More for Less | The Lunch Bunch, part I

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Posted April 8, 2023 | By Julie Garisto

Editor’s Note: Because we’re all feeling the pinch of inflation, the Gazette has begun “More for Less,” a recurring list of budget-friendly things to experience and buy to help stretch your dollar a little further. 

Thanks to the rising costs of gas, utilities and just about everything else, eating out often is becoming less of a viable option. Sometimes, however, you need to eat lunch on the road, whether for a work meeting or a belly refill between errands. Here are a few options that offer diverse, international and comforting meat and vegetarian-friendly meals. These eateries provide a filling meal without having to pay extra for bougie-wannabe ambiance, corporate-mandated decor or other extras that don’t really matter to you.

Shawn Jones serves an order of southern fried chicken in the kitchen at Big Man’s Cafe – Southern Food With Soul on Northeast 14th Street in Ocala on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

Big Man’s Cafe
1011 NE 14th St., Ocala
(352) 421-9867
@big_mans_cafe on Instagram
Open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday

Gerald Christian and his sons and daughters run this clean and comfy eatery, which specializes in “Southern Food with Soul.” 

The mouth-watering motto rings true based on our experience eating at the popular new restaurant, which was bustling during a recent Saturday visit.

Meals at the Big Man’s Cafe live up to the name and tagline. They are anchored by fried fish, shrimp and chicken, liver and onions, stewed beef, pork chops and other comfort food faves. Most platters cost $10.99 or less and include two sides. Asterisked items, such as the smothered chicken and pork chops, and oxtails ($17.99), come with three sides. The sumptuous homemade sides include candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, southern dressing, collard greens, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and many more, all priced under $3. 

One friend, who said she usually leaves off the skin to watch her cholesterol intake, can’t resist the crispy exterior of Big Man’s fried chicken because it’s “so crispy and tasty.” 

For breakfast, eggs with yolks are served pristinely and bursting with flavor, and Big Man’s biscuits and sausage gravy is exceptional; savory and flavorful. Some of the breakfast plates offer a NY Strip ($10.99) or spicy smoked sausage ($8.99), which includes two eggs prepared as you like ’em, grits or potatoes, dollar pancakes, biscuits or toast.

The portions are so generous there’s a good chance you will have leftovers for dinner later.

Amrit Palace
3415 SW College Road, Ocala
Open Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

You walk into this elegant Indian restaurant and immediately think you’re going to pay more than $25 a person, but that is not necessarily the case, especially if you visit during lunch, when a meal costs half that amount. 

Amrit (which means “nectar” in Hindu) serves lunch combos that are both meaty and vegetarian-friendly. 

These lunch meals cost around $12.95, are homemade with quality herbs, spices and other ingredients, and include a creamilicious yellow lentil soup (dal), naan (Indian flatbread), a generation portion of basmati rice and a highly flavorful entree item. 

Meat-eaters can choose from chicken tandoori or chicken or lamb curry, and there are vegetarian-friendly items such as Amrit’s outstanding vegetable curry—prepared with cauliflower, potatoes, green peas, snow peas, peppers or tomato—or aloo palak, which has potatoes and spinach with spices.

Mercado Pueblo
1250 SE Highway 484, Ocala
Open 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily

If you love Cuban, Puerto Rican and South American comfort foods and have a big appetite, head to this Latin grocery store/deli. 

It’s also where you can shop for staples not available at other supermarkets, such as biscochos, light and not-to-sweet cookies that go with the cafe con leche or cortadito coffees they prepare with an espresso machine. 

Hungry big-eaters won’t be let down by the cafeteria-style lunch offerings, which can include things such as blood sausage, empanadas, pernil (a pork shoulder dish) and arroz con pollo (yellow rice and chicken) for less than $10 a meal, including sides. 

And, it’s the perfect caterer for office parties (provided you don’t have light eaters/vegetarians on staff).

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