Sarasota County, Florida, has so much to offer. From the beautiful beaches to the museums, cultural activities, shopping, and outdoor activities, there is something for everyone. Really, from morning to night you can do it all or do nothing and have a wonderful time. Granted, there are some not to be missed places to visit and things to do, but I was in Sarasota for a different purpose: to eat and drink!
I was so fortunate to attend one of the hottest events of the year, Forks & Corks, and indulge myself in Sarasota, Florida’s local dining scene. The event is held each January in Sarasota at the beautiful Ringling Museum. Tickets literally sold out in two minutes! YES, 1500 tickets in two minutes followed by Wine University selling out in five minutes. The event is hosted by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, all locally owed restaurants supporting each other to get us all to Eat Like a Local. The group comes together for Forks & Corks to feature their best, along with wine, of course.
My visit with Visit Sarasota, included excursions to many of the Sarasota-Manatee Original restaurants and from all I visited, managed to find a few that stood out. Here are my top five places to eat in Sarasota County, Florida.
Siesta Key Oyster Bar, Sarasota
Honestly, when we pulled up to “shuck some oysters”, I was like okay, a dive bar on Siesta Key, we will shuck some oysters and leave. But, NO! As I walked in, I wanted to try one of everything that everyone was eating and sip their drinks. What I thought of as a dive bar turned out to be a true gem. Live music played on the front porch where we sat at a bar, dividing the inside and out. Everyone was there! From a family of four generations just off the beach to a couple heading to the theatre dressed to the nines. Then came the food and I knew why everyone was there! Five courses of oysters and a classic dessert from the area.
For the first course, I had to do some work and learn to shuck my own oysters. Having a Blueberry Basil Mule made it much easier. The oysters were served with a side of Kettle One Bloody Mary Granita, so much better than the typical cocktail sauce.
The next two courses were oyster bar food that could be served in white table cloth restaurants, yet we were eating outside at the bar with wonderful live music. The second course included an oyster BLT served with SKOB-a-Rita and then Oyster Nachos, in which the entire oysters was fried and topped with goodness and a Lavender Mojito to wash it down.
The main course took me to oyster places I have never been before and believe me when I say, I eat a lot of oysters form all over the world. These were seared and served with caper and lemon Chardonnay Sauce. When I tell you they were out of this world, they were! Clean, real food done well and paired with a Bulleit Old Fashion. After four courses of oysters, a simple perfect SKOB Famous Keylime Pie sent us to the beach for sunset very happy.
Michael’s On East
Located literally in a strip mall, again, we drove up and were like, well, let’s see how this goes. Then, the doors opened and the rooms and passageways were so beautiful. We spent an entire morning there at Wine University and then had lunch. Entering the dining room was a treat in itself, with freshly poured still bubbling Grandial Brut (my pet peeve is when the bubbly is poured to soon for events and served flat) and delicious passed hors d’oeuvres in the open courtyard. They were all yummy, but the spicy lobster cannoli won my first place vote.
After being seated, we enjoyed two full courses and dessert. Our first course was a pan-seared salmon with green lip muscles, tomato, and onion jam (always a favorite of mine), and mussel bisque. This was served with the 2016 Forks & Corks Best in Show Award Wine, Willamette Valley Vineyard Riesling. Perfectly paired and the Riesling is a great addition to any home for a wonderful everyday wine, especially with summer coming.
The second course was a beautifully braised short rib served with the 2016 Forks & Corks Gold Medal Award winner, Hook & Ladder Winery Cabernet Blend Tillerman. Not only did I fall in love with dessert, the Michael’s Popcorn Sundae, but the wine it was paired with, Quady Winery Red Muscat Electra. I ate my entire sundae and sipped my wine.
Situated right in the heart of downtown Saratosa sits the very open and comfortable Louie’s Modern. Louie’s Modern is part of the Tableside Restaurant Group. Each of the two restaurants pay tribute to the matriarch at Libby’s Cafe + BAR, where Louis Modern reflects on the family’s father and his time of “well mixed cocktails and sophisticated food”. I will attest to the well-mixed cocktails. You see, I saw these three very special words on the top of the cocktail menu, GIN AND JAM. Any gin and jam has standards to live up to and they delivered. How could they not with top tier spirits and ingredients sourced locally?
