| The Gainesville Sun
Proprietors in Gainesville and Newberry are taking a chance on opening up new ventures downtown during the pandemic.
Two new restaurants now open or coming soon to Gainesville are dishing out different spins on sandwiches for hungry customers to try. In Newberry, a new centrally located establishment is now serving guests breakfast, lunch and dinner.
And as one Gainesville restaurant prepares to reopen for the first time since March, another is gearing up to close due to economic challenges posed by COVID-19.
Here’s this week’s roundup of restaurant news:
Tom Kat Kafe
If you go past the new Tom Kat Kafe at 109 S. Main St., you’re not likely to miss its bright blue exterior.
The restaurant, located in a historic building that used to be the home of the Gainesville Daily Sun newspaper, a Red Cross station during World War II and the Black-owned Stud’s Pool Hall in the 1950s, is serving up even more nostalgia for Gainesville residents.
Heading the kitchen is Jim Kesl, the former owner of Kesl’s Coney Island, which operated downtown in a building that has since been demolished between 1984 and 1998.
Kesl’s original Coney Island menu is back on at Tom Kat Kafe, which included vegetarian and vegan sandwiches that feature tofu or tempeh for protein and a carrot dog — akin to a hot dog, minus the hog.
“Eighty percent of people who recognize me say they want a carrot dog,” Kesl said. “Which I find funny because it wasn’t a bestseller, but it’s what people remember.”
The carrot dog is a “vehicle,” he said, for all the other toppings such as cheese, peppers and chili, that one could want.
Tom Fox, the owner at Tom Kat Kafe, said it takes a good deal of skill to cook the carrot properly — you can’t just boil it and need to apply multiple cooking techniques, including grilling.
“You don’t want it too raw, you don’t want it too soft,” Fox said. “You’ve got to cook it just right.”
Also on the menu will be Kesl’s special salad dressing, which Fox said others have tried and failed to replicate in the past.
Another artifact from the Coney Island days — a neon sign welcoming customers, is on display at the new restaurant, which will also eventually offer a full-service bar and music upstairs.
Tom Kat Kafe is now open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Sunday.
The Leaning Pig
After more than 25 years in the restaurant business, the last 15 of which he spent as the general manager at Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company, Dave Piasecki said he was eager to spread his wings.
“It was time to open up my own spot,” he said.
The Leaning Pig, 11 SE First Ave., which opens Tuesday, has been in the works for the past two years.
Piasecki and his friend Tommy Dorn, of Dorn’s Liquors & Wine Warehouse, have been planning to open a restaurant that will reflect Gainesville’s evolving food scene.
“With the closing of establishments like Emiliano’s and [Leonardo’s] 706,” we wanted to keep downtown local,” Piasecki said. “We see places like East End [Eatery] and Cry Baby’s coming onto the scene and we want to continue what they’re bringing.”
The Leaning Pig, a bistro-style restaurant, will start off by offering a lunch menu of sandwiches and salads for takeout and delivery before delving into a breakfast menu as well, which will also feature sandwiches.
A rotating menu will enable The Leaning Pig to offer fresh, local ingredients, Piasecki said.
Although The Leaning Pig expects to close by 4 p.m. and will not offer dinner service, the plan is to eventually host pop-up, tickets-required guest chef dinners, potentially on a monthly basis.
The Leaning Pig will be open for lunch beginning Tuesday.
1906 Farmhouse Restaurant
Newberry residents now have another option for three square meals, with the opening of a new restaurant downtown.
1906 Farmhouse Restaurant, 25405 W. Newberry Road, opens Thursday with a menu chock full of breakfast platters, pancakes and waffles, omelettes, along with sandwiches, salads and burgers for lunch.
On the dinner menu is meat, fried seafood, sandwiches and burgers.
Specials will also rotate daily, and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m. will feature an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet that features crab legs for $26 per person.
“It’s a little country, a little steak, a little seafood,” said owner Jamie Griffin. “People in Newberry don’t have to go all the way out to Gainesville for food, but at the same time, people in Gainesville can take a trip out if they want to get away to the country.”
Griffin said the building where the restaurant is located was originally built in 1906. The downstairs portion was then a general store, and upstairs was The Commercial Hotel.
When he bought the restaurant two years ago after another restaurant there closed, Griffin undertook a restoration project to transform the space. Now its appearance, from brickwork to flooring, reflect the way the building looked more than a century ago.
1906 Farmhouse Restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily beginning Thursday.
Reopening: Newk’s Eatery
Newk’s Eatery, 4041 Plaza Blvd. in Butler North, is reopening next week with a lineup of giveaways and meal deals planned at the restaurant. It closed temporarily in March due to safety concerns and economic constraints posed by COVID-19.
The celebration starts Monday, where free prizes and giveaways will take place at a grand opening.
Other deals are available throughout the rest of the week:
- Tuesday, Sept. 22: Free Big Crispy with entree purchase
- Wednesday, Sept. 23: Free cake slice with entree purchase
- Thursday, Sept. 24: Free classic pizza (margherita, pepperoni, pepperoni & sausage) with entree purchase
- Friday, Sept. 25: Free 32 oz. drink with entree purchase
- Saturday, Sept. 26: One free kids’ meal with the purchase of an adult entree
- Sunday, Sept. 27: Free cup of soup with entree purchase.
Closing soon: Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria
After four years in Gainesville, Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria, 1209 W University Ave., announced earlier this month on Facebook that it will close Nov. 1. It’s the latest to join a growing list of local eateries that haven’t been able to withstand challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Until November, it will continue to offer food and drinks to midtown guests.
In addition to two other Florida locations in Naples and Fort Myers Beach, Felipe’s Taqueria also has restaurants in Louisiana, Massachusetts and Maryland.