You’re a Vegan in Gainesville. “So, like, what do you eat?”
Many people leave Gainesville in the summer, eager to visit their hometowns and veg out in front of the TV. Spending my first summer in the city, I’d be lying if I said my homesickness or wanderlust don’t kick in from time to time, but even then, I know that when it comes to my favorite kind of vegging out, there’s no place like Gainesville.
I moved here a year after cutting out meat and dairy, but this didn’t hinder me from enjoying the best of local restaurants in a gastronomic tour around town. In fact, the widespread availability of vegan and vegetarian options was one of the first factors to make me fall in love with Gainesville.
But the best part is it doesn’t stop at specialty restaurants where the entire menu is vegan or vegetarian, like Curia On The Drag, Vegan2Go, Govinda’s Bakery & Café and Karma Cream. As much as I like stuffing my face with Curia’s Mac ‘N’ Jack and filling my stamp card for free vegan ice cream at Karma Cream, I rarely set foot on all-veg restaurants when I go out to eat with my carnist friends.
Lucky for me and my fellow herbivores, most Gainesville restaurants offer at least a couple of veggie options, and many of them actually seem thought out. (Spare me the improvised offers to take the chicken out of a bland, 80-percent-romaine salad, please.)
It seems like menu makers are conscious that meatless options are a reasonable expectation, and that this community is abandoning the idea that meat substitutes and plant-based lifestyles are just for hippies.
“It’s Gainesville. We need a vegetarian option for people beside salad.”
Turns out, some Gainesville traditions have stuck around long enough to help the growing number of local businesses cater to vegan needs. The city is home to two distributors that make most of the tempeh served in its restaurants: Artie’s Tempeh, whose owner is known for delivering the product on his bicycle, and The Tempeh Shop, a family-owned business of several decades and the first certified organic tempeh maker in the area.
“We are really happy to provide something that enables people to be vegetarian or just to eat a little less meat,” said Damian Caraballo, who works at The Tempeh Shop and is the son of its founder, Jose Caraballo.
“I don’t know if I would stay vegetarian if I didn’t have tempeh,” said Caraballo, who was raised in a vegetarian household and has been eating tempeh since he was a baby.
“The restaurants here wouldn’t offer vegetarian options if people didn’t buy them, so there is definitely support in the community for vegetarian choices,” he said. “It’s not weird anymore. I think there is more information available now. People are interested in the health benefits and just curious to do something different.”
Local tempeh can be found even at the most traditional, American-looking restaurants that are known for things like steak, hot dogs and chicken wings. Mother’s Pub & Grill, for instance, has offered Artie’s Tempeh as a patty option on its burger menu for about seven years, said kitchen manager Clayton Mugge.
“It’s Gainesville. We need a vegetarian option for people beside salad,” said Shannon, another Mother’s employee.
With meat-based meals available everywhere, some omnivores are often reluctant to venture out of their comfort zone to try foods like tempeh. Others like Stephanie Voight, who eats meat but has a vegetarian roommate and many vegetarian friends, have discovered their taste for it at a Gainesville restaurant.
“It was really flavorful,” she said about a tempeh-based meal she had at Daily Green. “It almost tasted like meat.”
Voight said she has chosen falafel-based dishes like Daily Green’s falafel waffle over meat options because she likes it a lot.
Although she has always liked vegetables, the number of meatless meals she eats has increased since she moved to Gainesville for college.
“Doing research about health and nutrition has led me to confirm that eating a lot of plant-based food is good for you,” she said.
Conveniently, one of her roommates works at a farm and brings organic produce every week, she said. Voight cooks most of her meals at home and is open to exploring alternative options when she dines out, so even though she has not tried to become a vegetarian, she does not eat meat every day.
“The restaurants here wouldn’t offer vegetarian options if people didn’t buy them, so there is definitely support in the community for vegetarian choices.”
Although Voight has a similar number of omnivore and vegetarian friends, she said her orders at restaurants rely chiefly on each menu rather than the food preferences of the friend group she is with.
“My closest (omnivore) friends aren’t against vegetarian food,” she said. “If anything, they know it’s healthier and admire people who can commit to that.”
She said she has noticed more vegan options in Gainesville than in some European locations she has visited, such as Spain and several U.S. cities, including her hometown, Miami.
“In Miami, even though it’s a larger city, there’s less of a sustainable community,” she said.
In traditional American restaurants, most of the menu revolves around meat, and the best sauces are usually served with the meat options, she said. At Gainesville’s Grill Fresh, though, she was impressed with the versatile sauces and each vegetable’s seasoning.
“They had attention to each vegetable the same way other restaurants do to meat,” she said. “It was an experience to eat a piece of cauliflower.”
Another Gainesville staple that might spark the community’s interest for plant-based lifestyles is the Union Street Farmers Market. It features local vendors of everything from fresh produce to cooked meals to gifts and crafts. Most kiosks offer plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
You can visit the market on any Wednesday at Bo Diddley Plaza from 4 to 7 p.m. For every other day, we’ve compiled a list of local restaurants where you will find meatless options even as the token vegan in your friend group:
Andaz, Curia On The Drag, Civilization, Karma Cream, Vegan2Go, Daily Green, Govinda’s Bakery & Café, Southern Charm Kitchen, Reggae Shack Cafe, Burrito Famous, Bangkok Square, Boca Fiesta, Liquid Ginger, Dragonfly, Chuy’s, Mother’s Pub & Grill, Blue Agave, La Pasadita, Satchel’s Pizza, Blaze Pizza, Maude’s Classic Café, The Top, Flying Buiscuit Café, Chopstix Bistro, Bento Café, East End Eatery, Harvest Thyme Café, Sababa, Falafel King, El Indio, Gyro Plus, La Tienda, Leonardo’s 706, Leonardo’s by the Slice, Momoyaki, Pho Hanoi, Big Lou’s NY Style Pizzeria, Sushi Chao, China King, The Twisted Peacock, Flaco’s, Root & Pecker, Grill Fresh, The Swamp Restaurant, Vine Sourdough Bakery, Steamers, Crane Ramen and more.