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Jun 18, 2009 06:08 PM

Rec`s for Sarasota!

Visting in two weeks from the West Coast, and am hoping that the local `hounds can steer me to authenticity: Italian, French, Cuban, whatever. Most interested in place that use market fresh ingredients and, hopefully, have a great wine list. Thank you for all of your consideration!

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  1. Try (in no particular order of preference):
    1. Cafe Bacci on 301 (U.S. 41) just south of Bee Ridge Road for Italian.
    2. Big Sugar on Hillview just south of Sarasota Memorial Hospital for Carribean/Floribean.
    3. Derek's Culinary Casual on Central a few blocks north of Fruitville for "continentalish."
    4. Pho Cali on Main Street for Vietnamese.
    5. Pacific Rim on Hillview for Asian/Fusion.
    6. Anna Maria Oyster Bar on the exit just north of the Braden River in the complex of restaurants and gas stations which can be see from I-75 and are just west of I-75, for inexpensive seafood, oysters, and shrimp.
    7. (And, now, for the one I can always count on fellow Chowhounder Irwin to disagree with me about), the Columbia on St. Armand's Key for Cuban/Spanish.
    8. (And another, that Irwin dislikes), Michael's on East, for more "continentalish" and formal dining.
    9. Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key for "continentalish" and a great dessert room.

    There are a bunch of other great Sarasota restaurants, especially on Main Street and the islands, but I will leave it to others to tell you about them.

    I hope that this helps.

    1 Reply
    1. re: gfr1111

      you have some good choices, but as you know, Columbia and Michaels are off my list of recommendations for several good reasons. Although, Columbia does have a great salad, even thought I live walking distance from St. Armands Circle.
      Citrus has great lunches, El Greco has fabulous greek salads, and Yoders is a must when visiting Sarasota.

    2. My husband and I have been going to the Sarasota area since 1990. His relatives live in Siesta Key. For the last 18 years we've had specific favorites - depends on what you are looking for BUT for great breakfast there is The Village Cafe on Ocean Blvd in Siesta Key, the same with The Broken Egg, right across from it. Excellent Oysters at the Siesta Oyster Bar on Ocean. Also, there is Habanero (which is not the chile) along Main Street in Sarasota for Cuban. I think it is still there. I had excellent fish there along with Yucca and their own hot sauce. The best seafood, gumbo and fried alligator at Phillippi's Oyster Bar on Tamiami Trail. We go there every single time - sometimes several times a visit. Phillippis does not have a wine list as far as I know but they have a bar so I am sure they have some wine. Also another favorite in Siesta Kay is a place called The Continental Cafe on Ocean. It is on the top floor of a shopping plaza. They have breakfast and lunch - no dinner and it is owned by a British couple. They serve British food along with the usual - their Bangers & Mash are excellent and our favorite thing is their version of Bubbles & Squeak. Theirs does not have cabbage. It is mashed potatoes and peas and it is out of this world.

      I hope this helps. We'll be there in 2 weeks and I can't wait. We're staying in Siesta Key.

      Enjoy yourself!

      1 Reply
      1. re: RisaG

        Habanero is (sadly) closed -- or at least it was last March. Right?

      2. Nice list grf1111 agree with most and some changes.

        Cafe Bacci on 301 (U.S. 41) just south of Bee Ridge Road for Italian
        Pho Cali on Main Street for Vietnamese
        Pacific Rim on Hillview for Asian/Fusion Sushi
        Phillipi Creek Oyster Bar on south US 41 for just good fresh seafood, relaxing
        atmosphere on the water
        Columbia on St. Armand's Key for Cuban/Spanish
        Michael's on East, for more "continentalish" and formal dining - Over rated for me, but
        has a good rating
        Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key
        Broken Egg on Siesta for Breakfast
        Sand Bar on Anna Maria, right on the beach, fresh seafood. Very enjoyable
        Mattisons Downtown Sarasota
        El Toro Bravo Mexican, nothing fancy, just small but good food
        Henrichs German Grill, very good german food and german beer
        Sangria downtown Sarasota, Spanish Tapas
        Tommy Bahamas, St Armands Circle, fun atmosphere, nice being on the circle, interesting cuisine and good food. Never had a bad meal there.

        Thats my list.

        23 Replies
        1. re: kchurchill5

          I have been to a great majority of the ones listed above. Some are barely ok, most are not any good at all. Those to stay away from are Phillipi Creek, Café Bacci, Colombia (which I pass several times a day and am stunned that it does the business it does), Pacific Rim, and Mattison’s downtown Sarasota. Euphemia Haye will greet you with an attitude. It is noted for Caesar Salad and a couple of other things. The Caesar Salad is far from authentic as are most things in and around Sarasota. Mediocrity reigns!

