Derek’s Culinary Casual: 514 Central Ave, Sarasota, FL

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I am going to have to start with dessert. No, I did not start the meal that way, but I just can’t stop thinking about it for long enough to start my review with anything else. This is passion in a cup. No. This is what the most succulent, romantic, seductive, indicative-of-a-lasting-love type of first kiss would be if it were translated into a dessert. This is serious.

The dessert which is simply titled *S’mores is so much more than that. This is no Hershey bar. This is not a boxed graham cracker or a Jet-Puffed marshmallow (not that there is anything wrong with any of those things. The classic s’mores has always been one of my favorite treats on the planet) This is a S’mores as you knew it from childhood campfires that has been elevated to the utmost level of sophistication and indulgence. The crisp brulee topping of the homemade marshmallow shatters as you chip your way into it. Underneath the shell, you’ll find the creamiest, most heavenly, smooth, rich, chocolate you can possibly imagine. You may think, at this point, that you’ve arrived in heaven, but then you’ll dig deeper to find the crumbly, cinnamon-y goodness in the bottom layer of graham cracker that will bring you over the edge. Sigh. Yes. This is the kind of dessert that leaves you wishing you still had enough stomach space left to order another one. Or 6.

But moving on.

The rest of the meal was equally exquisite. It’s so awesome to find a creative, original, NY-type restaurant SO far from the hustle and bustle that I moved away from here in Florida. The vibe that you get from the food and the friendly chef here is low-key, fun, quirky, whimsical and casual, although the decor really doesn’t seem to match that in my opinion. It’s more subdued and traditional looking (except for a few pieces of art) and I think they’d do well to try to connect the food and feel with the atmosphere a little bit more. That said, once you start eating, you’ll be looking more at your plate than your surroundings anyway so it really doesn’t matter.

We decided to share 5 small plates. I love when a menu provides that option because as far as I’m concerned, I’d always rather try lots of little things than be stuck with one entree per person. We started with the lovely little parmesan rolls they served- which reminded me very much of miniature popovers. Although Gabriel felt they were on the dry side, I rather enjoyed the eggy cheesiness of them along with their petite size. Just enough to take the hunger edge of without putting a damper on my ravenous appetite.

Next, we had our 2 cold selections. One was the chilled cantaloupe soup with jalepenos, pickled vegetables and creme fraiche. WOW. What an awesomely refreshing combination of flavors and textures and a wonderful way to begin this journey through dinner. The smooth sweetness of the fruit paired with the crunchy spicy peppers and vinegar-y vegetables combined into the most perfect little flavor dance, and one that was new and exciting to me. We also thoroughly enjoyed the  ‘Janie’s Wedge Salad’ with
cherry tomatoes, crispy onion rings (probably the best onion rings I’ve ever had), blue cheese emulsion, and warm bacon vinaigrette. The concept of this dish is one that’s on plenty of menus, but here Derek puts his own spin on it and somehow reinvents it into something much cooler than the typical wedge.

We then moved on to our 3 warm plates, one was a special which consisted of a perfectly poached egg over roasted oyster mushrooms and peas, one was the pan seared sea scallops with white chocolate & parsnip purée (So delicious, unexpected, rich and creamy) english peas and mint, and the third was the clams with smoked pork- another special that I wish I could describe more accurately but to be honest, I forgot what the elements were- I just know it was excellent.

Overall, I can EASILY say that Derek’s is my new favorite restaurant in the area. There is no question at all that I will be back sooner than later, and probably frequently. I should add that the service was on point, and that I really enjoyed chatting with the chef when he came over to our table to introduce himself. It’s very cool to see that a superb restaurant like this (that’s not even on Main St.) has it’s tables full, even in the ‘down’ season. With food of this quality, it’s no wonder why. See you soon Derek!

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