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State Street Eating House: 1533 State St, Sarasota FL

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I was excited to finally visit State Street Eating House with my dad for lunch last week. I’ve walked past it a bunch of times and am always intrigued by the menu, the minimalist/industrial atmosphere and the young, hip crowd dines and drinks there. When we met on a Wednesday at 1:30, we were greeted by the owner- who I was sure (and turned out to be wrong) must be from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It felt so familiar in a New York-y way, and everything about him from his persona to his plaid shirt and bow tie made me think of the Brooklyn hipsters I left behind when I moved to Sarasota last year.

We sat at a table and were brought menus and asked if we wanted tap or bottled water. We asked for tap, which we quickly realized was not going to cut it. The water was notably bad, as it often is in Florida, and we ordered a ($6!!) bottle of Evian instead. This turned out to be the ONLY thing about our experience here that we didn’t both love. We did, in fact, chat with the owner about it after our lunch and he was very open to hearing the criticism. He explained that they were expanding into the space next door and planned to add a filtration system. We also discussed his ideas about charging for bread and filtered water, which my father and I cautioned him against. We both agreed that we’d rather see price increases on the menu items to cover his costs there rather than charging extra for things that our society definitely expects to be included.

Anyway, back to the meal. We decided to order a bowl of soup, a salad, and a sandwich. We asked the waiter if he would ask the chef if he would split our three choices for us to share. When our food arrived, we were both pleased to see that the splits had been made. The portion sizes were STILL so large that I was surprised it was only ‘half’ on my plate and in my bowl. I liked the simplicity of the presentation and felt that it coordinated well with the decor of the restaurant. The way the ambiance, menu, staff and food all went together showed clear attention to detail and sophistication.

Our clam chowder had whole clams, chunks of potato, celery, little puffed crackers, and a creamy, smooth, not-too-thick base. It had a wonderful flavor that could only come from the fresh clams. The semi-thin consistency made it a lovely first course instead of the heavy, filling, appetizer that most chowders are.

Our salad and sandwich came out next, looking amazing. The salad was wonderful; Grilled lettuce hearts topped with ricotta salata and fried hearts of palm. It came with a side of bread, but I chose to leave it behind since the bread on the grilled cheese was already carb-indulgent enough. Well, ok. I did have one little bite of it, but it wasn’t different enough from the sandwich bread that I could justify it. The salad was tossed in a grainy mustard dressing that added texture and a little sharp bite to this creative salad. It was my own fault that I didn’t ask for the dressing on the side. I almost always do, but forgot this time. It was overdressed for my taste, but I still ate every bite and really enjoyed it. The classic grilled cheese sandwich was served on crusty sourdough, with thin slices of tomato. It was grilled perfectly and adorably topped with a green olive. Some creamy coleslaw came alongside of it, but was also a bit overdressed for my taste. I love cabbage, so too much mayo is always a disappointment.  The cheddar cheese was awesome; gooey, sharp and exactly the comfort food I’d expected.

Overall, aside from the bad tap water and overpriced bottled water, I thoroughly enjoyed this meal and restaurant. I would love to go back some evening after work for cocktails (they use craft liquors that add to inherently artsy quality) and snacks like the housemade pickles and mini lobster rolls on their snack menu. If you need a cool spot to meet a date or some friends, I think State Street Eating House makes a great choice.

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Solorzano Bros Pizza, 3604 Webber St, Sarasota, FL

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As a New Yorker who moved to Sarasota a year ago, I’m constantly on a quest to find pizza that comes close to what I know and love. Most pizza places around here, to put it bluntly, really suck. A few months ago, I found G’s Pizza (https://bigforkinmouth.com/2012/07/25/gs-pizzaria-7119-s-tamiami-trail-sarasota-fl/) and have been pretty happy to satisfy a craving there when the need strikes. It’s very close to work which is great, but it’s pretty far from where I live- and we are definitely NOT in their delivery zone. I think it was my review of G’s which prompted the owner of Solorzano’s to email me suggesting that I give them a try. Well, a pizza craving hit hard yesterday so Gabriel and I headed over to their Webber St. location which is less than 10 minutes from our house.

