free salad option with your choice of meat or plant-based patty is also available.
They’ve also taken tremendous care in sourcing their ingredients, with much of it coming from the surrounding areas. The two 4-ounce beef patties in the “Original Big Dick” burger comes from area cattle farms, the shakes and ice cream cookie sandwiches are made using dairy from Wainwright Dairy & Creamery in Live Oak (all natural, hormone free), while the cookies and coffee come from just across the street at Baker Baker and Opus Coffee respectively. All of this means you’ll be paying a premium, but also getting a better product.
But it’s not just the ingredients and pedigree that has Dick Mondell’s rolling. The kitchen has skills to match as well. Both my…uh…”Big Dick” and “Impossible” burgers were seasoned and cooked perfectly pink, juicy, and nestled between hot buttered soft buns that didn’t fall apart or turn soggy. The quality of the beef does not necessitate much seasoning, so I appreciate the restraint to let that natural beefy flavor do its thang. A burger is definitely a food where the individual ingredients should be allowed to shine, free of embellishments and gimmicks. Otherwise, you end up with triple bacon mega ultra cheesy tower explosion onion flavortown bomb burgers or just a salty mess.
I appreciate that Dick Mondell’s sticks to the roots with quality, traditional burgers in this aspect. Their burger comes with just lettuce, pickles, onion, and Dick Sauce (mayo, mustard, ketchup). But of course, no one will judge you if you add pickled jalapenos or bacon to your burger. Me? I prefer a simple cheeseburger with good meat, American cheese, and buttered buns. That’s it.
There are a few gripes I have with the place though. For one, the drive-thru lane is far too small and the location of the entrance causes short lines of 3-4 cars to regularly spill onto SW 4th Avenue, impeding traffic. The limited seating (4 metal benches) have no shade and will essentially turn into frying pans in the summer. Parking can be difficult as street parking requires a neighborhood decal at all times, and there is limited space in the 4th Avenue Food Park lot across the street. But none of this is more offending than the French fries. For as much emphasis on quality placed on most things on the menu, the fries are the weakest link. A burger this good deserves fresh cut and properly double fried French fries, not the same out-of-the-bag ones I get at Wednesday Night Test & Tunes at the ol’ Gainesville Raceway. Come on guys.
All that being said, this burger is up there with Public & General and Blue Gill as the best in town. If you do go, be sure to get one of their fantastic ice cream shakes to go with it (I recommend the coffee shake). They are currently open 11 AM to 11 PM every day of the week, with plans to extend into late night hours later on.
Valentine’s Day is upon us, what better way to show your love and affection for your significant other than to revel in your mutual affinity for tasty yummies. Display your devotion with offerings of severed plants, fruit that has been sensuously embraced by dried warm chocolate goo, and a delicious meal. May Cupid’s arrow be one made of delicious cured meats shot into a well-tempered vat of your heart’s fondue.
Now that I’ve written the creepiest paragraph known to mankind, here’s some stuff to do.
-First Magnitude Brewing Company and Mayflower Cellars are hosting a Valentine’s Day Snow Ball Dance tomorrow, February 8th from 8 PM to 11 PM. The “Stranger Things” themed 80’s prom will take place in the warehouse, transformed into a winter wonderland much like the Snow Ball ’84 from the show. Come dressed in your best 80’s costume for a chance to be crowned Snowball King and Snowball Queen. This is a good one.
-Another Food Festival is being hosted at Magnolia Parke this Sunday, February 10th from 4 PM to 8:30 PM. There is a large lineup of food trucks, live music, and a portion of proceeds goes to charity. Pet friendly and family friendly. Rain is in the forecast, and there’s little to no cover, so proceed with caution.
-Dragonfly Sushi will have a special Valentine’s Day menu on the 14th that includes oysters, a lobster roll, a sashimi special, and a special cocktail for the evening. There’s limited availability left, call 352-371-3359 to make your reservation.
-Embers will also have a special Valentine’s Day menu on the 14th. $100 a person for a 5 course menu that includes options like lobster tail, filet mignon, grouper, salads, soups, and a dessert. Call 352-380-0901 for reservations. Tickets are also on sale for the annual Food & Wine Festival on March 22nd to 24th if you really want to bring the heat with the 1-2 food combo.