          You will be able to get close to authentic Neapolitan pizza at Epicure at Main and Palm in Sarasota. The pizza is made by a guy from Naples, Italy and baked in a wood fired brick oven. Ask for fresh mozzarella on the pizza. It is a little toothin for my taste but that’s what everyone seems to want these days. The pizza pictured here looks much like the one you will get at Epicure ( Of course it won’t have all of its ingredients from Italy.

          You can also get a decent dish of pasta at Epicure and at its sister restaurant, Mediterraneo which is at Main and just before route 301. The pizza is good at Mediterraneo but not as good as Epicure. Epicure has a very good selection of Italian wines, but as most places do, it charges a bit too much for the better ones. At least they keep their wines at a proper temperature in a temperature/humidity controlled wine cooler.

          Authentic is tough to find. There are a few Tacos trucks parked on old route 301 and a couple of Mexican dives dotting that road too that I think could be described as authentic.

          Restaurants with good wine lists? That is really tough.

          I will also recommend a delightful restaurant in the Towles Court area. It is Lavanda ( The wine list there is short but decent—nothing on the list to bowl you over. I like Bijou, which is across the street from the library and the opera house. It is a bit overpriced, has good service, a decent wine list and a pleasant atmosphere. We often find ourselves there.

          The food won’t bowl you over at Harry’s on Longboat Key, but it is pleasant to sit outside, have a bloody mary and enjoy the ok food.

          The only place that I know that has what is considered authentic Cuban is Jose’s on 8799 Cortez Road West. I had a pressed Cuban and black bean soup there a few weeks ago. Both were pretty good, but I have not returned for a second time.

          Café Bologna on 5770 S Tamiami is a nice small place with good cheeses and sliced meats. It also has a good lasagna Bolognese as the husband and wife are from the Province of Bologna in Italy.

          The market fresh ingredients you strive for is another tough request. At virtually all restaurants in and around Sarasota the freshest ingredients are the ones that Sysco delivers every other day or so to most, if not all, restaurants.

          1. re: Arthur16

            The Columbia, why the insult? And your Sysco snipe is an affront to many.

            1. re: Veggo

              Sysco is the biggest and didn't get that way by screwing up. They do have everything for the restuarants, and seem to control most of the market.

            2. re: Arthur16

              I disagree with many of your suggestions Arthur16, sorry. Epicure is descent but I never really enjoyed the place and service is always lousy. I still vote for Columbia and Phillipi. Bijou is ok, over priced for what you get. I guess that is whats makes it interesting with everyone different opinions of favorites.

              1. re: kchurchill5

                “The Columbia, why the insult? And your Sysco snipe is an affront to many”

                Why are you taking my comments about The Columbia as an insult? I eat there once a year to see if there is any improvement and there never is. It is, in my opinion, popular for the day visitors to St. Armand’s Circle. None of my neighbors or friends go there. Not even to take their visitors. Sysco? The freshest ingredients are not those delivered by truck once every couple of days. Fresh ingredients for a restaurant means that the proprietor goes out early every morning to various markets to buy his produce for
                that day. The proprietor’s menu will feature dishes prepared with the produce bought during early morning hours.

                I didn’t say that Sysco is not a very good company. My comment about Sysco was in reference to the laziness of restaurant operators relying on a delivery service for supplies. Because of the direction that restaurants are going, Sysco would be a consideration for a purchase of its common stock.

                This from Sysco’s investor page:
                Fiscal 2008 featured sales of $37.5
                billion, a 7.1% increase from the prior year. Additionally,
                -Operating income grew 10% to $1.9 billion.
                -Net earnings grew by more than $100 million to $1.1 billion.
                -Diluted earnings per share grew 13%.
                -Return on total capital grew by one point to 21%
                “Sysco is the biggest and didn't get that way by screwing up. They do have everything for the restuarants, and seem to control most of the market.”

                That’s the problem! Nothing wrong with Sysco, What’s wrong is the behavior of restaurant owners.

                “I disagree with many of your suggestions Arthur16, sorry. Epicure is descent but I never really enjoyed the place and service is always lousy. I still vote for Columbia and Phillipi. Bijou is ok, over priced for what you get. I guess that is whats makes it interesting with everyone different opinions of favorites.”

                Epicure’s service is on a par with most places. As with most restaurants, regular customers tend to get better service. I did mention that Bijou is a bit overpriced. Instead of Phillipi, go to Cortez Kitchen in Cortez instead.

                C’est La Vie, a café on Main, has excellent pastry and breads, but it has the worst service of anywhere that I have been in Sarasota. Still I go there for lunch.

                These are the places listed in Sarasota Magazine that the locals have rated “best”.

                Note the many that are part of chains.

                1. re: Arthur16

                  Some do their damning with feigned praise, your damning of the Columbia is unvarnished. I find their hearty cuban soups and 1905 salad with the garlic shimp quite tasty.
                  My point about Sysco is that not every restaurant is slaven to it.

