Falafel Burger, The Top

Growing up vegetarian meant a burger was a ‘veggie burger’ and what was in that patty could be almost anything but meat. Carrots, black beans, brown rice, mushrooms, tempeh, TVP, etc., etc. My mom’s recipe was mostly lentils, bulger wheat, and oats. I got stuck making those burgers far too often, which was a chore because the recipe produced about five dozen burgers at a time. I’m sure you’ve had more than your share of ‘WTH is this?’ moments with veggie burgers.

These days veggie burgers look and taste good, but you still don’t know what’s in them. The out-of-the-box kind that have the grill marks painted on. Until recently, the Top did what most restaurants do, and offered pre-made burgers like Boca or Morningstar Farms. Which are okay. Really. But I can make one at home, so why am I going to order that?

Then came a new dawn in the Top’s kitchen and they started making more and more things in-house. From sauerkraut and fake bacon, to burgers, to French fries and salad dressings. The black bean patty stayed and was joined by a falafel patty. Yes, I said that. A patty made from the same stuff you usually get in a pita sandwich. It’s not as sturdy as a pre-made burger, but that’s not a bad thing. It has flavor and texture, and makes your belly so happy!

The falafel burger usually has the standard lettuce/tomato/pickle innards on a delish pretzel roll, and you can choose the theme of your burger. I usually go with the True Blue, with blue cheese, seitan bacon, and fried onions. Or a little more mild is the Triple Cheese with sharp cheddar, Swiss, and smoked gouda (and of course friend onions too).

There are over a dozen pre-set themes for your burger, or you can customize it with a list of extras. Or swap out the bread (locally sourced). Sub out the usual sides (ginger slaw, potato salad, or fries) for something more fun like sweet potato fries, side salad, or soup (and they have some cool soups to choose from).

The black bean patty is nice too, but the falafel burger has more flavor, and makes my mouth so happy. I can’t ever finish it the first try because I usually go for a side salad. Which is why I find myself eating the rest of it cold, straight out of the fridge, the next morning while I make coffee.

This is not date-night food. There’s no dignity in trying to jack your jaw open enough to bit this thing. Expect to get messy. That’s all I’m saying about that. And it’s nom nom nom.

My meal:
Triple Cheese Falafel Burger – $8.95
+Side salad upgrade – $1.50
Angry Orchard Cider

The Top
30 N. Main St.
Gainesville, FL 32601

No Website Yet (seriously? I know they don’t need it, but come on?!)
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French Toast, The Top

French Toast, The Top

Growing up, we had a tradition of a big pancake breakfast on Sunday mornings. Which developed my personal tradition of a good cry on Sunday also. The sugar overload (and eventually the added girl hormones) made me unpleasant company for a few hours midday Sundays.

Like all traditions, we tend to carry them on without thinking about it. So when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’ll order pancakes when we go out for brunch on Sunday. Or French toast, if it’s good.

I wasn’t raised eating anything with eggs, as we were on the more conservative side of vegetarianism. So I missed out on years of fried bread and egg products such as French toast. I hear it can be a horrible train wreck of a dish if you don’t know what you’re doing. And of course, the internet being the educational tool that it is, I am a little nauseated to find out what passes for French toast in parts of the world. For the sake of argument, I’m only taking about the bread dipped in egg mixture, fried, then doused in sugary goodness.

I’m partial to the French toast at Leonardo’s 706, and it looks like it’s pulled right from a cooking magazine cover. But I adore the ugly stepsister that they serve at The Top. This is not pretty sliced bread, fried to look like golden lace, and daintily dressed with powdered sugar. This is knobby wedges of coffee cake, syrup-soaked and lumpy, with tasty, crispy bits and chunks of fruit. It’s warm and dense. It’s not particularly pretty, even decorated with banana slices. And on the side are a few slabs of The Top’s house-made seitan bacon, looking suspiciously like leather. This is a French toast that would cut a bitch if she had to.

The Man may or may not have figured out the connection between the French toast and seven cups of coffee, and the sulking and pouting I am prone to on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe he’s just into that kind of punishment. Or maybe he just chalks it up to general “women’s issues”. Because there’s never a hint of reproach in his voice when he asks me if I’m going to order the French toast. Although, later on, he does offer to head-butt me until I stop crying. Isn’t love grand?

The Top
Vegan French Toast [with Seitan Bacon]
Sunday Brunch menu only, $8-10


True Blue Falafel Burger, The Top

True Blue Falafel Burger

This picture is a little blurry, I know. It was hard to shoot this burger while it was moving so quickly towards my mouth. I think there’s still cheese in my camera lens.

