Friday, October 5, 2012

Sarasota County: Where to eat

In Sarasota it's easy to find a waterfront restaurant.
Where not to eat would be easier; Sarasota has more Zagat-rated restaurants than anywhere else in Florida. Farm to fork was the byword here long before most other areas started hyping it and locally owned restaurants make it a way of life.

You won't go hungry, that's for sure, but fair warning, you may find a new favorite restaurant.

Here are a few I enjoyed.


Dessert sampling at Michael's on East.
Michael's on East in downtown Sarasota has become my new favorite restaurant. Sophisticated yet friendly, its steaks are only bettered by its seafood. Periodic trips abroad - South Africa, Portugal, Spain to name drop a few - keep owners and chefs in a wide variety of specials. You won't go wrong with any of the wallet-friendly prix fixe suggestions. Warning: The wine selection in their adjacent wine store may have you browsing till the next meal. On second thought, not a bad idea.

Owen's Fish Camp is proof of Sarasota's wide-ranging culinary scene: It's a fish camp in the middle of downtown. Ultra casual, they're known for fresh seafood and unique sides. Entrees come with two sides but you'll want to try more so don't dine alone.

Gecko's Grill and Pub is where to head if you want a local, family-oriented sports bar with a full selection of good food from pub grub to pasta or yellow fin tuna. There are three in Sarasota, two in Bradenton. Warning: the sweet potato fries and onion slivers are addictive.


When eating Amish, save yourself for dessert.
Pinecraft
Dutch Heritage Restaurant is now owned by an Ohio-based company and is known as Der Dutchman. One of two eateries in this Mennonite/Amish community, the popular buffet is long on comfort foods, but save yourself for the bakery.

Longboat Key
And especially at Euphemia Haye.
Euphemia Haye is justly famous for its desserts which keeps many a diner from fully enjoying their excellent starters, entrees and sides. Pity, because Chef/Owner Raymond Arpke applies his classic Escoffier training to Florida's freshest ingredients for food that dazzles and comforts. My suggestion: Be active during the day then stuff yourself by ordering two courses and dessert then buy a copy of Chef Raymond's cookbook and try the rest at home.

Tip: Levelers, you'll encounter stairs here. The restaurant has grown by additions, each with a slightly different level and you don't want to miss checking out the desserts upstairs.

Blue Dolphin Cafe is the Cheers of local breakfast restaurants: everyone knows your name or soon will if you return as locals do again and again. Huge portions, friendly service. Since I was there they've added another on St. Armands Circle.

Mar Vista Dockside Restaurant and Pub is genuine old Florida, having been here since 1912. Very casual and laid back. If you go at night get them to take a light to the dock and watch the fish swarm. Big buggers, too. Sister restaurants, Beachhouse and Sandbar, are on the Gulf.

Nothing like a German Apple Pancake for breakfast at Harry's Continental Kitchen.
Harry's Continental Kitchen grew from a deli with takeout to a full-fledged breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant. Good food did it. The German apple pancake is divine.


Anna Marie Island
Sandbar is a dig your toes in the sand kind of place.
Sandbar, on the north end of Anna Maria Island, is where to head if you want to eat fresh seafood while digging your toes in soft sand. You can eat inside, too, at this popular Gulf-front wedding venue.

Venice
Seafood is fresh at The Crow's Nest.
 The Crow's Nest can be counted on for outstanding fresh seafood, a solid wine list and a jolly atmosphere either at the bar below or the dining room above. Set just inside Venice Inlet on the Intracoastal, it comes with its own marina and great views.

Tip: There are stairs but also an elevator. It's a bit hidden so ask for it.

Roessler's is known for its cuisine and setting.
Roessler's Restaurant, tucked away in a garden setting, is an excellent white-linen spot for fine continental cuisine with a New Orleans flair. A  notable wine list and attentive service make it worth the drive.

Cafe Evergreen at Warm Mineral Springs Resort serves excellent vegan and otherwise healthy fare as well as burgers and french fries for lunch.

Like any thriving culinary scene, Sarasota's is always changing.  Check with the folks at www.freshoriginals.com for a list of the independent, locally owned restaurants.


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