Exploring one of Gainesville’s iconic restaurants
Gainesville is best described as a small but culturally rich town with a heavy focus on the arts. If there were ever a restaurant in town that truly embodies the diverse culture that is Gainesville, it would be The TOP
, located at 30 North Main Street. Over the years, it has become a local institution that is packed on the weekends, but where its diners gladly wait to be seated. The TOP has thrived over the years, and has since spawned sister businesses in The Wooly (a beautiful venue and event space), Pop A Top (an awesome corner convenience store), and the increasingly popular “no name” cocktail bar adjacent to it.
The interior of the restaurant embodies that eccentric Gainesville feeling. The walls are lined with everything from paintings of melting snowmen and pixelated abstract art, to Colt 45 advertisements featuring Billy Dee Williams and wooden cutouts of large owls that overlook the dining room. The servers and bartenders here have piercings, tattoos, and fully express their own personal style by wearing their own clothes rather than a uniform. Everyone there is as unique as the restaurant itself. Too often are restaurants boring and character-less nowadays, but most definitely not at The TOP.
For startersOf course, The TOP also boasts a menu that is every bit as diverse as its employees and décor. There’s something for everyone as there are plenty of vegan, vegetarian, as well as meat-lovers’ options. Everything is freshly made from scratch every day. For an appetizer, try the best Sweet Potato Fries in town, served with a ridiculously good creamy garlic dipping sauce. The Sweet Potato Fries and the Corn Nuggets (crispy fried cream of corn) are an absolute must for me when I visit. Both are so tasty that I have to remind myself to leave room for my entrée!
The menu also features a variety of salads, all of which can be topped with tofu, tempeh, or your choice of meats that include steak, salmon, and shrimp. You’ll also find pastas like the Gnocchi Carbonara (pork belly, peas, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and a scrumptious white wine cream sauce), Chimichurri Steak, and some of the best burgers you’ll find in town. I highly recommend the Widow Maker burger, made with a chili-espresso rub, topped with bacon, fried onions, mushrooms, smoked Gouda, and aged white cheddar in between a pretzel roll. Don’t worry, vegetarian friends, in addition to chicken breast, all of the burgers can be made with a black bean patty or a falafel patty as well.
Menu favoritesMy personal favorite dish on the menu is the Pecan Crusted Tofu; triangles of pecan dusted pan-seared tofu topped with a rosemary shiitake mushroom and brandy cream sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and steamed broccoli that’s so delicious, even this meat-lover loves it. Coming in a close second is the Spicy Noodle Bowl, an Asian-inspired bowl of udon noodles, chili sauce, onions, peppers, green beans, and jalapenos in a sweet soy sauce and cilantro, with tofu, shrimp, and pork belly as your choice of protein.
While the food is certainly tasty, the bar at The TOP is even better. It was expanded in recent years to twice its original size. As a result, there is a full liquor selection, a large cocktail menu, and an ever-rotating number of great craft beers on tap that include Gainesville’s own Swamp Head and First Magnitude. An outdoor bar and large patio seating area helps make this the best restaurant bar you’ll find not just in downtown Gainesville, but in the entire town. It’s no wonder why people will happily wait for a table!
Top specialsSome of the best nightly specials can also be found here. Don’t miss out on Taco Tuesdays, where a different gourmet taco dish is featured each week, or Southern Wednesdays, featuring a different southern-inspired dish each week as well. My favorites are Token Tuesdays (starting at 10 PM) where each cocktail you buy gets you a token that you can redeem at another time for a free drink. Though you won’t need one, it makes a great excuse for a return trip.
Need even more convincing? Happy Hour specials also run from 5 PM to 7 PM from Tuesday through Saturday, and all day on Sundays. That’s a great way to wrap up a weekend!
On any given night, you’ll find families enjoying delicious burgers seated next to college students drinking PBRs and health-conscious vegetarians biting into a beet salad. In a place as diverse as The TOP, is it any wonder that the customers are as equally eclectic? Good food, good people, and most definitely good vibes are all you’ll find here. If you ever want to experience the true essence of Gainesville under one roof, this is it.
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