Dine on the wild side in Gainesville
By Joe Kukura
The eclectic and quirky town of Gainesville, Florida, really shows its wild side when serving up unconventional but unconditionally delicious cuisine. When we say wild side, we really mean wild. You can enjoy animal meats in Gainesville that you’ve never eaten before. Whether it’s traditional Cracker cuisine or gourmet-prepared alligator meat, Gainesville dishes out culinary adventures with an array of exotic meats and offbeat delicacies that you’re unlikely to find anywhere else.
If you’re looking for exotic meat dishes to try for the first time, we’ve curated a list of Gainesville’s most out-of-the-ordinary cuisine. If you prefer vegan or vegetarian dishes that are wild and woolly but without the animal products, scroll down to the bottom of this list. But if you have any kind of experimental palate, these plates will satisfy your hunger for the unusual in most delicious fashion.
Yes, they eat alligators in Florida—and those gators are good eating! Alligator is prepared a number of ways at several different Gainesville eateries. Gator’s Dockside serves a hand-battered gator tail dish with dipping sauce, the Mexican-inspired Boca Fiesta serves a gator burrito and gator tacos, the Ballyhoo Grill offers fried gator tail with BBQ sauce, and the Swamp Restaurant serves marinated gator bites with a mango-chili puree. Or if all that sounds too conventional, try the gator tail tempura at Chopstix Bistro.
Quail with cheese grits - The Yearling
About 15 miles south of Gainesville, you’ll find The Yearling, which has been named one of Florida’s best restaurants. You’ll be surprised to see game-hunting menu items like quail and venison that you’re not used to seeing in fine dining establishments. That’s because The Yearling serves Cracker cuisine, the food of Florida’s early pioneers and cowboy settlers. The Yearling recreates the late 1800s and early 1900s experience in historically accurate and fine culinary style.
Tongue and cheek - Blue Gill Quality Foods
Blue Gill Quality Foods’ tongue and cheek appetizer dish is exactly what it sounds like. They take blackened beef tongue, serve it with a confit pork cheek and add peanuts and potato frites on the side.
Cooter - The Yearling
Another popular Cracker cuisine item from a long-ago yesteryear, cooter is a soft-shelled freshwater turtle whose meat is cut into strips, deep fried and served with grits and greens. You won’t find cooter served many places these days outside Hawthorne, Florida’s The Yearling Restaurant.
Southern stuffed onion rings - Original American Kitchen
The Southern kitchen and whiskey bar Original American Kitchen serves enormous Southern stuffed onion rings that will surely have you posting photos to Instagram. They start with onion rings, pack them full of macaroni and cheese inside, cram an entire pork brisket in there too and drizzle the top with BBQ sauce. Original American Kitchen is also known for its self-serve whiskey taps and fried Twinkies for dessert.
Frog legs - The Yearling
Frog legs aren’t served in too many places outside Florida these days, and you won’t find frog legs bigger or meatier than those served at The Yearling. The Yearling’s frog legs are the size of chicken drumsticks, and even more delicious to those who have a taste for frog.
Main Street Monster Burger - Conestogas Restaurant
There’s nothing too unusual about the fresh ground beef served on Conestogas Restaurant’s Main Street Monster Burger—except that it’s the biggest burger known to the United States. Conestogas heaps an astonishing 48 ounces of beef between those hamburger buns, a triple-decker burger heaven for which you get a free T-shirt and slice of key lime pie if you can finish it.
Vegan and vegetarian options
Gainesville also has some out-of-the-ordinary options for vegans and vegetarians who refuse to settle for a simple salad. Boca Fiesta has a vegan mac and cheese and tempeh tacos and burritos, The Jones B-Side serves up a magnificent falafel burger with tahini ginger dressing, and Civilization has an array of international and ethnic comfort foods that are thoroughly local, organic and delicious.