I was hungry. And when I’m hungry, I dream about this thing. The True Blue Falafel Burger at The Top.

A while back, The Top switched over and started doing as much of their menu as possible in-house. From ‘burger’ patties and seitan bacon, to saurkraut, to salad dressings and dips. They make it in the kitchen instead of open a box or can. A while back they used to have portobello, black bean patties, or pre-made veggie burgers as their vegetarian burger options, which you could do any number of ways from their ‘style’ menu. They dropped the mushroom and the veggie patty, and introduced this falafel patty instead.

You may be familiar with falafel if you like Middle Eastern food. Most people know falafel as the sandwich of flat bread and deep fried chickpea or fava bean balls. And if you haven’t experienced it this way, put some pants on and get yourself down to Falafel King. Falafel is just the balls part, which is also often shaped into ‘fingers’ and patties. Hence, the falafel patty at The Top instead of a burger.

As always, you can choose from The Top’s ‘style’ menu of fifteen options when deciding on a burger. There’s the Smurf ‘n’ Turf (sourdough, mushroom ragout, arugula, blue cheese), the Southwestern (guacamole, sharp cheddar, jalapenos), or the Maradona (chimichuri, fried onions, peppers, swiss cheese). I adore the True Blue… blue cheese that gets all squishy, fried onions with a sweet kick, and the crispy seitan bacon that hugs the falafel patty. All of it held together with lettuce and the usual accouterments between a pretzel roll.

If you don’t like blue cheese (yes, I know, right? Why do I have these friends?), you can try the Triple Cheese with the falafel patty instead… sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, swiss, and fried onions. But trust me. The blue cheese, onions, ‘bacon’ combination is perfect with the falafel.

And if you’re feeling frisky, substitute the usually fries or whatnot out for the sweet potato fries. You get your choice of regular fries, potato salad, or ginger slaw generally speaking, but at The Top I always suggest substitutions for something that tickles your fancy. Like corn nuggets. Or the soup of the day which is usually delish.

The Top
True Blue Falafel Burger – $8.95
…with side of sweet potato fries – $1.50
…and a crisp, cold cider on a humid summer night – $4.95
..on the patio with a friend 🙂


Chocolate Bourbon Torte, The Top

Chocolate Bourbon Torte

Whether you like Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” or Nine Inch Nail’s “Closer” when you’re in the mood, you’re going to want to pull it up on your playlist (or slide the record onto the turntable), and then turn the lights down low for this piece of deliciousness.

You’re more than welcome to eat the Chocolate Bourbon Torte while you’re at The Top, but chances are, you’re too full from dinner. We usually have a piece to go, and carry it home with us for later. In private. Yes, with the lights down low.

It’s a sinfully dense chocolate cake base with a thick, gooey, caramely, bourbony, nutty layer of rich filling and a thick skin of dark chocolate icing. If it sits at room temperature long enough, the nutty filling starts to ever-so-slowly ooze out the sides and drool at glacial speed down the sides of the cake. I doubt you can leave it sit that long though. It whispers from its to-go box. Possibly in French. Venir ici. Le lécher. Le dévorer…

One piece is enough to share between two people because it is so rich and dense. And of course sharing requires you to sit quite close to each other. We don’t generally look for excuses to get close, but bringing a piece of torte home is a treat.

One night I lost control of the to-go box and the cake rolled free along the floor of the car, gathering lint from the rug before I could rescue it. I swear I was not drinking that night. An accident, pure and simple. The Man looked properly sad at the loss.

I still ate it. After attempting to remove some of the lint of course. I at it for breakfast the next morning, after he had gone to work to avoid his eye-rolling. It was luxurious. And for once it was all mine!

I think I played “Your Heart is Black as Night” by Melody Gardot.

Chocolate Bourbon Torte
The Top


[Mock] Poutine

Mock Poutine

First of all you are never, ever, ever to eat what I am about to talk to you about. I accept no liability for the state of your arteries or size of your butt after this warning. This is NOT good for you.

Up in Canada and some of the colder Northern states, they have a food tradition that is made for long months of snow with a mere peep of summer sunshine every so often. They say this fatty diet is to keep insulation against the cold. I suspect it also can be a form of birth control to combat the months with nothing to do but snuggle together for warmth. Not only are you too sluggish from the heavy meals to work up the energy to look at the opposite sex, you are most likely not going to be all that excited when you do look.

But that’s just my opinion.

