Eating Local, Southern Style
Gainesville's Blue Gill Quality Foods Offers Real Florida Flavor
I’ve lived in Gainesville for the past ten years, and have seen its incredible transformation first-hand. Gainesville has undergone a huge growth spurt, including the revitalization of southwest 13th Street, an area that has been a hot spot for bars and nightclubs for decades. New hotels are coming up in the area, buildings that once housed Gainesville institutions are now being repurposed for a whole new generation of go-to spots and new construction is popping up all the time.
Among the new businesses appearing in this area is Blue Gill Quality Foods, one of the first tenants of the new University of Florida building at 1310 SW 13th Street. From the same owners that brought you Mildred’s Big City Foods and New Deal Café comes a southern-inspired family style restaurant that draws its inspiration from the small working-class North Florida towns far removed from palm trees and beaches. In keeping with the Florida theme, Blue Gill only uses locally sourced ingredients on their menu. The modern, almost industrial-like dining room emphasizes Blue Gill’s Florida heritage with touches such as old fruit sale signs adorning the walls, old Florida license plates and a large wall map of the Sunshine State. Recycled wood accents, and a beautiful copper-top bar stocked full of whiskey, gin, tequila and wine give the space an appealing, casual vibe. Look closely at the light fixtures at the bar, and you’ll see one of my favorite features of the restaurant: old go-kart tires that have been repurposed into light shades. Pretty cool, eh?
Blue Gill Quality Foods is a restaurant I’ve visited many times, whether for their brunch or for a casual dinner. On this particular rainy night, I had a hankering for a meal of fried chicken, so I called up a friend and we drove over through the rain. It’s hard to go with just one main dish—even though I knew I could taste some of my friend’s order—when there are so many delicious options on the menu, so we ordered an appetizer for another scrumptious taste of Blue Gill Quality Foods’ offerings.
It was tough to choose among the house-made pimento cheese; fried green tomatoes with a smoked bacon dressing; crispy cauliflower topped with brown butter; and my usual choice, the Tongue & Cheek. I couldn’t resist sharing my favorite with my buddy: a plate of blackened beef tongue and tender, fatty confit pork cheek topped with smashed peanuts and crispy potato strips. It may sound like an unusual favorite, but the most flavorful meats come from the head of an animal, and this dish is outrageously delicious—luckily, my friend agreed.
Main dish mayhem
It was time for the main dish—remember that fried chicken craving? Blue Gill’s fried chicken is different from others because the breading contains pork rinds. Nothing gives an extra kick to the chicken’s crispy skin like a dash of delicious pork fat. The only thing that makes the fried chicken better is the accompanying generous portions of mac and cheese, collard greens and an enormous slice of cornbread. I was stuffed!
My dining companion debated his menu choices; I sang my praises for the Blue Gill Burger. The ground-beef-and-shredded-pork patty makes for one of the most flavorful burgers in town; the fact that it’s also covered in pimento cheese and bacon, at only $9.50, also makes it one of the best values in town. I also recommend the Crispy Pork Shank served with a side of zucchini casserole; Crispy Chicken Livers served with a smoked bacon dressing and slaw; and the Brisket Sandwich filled with slow-cooked brisket, smothered in a garlic-poblano gravy, between a Kaiser roll. “Get this with some of Blue Gill’s house-made potato chips—they’re just fantastic,” I said. He went for the Blue Gill Burger, a solid choice.
Don’t forget to look at the giant blackboard, as Blue Gill offers an ever-rotating lineup of specials based on fresh ingredients they can source. Fish makes frequent appearances here, as Blue Gill takes advantage of Florida’s access to fresh daily catches. On this particular night, the blackboard included items like Roasted Octopus, Smoked Duck Porchetta and Swordfish. The bar is also not to be overlooked. There are shelves upon shelves of award-winning tequila, wine and vodka. But in keeping with the Southern tradition that’s infusing menus at every turn—it’s all about the whiskey. Blue Gill Quality Foods even has bottles of the ever-elusive, and personal favorite, Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve Bourbon. Pro-tip: make sure you go on Bourbon Thursdays to get 10% off your drink.
Unfortunately for me this evening, I let my hunger get the best of me and quite literally bit off more than I could chew. Normally, I round out my Blue Gill meals with one of their ridiculously delicious fried pies filled with chocolate fudge, and a side of their homemade vanilla ice cream. There will be no fried pie or whiskey for me this evening—I couldn’t eat another bite. As I rolled myself out of my chair and into the windy rain again, I walked past a massive “Fabulous Florida” image prominently featured in the dining room. I laughed to myself as I looked at the heavy rain outside. “The irony!” I said to my friend. At least I got to enjoy some of the Florida I love inside tonight. Until next time, Blue Gill, until next time!
Hungry yet? Check out all of Gainesville’s delectable dining choices!