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S’macks: 2407 Bee Ridge Rd, Sarasota, FL

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s'macks

Arghhhh. TOTALLY unacceptable! I ate an awesome lunch here and completely forgot to take photos. Darn pregnancy brain. I will definitely need to go back asap to have the same meal again so I can provide the lovely, mouth-watering pics that should go with this entry. Please forgive me!

Anyway, It was a GREAT meal! My father had recently stopped in and raved about the custard. He is like me in that when he finds a noteworthy meal or food, he basically insists that you take him seriously and go try it for yourself. Luckily, I am not one to deny the man the pleasure of passing on a new and delicious discovery to someone else.

I stopped in and was pleased to find plenty of vegetarian options on the menu. I was also really pleased to see that almost all of the ingredients on the menu are locally sourced from farmers in the area. Very cool- and especially cool to see the map on the wall showing where each ingredient comes from.

I easily decided on a portobello mushroom with a slice of provolone, pickles, ‘S’macks’ sauce (which is basically a kicked up mayo), lettuce, and tomatoes all on a yummy potato bun. I also ordered a side of fries and a lemonade.

As I went to sit down to wait for my order, the owner was walking around passing out samples of their coconut custard and I couldn’t possibly turn that down. WOW. Super creamy with that hint of coconut threaded texture, just the right amount of sweet, the perfect temperature and consistency. Dad was right, it’s sooooooo good. If I hadn’t already told myself that the fries were the indulgence I was allowing myself today, I would totally have ordered a cup of the custard after I ate lunch.

So then my meal arrived at my table looking amazing. The portobello sandwich was perfect- juicy mushroom, not drowning in cheese and sauce, topped with pickles and the fresh veggies that I requested. The fries were crispy and hot, crinkle cut, and super fresh. I was going to have this with my lemonade, but the owner brought me some peach iced tea that was refreshing and ice cold and it went really well with my meal..so I alternated between the two drinks.

Even though I was stuffed at this point, how could I turn down the incredible coconut/chocolate shake he also brought over when I was done eating lunch?? I was only going to have a sip to taste it but….Well, the end of that story goes as predictably as you’d imagine.

Overall, I am DEFINITELY a fan of S’macks and will surely be back soon. Actually, today is my day off from work and writing this entry up has sparked a craving…so I may just make it over there later today. Give it a try!

 

 

El Lago Ranchero: 8126 Lakewood Main St Ste 101, Lakewood Ranch, FL

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lago chips and salsatortillas shrimp and veggies rice and beans lago toppings We’ve lived near here for almost 2 years and had never been to El Lago Ranchero before last week. We wanted to use a coupon we had for our old standby, Mi Pueblo, but it was closed. Still craving fajitas, we decided to give El Lago a shot, despite the fact that we’d heard it wasn’t that great. We were happy to find them open on a late afternoon and were seated immediately.

Our waitress was fun and friendly, and brought us our drinks right away (including a sample taste of a margarita for Gabriel) as well as a basket of chips and salsa. We ordered the shrimp and veggie fajitas for 2, which came with sides of rice and refried beans, tortillas, and all of the typical toppings: cheese, sour cream, tomatoes/cilantro/onions, lettuce and guacamole. Everything was tasty, fresh, and was served quickly.

Granted, we didn’t order anything particularly complex, and it’s hard to really mess up fajitas too much, but we really enjoyed it. It’s definitely more Americanized Tex-Mex than authentic Mexican food…but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book. The shrimp were fresh and cooked well, the vegetables were fine, not over-seasoned or over-cooked, and the bill was very affordable.

We will surely go back!

Antoine’s Restaurant: 5020 Fruitville Rd Sarasota, FL

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antoine's carrot bean souprolls with butter escargotpasta with veggies and shrimpmusselsfries

Gabriel and I lived in a condo nearby to Antoine’s for a few months, and when it opened, I put it on my short list of restaurants I wanted to try. We never got around to it while we still lived over there, but about 6 months later, we happened to snag a Living Social deal to go…and finally cashed in on it last weekend. If you notice that the building looks an awful lot like a fast food joint from the outside, you’re very perceptive. It was apparently a KFC before the new owner gutted the interior and made it into an adorable, 12 table, fine dining restaurant.

We made an early reservation and were greeted by the waiter, Olivier, when we arrived. There was only one other couple there, and we felt like we got VIP service right from the start. We were told that it’s staffed by only the one waiter, one chef and a dishwasher…Impressive, and the waiter clearly had a lot of pride in what he does. Unfortunately, as the evening went on, and the tiny restaurant filled up, the service we received got worse and worse. By the end of the meal, we sat at our table waiting with empty plates in front of us for more than 20 minutes before they were cleared. When I mentioned to the waiter that he could really use a busboy or another staffer’s help, he replied, “This is fine dining and people are used to good things taking a long time.” Ummm, no. I disagree. People who are paying $80 for a meal for 2 expect 5 star service throughout the meal, not only during the times when the restaurant is mostly empty. That said, our experience was excellent anyway, the food was some of the best I’ve had in Sarasota, and for that reason I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest it to others…but I would strongly encourage going early- before the place fills up.