                  1. re: Arthur16

                    ARTHUR16 ... YOU MISS READ MY RESPONSE
                    I didn't say anything regarding sysco and I didn't say anything about the columbia insult. This was my response.

                    <<I disagree with many of your suggestions Arthur16, sorry. Epicure is descent but I never really enjoyed the place and service is always lousy. I still vote for Columbia and Phillipi. Bijou is ok, over priced for what you get. I guess that is whats makes it interesting with everyone different opinions of favorites.>>

                    1. re: Arthur16

                      Veggo, Arthur16, c oliver, kchurchill5, RisaG, and Irwin,
                      I love all your posts because you are passionate about good food and smart. Arthur16, we'll have to agree to disagree, with respect and affection, about a lot, but let me tell you a story that is consistent with what you are saying about restaurateurs and Sysco.

                      About two years ago I ate at the now-departed "Bon Amis" Restaurant off University Parkway (now Stingray's with different owners). One of the owners made the usual rounds, asking how the food was. The restaurant had not been open very long and this seemed more than a pro forma inquiry, so I answered, which I almost never do, and told him what I thought. I had some praise and some criticism.

                      They were serving stacked slices of tomato and buffalo mozzarella cheese with a balsamic reduction. It was mid August. The tomatoes were obviously hot-house grown with little flavor and that typical mealy texture and pale red color that come from hot-house tomatoes. I pointed this out to the owner and mentioned that this was the height of the summer tomato-growing season.

                      I suggested that he could take a drive one exit down I-75 and find excellent tomatoes at the farmstand just east of I-75 on Fruitville Road. I told him, gently, that it was silly to buy hot house tomatoes at the height of the tomato season, and the Amish people who owned the stand would be delighted to sell him as many tomatoes as he needed.

                      He was very polite, but said, "Well, you know, we can't do much because that's what our supplier provides." My point exactly. Don't rely on your supplier for predictably inferior food when there is clearly superior food easily available.

                      And this is not to cast aspersions on Sysco. I have no idea who this restaurant's supplier was, but it is the mentality of, "I can't do anything because that's what our supplier give me" that irks me.

                      Thanks for the tip on Epicure. I'll be sure to try it.

                      1. re: gfr1111

                        Having just returned from a short trip to Lido beach we stopped on Main on the way out and walked into Epicure. Not knowing anything about it. The pizza was a good example of Neapolitan style pizza. We also shared a grilled calamari salad with arugula and sauteed mushrooms.

                        gfr1111, the tomato story makes me want to scream in frustration. I understand their relationship with their supplier to supply all of their vegetables. Whether it's fear of repercussions for not ordering tomatoes from their regular supplier to just laziness, I don't know.

                    2. re: kchurchill5

                      <<Epicure is descent >> Was that intentional that you wrote "descent" rather than "decent"??? Gave me a hearty chuckle :)

                      1. re: c oliver

                        Yep, I worked midnights so my brain was a little foggy this am. Epicure It was ok, just the service has always been bad and guess that is what gave me an overall bad taste for the place.

                        1. re: kchurchill5

                          I have never had bad service at Cafe Epicure.
                          I also feel they have excellent products and good breads.
                          I do not care for their two sister restaurants on Main St.

                          1. re: irwin

                            Irwin, before you leave for Maine, (you are probably there now), tell us a Florida meal you really like, and where it is!

                            1. re: Veggo

                              I really love DaJaVu at Gulf Gate. He is a fabulous chef, will make changes, and does everything right.
                              I love the greek salad with Gero at El Greco on Main Street, and lunches at Citrus Cafe across from the Womans Exchange.
                              Divino's is my favorite Italian, and the best fish sandwich in Sarasota area is at Star Fish in the village of Cortez on the water....
                              I am now in Maine but glad to help you decide.
                              Don't forget to have lunch or dinner at Yoders........
                              Enjoy your summer,

                              1. re: irwin

                                Star Fish is descent in Cortez, been there a couple of times. Pretty good seafood. Citrus Cafe, never went to but got good review from friends.

                                El Greco is good for greek food. Not much for the greek dinners, but love the lunches.

                                1. re: irwin

                                  Thanks, Irwin. I enjoy the dockside eats at Star frequently, and I get wonderful tuna tenderloin in their store for sashimi. You probably know that there is a moratorium in effect for commercial grouper fishing, so no red grouper, and of course stone crab season is over. My friends in Maine are bragging about $6 hard shell lobsters. I'm in a twilight zone. Growl. I trust your taste, I'll visit a few of your recos.