So we were up in Rochester, NY, and were taken out to the Tap & Mallet Pub. We had just done a loop around the Finger Lakes and tried out some of the wineries, so a break for beer was required. Beer on an empty stomach is not a good idea when you’re talking about pints of the good stuff that runs around 10-14% ABV. There are a few starchy and fatty things on the menu for just these occasions.

Low and behold, we discovered poutine, and our Southern-food-trained stomachs never quite recovered from that joyous occasion. Poutine is essentially french fries covered with cheese curds, and then drenched with gravy. The hot fries and warm gravy melt the fresh cheese curds, and it’s suddenly a delicious orgy in your mouth.

Yes, there’s a growing popularity for this dish that offers “haute” poutine which adds lobster, truffles, caviar, and more. And there’s the low versions you can now buy at fast food chains. I may be new to poutine, but I have an opinion, and neither of the above versions are true poutine. End of story.

The Tap & Mallet is an awesome pub, and if you’re ever in Rochester, you’ll have to go by for a beer or seven. Save room for food. They do elevated pub food, including some vegetarian/vegan options. The poutine had a rich mushroom gravy, and their fries were of the hand-cut from real potatoes variety.

Unfortunately we cannot visit Rochester every time we have a craving, so we’ve looked around for adequate alternatives here in Florida. Mock poutine. A favorite alternative is something we came up with at The Top (picture above). An order of The Top’s cheese fries, which are real potatoes covered in cream sauce and melted cheese, and a side order of their ultra-amazing shiitake gravy poured on top. No, it’s not really the same thing, but it is enough to dampen the cravings for poutine for now.

My word! I need to go work out now just from thinking about this for the last fifteen minutes. I am not kidding you about how yummy and fattening poutine is. So don’t ever eat any.

Thank you for the food:
Tap & Mallet Pub
381 Gregory St.
Rochester, NY


Breakfast Club Sandwich, The Top

Breakfast Club Sandwich, The Top

Be afraid. Be very afraid. This sandwich. Will. Kick. Your. Ass.

We were at The Top for brunch last Sunday with friends before a friendly meander around the art fair downtown. No big deal. We’ve done brunch at The Top dozens of times. It’s always good, and there’s plenty of coffee. And if I’m lucky, there’s Cuban bread with goat and cream cheese with guava on the menu (absolutely recommend, but I wish they’d put more goat and less cream cheese).

The menu was a bit different Sunday. We’re used to that. They’re working on brunch constantly. You never really know what cool things will get added.

Case in point…. bom bom bommmmmm… the Breakfast Club. At first it was a curiosity that the guys skimmed over. But they started talking about it and getting worked up to try it out. An egg, tofu, or tempeh, with lettuce, mayo, tomato, bacon or seitan bacon, on sourdough toast, with swiss cheese. Side of home fries, grits, or fruit. And another $1.00 for fried green tomatoes on it.

Well okay, it’s a sandwich and it sounds good. How many times have you had something very much like that? I could whip up one of those as a late night snack. But the Man and his foodie guy friends don’t ever take the easy option. Especially when there’s an option to add cheese, hot peppers, seitan, gravy, fried onions, eggs, or more beer to anything. So of course they had to go with the version that had all of the bells and whistles.

Even then, seriously, the basic model of this sandwich is enough to make Takeru Kobayashi pause for a breath before reaching for the second half. The triple-decker had a few quivering tooth picks speared through it to hold it together, but that was just a gesture. It was touch and go while they contemplated how to put Sriracha on these things. I almost saw fear in their eyes. Almost.

Suffice it to say, they could have split a sandwich and been more than happily full for the rest of the day. But not our gentlemen. With one eye on their own plates, and one on the other’s plate, they managed to devour the whole thing without making it look like it was any kind of competition. Which it wasn’t.

I wish we could have rented adult-size strollers for the art fair because the guys were food-drunk zombies. If they weren’t pointed in a specific direction and given a gentle push, there were content to stand in the sun and digest. And I cannot underline this enough… we did not buy any food at the art fair. This is how happy and full they were. Subdued like a bludgeoned anaconda, bloated from eating a whole goat.

So thumbs up and as many stars as possible to The Top’s Breakfast Club sandwich on their brunch menu. And don’t say I didn’t warn you. “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.”


Brunch, Sunday’s Happy Place

Brunch. To me, that meal is often associated with a hangover, or at least an uneasy feeling that food and sunshine are not worth rolling out of bed for early on a Sunday morning. But you might need to brave the young day due to friend obligations, the inability to work the coffee maker, parental units needing your attention, or your half-grown kids wanting to overtly hit you up for money. So you agree to brunch. *sigh* At least you should eat well.

