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Hole in the Wall Southern food in North Florida

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I moved to Gainesville a few years ago from Arizona, and have found it hard to connect with southern cooking. I'm looking for good mom and pop, family, hole in the wall southern food. In Gainesville, people have directed me to Juniors, which was fun. But the circles I run in don't seem to know much beyond that. "Go to <insert national chain here>" some people tell me.

So, people of North Florida, can you tell me where to find the food of the south? I have a few more years here, at least. I grew up on a lot of Mexican hole in the wall, but my Grandma was from Arkansas, so I had corn bread, pork chops, greens, biscuits, gravy, bacon, pecan pie, chocolate meringue pie, black eye peas, okra, red beans and rice through her, and I hope to find that again!

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  1. "...corn bread, pork chops, greens, biscuits, gravy, bacon, pecan pie, chocolate meringue pie, black eye peas, okra, red beans and rice..." are more likely to be found in other states. Red beans and rice is a traditional Louisiana dish, black eye peas, okra, collards, biscuits and gravy belong more to a Georgia/Alabama/Carolinas style of home cooking than what you will likely find in Florida. (though I don't know where chocolate meringue pie fits in your list!). 'Fraid you're going to have to travel out of state or go to Cracker Barrel!

    5 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks

      Travel out of state or go to Cracker Barrel?!?

      That's just plain wrong. Every small town in North Florida has a place just like that. There's one in my hometown (Jasper) and two in the next town over. And every other town just like it. I'm absolutely flummoxed as to how you could really believe there's no traditional southern food in Florida outside of Cracker Barrel. Thats like saying Pizza Hut has the best pie in New York, or that 7-11 makes the best hot dogs.

      In Orlando, I can think of four places off the top of my head that fit the bill.

      In Gainesville, there used to be a place called Firpo's on NW 6th st. I'm not sure if its still there, but it's right up the original poster's alley. Also a great place in Waldo, I used to take dates there for fried chicken and collards when I was at UF. The name escapes me.

      1. re: JayDubya


        Is the place in Jasper H&F Foods? I have been eating there for years whenever I'm up that way. What are the two restaurants in the next town over? I ate at a pretty good southern buffet in downtown White Springs a year or so ago and the old hotel downtown White Springs had a pretty good buffet also.

        1. re: EOutlaw


          The H&F is the place in Jasper I was talking about. The next town over was Live Oak.. where they've got Cheryl's, an awesome buffet heads and tails above the H&F, and the Dixie Grill, which is more of a diner. If you like the H&F, Cheryl's will blow you away.

          Cheryl's is on 90, about 4 blocks north of the 129 intersection. The Dixie Grill is a block south on 90 from the same intersection.

          1. re: JayDubya

            Thanks JayDubya,

            I'll definately be trying Cheryl's the next time I'm passing through.

      2. re: janniecooks

        I am a native of the Panhandle and grew up eating everything he mentioned in his first post if you sub lemon for chocolate meringue. Plus add to that every kind of fresh vegetable from the garden and wild game. I think Fl transplants often miss out on the "southern" people of Florida.

      3. You might like Harry's. It's more of a New Orleans-style, but I liked it the last time I went. On ESPN Saturday Night Football, commentator Todd Blackledge went to a place called "Ballyhoo Grill." It's really more "Florida-style" with fresh seafood and stuff. Other than a few places and holes-in-the-wall, Gainesville is pretty much a chain wasteland.

        1. What you're going to have to do to get the real thing is drive to Jacksonville for lunch.

          There's a little place on the Westside right off of US-17 on the corner of St.Johns Ave. and Hamilton St. named Arden's Kafe and Katering. This is strictly a lunch place, mind you - they serve a down home buffet Tuesday thru Thursday, and have most of the veggies, etc. available from the menu as well all week. I grew up here in Jax eating the cornbread and veggies you mention, and this is how people cook at home throughout this area - if you were raised here, that is. Lots of folks here are from somewhere else, you know.

          Try it - you'll like it. It's what you're looking for. Basically, it's dinner on the grounds without the sermon. If you know what I mean by that, you know what you're going to find.

          Arden's Kafe & Katering
          1650 Hamilton St, Jacksonville, FL

          1. Too bad you missed the Chuck Wagon, which closed towards the end of my time at UF. It was definitely a hole in the wall. Have you tried Conestoga's in Alachua? It's charming....I only had burgers there but I think you might find what you describe. The pies were excellent. There was also a place in High Springs that was very country and may fit your description.

