Sarasota Food Orgy 2015

There’s beaches. There’s circus. There’s the inimitable Ringling Estates, for god’s sake. So why is it that each time I venture to the Sarasota area, all I think and write about is the food?

Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen

Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen

Because all the rest – the zip lining and treetop base-camp adventures, the tennis, the shopping, the sunset drum circle at Siesta Key – it’s all just stuff I did between eating for four days last week.

Day One: Killer Turtles and Pie in a Jar

I planned my arrival to Sarasota County just in time for lunch at Snook Haven, east of Venice in a county park on the wild Myakka River. I had heard that the funky indoor-outdoor restaurant had been rescued from closure by the same folks who operate the ever-popular Sharky’s at the Pier in Venice. And even better news, now barbecue is on cue.

How appropriate: This place is all country with its legend of Killer Turtles, left over from the filming of a Tarzan episode. It has designated motorcycle parking. And the Gulf Coast Banjo Society performs Thursday afternoons in season.

On my smoked pulled pork taco with cheddar and pico de gallo, I tried each one of the restaurant’s four barbecue sauces as I watched kayakers paddle by. The Carolina Style sauce won, but old Spicy Whiskey placed a close second.

After checking into the Resort at Longboat Key Club, I headed to Siesta Key with some new friends to distract myself at the surprisingly robust drum circle (many circus performers participate, I hear), until we made our way to the famous Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) in the village.

Packed on a Sunday evening, SKOB was hosting an energetic band and slinging raw oysters and other briny treasures. Our raw oysters were a little subpar on the chilled level. But the grouper bites with remoulade compensated and then some.

The sea scallops on my main course were perfectly cooked, but honestly the creamy crawfish tail meat risotto stole the show. You also can’t go wrong with any fish prepared key lime style, including the tacos with cilantro cream.

You can’t blame a place for trying to be novel with its key lime pie. Personally I prefer it classic when it is done right.

One of my new friends from Atlanta was surprised to hear both the waiter and I say “I love key lime pie.” I guess she didn’t, and this version in a “Mason jar” (actually a jelly jar), probably didn’t convince her.

It layered crumb crust, pie filling, whipped cream, repeat. A little difficult to get the full effect of pie. And not nearly tart enough.

Day Two: Lobster Roll and True Ceviche!

If there’s one way to work up an appetite for Sarasota, it’s TreeUmph – a radical adventure course east of Bradenton that has you hooking up your own zip lines, walking cables and other unlikely bridges between tree tops, and praying.

I rewarded myself at Dry Dock Waterfront Grill back on Longboat Key. It just so happened that the 15-day Savor Sarasota county-wide promotion had kicked in that day, so I took advantage and ordered an iced tea, lobster roll, and key lime pie for $15.

This is a yachties dry dock, so the ambiance is tasteful with two floors overlooking Sarasota Bay.

Huge chunks of lobster meat brimmed out of the sandwich’s bun. This key lime pie? Traditional and creamy. But still short on pucker.

A tennis lesson – make that an excellent tennis lesson – at Longboat Key Club helped me sweat off some calories and temper my impatience for dinner at one of my top three favorite Sarasota restaurants. Selva Grill does Peruvian, and does it right.

I had dined there a few times, but this time was on the tails of a trip to Peru a few months earlier. How would it measure up now?

My answer came in the form of the Selva Wild Ceviche. It’s totally authentic when there is Cusco corn involved. Selva, however, adds a little more fire than Peru; I like that.

The La Buena Causa potato-based tapa – Wow! Did you know there are more than 3,000 varieties of corn and 2,000 types of potatoes grown in Peru?

Selva Grill Osso Buco with Quinoa Risotto

Selva Grill Osso Buco with Quinoa Risotto

Quinoa is another staple, and Peruvian cuisine is greatly influence by Italy (and also Chinese, random as that may seem). So my entrée from the specials made perfect sense: osso buco with quinoa risotto and a red wine demi. It was a clear highlight of my latest Sarasota food orgy.

Day Three: The Cornbread of All Cornbread and Crazy Snapper

After the requisite visit to the campus of the Ringling Art Museum, a five-ring lunch was in order. No clowning around at the new Surf Shack Coastal Kitchen at shopping mecca St. Armands Circle.

Kudos for a brilliant beach bum setting downstairs. But more so for Catie’s Corn Bread. We threatened owner Steve Bishop with an elevator hostage situation in an effort to extract the recipe from him. Stay tuned, I just may get it yet. I’m not above extortion.

All I know at this point: It comes in a miniature cast iron skillet with the texture of a good carrot cake and the bite of jalapenos. Surf Shack prides itself in its creative $4 tacos (try the yellowfin tuna), but do not miss the seafood S’Mac & Cheese. At dinnertime, you can kick it up a story and enjoy a different ambience, separate menu upstairs.

An operatic shuttle driver named Richard delivered us to dinner at Portofino at the Longboat Key Club. Yes we were serenaded.

As the sun set we noshed on an excellent sequence of pear salad, spaghetti squash parmesan pomodoro, and house pizza. My Snapper Aqua Pazza (translation: crazy water) was a triumph of local snapper and Cedar Key clams. Note: Only guests of the club and resort have access to Portofino and other club restaurants.

Day Four: Farewell and One Restaurant Fired

I traveled to Bradenton Beach in hopes of trying the new restaurant at the pier, but alas it was closed. So I headed to old standby Gulf Drive Café – regrettably. I had had a less than stellar experience there about a year ago, but with a large group.

It’s a case of having outgrown its avid fanship with a major expansion. I see it all the time in the restaurant world.

Giving it the benefit of a doubt, I ordered my barometer breakfast dish, eggs benedict. This one Florentine style. Strike two. Now I’m wondering why I didn’t got to Island Creperie instead.

And with that it was farewell and back home and to the gym.

Get thee and thy palate to Sarasota by June 14 to take advantage of the special prix fixe lunch and dinner menus at more than 60 local eateries. But go any time for Sarasota delicious.