Last Wednesday was a great success with our very first Gainesville party bike food tour. We had the honor of having local celebrity, Ken Peng of Ken Eats Gainesville, as our tour guide and host. With over 18,500 Facebook followers, Ken proves that he has a knack for rating and reviewing local eateries. Originally from Pembroke Pines, Ken moved here in 2004 for school and has been here ever since. During the day his official title is Marketing and Project Development Manager at a local finance company.
In his free time, Ken likes to try new restaurants and write creative reviews. His first review was of a long-gone steak house that sat in the heart of downtown. After a less than pleasant experience dining there, he penned a witty review and posted it on his personal Facebook page. The review proved to be quite entertaining and with the encouragement of his friends he started writing reviews regularly. What started out as social media reviews soon turned into a full blown stand-alone website, KenEatsGainesville.com. The website not only contains awesome photos and commentary on restaurants, but a great opinion piece on why Gainesville is such a great town.
Ken likes to use his status to support non-profits. Some of his choice nonprofits include anything to do with animals or children. As a child, Ken suffered through many hospital stays due to a medical condition and he appreciates the value of supporting kids that are going through similar struggles. He also loves his dog, Admiral Baxter St. Chesterfield III so much that local pet rescues are near and dear to him. All in all, Ken is a great guy who states: “it’s a responsibility to use your powers for good and to help make the community a better place.” I couldn’t agree more!
On a chilly Wednesday last week, we met 11 foodies at Bo Diddley Plaza for the beginning of our adventure. Our group was already there waiting for us (which is not usual). “Ohhhhh,” I thought, “They are all hungry and ready to eat!” Well, it’s a good thing that everyone was starving because this journey included a plethora of food.
We all hopped on to the party bike and took a lap downtown before stopping at Mojo’s Hogtown BBQ. Mojo’s is a family friendly restaurant with five different Florida locations. Each location is named Mojo’s after the good vibe or feeling that you get from listening to blues music. Of course, Hogtown is a direct reference to the city of Gainesville. Of interesting note, the nickname came from Seminoles who raised hogs in the early 1800s. White settlers who traded with the Seminoles then dubbed this area (specifically what is now Westside Park) “Hogtown.”
Holly, the manager, had a series of long tables arranged for us. Each rider was given a menu selection of two made-from-scratch sliders with their choice of meat, one side, and a fountain drink or tea (save for one vegetarian who enjoyed a veggie quesadilla!). When the food was brought out I thought we were in big trouble! It was sooooo much food! The guests were more than happy with their meals and they enjoyed some craft brews as well.
Back on the bike, a few riders lamented of having eaten just a bit too much. But have no fear, we burned a few of those calories off pedaling around to our next location, Emiliano’s. Emiliano’s Café is the oldest continually operational sit-down restaurant in Gainesville. Family owned and operated since 1982, the restaurant boasts Pan Latin foods served in a swanky, intimate atmosphere. Diego, the general manager, arranged for the front-of-house manager to speak to our guests on the history of the establishment and the food they had prepared for them. Our riders enjoyed dining on mushroom risotto and sipping Latin cocktails. Emiliano’s has a very nice covered patio out front and they feature happy hour everyday from 4-7 and from 4-close on Tuesdays. On Mondays and Wednesdays you can enjoy live music and half price bottles of wine!
By this point we were running more than an hour and a half over schedule. This is the risk you take when doing something for the first time! Luckily, the chef at Crane Ramen was very understanding. Our guests were seated outside on the front patio (it was also Crane Ramen’s two year anniversary party that night). Crane Ramen boasts itself as “Gainesville’s first traditional craft ramen restaurant.” They have area sourced ingredients (most within 100 miles) and their stocks are cooking 24 hours a day. Ken gave everyone a good rundown of the choices that the foodies had for their final tapa: buns. Buns are a light pastry-like dough with a meat or tofu filling. Riders were given the option of the roasted pork bell with star anise and pickled radish or kara-aged chicken tossed with rayu mayonnaise and pickled radish. Taking Ken’s suggestion, everyone ordered the chicken. Every Tuesday Crane features $10 ramen where any ramen bowl is…. $10!
Lastly, we headed to Whiskey House for a night cap. Catty corner from Loosey’s, Whiskey House opened two years ago in October and has over 300 selections of whiskey and 18 draft beers. Patrons can sit at a long l-shaped bar or get cozy in one of the casual seating areas. Owner Blake Haley made sure our guests received the VIP treatment and prepared a drink off of their yet-to-be-released winter cocktail menu (but don’t worry, it comes out tomorrow for the rest of you!). The bartender prepared a spiced horchata and peppermint simple syrup cocktail with rum. The guests were ecstatic about the drink! I can’t wait to see for myself what else is on the holiday drink menu tomorrow. On Friday and Saturday nights Whiskey House has free live music. They also plan on doing a themed New Orleans night on Thursdays with a live jazz band and $5 Sazerac cocktails. Happy hour is everyday from open until 8 and you get 10% off of your tab.
Our first food tour was a great success! One of the things that we learned was that we would need more time than two and a half hours. We ended up saying goodbyes at four hours after our start! Some other feedback was that we could possibly cut the food places down to two locations and enjoy more of a ‘half meal’ at each location. This would reduce stress to keep moving along. Ken was such a great host also! He really knows A LOT about Gainesville. He was knowledgeable in the history of many of the buildings and he practically knows everyone downtown. With everyone having such a great time, we decided before we even ended the tour that we would have to do another one soon. What downtown places would you like to see on our food tour?