There are few restaurants in this town that truly embody the “Eat Local” mantra more than Leonardo’s 706 (located at 706 West University Avenue). They’ve been in Gainesville for over 30 years, locally owned, source their produce locally from Swallow Tail Farms, and are beloved by generations of Hoggtowne residents. By that, I mean it brings great pleasure to my big fat Asian belly.
The wood panel walls of the interior are adorned with an ever-rotating array of art provided by local artists. The large covered patio is perfect for an Autumn’s evening dinner, and the bar/buffet side of the building can be closed off for large private parties. Most of all, the dinner options are fantastic. My favorites include the Chicken Gorgonzola Pasta ($16.95 - bowtie pasta, chicken, broccoli, pecans in a Gorgonzola cream sauce), the Tofu Stir Fry ($12.95 – yellow peppers, red onions, mushrooms, broccoli, ginger soy sauce, and pasta or coconut jasmine rice), and the Thai Pizza ($11.95 – Hoisin sauce, shitake mushrooms, red and yellow peppers, scallions, peanuts, mung sprouts, and mozzarella. Add tofu, chicken, or shrimp for a premium).
Most importantly, ALWAYS order the 706 rolls. They’re the best damn fresh baked dinner rolls in town, smothered in a pool of garlic butter, they’re perfect in every way. The selection of wine isn’t shabby either, and definitely one of the more comprehensive wine lists in town. Oh and dessert? Their selection of homemade desserts like the 7 Layer Black Mountain Cake (dark chocolate ganache between seven layers of chocolate cake) and their Peanut Butter Pie (peanut butter mousse, chocolate cookie crust, and dark chocolate) are so much win.
But what I love more than the dinner here is the brunch. There is a bevy of options when it comes to brunch in Gainesville, but 706 is my go-to spot. Served every Sunday from 10:30 AM to 3 PM, there are enough options for everyone. Once you sit down, you’ll be greeted with some mini-muffins and a complimentary glass of their beloved Brunch Punch (pineapple, orange juice, ginger). It’s the most delicious non-alcoholic fruit juice you can have in the morning. You’ll also find the owners parading the restaurant with a plate full of (the best) potato latkes, handing them out to each table. Make sure you try them with some of their house-made sour cream or applesauce.
If you’re a big eater, or crave a variety of dishes, the brunch buffet offers 40+ items for $18.95 a person. The buffet boasts everything from house smoked salmon, cheese blintzes, Moroccan Chicken, and tarragon scrambled eggs to French toast, grilled pineapples, beet salads, and more. It’s pretty much perfect for my ideal Sunday where I wake up, stuff my face, and then pass out again.
If you’re not a big fat eater like me, and want to order off the menu, there are quite a few options to choose from. Benedicts in particular, are well represented. Everything from the traditional with Canadian bacon, to salmon, crab, and Shiitake Mushroom Benedicts are available. All are served with two poached eggs and a lemon hollandaise sauce atop a toasted English muffin and a side of five-cheese au gratin potatoes. Prices range from $12.95 to $14.95, and I recommend the Shiitake Mushroom Benedict (red peppers, scallions, spinach, Shiitake Mushroom in clarified butter with pepper and Sherry).
The Tofu Stir Fry also makes its way onto the brunch menu, along with a number of other items that include a Five Cheese Omelet, Cajun Omelet (crab, grouper, shrimp in gumbo with smoked gouda, peppers, onions, okra, and rice), and a classic Steak & Eggs dish made with filet mignon. All ranging between $13 to $19.
What you cannot miss though, is the French Toast. Two thick slices of Challah bread, pan seared and drenched in a Brandy caramel sauce, banana slices, toasted pecans, and a raspberry sauce. Need I say any more? I mean, look at it…it’s magnificent. If someone were to harness sunshine from a beautiful day, add a splash of the smile on a kid’s face when they enter a candy store, and some booze…you’d get this dish.
The Top does a good brunch, particularly great if you’re a vegan, and Café C is a great spot. But beyond that, Paramount Grill is all-show no-go, and Five Bar is…just sad. There’s a good reason why Leonardo’s 706 is still ticking strong after 30+ years in business. But seriously, if you don’t like their potato latkes or their French toast, you suck.