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Dec 19, 2008 12:45 PM

Good Eats Around Sarasota/Bradenton

Ciao, Hounds:

My DH has just taken a job offer in the Bradenton area, and being the 'hounds that we are, we would like to live in an area near good restaurants. So can you locals please give us some heads up about the cuisine? We are coming from the NYC area, so we like up-scale, no chains, fresh ingredients etc. Can you buy locally-caught fish in the area, or is that just a fantasy of mine? Looking forward to your suggestions. Thanks.

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  1. FISH? Ya godda be kiddin. The fish markets in the Village of Cortez (Star Fish, Bell Fish) make the Fulton fish market look like a goldfish bowl. (Maybe a slight exaggeration).
    Star additionally has a rustic resto in the back for their fresh catch at lunchtime, right on the dock, on the sunny south side.
    Bell has the best prices for stone crab that I know of. Call ahead, ask for Tom. Watch out for speeding forklifts.
    You can get fresh grouper, pompano in season, tuna, and others. Star has pink Florida shrimp that has only been flash frozen for a day. Also, crab meat (fresh and frozen) and frozen conch meat (5 lb boxes)
    The Village has an amazing nautical charm, and an annual weekend food fest.

    16 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      If Star Fish makes the Fulton Fish Market look like a goldfish bowl, I'll skip the Fulton Fish Market next time I go to NY. I went there today after reading this post and I was really disappointed. The food at the restaurant wasn't bad, although nothing to write home about, and the view was very nice. But the market! A few very tired looking clams, and the only whole fish (some mullet and sheepshead) had dull, lifeless eyes. Ward's in Clearwater has a lot more variety and fresher looking fish. Nowhere I have been since moving to the area comes near what I was used to in Greece, though; clams spitting out of the bucket, fish wriggling on the table, and SO much variety to choose from!

      Since this thread is a couple of years old, I'll just assume Star Fish used to be better than it is now.

      1. re: proboscidian

        Proboscidian, I am sorry to hear this. I had slated Cortez for an upcoming excursion. Thank you for saving me the wasted day. People had such nice things to say before. I wonder what happened?

        1. re: CFishman

          This is also the slowest month of the year for retail fish sales. The economic malaise and the long line grouper moratorium from Jan. to Sept. put some boats out of business. A.P. Bell (same ownership as Star next door) has a blackboard with fresh catch and prices, they will read it to you before you commit to the drive. But they sell whole gutted fish, so this is for those with fileting ability. Last week gray grouper were $3.50 /lb, fresh that day, and there were 7-8 other varieties including pompano, permit, mangrove snapper, and redfish. It is a true dodge-the-forklift place and is mostly a wholesaler.
          And as you know, this is not clam country. I was disappointed that large/jumbo stone crabs were $17 on opening day; last year they were $12.
          The restaurant at Star has started smoking mullet, and Karen gave me a complimentary one, which was as good as any I have had but I am not a mullet expert. In the Star retail market I hope for a fresh tuna loin for sashimi, and average about 70% success.
          You may want to hold off until high season begins next month when turnover and selections are best, and I doubt it would be a wasted day.

          1. re: Veggo

            Veggo, thanks for the detailed picture and the advice. There is something cathartic about getting out of Tampa, so I am glad to put this back on my list. What's your reasoning on going for the large/jumbos? I always buy the medium ones thinking that there might be more meat and that it will certainly extend the experience of cracking and eating the stone crabs.

            1. re: CFishman

              CF, when I hold in my hand a jumbo ( or even better, colossal) fresh fresh stone crab claw, relieved of its' shell except around the pincers, but with all the flesh perfectly intact, and I can smell its fresh sweetness, and I measure up whether this claw will be 2 bites or 3, and dip it into my mild mustard and key lime sauce, and orient the broad center tendon so that my teeth with just a gentle clasp will yield a mouthfull of that exquisite sweet meat as I slide it away...I think that is one of life's great pleasures.
              Many of the colassal harvested here are air freighted to Vegas and the Arabian peninsula, where they fetch a premium price. I have a buddy who sets a few aside for me. When I was back in Belize in March and April, I ate many claws the size of my hand almost, and I didn't want to leave.
              I'll reserve the extended experience of cracking and eating for pistachios.

        2. re: proboscidian

          probie....Go next door as described by veggo.....their fish "on the bone" is unloaded from the commercial boats all day long.

          1. re: ospreycove

            Veggo, you sold me. I am going big next time. Do you have a recipe or a source for your key lime sauce?

            1. re: CFishman

              Too easy. Don't be fooled by high-priced pretenders. 3 parts Dukes mayo, 1 part simple dijon mustard, dash of Worcestershire, float 2 TBSP Nellie & Joe's Key West lime juice on top. If fresh key limes are available go with them, the seasons for crabs and fruit don't coincide.

