10 Things Freshmen Should Know

*Updated 5/17/2016*

So your parents just left you here, you’re either rooming with your best friend or with some person you haven’t quite figured out yet, and classes are quickly approaching. About the only sure thing that will happen at this point are the inevitable trips to Target and Super Walmart, followed by searching your phone for where to grab some food. Fear not, I’m Ken and I’m here to help. So glad you’re reading this.

See, I went through the same motions when I first moved here for school. You can only buy so much disposable furniture until you’re starving and craving some tasty yummies. You may or may not have heard a few things about food in Gainesville, and there are the usual haunts that every college kid should experience. But I’m here to tell you there’s a lot more to our little city than midtown and Butler Plaza. Here’s ten food-related things you should know…

There’s plenty of low-priced options.

You don’t have to eat Chick-Fil-A and Chipotle all the live-long days, even though there’s nothing wrong with that. Bento Café has two (soon three) locations where you can get all sorts of Pan-Asian fare and sushi, much of which can be had for under $10. Mi Apa Latin Café has sandwiches and Latin entrees for under $10 as well, just don’t expect it to be nearly as good as what you’d find in Miami. Burrito Brothers has been around for decades, serving great Mexican fare across University Avenue, and is a great local alternative to Chipotle next door. If all else fails, Five Star Pizza is pretty much available any time you want it.

Visit a farmer’s market, we have lots of cool people doing cool food things.

We have several farmers’ markets in town that happen every single week. The Union Street Market takes place Wednesdays, downtown at the Bo Diddley Plaza from 4 to 7 PM. The Haile Farmers Market happens every Saturday from 8:30 AM to Noon in the Haile Village Center. And the Alachua County Farmers’ Market is also every Saturday from 8:30 AM to 1 PM. You’ll find local meat and produce vendors, gourmet chocolates, ethnic foods, fresh coffee, artisan cheeses, plants, you name it. There are also a lot of wonderful farms in the area, and this is a good way to check them all out.

Campus Dining is terrible.

Nobody wants to tell you this, but that meal-plan you bought is going to get real old. There are markets on campus and plenty of Publix locations on bus routes, make your food at home and save your money on exploring the many local restaurants we have here. My best-of list is a good starting point. Oh and Crane Ramen isn't the kind of ramen you think it is. It's real Japanese ramen made with real ingredients.

There’s a lot more pizza than Satchel’s.

I’m sure you’ve heard countless things about Satchel’s at this point. With all due respect to the place and everything they do for the community, there’s better pizza. Definitely go for the experience, but Root & Pecker has the best pizza. Seriously, don't let that name deter you. Funny name, great pizza. Sourdough crust, fresh local ingredients, wood-fired the way Italians meant it to be, and insanely good. Piesano’s makes a good American-style pizza and has plenty of options, Leonardo’s Millhopper for deep dish, and Big Lou’s is fantastic if you want New York-style and to stuff yourself silly for not a whole lot of dough. Pun absolutely intended.

We have great grocery stores, but there’s one you need to visit.

Beyond Publix, we have a Fresh Market, Trader Joe’s, Lucky’s Market, Earth Fare Market, and in a couple years a 365 by Whole Foods. All of which provide great products and a wonderful shopping experience. But be sure you visit Ward’s Supermarket. They’re family owned and been around since 1951. The place is stuffed full of local artisan products, a great meat section, and some of the freshest local produce around. When you get old enough, there’s a formidable beer selection as well.

There’s good food to be found in surrounding towns, go explore them.

Gainesville is surrounded by nearby towns with plenty of charm and some great food. Don’t limit yourself to just Gainesville, get out there and try it out. Newberry has Cilantro Tacos, Alachua has Brown’s Country Buffet and Bev's Better Burgers, High Springs has The Great Outdoors Restaurant and The Talented Cookie, and Micanopy has Pearl's Country Store, Mosswood Farm Store, and the Old Florida Café. You can also head out to Cross Creek to enjoy some Florida cracker fare at The Yearling and listen to the legendary Willie Green play the blues. There’s plenty to explore! Our neighbors to the south, Ocala, has plenty to offer as well but we’ll save that for another article.

43rd Street Deli is a glorious breakfast spot.

There’s the original on, well…43rd Street, or there’s the more easily accessible location on Williston Road just west of the I-75 exit. Forget The Flying Biscuit, this is good old fashioned breakfast. They do the favorites consistently well here, and feature an ever-rotating list of great specials. I’ve been frequenting them for ten years and have never been disappointed. A big bowl of sausage gravy and biscuits? Yep. Banana and peanut butter stuffed waffles with bacon? Why the heck not? You can do whatever you want, that’s America.

Late-night food is limited, but there are options!

Beyond Steak & Shake, Pita Pit, and IHOP…there’s really not very many options if you’re up until 2 AM studying away. If you want some baked-to-order cookies by the dozen, Midnight Cookies will deliver until 2 AM most nights and 1 AM on Sundays. Flaco’s Cuban Bakery located downtown is open until 2:30 AM every day except Sunday, Piesano’s on the corner of University and 13th is open until 1 AM, and The Top is open until 2 AM every day except Sunday and closed on Mondays (beware of hour long waits).

Vegans and vegetarians rejoice, we accept you.

Gainesville is a vegetarian-friendly place. Restaurants like Root & Pecker, The Top, Southern Charm Kitchen, Sababa, Reggae Shack Café, Vegan2Go, and Steamers offer plenty of options for the herbivores. And these are just a small sampling. We even have a vegan-friendly bakery and ice cream shop in Karma Cream. Don’t worry, you will enjoy it here!

Don’t confine yourself to the bubble.

This is the most important thing. A lot of students come here and never see Gainesville beyond Archer Road and the immediate area around campus. Venture beyond that, we are an exciting and growing town that will pleasantly surprise you. By all means, enjoy the college experience, but don’t limit yourself to what your peers are doing. There are a lot of good people doing good things here, whether it be food-related or not. Go check out a new restaurant that isn’t a chain, explore a nearby town, and don’t be afraid to try new things. Happy eating and welcome to Gainesville.

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

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