Any brunch place worth its salt will have three things: bottomless cups of coffee, optional outdoor seating, and a menu that offers sweet and savory breakfast and lunch dishes.

Not required, but definitely appreciated, is a place that also offers typical brunch drinks like mimosas and bloody marys. Of course here in Gainesville, we’re limited by some archaic laws that don’t allow alcohol to be served before 1 o’clock on Sunday. So if you require some hair of the dog, time it so you arrive around 12:30 because most servers will kindly announce when they are allowed to take orders for adult beverages.

So where to go in Gainesville on a bright Sunday morning? We have our standard haunts that are veggie friendly, but are always open to suggestions. We would recommend starting with one of these:

• Leonardo’s 706 (or just 706)
High on the list because they have some delish standard menu items including omelets, benedicts, tofu stirfry, pancakes and french toast. Or commit to the buffet if you like big breakfasts because it’s packed with goodies. They have some great never-ending coffee, as well as the fancy stuff that requires a French accent to order, and noteworthy alcohol-mixed drinks (their mimosa is a favorite). It’s a bit pricey when you look at the menu, but you get a full bang for your buck because the minute you sit down, you’re served with their famous brunch punch (citrus, ginger, and watermelon) and mini-muffins (usually chocolate, cream cheese, berry, etc), and you’ll be delivered hot latkas (crispy potato pancakes). First rate service and an eclectic menu makes this a standard for us.
**Midtown, 706 W. University Ave [find them on Facebook!]**
Website: Leonardos-706.com

• The Top
“The Top?” you say. Why, yes. They’ve revamped their brunch offerings. If you like their dinner menu, you won’t be disappointed in brunch. They even have some decent vegan options which can be hard to come by. I absolutely recommend the Cuban bread with guava jelly and goat cheese to start with. Or they have vegan biscuits and gravy. The menu changes from week to week depending on what they’ve got on hand, but it usually looks like pancakes and grits, and home fries, and other hot comfort food that is better with syrup or hot sauce. And as always at the Top, you’ll get enough food to take some home for later. My only caution is that the pancakes tend to taste like the griddle, an oddly cloying cooking oil flavor. A bonus of the Top is that you don’t get a big wait time like at some of the other places. If you show up at the crack of 11:00, you can get your pick of tables. [They post that brunch is from 11 to 2. Check the chalkboard and specials menu.]
**University and Main, a block north, just follow the smell of food**

• The Flying Biscuit
Yes, this is a small chain restaurant, but it’s not sold its soul off yet. If the bright Disney-like interior design doesn’t wake you up, and regular coffee doesn’t sound appealing, try one of their insane drinks… you can get four shots of espresso in a bowl-size cup with whipped cream, or a Guinness (yes, the beer!) with shots of espresso in that. Once you’re awake and you’re grazing the menu, you’ll see there is almost no end to options. They’re all pretty good. And don’t even think about leaving without trying their biscuits. I heartily recommend one of their huge omelet meals if you know you can eat a lot. If you are not into big breakfasts, make sure to check out their sides menu where you can mix and match grits (light, made with cream cheese), half-order of french toast, soysage, ‘moon dusted’ potatoes, and more. Good food for good prices, and the staff are fun people. There is always a waiting list, but it’s worth it! [It’s posted that they open at 7am but that’s not verified, and who the heck wants to eat that early on Sunday anyway?]
**Northwest / Thornebrook area, near Fresh Market [find them on Facebook!]**
Website: FlyingBiscuit.com

• Ivey’s Grill
I have to add Ivey’s because they don’t have much for veggies, but do I love their potato pancakes. The coffee is good, and they have some great specials. Absolutely worth checking out. The small dining room is relaxed, and theres usually a wait time or it’s pretty busy. A good regular client base means good food and good service.
**University and 34th, next to Sunflower**
Website (incomplete): IveysGrill.com

• 43rd St Deli
Many people are partial to 43rd St Deli because they have a lot of options at reasonable prices. Ever since they closed the one on 13th St to make room for the huge CVS, I’ve hesitated to make the drive across town to one of the other locations. They earned a good following because of their real down-home cooking style, and there’s plenty of veggie and vegan options as well. Hint: check out the specials menu before anything else. Brunching here will definitely not break the bank.
**NW 43rd St location, behind Zaxby’s & Las Margaritas**
**SW Williston Rd location, just south of I-75**

That’s not the final list of options, but this is where we generally think to go first when someone says “Brunch!”. There are a few other places we want to check out over time, and we’ll add them as we gather info. If you want to suggest something, we’re open to ideas.