When we arrived, we found that their choice of slices was limited to plain or pepperoni only- apparently they’d had a busy day already and sold out of everything else. The boy behind the counter told us he’d be happy to make us slices of whatever we wanted anyway, which we were happy to hear. The very reasonable $6 lunch special I ordered included any slice, a house salad, a drink and 2 garlic knots. (Well, I’m actually not entirely sure that it normally includes the garlic knots or if that was something he threw in after I mentioned that I’m a food blogger. Either way, nice touch.)  I ordered artichoke and mushrooms for my slice of pizza and sat down to wait for my meal. A few moments later, a lovely salad with perfectly ripe, red, tomato slices, red onions, fresh cucumbers, romaine lettuce and a great balsamic dressing came out, along with my slice and a couple of huge garlic knots.

Everything looked awesome and I was ready to dive in. The salad was a generous portion of fresh and colorful veggies, and the slice looked VERY New York. My first bite was promising. Yes! The cheese was full of flavor, hot and bubbly and the sauce was slightly sweet and the right amount. My only gripe was the crust. The texture and taste were spot-on, but it was just slightly too thick for me. I personally like a good, thin, fold-over-able NY style crust over one that’s really bread-y.  Even so, this is pretty damn close to what I want in a slice, and I will definitely give it my stamp of approval. The garlic knots were really oversized compared to the typical NY ones, and they tasted great. Crusty outside and doughy/chewy inside. They could have used a little more garlic, but I’m admittedly a garlic freak. I am very curious to go back to try the other types of pizza- there were SO many appealing choices, like ‘Farmer’s Market made with fresh local produce, the ‘Sinatra’, a white pie with fresh tomato slices and basil, as well as the ‘Margarita’ with fresh basil and mozzarella. I’d also like to try the eggplant parmesan at some point.

The setting itself was very authentic and made me feel like I was back up north. I liked the Rat Pack music playing on the speakers and thought it added a cute touch to the old time-y Italian feel. There are plenty of tables outside which I would have enjoyed except that it happened to be a very windy day. We decided to sit atop the red stools inside and were comfortable there. We thought it was interesting that there’s another supposedly authentic NY pizza shop in the same plaza, and after seeing 4 stars on Yelp figured that now we’re gonna have to try that one too. That said, I am quite sure our next delivery order will be from Solorzano’s regardless. I’m very happy to be able to throw away the delivery menus I’ve collected and rejected so far and replace the subpar choices near me with the very good Solorzano Bros. instead. Bravo! We will be back!

Tandoori Indian Restaurant: 3440 Clark rd. Sarasota, FL HAS MOVED TO 8453 Cooper Creek Blvd

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I feel like I’ve said this a lot more times than I ever expected to, but WOW, great ethnic food in Sarasota?!?! Amazing! Who knew?

Gabriel and I bought a coupon deal to go to Tandoori Indian Restaurant based on a recommendation from my boss. We decided to go a few nights ago when I had a serious craving for Sag Paneer. (Fresh homemade cottage cheese cubes cooked in fresh creamy spinach gravy, very delicately spiced.) This is one of those dishes that I get intense cravings for every so often, and since I’ve recently cut meat out of my diet and am finding less options on most menus, I am so happy to say that this favorite of mine is still a-okay.

When we arrived, it was a fairly empty restaurant but we noticed quickly that a lot of their business seems to be in take-out. Quite a few people came to pick up their ‘to go’ orders while we ate. The waitress came over and brought menus and water and made some suggestions at our request. She also brought out the delicious, creamy, sweet, mango lassis we ordered, as well as some crisp popadom with the 3 classic sauces: tamarind, mint chutney and onion. My favorite is always tamarind and I always ask for extra to use on the rice and entrees as well.

We decided to try the Ragda Patties (crispy fried potato patties topped with chick peas cooked in onion & tomato paste spiced with ground spices and finished off with our house yogurt and tamarind & mint chutney) as our appetizer. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it WAS really delicious. It was mainly chick peas, spiced with really interesting flavors, and the patties it sat atop were decadent, creamy, potatoes. They didn’t really seem crispy to me- as described in the menu, but they were very flavorful and the texture contrast with the chickpeas was interesting.

For our entrees, we shared the Sag Paneer, which was perfect, and the Baingan Bharta (roasted, de-skinned and pureed eggplant, cooked with turmeric, onions and tomatoes, seasoned with herbs & lightly flavored with a hint of freshly ground fried spices) which was also really wonderful. The basmati rice that came with it and the Tandoori Naan and Roti we ordered were the perfect platforms for the complex flavors of our entrees.