              1. re: Veggo

                The mustard sauce I have down. I thought the key lime sauce was going to be something different. I look forward to trying this. I am having a hard time imagining what the mustard sauce and key lime taste like together.

                1. re: CFishman

                  By the way, if you go to Cortez, the Star Fish market hours are 10-6 M-Sat, and 11:30-3:00 Sun. Restaurant hours are Tues.-Sat. 11:30-8:00, Sun and Mon 11:30-3:00.
                  A.P. Bell Fish is 9-5 M-F, 9-12 noon on Sat.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    I see a little Manatee County field trip in my not-so-distant future. Stone crab claws are my ruffies. :)

                    We were down that way yesterday and had dinner at The Lazy Lobster in Sarasota, which was pretty disappointing. It's not that easy to screw up lobster. :/

                    Lazy Lobster
                    7602 Lockwood Ridge Rd, Sarasota, FL 34243

                    1. re: sweet_polly

                      The Star Fish resto serves stone crab (this is a rustic picnic table place on the dock with begging pelicans and fishing boats within spittin' distance), but if you get stone crabs to go, they are cheaper at Bell than at Star, by $4/ lb. Bring a cooler and Tom will fix you up, with a bag of ice, too.

                      1. re: Veggo

                        I like eating at picnic tables on the dock and watching the pelicans...especially in this weather. I will take a cooler, too,, shoes, a girl really can't have too many stone crab claws! Thanks for the tip. :)

                      2. re: sweet_polly

                        If you want Lobster Fl is not the place to go. Fl lobsters are small and not in the least like Main lobsters. Captain Brian does have a decent one.

                        1. re: Mother of four

                          Spiny lobsters native to Florida and the Caribbean are generally not available in restaurants here. They are not at all similar to Maine lobsters, especially in that they do not have claws. Small? Not necessarily. I have seen them up to 5-7 pounds when diving, but I leave the big ones alone. They are harvested by free divers in Turks & Caicos, de-tailed, frozen, and are the surf part of many surf-and-turfs in the US.
                          Whole lobsters sold in Florida restaurants are Maine lobsters, with few exceptions.

              2. re: ospreycove

                Sound good for next time I'm in Bradenton.

          2. Veggo: When is the Cortez annual weekend food fest? Thyanks for the tip on stone crab. I was a Star Mkt today and was going to order from them. I will call Tom.
            Another find: Down (east ) on Cortez 3-4 miles a little hole in the wall -Jose's-true,real,excellent Cuban food.

            6 Replies
            1. re: il davis

              The next Cortez food festival is Feb. 21&22 (2009).
              For stone crab, Bell will be about $4 /lb less than Star, for all sizes. The never-been-frozen are of course the best, and Tom will give you an honest answer. If you go about 4 in the afternoon, you can watch the catches coming in.

              1. re: Veggo

                This is all very encouraging news. I should be there for the Feb. festival. What about restaurants in the Bradenton area?

                1. re: lattelover

                  For higher end, Ezra at 56 & Manatee draws from north of the skyway bridge. For pleasant views of boats and docks (for a price), Mattison's Riverside (S side of the river) and Riviera Dunes (N side of river).
                  Anna Maria Island has a whole range; do your exploring.
                  For thrifty eating, Marias in the big red barn flea market has the best tamales and quesadillas in a hundred mile radius.
                  I'm a regular at Woody's River Roo, in Ellenton. Docks, tiki bar, live music, good bar food- smoked amberjack dip, grouper fingers, shrimp.

                  1. re: Veggo

                    This area is dominated by chain and mediocre restaurants. So brace yourselves so as not to be disappointed. Those that get top reviews here and elsewhere fall short on a good, full experience. Those include Derek's. Euphamia Haye, Bijou, Beach Bistro, Selva Grill etc. The chefs at these and others have a hard--maybe impossible--time in deciding which ingrediants to leave out of a dish. They have no trouble adding too many ingredients. Take a look here:

                    However, good pizza can be found at Epicure especially now that they have just installed a wood-burning oven. Plus the fellow making the pizzas hails from Naples, Italy where he was a pizza baker. He is making the pizzas a bit too thin to be true "Neapolitan" but he tells me that's what his customers want and expect.

                    We eat out almost every day and are continually disappointed. The other night we tried the new restaurant on Osprey Ave. Liddy's has replaced the one that was there. The salads were good, my wife's rare tuna was good, the fried calamari was good any my two small crabcakes @ $26 were inedible. On top of that I was somewhat forced to explain what I didn't like about the crabcakes when I just wanted to pay the check (with the crab cakes included) and leave. A couple of other things the place was crowded and very noisy so that a normal conversation was difficult. Too, there was no "adult supervision" just a couple of attractive young women walking around asking if everything was ok.