We started with an amuse bouche which was a carrot, bean soup that we both loved. It was just enough to make my hungry, pregnant tummy stop growling- but was thin and light…not so filling that it spoiled the courses that we ordered to follow.

Next, we were served 2 warm, freshly baked rolls that were delicious along with a pat of butter shaped into a flower that the waiter proudly announced he’d sculpted just for me…very sweet until I heard him present it the same way to every other lady who sat down. Humph. I thought these rolls were quite delicious, but didn’t ask for more since we had ordered an appetizer and 2 entrees…However, a few days later, my father and his significant other went to dine there and asked for more the waiter brought out ONE more roll, cut in half. Huh? Then, when they asked for more again, they told they’d be charged for them. WHAT? No. Not ok. Not ever ok. That is just so cheap and pathetic. At a restaurant like this, PLEASE serve your guests as much bread as they want and don’t be so tacky as to try to charge for them. That’s really just appalling to me.

For our appetizer we ordered a traditional escargot- which we both loved. The snails were fresh and the herby, butter sauce they were served in was full of flavor. If we weren’t worried about filling up before our entrees even arrived, we definitely would have asked for more bread at this point to sop that amazing sauce up with.

For our entrees, we HAD to order a pot of mussels- having loved them at Brasserie Belge (the owner’s previous restaurant) and also the fettucini with vegetables and shrimp (which we added at the waiter’s suggestion…and he was right, they were amazing). The pasta here is made to order, and it really showed. It was my favorite part of the meal. It’s touches like homemade pasta and seafood that arrives fresh daily, that make this a standout restaurant.

Overall, I would absolutely recommend Antoine’s. I think it’s a REAL standout in Sarasota purely because of the lovely, romantic atmosphere and the amazing food. That said, if you do, be warned that you WILL wait a long time for service if you go during ‘normal’ dinner hours, that you WILL spend a lot of money, and that you WILL pay for rolls if you want more than one per person, which again, I think is totally ridiculous. Other than that, enjoy…The food is truly top quality and if it wasn’t so pricey that it can’t really be a regular spot for me, I would totally go back frequently. If you go, let me know what you think!

Louie’s Modern: 1289 N. Palm Ave. Sarasota, FL

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heart of palm salad kale salad salmon

I have a new Sarasota favorite! YAY! I met my family here for a goodbye dinner as my parents are heading out of town for the summer. Knowing that it’s run by the same people as Libby’s, (another fav) I knew I was in for a treat. I did go with slightly lowered expectations because of a surprising number of poor reviews on Yelp, but I had an open mind having been misled by Yelpers before.

Pulling up to the cool building/parking lot/outdoor bar area, It looked like a pretty fancy place by Florida standards. We walked inside to find beautifully tasteful decor. A sleek fountain in the front sets the tone of the ambiance which is minimalist, detail-oriented and chic. It is young, modern and hip feeling, but not in a trendy way.

We were seated at a comfortable banquette and looked over our placemat-menus. It has one of the most appealing selections of any restaurant I’ve been to. Even as a non-meat-eater, there were tons of awesome choices and picking one was not an easy task. It was made a little easier when Gabriel agreed to share two different salads as a starter.

The Kale Caesar was exceptional. I happen to love Kale in any form, but for the many people who don’t, I think this salad would be a great way to try it again. It didn’t even need the dressing that it came with, but once I tasted the creamy, delicious version of this classic, I devoured it even faster. The other salad we ordered was the Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with roasted beets, sunchoke, shaved fennel, radish, cucumber, pressed ricotta, and a fancy aged balsamic. It was light but full of flavor with ingredients that definitely don’t find their way into my at-home salads. Although I preferred the Kale salad, this too was wonderful.

For my entree, I ordered the Wood Fired Scottish Salmon served with blood orange confit, hearts of palm,  and pomegranate. I had a delicious side of roasted mushrooms- which sadly, I forgot to photograph. Both were outstanding, cooked to perfection and full of unexpected, complimentary flavors. The portion sizes were just right- and except for a small taste of a homemade cracker and some garlic toast, I didn’t even need to fill up on the awesome (and dangerously tempting) basket of bread on the table. I did, however, fall victim to sharing a glorious slice of Key Lime pie. It’s one of my very favorite desserts and not even wedding-preparation dieting could hold me back from indulging in a shared piece. (This too, I forgot to photograph. Sorry!)

Overall, my experience here was way above my expectations. It’s no surprise that even in the ‘off season’ they were crowded and having a reservation proved to be a good (and necessary) idea. I hope that my 5 star review will help the Yelp ratings, which I am happy to report, are WAY off.  I will surely be back asap. The prices are reasonable for an amazing dinner out, and I honestly loved everything about it. Bravo!

 

Shoogie Boogies, 1919 Morrill St, Sarasota, FL

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I was lucky enough to have a beautiful bridal shower thrown for me at Shoogie Boogies. It was the most perfect setting I could imagine, and everything was flawless. I found the owner to be extremely patient, detail-oriented, friendly and with seriously awesome taste. I’ve read a bunch of reviews of Shoogie Boogies on various websites and am honestly shocked to read anything that’s less than top notch. I’m guessing that some of the complainers are ‘bridezilla types’ who found some way to make it the restaurant’s fault if it rained, or if the strawberry wasn’t exactly the shade of red that they’d requested.