Overall, I am really happy to have had a chance to try Tandoori and will definitely be back. The owner came out to chat with us to tell us that they will soon be moving to a new location in Coopers Creek off of University Drive- and we are glad to know they will be in an area that we frequent. As a New Yorker who used to think that Jackson Heights, Queens is really the best place outside of India (not that I’ve actually been there) to eat Indian food, I am VERY pleasantly surprised to find awesome, authentic, Indian cuisine right here in Sarasota, Florida. Bravo Tandoori!

 

UPDATE: Tandoori Grill has moved to 8453 Cooper Creek Blvd and is STILL awesome. Gabriel and I had dinner there last week and the food was FANTASTIC. YAY!! It’s so close to where I live now and the $9.99 buffet still has tons of vegetarian options.

G’s Pizzaria: 7119 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL

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This is another one of those “I am a NY pizza snob” type posts where I go to a restaurant to try a slice from a place that claims to be owned by a NYer. I’m always pretty skeptical when I go on these little adventures but am willing to give it a fair shot. When I first walked in and found out the the owner is actually from WAY upstate NY and not the city, I got pretty worried.

I sat down and ordered a plain slice and a side salad with blue cheese dressing on the side. The salad came out and (good first impression) was NOT iceberg lettuce! It was a mesclun mix with beautiful, thick, red tomato slices, black olives, onions and fresh mushrooms on top. The dressing was pretty darn good too. So far, so good.

A few minutes later, the owner brought my slice over, piping hot from the oven and looking an awful lot like a NY slice. BIG, flat, bubbly top, and the right ratio of cheese to sauce to crust. Hmmmm. Could it be? I took a bite. WOW. Ok. I am impressed. This IS a NY slice after all. Is it the best slice ever? Well, no, but let’s be realistic. The truth is that the classic NY slice has a lot to do with the water there, and no one outside of NYC will really ever be able to duplicate that. But this was definitely the closest to NY I’ve had since I moved here a few months ago. Ah. Good enough to evoke nostalgia. The crust was the right mix of crunchy and chewy, the flavor of the sauce was spot-on; not too sweet, the right amount, and the cheese was exactly right. I added my sprinkling of oregano and parmesan- which was on the table like it should be, and it made for a VERY satisfying lunch. BRAVO to you G’s! Bonus that it’s about 1/4 mile from where I work. I will absolutely be back. YAY!

 

Verona: 1111 Ritz-Carlton Dr. Sarasota, FL

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It was my mother’s birthday and we met at Verona to celebrate. It happened to fall during Savor Sarasota restaurant week, so we were excited to be able to have 3 course dinners for a fraction of the cost that it would usually be. Verona is inside of the Ritz-Carlton hotel, and it is fancy. We arrived to find valet parking, beautiful floral arrangements, and excellent live music at a gorgeous grand piano in the main lobby.

When we entered the restaurant, we were led to our table but then asked to be seated outside as they have a really lovely outdoor area.  We soon realized that it was actually uncomfortably hot out there and decided to move inside after all. Our waitress was more than accommodating to our ever-changing minds, and we could tell that she was equally relieved that she wouldn’t have to be melting outside serving us.

Our drink orders were taken and I must say, I immediately got the sense that we had an exceptional server. She was very friendly, knowledgeable, polite and articulate and she served us wonderfully throughout the whole meal. If I’m not mistaken, I believe her name was Kimberly. If you can be seated in her section, I strongly recommend it. She was a big part of why our meal was so wonderful.

A delicious basket of bread and fresh butter was served along with our awesome cocktails and we happily tasted each type as we looked over the menu.

I started with the crab bisque with popcorn, mango and mint and it was presented in a whimsical way. It reminded me a LOT of the way my favorite restaurant in the world would do it: ABC Kitchen in NYC. (See that review here: https://bigforkinmouth.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/abc-kitchen-35-east-18th-st-new-york-ny-10003/) It started with a simple bowl containing crab, popcorn, mango and mint and then the waiter came around with a pitcher of the warm bisque to fill the bowl with. It was outstanding. Creamy and delicious with large chunks of fresh crab. Yum.

