Eating Sarasota

For 15 days in June, foodies can get their fill of Sarasota affordably.

Number one beach in the U.S. in 2012? Sure, I’m impressed by Sarasota’s legendary sugar sand.

Sweet pears poached with lavender and honey, topped with goat cheese ice cream, and served in a pool of black pepper caramel sauce? That, my

Matthison's chicken and wild mushroom bread pudding

Matthison’s chicken and wild mushroom bread pudding

friends, is the first sweet thing that comes to my mind when I’m headed to Sarasota.I’m not even that big of a dessert fan, but this particular dish at Derek’s Culinary Casual definitely rates in my taste bud Hall of Fame. Derek’s, one of more than 50 independently owned members of Sarasota-Bradenton Originals within the cities’ two-county area, excels at the “original part.”

Other dishes I’ve tried and will never forget: salad “Caesaresque,” braised lamb shank, and Prince Edward mussels dish — at once rustic, elegant, smoky, and surprising in its broth of chorizo, garbanzos, and grilled tomato butter.

It’s a stellar example of the standard of dining one finds throughout the Sarasota region – everything from home-cooked Amish to house-created ingenuity.

Savor Sarasota Discount Dining Days

A good time to try out Sarasota’s dining scene is during the eighth annual Savor Sarasota, June 1 through 14. Special multi-course pre-fixe menus encourage experimentation without wallet pain in more than 35 restaurants this year. Lunches cost only $15; dinners, $29.

This year, I had the chance to sample a media preview of the foodie fest with tastes from five participating restaurants. I started with one of my other favorite Sarasota restaurants, Libby’s Café & Bar, where Chef Kyle Harrington whipped up a salad to beat all salads featuring toasted wheatberries and roasted brussel sprouts with toasted almonds atop frisee dressed in sherried fig vinaigrette and crowned with a walnut-sized manchego cheese croquette.

Such complexity of ingredients may have surprised someone not already familiar with Libby’s brand of flourish. Me? I’ve tasted and highly praised its deviled eggs appetizer with Mote Marine sturgeon caviar, crispy mahi taco, spicy tuna and avocado roll, and heritage meatballs — all well-crafted and multi-layered in flavor.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar handed out samples of filet mignon crostini. Mattison’s Forty One, which hosted the event, wowed food writers with free-range chicken breast and wild mushroom bread pudding. Carrot fondue and sauteed kale added brightness and dimension to the plate.

Mozaic and Cafe L’Europe sweetened the evening with to-die-for desserts. Cafe L’Europe served a classic made-to-order crepe suzette, while Mozaic went all out with a trio of treats: chocolate-mocha decadence cake topped with creme anglaise, ginger white chocolate panna cotta (my favorite of the three), and guava-lime ice cream. Okay, so I guess I’m in denial about that “not a dessert fan” thing.

Other Sure-Fire Sarasota Dining Spots

After the soiree, my husband was determined to find a hideaway tiki bar at marina that he remembered from his school days in Bradenton years before we even met. Thinking I knew all there was to know about the Sarasota dining scene, I was surprised to find the Bearded Clam Waterfront Restaurant & Tiki Bar behind the Ramada near the airport.

Too happily stuffed to try the menu, we enjoyed a sunset toast. The briskness of business on a Thursday evening off-season convinced us we’ll be back to eat.

After a ride around town, late-night hunger did hit, however. And what better place than Munchies 4:20 Cafe to take the edge off. (Tagline: “Cuz Yo Momma Don’t Cook Past Midnight!”) Open and delivering 4:20 p.m. to 4:20 a.m., it fills that late-night gap and growling stomachs with massive sandwiches and “munchitizers.” We split the chicken cordon bleu sandwich… so delish!

For breakfast, a new find, Station 400, pulled ahead of old favorite Blue Dolphin Café, by a pancake. It’s a close race. This time I had the peach-pecan croissant French toast at the latter, located in St. Armands Circle. If the pecans would have been chopped rather than pulverized, it could have

Yoder's rhubarb pie.

Yoder’s rhubarb pie.

beat out the multigrain strawberry and lavender cakes with strawberry butter I  relished at Station 400 in the downtown Rosemary District.We walked off breakfast on the lovely, quiet trails of Oscar Scherer State Park, before hitting an old favorite, can’t-leave-town-without-it spot in the Amish-Mennonite community of Pinecraft. Bustling as usual, Yoder’s Restaurant makes everything from scratch, most famously its cream and baked pies.

We tried to leave room for dessert, but it was tough to quit eating our fried chicken with corn pancakes and homemade apple butter; and stuffed cabbage roll.

But since it’s just plain criminal NOT to try the pie, we ordered a slice of rhubarb a la mode and coconut cream. Then bought a whole caramel custard pie to take home with our leftovers. Oh the crust! Stop in at the market next door for more take-home goodies you can savor in weeks to come.

Bottom line: Any day is a good day to eat your way through Sarasota. Now just makes the most sense.

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