Cozy vibe, French cuisine, tranforms venue
Of the various sections of town, downtown seems to be one of the more well-rounded areas that you could easily stroll through and find a plethora of different dining options. Some of my favorites that I will certainly miss upon leaving Gainesville are located in that very region, namely Dragonfly Sushi, Emiliano's, and now I will say that a new one has emerged very recently. Alpin Bistro has taken up residence in the old Neon Liger space next to Loosey's off of SW 2nd St., and it is somewhat amazing to witness the transformation.
I have dined inside Alpin a handful of times myself, but if I didn't know to look into the glass wall as I sauntered down the street, I may have overlooked it. As mentioned, it is hard to believe that was once a sticky, dark, dance-filled bar scene and is now an open, clean bistro, albeit still dimly lit, filled with a handful of larger wooden tables, an L-shaped bar that hugs the kitchen, and a small outdoor patio shielded from the bustling streets at night. There is still music, but let's just say a DJ has been replaced with an accordion player.
The cozy vibe is not complete without the handwritten menu full of adult beverages and carb-happy food. Once you peruse the handful of pages, you head up to the register at the end of the bar to place your order. The wines by the glass are relatively standard pricing for what you receive, from $6 to $9, and there are a few interesting cocktails that I have yet to order, mostly because the food menu screams for a glass of red wine to accompany it. However, the Champagne Rosso ($12) with black currant, Vermouth, blueberries, strawberry, and rosemary sounds too titillating for this champagne-lover to ignore for long. A number of beer drafts and cocktails add to the welcome variety.
A 'Les Tapas' page of various cheese and charcuterie options seemed tasty-enough, but a few items stood out more so than others. Similar to champagne, it is rare that a brie-centered item sneaks onto a menu without notice from this cheese lover. The Brie de Normandie Chaud ($9.50) is a generous slab of warm brie atop a bed of diced apples, red onion, walnuts, and honey, with a few slices of pear and herb garnish for good measure. These elements smeared across a warm crostini creates a bite that is close to perfection. Another stand-out appetizer is the Chorizo Iberico, image above, which consists of a full dry pork sausage diced into coins over apple, red onion, raisins, herbs, and roasted pepper. The brandy flambé each component is soaking in certainly packs a unique punch to the savory dish, as well.
Although each dish is relatively smaller in size, I would consider the renditions of the 'Croque' to be the entrees. There is a vegetarian-friendly option of the French snack, the Croque Monsieu, along with a couple of others. Alpin's Croque Madame ($14.50, image at top of this review) is my rendition of choice, as it is the classic ham and cheese toasty, of sorts, with a soft boiled egg on top. The cheese is baked over the warm, toasted bread that somehow still retains a slightly crispy crust, with the ham in between layers of bread and cheese. The Croute au Fromage ($11.50, image above) I would consider grown-up cheesy bread:
Alpin soaks bread in a white wine and garlic mixture, then coats it in a thick layer of gruyere cheese and toasts it. Again, how the bread can retain some crisp after that whole process is amazing, but the flavor is truly notable. The 'salad from the farm' served alongside these dishes is essentially a handful of greens with a mustard-based dressing, which is actually a nice, fresh touch to contrast the richer notes from the heavy bread and cheese-based counterparts.
A couple of salads, a handful of cheese-centered tarts and quiches, and a pâté optionare scrolled alongside the aforementioned selections, but dessert is worth the order. The Apple Tart ($8) with ricotta and fruit is a palm-sized warm, flaky tart that sends your taste buds into the falls season. The Walnut and Pear tart, image above, is also a force to be reckoned with, a small dollop of crème fraiche and piece of chocolate making the flavor combination too good to resist.
It is evident that the owners Sita and Romain Challandes were adamant on creating a full experience for patrons, and judging by the large crowds shuffling in throughout the night, it seems they have succeeded. Be prepared for a bit of a wait for food, especially after 7 p.m. when the dinner rush rolls in and the small staff is responsible for crafting each dish to order, but it is worth it. Also, as mentioned, the bistro-style restaurant hosts a menu of smaller-size plates, so enjoy a nice glass of red wine with a couple of snacks and good company.
Alpin is currently only open from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday through Saturday with a crepe brunch added on Saturdays beginning at 11 a.m. However, I wouldn't be surprised if more hours arose in the future.
The Pluses and Minuses of Alpin Bistro:
Alpin Bistro: (+) indicators: Standard prices, parking lot next to location, unique downtown experience, well-crafted drinks and dishes; indoor and outdoor seating; live music on certain nights.
Alpin Bistro: (-) indicators: Long wait times for food
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