            1. Have you ever checked out The Yearling in Cross Creek? It's more old Florida Cracker cuisine, but they have the biscuits, hush puppies, fried catfish, meatloaf, sweet potatoes, cheese grits, turnip greens, fried green tomatoes, etc. that you are looking for. It's been around since 1952, and looks it. http://yearlingrestaurant.net/ It's been a few years since I've been there (I used to go when I lived in Ocala, but I am now in Tampa), but I used to enjoy it.

              1. You can get some of that at Newberry's Backyard Barbecue just west of Gainesville -- great 'cue -- http://www.backyardbarbq.com/index.html.

                1. I agree with jannie, Florida is not really a 'southern' state. We're such an amalgam of southern, various northern and hispanic that cuisine varies greatly by region. G'ville is still a college town at heart; our restaurants are chains or urban eclectic, tho we've had a few great southern restaurants in our time - most notably Mama Lo's. If you get out away from G'ville aways - west towards Newberry/Trenton or east towards Palatka, your chances for good southern food are better. Floyd's diner in High Springs is good, but not particularly southern. Phil-Nick's downtown is good as well. The panhandle tends to be much more southern than the rest of the state; you might have better success there.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: suemac

                    I was waiting for someone to mention Mama Lo's!!!!
                    I heard it's gone now, that's too bad.

                    There also used to be several good southern home cookin' places in Ocala. But that's when there used to be open land in Ocala...long gone now as well.

                  2. THANK YOU to everyone who responded. Firpos, H&F Foods, Arden's Cafe, Floyd's Diner, Phil-Nick's, Conestoga's, The Yearling--at least I have something to go on. I've been to and enjoyed Newberry's Backyard BBQ. Gainesville, which people say is on the southern border of "The South" and a chain wasteland, is not an easy place to find good food. I'm willing to drive far for a great hole in the wall, so Panhandle recommendations are appreciated, too. The southern food I mentioned was what my Arkansas grandmother made in Arizona; unexpectedly, I see a lot of people like her (manner, dress, speech) from north Florida and southern Georgia around. I never realized she was Southern!

                    1. you might enjoy attending some food festivals, too:

                      and re janiecooks' post, the only thing in the op's list that is not florida is the red beans and rice.

                      now rice with tomato gravy is another matter....real comfort food.

                      -- from a native of ft. myers with a momma from the panhandle.

                      1. One new place I might mention: S.O.B.'s in Newberry. Just opened recently kinda around the corner from Newberry Backyard. Not strictly southern, it's kind of a mix of southern and cajun. The owner has had several upscale steakhouses in G'ville (Mark's Downtown, then Mark's Prime, now M.T.'s Chophouse on south 34th St.) and recently opened this rural seafood restaurant. He's kept a few of his signature offerings from his G'ville restaurants like the baby blue salad (one of my favs) and the crab cakes (wonderful!). We've only been once, but I'm looking forward to going back. One caution - one of the local bike clubs meets out there occasionally on Saturday eve; we tried to go one recent Saturday and when we pulled up, the parking lot was packed full of bikers and beer and the live music was a little ... loud. Not what we were in the mood for that night, so we went elsewhere.


                        1. So you're willing to come northwest to the panhandle you say? In Madison, in the downtown area - just west of the courthouse is One-Eleven. They make the best fried green tomatoes and various other sides. They make a swell bread pudding and tipsy cake. Up in southwest Georgia, Bainbridge and Donalson there are some good places for down home cooking and seafood. Terry Lynns which is across from Wal-Mart does a really good lunch buffet. Jacksonville is a lot closer to Gainesville though...And I must say that while Ballywhoo's makes a great cocktail, as a Georgia native who makes all the food your grandma made, it ain't southern!

                          1. If you want real down home southern style cooking, there really is only one place in Gainesville these days and it's Junior's Restaurant. They serve a buffet of collard greens, macaroni and cheese (baked), baked chicken, fried porkchops...do i need to go on???
                            if you get there before 5:00pm on the weekday you get a discount. It's run by three brothers. i hope you get this message. its a great place. It's located on main st in the old Gainesville shopping center, right next to Publix grocery store

                            1. Hey, long time since your post but I'm fairly new to Chowhound. In the Gainesville area, I can recommend 2 places. The Ivy House Restaurant with two locations, the original in Williston and a newer location in Alachua. I have only eaten at the Williston location. I hadn't heard of it in Arkansas, but please try the Buttermilk Pie, it's tasty. The other southern place that gets it mostly right is Brown's Country Buffet in Alachua, great fried chicken.