By Mark Gauert
We never go to Tallahassee for fun.
When we go to Tallahassee – once before the fall semester, once after the spring – we go to take our son to or from Florida State University. We go to shop for the dorm room at Walmart. For groceries at Trader Joe’s. For shoes at Governor’s Square Mall.
When we go to Tallahassee, at the hard end of a six- or seven-hour road trip from South Florida, we go to lift boxes from our car and carry them up flights of dorm stairs. When we leave Tallahassee, we carry them down flights of dorm stairs and back into our car for the hard road trip home. We do this after driving 467 miles up; we do this before driving 467 miles back.
At the end of these days in Tallahassee, because we are too tired for independent thought of our own, we follow our son to his favorite restaurant in town, Mr. Roboto. It is fast, the red curry is delicious and the beer is cold. It is not fine dining, but it’s close to campus and an easy walk from the bus station – which makes for interesting people watching on the outdoor patio. (And sometimes, interesting people from the bus station watch us on the outdoor patio, too).
These are our days, when we go to Tallahassee. They are all business. They are all a blur.
We never go to Tallahassee for fun.
But that changed recently. Changed when our sophomore-becoming-a-junior son moved from a dorm on campus to a furnished apartment off campus. For the first time, we did not have to carry boxes up stairs or down. Everything was already there for him.
For a change, we had time in Tallahassee. We did not have to go shopping at Walmart, or Trader Joe’s or the Governor’s Square Mall. We did not have to eat at the restaurant nearest to campus simply because we were too tired to look anywhere else.
And we found, over a long weekend, that Tallahassee is more than a blur. Tallahassee is an interesting place. An entertaining place. A place worth a drive, even if we were not on a mission to take our son back to school.
We stayed at The Governors Inn, a comfortable hotel (that, fun fact, used to be a stable) a short walk from the Capitol. It’s also near the Tallahassee Downtown Marketplace, where most Saturdays you can start the day with a beignet and shop under Spanish moss-draped oaks for jars of Monticello honey, local produce and warm loaves of Thomasville bread.
We were hungrier than that, so we slipped into the Paisley Café for Liège Belgium waffles – a dish the owner, Kiersten Lee, insists is made with just four ingredients: King Arthur flour, pearl sugar, organic brown eggs and Kerrygold butter. They are as delicious, with a dollop of praline maple syrup, as they are beautiful. “My favorite color,” Lee smiles, “is golden brown.”
We followed the road north out of town to the red-brick main street of nearby Thomasville, Ga., for some antiquing on Broad Street and some Green Hill, Lil’ Moo and Georgia Gouda cheeses (served with raspberry and jalapeño jam) at the Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop. We stopped for hickory and oak-smoked sausage at Bradley’s Country Store, which “stands just as it did in 1927’’ under shady oaks 12 miles out of Tallahassee on the Centerville Road. The four rocking chairs on the front porch were occupied by rockers slowly munching the $5.50 sausage dog, chips and soda special. “Y’all have a good day,’’ Mr. Bradley, the 89-year-old, third-generation Bradley, called on our way back to town. We’d followed the road north, and found the South.
Back in Tallahassee that afternoon, we wandered the well-preserved Goodwood Museum & Gardens, an 1830s-vintage mansion popular today for weddings, with verandas, Spanish-moss-draped oak canopy and enough vintage furniture, porcelain and glassware for a season of Antiques Roadshow. Early copies of Godey’s Lady’s Book 1870, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer line the bookshelf.
But we had adventures of our own.
We took a midnight run out to the Bradfordville Blues Club – on a country road we’re pretty sure must look like a creek bed in daylight. We listened to Victor Wainwright – the “Piana from Savannah” – howl “Baby, come back home” in the night, as the tiny dance floor filled up tight. We heard The Avett Brothers sing 26 of the SRO crowd’s favorite songs, including a four-song encore, at the new Capital City Amphitheater. We sipped Madison Mules (ginger beer, cucumber, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, lime and agave for sweetness) at Madison Social, a new campus hot spot, within sight of the FSU football stadium. It was a kick.