                    1. re: Arthur16

                      Sarasota upscale restaurants seem, in general, to be like Arthur16's experience - pretentiously overpriced, not very good food and worse service. Roy Yamagutchi's Roy's is like that certainly. Remember the best time of year to dine out is not Season - November to April. All the snowbirds are standing in lines down the block... My partner and I seldom go out during Season except to local, off the main drag, places. Wait until there are fewer NY, OH and Ontario license plates around before trying new places for the first time.

              2. We like Pho Cali in downtown Sarasota, it is a no nonese vietnamese restaurant, the waiters a efficent and the food is some of the best we have had (and my husband and I spent quite a bit of time in Vietnam and Thailand.

                If you are looking for ambience this is not the place, but if you want a great inexpensive dinner and then a lovely area to take a stroll, this is the place!

                1. Sorry, l agree wholeheartedly with Arthur and Kilted, food not terrible but after NY, where l moved about a year ago, mostly chains. Level of ambiance high, but food not too hot. French place in Gulfgate near Stickney Point that puts out excellent frog's legs( Chinese supply not French, thus inexpensive), but very good; in same area sushi place good but certainly top notch. Lived there for 6 years, was six years way too long. Understand this is not the region's fault my bad choice, small community so cannot compare to large metro area, but l needed large metro area even with poor weather.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    The little French place in Gulfgate is now closed.

                    What the area needs are a few good, knowledgeable food critics rather than the ones that like everything. One would think that the local magazines would be the first place to find a responsible food critic.

                    Gordon Ramsey would find many restaurants for his TV show here.

                    On a pleasant day it is delightful to have lunch on Lavanda's patio in the the Towles Court area. The Towles Court section has many art galleries.

                    I istill have hope for the little Cafe Bologna on Tamiani Trail South. Too bad it is not open for lunch but it is worth a try for dinner.

                    1. re: Arthur16

                      Arthur... how far south on The Trail is this Cafe Bologna? I don't remember seeing it; but you know hw that goes. I'm 'waaaay south - as in south Venice - but get to SRQ at least once a week.

                      1. re: KiltedCook

                        Not Arthur, but; on the left,on 41 at Constitution going north. Make a u and it is in the little strip mall where the lamp shape store is. Very small, good food, very Italian, make sure and make reservations!

                      2. re: Arthur16

                        I believe the French Affair in Gulf Gate remains open. The relatively newer French place, whose name I can't recall but was located around the corner from the French Affair, closed. We never went there, but have gone to French Affair for years.

                        Restaurants are advertisers, too -- which is part of the reason it's tough to find completely accurate reviews in local magazines/newspapers.

                        We went to Lavanda years ago, shortly after it opened, and never went back, thinking it would be gone in a few months. We'll have to give it another try since we've heard such good things about it lately!

                        1. re: cuffster

                          French Affair correct, eat there when l come to town ,$10 corkage on your bottles make it even better.

                        2. re: Arthur16

                          French Affair in Gulf Gate for years. It is deliscious . Not much ambience. Great prices.

                          Best pizza in Sarasota is Il Pancificio. It is on main street. Opening in Gulf Gate soon

                        3. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          I love the small ambiance and more simplier ways, can't stand the big city. If you really look there are many very top notch restaurants. There are lots of chains. Popular tourist trap so it comes with the territory but many fine restaurants.

                        4. one thing to consider is that bradenton is very close to st. pete. there we have found the better asian places. one is called hooks in st. pete they have their own style of thai sushi with toppings. another place we like to eat is called abc for chinese. there is also a restaurant called tc choy for sunday dim sum. so just relax and be in bradenton instead of someplace else. half the fun is of living here is the challenge of finding new places.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: pbd

                            A review of Cafe Bologna can be found here:

                            The reviews of Cafe Bologna and Esca will give the reader some idea of the amateurish nature of restaurant reviews in the area. Too, I can assure you that this Esca and the one on 43d and Ninth in NYC are worlds apart in all-around quality. By the way, Esca means bait in Italian. The Esca in NYC is one of our favorite restaurants in NYC.

                            1. re: Arthur16

                              Esca in NY is a Bastianich restaurant on the site where Frico used to be, high level seafood, good place.

                              1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                The French place's name that I referred to in Gulf Gate is Le Parigot. Their soups were excellent.

                                Dave Pasternack is the chef at Esca and his partners are Bastianich as mentioned above and Mario Batali. Pasternack is an avid fisherman who often brings his catch to the restaurant.

                                Had a delicious fried grouper sandwich at the Cortez Kitchen today.

                                IThe Taco truck on old 301 has good tacos.