Next I had the Hammock Hallow Daily Harvest which was eggplant, bok choy, ginger topped with an amazing fried/poached egg. WOW. This was so tasty that I think I will try to recreate it at home sometime. The crisp outside of the egg was a wonderful contrast to the creamy, rich, soft yolk inside, and the way it lightly coated the fresh vegetables was genius.

For dessert I had the key lime pie with vanilla/mango coulis and citrus sorbet. It was beautifully presented and a great, refreshing way to end the meal. The portions here (at least when you order from the Savor Sarasota menu, I’m not sure about the regular menu) are definitely on the small side. I am fine with that- as I’d always rather small portions of exquisite food over large plates of mediocrity, but for some, the plates might be too small. That said, I definitely left feeling full but not overstuffed, and with the memory of a truly wonderful meal. I’d strongly suggest a visit should you have the time before restaurant week ends- or a visit on another day, should you have some extra money to spend 🙂 Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Michelangelo Pizza & Italian: 11517 Palmbrush Trail, Bradenton, FL

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As a native NYer, I have been avoiding pizza since I moved to Florida for fear that a food so near and dear to my heart would be so poorly represented that it bordered on criminal. A few people I know have strongly recommended a couple of places so I have begun my sampling process- one slice of plain cheese pizza. Today was my first stop, Michelangelo’s in the Summerfield Plaza at Lakewood Ranch. When I pulled up, it was packed with people eating and picking up their orders, and the very busy employees behind the counter had the crowd control totally under control. So far, pretty New Yorky indeed.

The first bummer was that I couldn’t just order a slice at the counter and then go sit down to eat it. No, this is to-go or table service only. Womp womp. Well, ok. I decided to sit and order my one plain slice and a glass of water. It took much longer than I would have guessed- but I wrote it off to the crowded tables and the fact that I was only going to be paying a comparatively measly amount of money. I noticed that a lot of patrons had brought their own wine and glasses, and overheard the waitress explaining that the proximity of the restaurant to the daycare center behind it was the reason that they were not allowed to serve their own. The food on the tables around me all looked and smelled great, and it seemed that lots of people go there for meals other than pizza. I saw a few bowls of pasta, some different parmesans, some salads etc, that all looked good.

When my pizza finally arrived, It looked pretty darn good. Melty cheese, not too greasy, and piping hot. I had my first bite. Hmmm. Everything seemed to be on point…The crust was good- crisp and a little chewy, the cheese was good, melty and stringy, the sauce was good- fresh and tomatoey. But something was missing. Hmm. What is it? Oh! It’s FLAVOR. Ya. Not so much. I really couldn’t figure out why, but I ended up sprinkling on tons of oregano, garlic, and even salt- something I NEVER do, just to get it to taste like something. Sigh. This ain’t NY.

I was also really not thrilled that I had to leave a tip for one slice. I ended up spending about $3 instead of $2 and change. I would STRONGLY prefer being able to order at the counter like at most places.

Despite my less-than-awesome review of the pizza, I think I probably WILL go back. Next time, I plan to add a bunch of toppings on to the fairly decent platform in hopes of making it taste more like something. Anything. Until then, my quest for a good, straight-up, cheese slice continues.

Main Street Trattoria: 8131 Main St. Lakewood Ranch, FL

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I met my friend Rachel here for dinner the other night and was impressed for a few reasons. Our waitress was friendly and attentive and went over the specials right away for us. We were give ice water, menus and time to make our choices.

We decided to share a flatbread with fresh mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil and pesto and a ‘Chef Douglas’ favorite’ pizza with truffled arugula, domestic and portabella mushrooms and shaved parm. Both pies were delicious, made with super fresh ingredients and a crust that was a good balance of chewy and crisp. Now as a New Yorker, I am supposed to be very hard on out-of-NY pizza, but I can’t really compare this…it isn’t the fold-over style we NYers are bred to evaluate. This is more like artisan, thin-crust, brick over pizza- which is really a breed of it’s own, and for what it is, it is quite good.

The price was super reasonable and the service was excellent, casual but professional and attentive. There was live music outside that was WAY better than average and I really enjoyed listening to familiar songs, great voices and talented musicians.

The Main street location is very convenient and conducive to a pleasant evening stroll after dinner. I will definitely be going back!