Plaza Coffee Shop (Karol & Bill's) (CLOSED)

Nestled in an old shopping plaza, away from the usual student haunts and just north of downtown is the Plaza Coffee Shop, also known as Karol & Bill’s. Located at 207 NE 16th Avenue, I’ve lived in Gainesville for ten fricking years now, and I only recently heard about this gem through a friend. This may also be the first restaurant I write positively about, and still receive backlash. You’ll quickly learn why.

See, for the last 30+ years, the shop has been ran by Bill, who is a one-man machine on the flat top grill, and his wife Karol, the waitress who interacts with every guest and isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Sure, they have a small team of employees to help, but it’s very clearly their show. The regulars here know it as well.

As I sat in my corner booth seat, cushion torn from years of use, I looked around at the roughly five other tables in the small dining room and at the eleven-top bar. Every seat filled, with every single person smiling in a dining room that hasn’t been updated in decades, lit with fluorescent tubes, and adorned with old DIY plastic letter menu boards. People sharing stories, shouting “thank you!” to Bill as he goes down the order slips, and taking sips of cheap coffee. There is a certain charm to the place that’s lost on a lot of folks nowadays. There are no vegetarian substitutes here, the buzz words like “organic” and “gluten-free” won’t be found, and there are no fancy cooking techniques. Just one guy at a flat top grill, armed with a steel spatula, doing it the old fashioned way.

On the menu, you’ll find eggs. One egg, two eggs, or three eggs. Get it with meat (bacon, sausage, ham) on the side for a bit more. You’ll find pancakes, French toast by the slice that’s hand dipped using Texas Toast, and omelets. Almost everything is under $8 and delicious. At lunch time, you’ll find some burgers ($4.50 and under), subs ($5 to $5.50 each), chili, and a couple salad choices. Want dessert? Have a Klondike bar. I’m serious, that’s all they offer. Simplicity and traditional diner fare at its finest. Somewhat humorously (and possibly unintentional) is the fact there’s only one breakfast special, and it’s the #1. For $6.25, you’ll get two eggs over home fries smothered in cheese and sausage gravy.

Diners serving simple comfort breakfasts are hard to come by in this town. Places like Karol & Bill’s are a dying breed. Not that there’s anything wrong with other breakfast options in town, but there’s just a certain art to it, a certain character. If you think I’m waxing poetic, just visit and watch Bill at work. The guy is a master at what he does, organized, efficient, and no-nonsense. He’s the only person working that flat top, and yet his two arms seem like eight sometimes. Ask Karol about the time she was 17 and met the reclusive J.D. Salinger, or don’t…she’ll probably strike up conversation and tell you about it anyways. You just don’t find this kind of charm anymore. It has been imitated by some, but those places just come off disingenuous.

The folks who have been coming here for decades won’t be thanking me anytime soon for writing about the place, neither will the locals who come for a simple delicious breakfast away from the student crowds. But it’s worth mentioning, specifically for the students who are out to experience Gainesville before they pack up and leave. This is a little piece of old Gainesville hidden in plain sight. It’s a must-visit in my book, if not for the food, then for the people. I’m sure glad I did.

Karol & Bill’s is open Tuesday through Friday from 6 AM to 2 PM and Saturdays from 7 AM to 2 PM. They are cash only.

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© 2020 by Ken Peng & Ken Eats, LLC. Title image courtesy of Jesse Adrian Scanlon Media.

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