We found fine dining at Nefetari’s Fine Cuisine & Spirits (Jerk Fettuccine Alfredo, Buddha’s Delight and, unexpectedly, belly dancing); The Front Porch (Crab-Crusted Red Grouper over Spicy Red Beans and Rice, Ribeye over Mashed Red Bliss Potatoes and served, expectedly, on a real front porch) and Cypress Restaurant (Sugar Cane Mopped Rib Eye, Cypress Vegan and, apparently, everybody’s favorite place in Tallahassee for a prom or anniversary date). We watched the shucking at Shell Oyster Bar, too – a former Texaco gas station you might not go to unless you knew it’s where locals go. We understood, after filling up on oysters fresh from Apalachicola Bay, cheese grits and hushpuppies.
And just before heading home, we put a cherry on top of it all at Lofty Pursuits, famous for “Public Displays of Confection” since 1993. We sat at the old-fashioned soda fountain, spooning sundaes – watching soda jerks in green aprons, hats and bow ties make root beer floats, egg creams and hard candy – and, though sugar buzzed, had the presence of mind for an independent thought.
We may have to go to Tallahassee to shop for the apartment at Walmart. For groceries at Trader Joe’s. For shoes at the Governor’s Square Mall.
But the next time we go, we’re also going for fun.
Visit Tallahassee, 106 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, Fl., 32301,
850-606-2305; 800-628-2866, visittallahassee.com.
The Avett Brothers on stage at the new Capital City Amphitheater
Victor Wainwright at the Bradfordville Blues Club
Guitarist Vernon Reid and novelist Jeff VanderMeer on stage at the annual Word of South Festival
STOPS ALONG THE ROAD
415 N. Monroe St., Tallahassee, 850-224-6000, hotelduval.com.
The Governors Inn
209 S. Adams St., Tallahassee, 850-681-6855, thegovinn.org.
Bradfordville Blues Club
7152 Moses Lane, Tallahassee, 850-906-0766, bradfordvilleblues.com.
The Brass Tap
1321 Thomasville Road, Tallahassee, 850-320-6300, (multiple locations, brasstapbeerbar.com).
Level 8 Rooftop Lounge
On the eighth floor of the Hotel Duval, 415 N. Monroe St., Tallahassee, 850-224-6000, hotelduval.com/level-8-lounge.
320 E. Tennessee St., Tallahassee, 850-513-1100, cypressrestaurant.com.
The Front Porch
1215 Thomasville Road, Tallahassee, 850-222-0934, frontporchtallahassee.com.
Nefetari’s Fine Cuisine & Spirits
812 S. Macomb St., Tallahassee, 850-210-0548, new.nefetaris.com.
3596 Kinhega Drive, Tallahassee, 850-894-9919, zbardhis.com.
401 E. Tennessee St., Tallahassee 850-320-6345, TheBackwoodsBistro.com.
705 S. Woodward Ave., #101, Tallahassee, 850-894-6276, madisonsocial.com.
Mr. Roboto Tokyo Grill
1350 W. Tennessee St. Tallahassee, 850-915-0555, other location, see mrrobototokyogrill.com
Shell Oyster Bar
114 Oakland Ave., Tallahassee, 850-224-9919.
The Egg Cafe & Eatery
3740 Austin Davis Ave., Tallahassee, 850-765-0703.
1123 Thomasville Road, Tallahassee, 850-385-7268, thepaisleycafe.com.
1415 Timberlane Road #410, Tallahassee, 850-521-0091, LoftyPursuits.com.
Bradley’s Country Store
10655 Centerville Road, Tallahassee, 850-893-4742, bradleyscountrystore.com.
Capital City Amphitheater at Cascades Park
1001 S. Gadsden St., Tallahassee; box office, 850-671-4700; show information, capitalcityamphitheater.com.
Goodwood Museum & Gardens
1600 Miccosukee Road, Tallahassee, 850-877-4202, GoodwoodMuseum.org.
Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop
123 S. Broad St., Thomasville, Ga., 229-228-6704, sweetgrassdairy.com.
Tallahassee Downtown Marketplace
115 E. Park Ave. (bordered by North Monroe Street, Park Avenue West, Park Avenue East and Adams Street), 850-224-3252, tallahasseedowntown.com. Open 9 a.m.-2 p.m. every Saturday in March through the second weekend in December.