There are certain local food items that my survival as a Gainesvillian depends on.
Although, as basic sustenance, they technically fall into the bottom block of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these items could very well be considered part of the “self-actualization” portion as well. They are that good.
Most people pass them by on the shelves during their weekly shopping trip or are simply unaware of their existence, but I can’t selfishly hoard this list any longer.
I humbly present to you my Gainesville grocery gems.
Chocolate coconut almonds
While it sounds as though any mix of these ingredients would make for something delicious, the secret is in the preparation. Stick the little plastic box in the freezer and a semi-healthy choice for a sweet tooth turns into a crunchy, sweet bite of heaven. I find myself having internal negotiations when I open the freezer. “I’ll just have a couple” turns into popping them in my mouth until half of the box is gone. They are highly addictive and quite possibly my favorite product from Trader Joe’s.
(Warning: they are usually on the shelf near the dark chocolate cookie butter cups, so avert your eyes and use self control. Those are only to be purchased in times of crisis.)
Cooking a whole chicken can be a bitch and a half. Unless you’re Betty Crocker (or Betty Draper), there never seems to be a convenient time to put your day on hold and roast a chicken. The rotisserie chicken from Ward’s comes to the rescue. They are incredibly juicy, bursting with flavor, cooked to perfection and reasonably priced. It takes a little time to carve all of the meat off, but it’s enough for a few days worth of meals. Throw the sliced chicken in a sandwich, on a salad, in your pasta, or on top of rice and you’ve got a hearty fix of lean protein in a jiffy.
Fresh squeezed orange juice
The Fresh Market
Ah, Florida oranges: sweet, juicy and downright sacred in this here state. This juice makes Tropicana look like the Spam of the orange juice world. It’s definitely a splurge item, but it’s so damn fresh, it is worth it every once in a while. It’s super pulpy and a little on the thicker side, so a small glass in the morning goes a long way. Added bonus: There’s been research that indicates that vitamin C may help accelerate alcohol metabolism, so savor every drop and your hangover might just disappear by noon.
Vega Chocolate Protein Powder
If you’re anything like me, sometimes you just can’t muster up the energy to cook up a meal that incorporates all the necessary nutrients. If you can dig the occasional liquid feast, then you’ll appreciate this one. It’s a super light alternative to other protein powders and doesn’t taste chalky at all. My favorite way to use it is a creamy, chocolaty morning shmoothie.
- One scoop of the powder
- One cup of almond milk
- One banana
- 4 frozen strawberries
- 1 spoonful of Fage 0% Greek Yogurt
- Two tablespoons of chia seeds
- A handful of spinach or kale (or little scoop of spirulina)
- Optional: one tablespoon of peanut butter
It’s amazingly delicious and it’s very filling, so use it as a meal replacement. In terms of other Vega flavors, vanilla is decent and the rest are painfully gross. Avoid berry at all costs.
Mango Peach Salsa (medium)
Shopping for salsa gives me anxiety. There are way too many options and they all have ridiculously great branding and they all look the same (red and chunky). Nothing is worse than cracking open a new jar to find a liquidy, overly salty salsa mess. The salsa made in the Publix deli section puts the jars to shame. It’s incredibly fresh and mixed with juicy bits of fruit, but still has a nice spicy kick. It’s amazing on any sort of tacos and can turn your morning omelet into a mouth fiesta. I’ve been known to crush an entire package of it after a night at the bar. (Feel free to judge, but waking up in a sea of smashed tortilla chips is way less sad than a sea of Pokey Sticks, am I right?)
Distinctively smoky and made in-house, fresh chorizo from the meat counter is a specialty item you have to treat yo’self to once in a while. This flavorful pork sausage without the casing (so is it really a sausage?) makes for a world-class breakfast bowl when fried up with eggs and potatoes or takes any dish that requires ground meat to a whole new level of flavor. Spice up your life, Gainesville.
Califia Cold Brew Coffee
Lucky’s Market, Earth Origins
When it’s 90 degrees outside and your eyelids are drooping, sometimes a steaming cup of coffee is just not the move. Making your own iced coffee can take some time and if you rush it, you end up with ridiculously watered down java. Califia brand sells adorable jugs of premade cold brew coffee mixed perfectly with almond milk. Mocha, café latte, double espresso…they are all creamy and delish. I pour some into the aforementioned smoothie mix when I need a boost and even use it as a base for coffee-banana-dark-chocolate popsicles. It’s quick, refreshing and it’s caffeinated; what’s not to love?
Imagine Coconut Curry Simmer Sauce
Making sauce from scratch is an arduous task that takes a long time to perfect (unless you are resident Grub chef Daniel Harrison). Over my short cooking career, I’ve made watery messes and goopy grossness and ruined a pan or two. This premade velvety sauce is made from coconut cream, veggies, cilantro, ginger and sesame. Throw in chicken, seafood or tempeh/tofu (and some veggies, of course) for a ridiculously simple, but tasty Thai-inspired dish. It’s pretty mild, so don’t be afraid to add in some extra spice if you like it hot. Added bonus: it’s organic!
Whole wheat gnocchi with sweet potato
The Fresh Market
With a love for all things pasta (thank you to my Italian mother), I have tried just about every shape, color and kind in the book. This 16-ounce package made by Gia Russa is a masterpiece of heart healthy, whole-grain sweet potato dumplings. They are imported from Italy, cook in only a few minutes and are the squishiest, most delicious little pillows of goodness. My suggested recipe is baked gnocchi with bacon, tomato and mozzarella. Pair it with a full-bodied cab and share it with someone you love. Or just hoard it all to yourself because it is damn delicious.
I know there’s a good possibility that next time I peruse the aisles there will be empty spots on the shelves where my favorite items used to be, but frankly, everyone deserves a new grocery gem in their cart. So, I encourage you to read, shop, eat, repeat!
If you have any awesomely awesome items to add to this list, share them below and spread the Gainesville market love.