                                  1. re: Veggo

                                    Their tuna is good got it once for sushi, loved it. A bit of a drive for me, but go their on occasion. I miss stone crab season. My favorite. I'm having stone crab DT's

                                  2. re: irwin

                                    Have you tried Mosaic? We went there in May, before we left for back north and really didn't have a very good experience. We had a reservation at 7:30, finally served at 9pm!! Excuses, but none acceptable. Not even a free anything!! I sent them an email, never heard a word from them. The food was good, but not fantastic, the ambiance far from wonderful, service horrible and prices very high. will not return, but then I guess they really don't care!

                                    1. re: Mother of four

                                      Been there once, and that was enough for me......
                                      They are t;rying to be a Selva Grill, which they are not, and never will be..
                                      Sorry, but there are way to many other finer restaurants to go to then Mosaic.

                                        1. re: irwin

                                          I couldn't agree more! Let's see how long they are around!

                                  3. re: irwin

                                    A few friends have gone and mixed reviews, I have been there 3 maybe 4 times, and never good service, my friends ... split decisions. But good products I admit and descent food for the most part.

                                    Doing reviews on it you come across the same type of response, some love it, some are just aren't impressed. I go to the Main Street Location.

                            2. re: Arthur16

                              Hi Arthur,
                              Can you tell me a bit more about Lavanda? I am hoping to bring friends there this weekend for husband's bday, but have not had chance to eat there. I live out of town. Can you tell me about the food? What are your favorite dishes? Is there anything to avoid? I love the feel of the place. Very cozy. (But arrived after kitchen closed.)

                              Thanks much! I look forward to hearing from you (very) soon.

                          2. My list, for what its worth...
                            Mexican (authentic, I think)....El Adobe on 41
                            Crabcakes....Bijou Cafe, Zoria's or Marina Jack's were also pretty good
                            Italian....Ophelia's Pasta House....a bit south toward Venice. I also like Cafe Bacci.
                            Middle eastern?.....Chutney's on Hillview...very creative cuisine...always fabulous soups.
                            I'd avoid Columbia.
                            Grouper sandwich....Starfish at Cortez or Anna Maria Oyster Bar
                            Seafood....Barnacle Bill's Main Street location....outstanding blackened salmon provencal

                            1. Sarasota Vineyard has a wine list and great food. They have the best variety in Sarasota.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: mdiaczyk

                                Go w Irwin rec on Yoders. I know he is big on their dessert but I never order it because I am always too full on the entree. Star Fish is another must and I also like the burger and fries at New Pass Grille & Bait across from the Mote.

                                1. re: Rhody

                                  Thank you for your approval with Yoders.
                                  But, the next time you are there, buy a Pumpkin Bread and a bag of Choc Chip cookies to take home.
                                  You will really enjoy their sweets.
                                  I like the burger at New Pass, but do not like the cold hamburg roll, but at Yoders, you can get a real good roll, and real good grilled mushrooms with onions.

                                  1. re: irwin

                                    ok...had to wade in here...been to all the places mentioned above...every one of them

                                    Big Sugar is gone and rightfully so
                                    Mosiac is good...eclectic menu...ambiance very nice...worth it
                                    Selva Grill....very good
                                    Davinos for italian???? gawd...maybe if you are prob Mediterreano
                                    Sushi???? Pac Rim....Kanpai (crumby location and settings but excellent)
                                    Drunken Poets very good
                                    Yoders???? gag
                                    Euphemia Haye....very good
                                    Maureens...very good
                                    Patti Georges.....very very good
                                    Columbia sarasota...yuck...columbia tampa yes...excellent
                                    Pho Cali...very good

                                    and tonight i will try sarasota vineyard....let you know asap!!!!!!

                                    1. re: szweiser

                                      Maureens has been gone for 3 or 4 years. Its now Lazy Lobster which is very good and reasonable. Yoders is good even if its not your type of food. Sorry-I had to mention that. Its one of the few restaurants in Sarasota that always has a line out the door waiting. That must tell you something. DajaVu is excellent as well as Main St Oyster Bar. We have several new restaurants in the Sarasota area......
                                      I am going for the 4th time tonight to Lazy Lobster. good, reasonable, clean, big variety

                                      1. re: irwin

                                        well......sarasota vineyard was very good.....the whole wine dispenser thing is a bit gimmicky but it very good....service ok......yoders has those lines due to the amish population attracts the cracker barrel crowd.....enjoy

                                        surprised nobody has mentioned Hyde Park....pricy...very good foo and good service

                                        also....for BBQ.....Hog Wild on the North Trail

                                      2. re: szweiser

                                        Hey, don't hold it against me that I recommended Big Sugar. I thought it was great when Chef Eric Bein was there and liked it just as well when Chef Pedro Flores replaced him, with an equally good but very different menu.

                                        I was back once after Chef Flores (formerly of The Table) left in approximately October 2009, and it was apparent that a new menu had been created with an eye on bringing down the price. It was pedestrian American food, not very interesting, and not very well prepared. I'm sorry to see a good place fall apart and then go out of business. It started out very well.