Gainesville, FL – Inherently Floridian
If you follow my blog, you know that I am a Seminole. I know what you’re thinking, I’m off my rocker, someone must have hacked my account, I have a high fever… In fact, I may get a few phone calls to check on me shortly after this is published. But I digress.
What you may not know is that I’m really familiar with Gainesville. As a child, I visited my grandmother there every summer. We descended Devils Millhopper, spray painted the Writing Wall and shopped til we dropped at The Oaks Mall. After only one month of marriage, my husband dragged me to live there for three years where I was the only Seminole on staff at Fort Clark Middle School. Then there’s what we refer to as “The Streak.” While most Seminoles avoid Gainesville like the plague, I have attended each and every Florida State vs. UF game home and away since 1989. My husband keeps telling me that at some point it has to come to an end but this year was no different. Come the first Saturday after Thanksgiving there I was, right in the swamp of it. The thing is that this time something was different. Though I can’t seem to put my finger on it, I saw Gainesville in a different way. It may have been because we didn’t lose our game tickets in a bar, run out of gas on the highway or end up with the kids suitcase instead of our own. It probably had something to do with the ‘Noles being huge favorites over the Gators. This time I definitely saw Gainesville in a different light and writing this blog is helping me come to terms with it.
Let’s dispose of the ugly, the lodging. I have stayed in every 2 star hotel in Gainesville and believe me there are plenty of them. The hotels fill up fast (depending on the success of their season) and the rates are terrible. On top of that there is usually a two night minimum. This is the nature of the game in a small college town with a football problem and this year’s version, The Holiday Inn Express, is a prime example. With a welcoming banner in the lobby clearly stating that our hotel was “Gator Country” the highlight of the hotel was the free continental breakfast and WiFi. There is one exception to this lodging dilemma: Camelia Rose Inn Bed and Breakfast. Built in 1903 The Inn is composed of 8 rooms and is walking distance to all the bars and restaurants in the downtown area. The rates are a bit higher than the already ridiculously priced two star joints but you have your own space, friendly personal service and an excellent breakfast on game day to boot.
Gainesville has never been the culinary mecca of the south or even Florida for that matter. However, it has always supported several really well run local restaurants that for a town the size of Gainesville are surprisingly good. There have been many permutations of them over the years: Cafe Gardens, Emiliano’s, Leonardo’s 706 and even the casual drive-thru Mexican joint El Indio. Like the song says, “There are places I remember, some are gone and some remain.” So when in Gainesville, we always seek out the latest version and get a reservation the night before the big game. This year the winner was Manuel’s Vintage Room and it did not disappoint. Although I’m not trying to compare with anything I’ve eaten in NYC or even Chi town, Manuel’s was small and intimate and the food great. My husband had the gnocchi daniella and I the capellini with shrimp and we were both pleased. The marinara was perfectly seasoned and the gnocchi delicate, not heavy. The wines by the glass were good not great making the food the star but when you have good food, almost any wine can be delicious.
So what made this trip different? What made Gainesville seem almost like a destination instead of a chore? Three words… Swamp, Head, Brewery.
In the last couple of years, I have become a beer snob. I have a friend who completely eggs me on and between us it is a bit of a competition to have tried the latest Belgian Triple or 10 percent IPA. I have been known to leave both party and restaurant alike if the beer selection is not to my liking and would rather drink (gasp) liquor if, as my friend would say, there are “wasted taps.” You will find none of that at Swamp Head Brewery.
Located just off Archer Rd. in a warehouse complex next to I-75 you will find the brewery and Wetlands Tasting Room. Every home game weekend Swamp Head ropes off the parking lot, rolls in some food trucks and has live music from 4 -9 pm. And then there is the beer. Pouring year round offerings of Wild Night Honey Cream Ale, Cotton Mouth Belgian Whit, Stump Knocker Pale Ale and Big Nose IPA, the brewery also offers a seasonal tap and usually a tap or two from other microbreweries around the state. There are also growlers to-go and a cooler full of bombers in all different flavors. Visit http://www.swamphead.com to see all they have to offer. We took a bomber for the tailgate the next day and it was a perfect addition. Swamp Head Brewery’s tag line is “Inherently Floridian” and after hanging with the locals for two nights, I can say that it certainly is. Saturday night at the brewery was not quite as happening but a Gator loss will do that in Gainesville. There over our great tasting Big Nose pints we realized what is now known as “Kick Six” had catapulted the ‘Noles to #1. California here we come!
Our bi-annual tailgate spot near the corner of Gale Lemrand and Museum Dr. UF Campus
So all it took was the addition of some good beer you say? Yep, you got it, for me I guess that’s all it takes. In reality it’s more than that. Winning never hurts but being with locals and trading stories from all the years spent in Gainesville over an excellent pint or two really makes the trip worthwhile. Beer is the catalyst, authentic Floridians are the ingredients and if you sprinkle in a ‘Noles victory here and there, Gainesville ‘aint half bad.