-Mark’s Prime Steakhouse located downtown will also have a prix fixe menu on the 14th. $135 per couple gets you a 5 course menu that includes a choice of side dish. Options include a surf and turf filet mignon and lobster, NY strip and shrimp, salmon, chicken, and more. Call 352-336-0077 for reservations.
-Swamp Head Brewery will be hosting another Valentine’s Day cookie and beer tasting on the 14th from 4 PM to 10 PM. Special beer releases will be paired with cookies for a flight of awesome. Show up early!
-Downtown Wine and Cheese will have a special on the patio on the 14th from 6 PM to 11 PM. $25 for two gets you a dessert to share and a glass of wine each. Reservations can be made by calling 352-222-1348
-Shula’s Steak House is offering a Valentine’s Day prix fixe menu for $75 a person on the 14th, paired with select wines and champagnes. Items will include crab, beef carpaccio, and halibut or filet mignon as the main course. Call 352-384-3460 for reservations.
We’ve got some hot news on the horizon, so I’m overdue for a news post. But first, let’s get one thing out of the way: No, I do not know when Newk’s is opening. They said December, now they say January, but who knows? I certainly do not.
-Cilantro Tacos had their last day in their original Newberry location yesterday, January 12th. They are set to open up their new location in Town of Tioga (next to Dave’s NY Deli) this Wednesday, January 16th. Their Gainesville location in the 4th Avenue Food Park is looking at opening in the coming months as well. Very cool to see how far they’ve come! If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve already seen a sneak peek into the Tioga location.
-The new Bento at The Standard in midtown is set to open this month as well. I’ll have a sneak peek of the new location this Friday!
-For one day only, Hurricane BTW is offering everyone 50% off everything. On January 15th, users of the Gift Certificates & More app can visit the restaurant to redeem the offer.
-Swamp Head Brewery is hosting another Pet Photoshoot Fundraiser on January 29th to benefit the Humane Society of North Central Florida. Get professional photos of your pet(s) and help raise funds for an awesome organization while also enjoy delicious beers. Fantastic. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2259953020906767/
-Embers Wood Grill will be hosting a Winemaker Dinner on January 30th from 6:30 PM to 10 PM, featuring a 5-course Tuscany-inspired dinner paired with wines from winemaker, Lorenzo Gatteschi. More information and tickets can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/277294682897616/
-UF Performing Arts is hosting their annual gala on January 26th from 6:30 PM to 11 PM. It is a “Roaring Twenties” themed event with a Speakeasy-themed open bar and is fully catered by Bluewater Bay. More information and tickets can be found here: https://performingarts.ufl.edu/events/gala/
Well, it's not really my cup of tea, but I'm a man of the people...and because so many of you keep asking me WHEN IS NEWK'S OPENING!? THEY LOOK OPEN! WHY AREN'T THEY OPEN! THERE ARE LIGHTS INSIDE! OPEN!!! I have it on good authority that this evidently very popular soup and sandwich restaurant will finally open next month (December) in its Butler North location. Looks like they have begun the hiring process as well. Maybe Butler Enterprises would be so kind as to confirm this so we can quell the masses.
Starting November 23rd through December 22nd, Madrina's is transforming into a pop-up Holiday-themed cocktail bar called Miracle. It's a concept that started in New York City and is now hosted at various bars across the world. Gainesville is lucky enough to get one this year.
Expect over-the-top Christmas decor and seasonal cocktails as the whole bar transforms into a winter wonderland. I got to take a peek at the menu and there's drinks like the Bad Santa (warm punch made with rum, pineapple juice, lemon juice, almond milk, spices, coconut water, coconut oil), the Run Run Rudolph (prosecco, gin, mulled wine puree, lemon, and cane syrup), and the Yippie Ki Yay Mother F**KER (sweet potato rum, cachaca, over-proof rum, dry curacao, marshmallow syrup, and lime).
It's going to get weird. And it's going to be a good time.