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Gainesville, Fla.: Road trip, day one

February 19, 2013

By JAY REED

It is not often that I take a day-long trip by myself. If the journey is that far, it’s usually the whole tribe. Recently, however, I went to Gainesville, Fla. — home of The Wife’s alma mater — all by my lonesome. That’s a “fur piece”, if you haven’t been there lately by family van. Though a trip that long can be a bit sad and lonely, it also opens the car door wide for roadside stops whenever and wherever and however often I want. Needless to say, I ate well.

For over a year I’ve been trying to get to Greensboro, Ala. for lunch. You, too, huh?  Unfortunately, it’s not really on the way to anywhere. An intentional detour is practically unavoidable — thankfully, I finally had the time and the determination to make it happen. Greensboro is the home of Pielab, a restaurant and gathering place on Main Street. The idea of the originators of Pielab was to provide a platform for conversation, ideas and community design, with all the profits going to a local charity. Oh, and there is pie. The day I went, the lunch options were a taco plate or quiche and salad. Having long ago read the book, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche,” my choice was obvious. Pork and chicken tacos were offered — I requested one of each. These were proper tacos. I know every taco chef has the right to dress up their creations however they like — I get that, and I do it myself. But when it comes to authenticity, I am learning that a true Mexican taco is a soft corn tortilla, the appointed meat, a little chopped onion and a sprinkling of fresh cilantro leaves. It doesn’t get much simpler than that, but it’s hard to top it for flavor when the meat is done right. These were done very right. I detected a spice in both the chicken and pork that I don’t usually get in tacos — something like cinnamon. I asked the nice lady to help me identify it. “Spice?  Lots of spice,” she said. The pork had cumin and dried chilies, the chicken had paprika and cayenne, and both did indeed have cinnamon plus about half a dozen more. The Spanish rice had chunks of tomato, the refried beans still had fully identifiable bean shapes — both were delicious. I washed it all down with some amazing lemonade from the drink bar, furnished with mason jars and mismatched coffee mugs. All the seating was communal — tables for eight, ten or more — I guess that facilitates the conversation. 

Dessert was pie. Duh. That day they offered caramel, apple crumb, peach and tangerine chess. I love caramel pie, so I got a piece of that strictly for reference purposes. It was a little different than my usual — graham cracker crust and a nice top layer of fresh whipped cream. Still good. To satisfy my craving for the unusual, I also got a piece of tangerine chess. Seriously rich and buttery as chess pie should be, with just enough tangerine to give it a little edge. I went back and forth between the two pieces until my vision got fuzzy, then boxed up two halves and took them on the road. Side trip successful — back to the main road.

The main road was a familiar one, paved with good intentions. I wasn’t particularly looking for more dessert, but I knew Sweet P’s Eats and Treats was waiting just beyond Montgomery on Highway 231. I still had a little pie buzz going on, but opportunity trumped common sense and I got there in plenty of time for a Cow Pattie. You may recall from my previous ramblings about trips to Dothan that the mascot for Sweet P’s is a pink cow, thus the signature dessert. On my second trip through Pike Road, I watched the last serving get snatched up before my very eyes. This time I was the lucky one. A Cow Pattie is basically a chocolate cake sandwich about six inches long, maybe two inches wide. The filling is what the cashier called Swiss meringue — creamy and white but sturdy enough to hold up the cake. It was barely sweet, which was a nice contrast to the chocolate frosting which was poured abundantly over the whole shebang. I could only handle about three bites. Not because it was no good, but because it was so good. At three bites a sitting, it took me the rest of the weekend to eat it all, but eat it all I did. 

By the time I hit Florida and got on I-10, it was about dinner time and I had a dilemma. Beyond Pielab I had not really researched my route for a memorable supper stop. My conscience was scolding me: “You didn’t really put your heart into this, you slept too late this morning, you piddled around, and now you’re going to settle, aren’t you??” I was ashamed. And it got worse. Along the way I passed what seemed like a bazillion signs, each illuminated with a golden glow, beckoning innocent eaters to consume little deep-fried McBalls of McFish. Daughter wasn’t even with me, and somehow I was still suckered into McDonalds for a small order of Fish McBites. I bowed to the pressure of advertising. (Please don’t think less of me). And they weren’t bad. I still prefer the Filet-O-Fish sandwich, but they were an interesting diversion. To supplement the McBites, I went next door and got a side dish of tater logs. They weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but I did learn something important: the crunchy batter on the outside of a tater log effectively protects innocent fingers from the intense heat underneath. 

So on my way to an educational meeting I had an educational moment with a tater log. I think that’s a good first day.

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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