Okay, on to the food. We stopped by Louie’s Modern late on the Sunday night after a day at the Grand Tasting at Forks & Corks. The place was full, with the feel of lots of energy, yet comfortable. One to the most exciting items on the menu is the caviar sourced at the MOTE Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. I am a deviled eggs lover, so we started with Smoked Trout Deviled Eggs and Kung POW Chicken Potstickers, recommended by our waiter, Joe. Both delivered big time, but the crispy capers on the eggs were my favorite.
I chose to go with a side dish for my salad packed with lots of minerals and goodness, Kelp Noodles Wakame. I have tried twice at home to make it and it’s jut not the same. The main course was a few shared dishes among the 3 of us. We went with one from sea; Toasted Farro Amandine with the addition of scallops. The greens and kabocha squash mixed with the dates and beautiful dressing was dedicate and satisfying. From land, we had the Anthony Bourdain Honey-Agave Chicken from Joe’s recommendation, also. The chicken was great, but the sides rocked my world; double-beet spaetzle, baby kale, fresh oranges, and goat cheese. Now, that was pure perfection!
Rooted in the Sarasota commuity since 1978, Roessler’s is a landmark in the area. Now, the second generation of the family run the restaurant, much like their mom and dad, with Klaus and his sister, Marilyn, running the front end. The food is classic, with a focus on local ingredients and each item that you would see on the finest of menus with a spin to make it their own and local . The other differential that sets Roessler’s apart is the service. It is old traditional steak house service with items prepared tableside and a wait staff that knows what you need before you do, as well as knowing the menu inside and out.
I was so comfortable with our waiter, Mark, right off the bat and let him pick my courses. He started us with the house speciality of Escargot a la Bourguigninne made with fresh lobster tail. He also had to bring us extra bread, because we were not about to let anything go back to the kitchen. YUM! I then moved on to one of my favorites, Vichyssoise. I sort of judge classic restaurants on how they prepare this cold soup. Well, the leek and potato was smooth and the flavors showed through without being over seasoned; perfect.
The main course Mark picked for me was Colorado Lamb Rack cooked to perfection. And again, ODE TO THE SIDES! Four sides prepared and paired perfectly; wilted greens, mashed potatoes, the best red cabbage, and carrots seasoned with a bit of cinnamon. I was in heaven. Although very full from the meal and wines, Mark said I couldn’t leave without having an all time favorite of mine, Bananas Foster. If it is on the menu prepared tableside, where you get the hot bananas in that brown sugar, cinnamon, and rum sauce poured over the best ice-cream right in front of you, I must have it. Roessler’s is one of those restaurants you must go to in the area and as we saw that night, generations of patrons feel the same way.
Sarasota Farmer’s Market
There are farmer’s markets and then there are FARMER’S MARKETS. Well, Sarasota has one of those FARMER’S MARKETS. Covering the center of downtown, people line up at their favorite vendors to assure they have their goods for the week. Truthfully, I wish I had more time there to spend eating. From fresh pressed juices to the most wonderful cookies and pastries, I could have stayed for days. The fresh fruits and vegetables were among the most varied of any farmer’s market I have been to, much of this due to being in a climate that can grow year round.
The abundance of what was available made me oh, so happy. The longest line, though, was at the fish market, where they had fresh fish and shrimp just caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Then there were the food vendors, all serving local goodness. You could choose from pulled pork and Cuban sandwiches to fish tacos and catch of the day sandwiches to all homemade teriyaki, sushi, and octopus balls! Everyone grabs what they want and gather to listen to live music while munching. There is something for everyone, including gluten free, dairy free, and vegan. But, please don’t forget the dessert. So much to choose from. I opted for a simple sugar cookie and finished every last bite. The Sarasota Farmer’s Market has been going strong for 37 years and at the current time, has 70 plus vendors.
There is so much to see and do in Sarasota, that four days was not nearly enough time. I would love to visit each of my five favorites again, as well as the many more restaurants in Sarasota County AND WILL!