My guests and I were warmly welcomed into the flower-filled garden area with champagne flutes of elderberry water. Yummm, delightfully refreshing! We sat at a long table under giant white umbrellas, and took in the amazing presentations of tea sandwiches on pedestals, cheese and cracker plates, fresh bread and olive oil, and ginger/pear iced tea. The touches on each table setting were adorable, from napkin rings with fresh flowers, to lovely floral arrangements and quirky fairy-tale touches everywhere. You really have to see this place to believe just how girly/romantic/charming the setting is. It’s really a dream.

Soon, wonderful salads were brought out, and we all enjoyed the excellent quality cheeses and fresh fruits and veggies. When the owner noticed dark clouds overhead, she thoughtfully prepared one of the inside rooms for us, and invited us to move under cover for desserts and gift-opening. We took her up on her offer, not wanting to get soaked any more than her staff did, and moved inside to another beautiful setting. Her portrait photography on the walls is exquisite, and everyone enjoyed looking at each one in what felt like a private dining room at a gallery.

Our iced teas were refilled and dessert platters were brought out to share. Each of the sample-sized cakes were delicious, but the total amount for 12 sugar-loving women was a little on the skimpy side. That alone is seriously the only fault I can find in this beautiful day, and really not enough of one to even bother with. I do have to be honest though, and if everything I wrote was gushy, you wouldn’t believe it anyway 🙂

I can’t possibly recommend Shoogie Boogies any higher. If you have a ladies lunch, a girls outing, a bridal or baby shower or even a wedding, it’s a perfect choice. I can’t wait to go back, so please feel free to invite me!

Cracker’s Bar & Grill: 502 NW 6th St. Crystal River, FL

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After an AMAZING experience of swimming with a wild manatee, Gabriel and I found ourselves starving and in a town we knew nothing about. Our boat captain told us that Crackers is the best place around to grab lunch, so we headed straight there.

We walked through the restaurant to be seated out back, and found a huge deck with round tables and umbrellas. It had a tiki bar/casual vibe and there was even the predictable dude-with-guitar playing decent, classic rock, cover tunes.

Our waiter took our order and made a few suggestions. We started with the clam strips appetizer- one of my favorite and very rarely indulged-in snacks. We decided to share the suggested salmon and grouper sandwiches with sides of fries and a salad.

The clam strips came out quickly and looked awesome- if not kind of skimpy. They were hot, crunchy and a little bit more breaded than I like, but we polished them off so quickly that we felt a little shorted. The price was more or less fair, but the portion really could have been a bit more generous.

The sandwiches and the bread they came on were delicious. The fish was simply prepared and fresh, and the ripe tomatoes and crunchy lettuce were refreshing. The rolls were great for the first few bites, but quickly got soggy beyond holding, and ended up on the plate while we used a fork to finish the fish. The fries were exactly as requested- extra crunchy and well-done. The salad, made mostly of iceberg and croutons, left a lot to be desired. I find it especially odd when the sandwiches come with a decent lettuce like romaine, and then they skimp with a salad made of iceberg.

Overall, the setting was what made this a memorable meal. The food was pretty good- but not really noteworthy. If you’re in the area, it’s a fair choice, but I’d be inclined to explore more if I’m ever back there with some time and hunger on my hands.

 

Mattison’s City Grille, 1 North Lemon Ave, Sarasota, FL

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As you may or may not know, Gabriel and I donate blood regularly every 8 weeks. When we moved to FL and continued the tradition we’d started in NYC, we found that the donation center here gives a restaurant gift card after every 3 donations. Score! Everyone wins!

We decided to go to Mattison’s City Grille.  On our first attempt, a loud, not-very-good, cover band was playing and we decided to change our plans. We tried again a couple of weeks later and found a great jazz band playing and we asked to be seated.

We sat at a corner table on the outside edge of the dining area (and didn’t realize until later that the smell of gasoline from the torches would repeatedly waft over to us). The waiter came over and took our order, and at that time we also asked for bread, water, and utensils. We did not see our waiter again until almost 30 minutes later, when he showed up with our bread and entrees all together at the same time. We still had no water or utensils. We requested them. More than 5 minutes later, another waiter walked by and we asked HIM to bring us water and utensils, which he gladly did immediately.

Our food was actually pretty good, and had the service not completely ruined it, my opinion on Mattison’s would be quite different. The bread and butter were both delicious, with touches of rosemary and garlic. The salmon that topped the dinner salad was fresh, and cooked exactly right. The mushrooms that came with the ravioli were meaty and probably my favorite part of the meal. The ravioli and sauce were also excellent.

Overall, well, I’m not really sure. Did we just get one really bad waiter but maybe the others are all good? We still have another gift certificate so I guess we’ll go back eventually. I’ll let you know!

Don Pablos: 5911 Fruitville Rd. Sarasota, FL

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pablo margarita pablo dip sampler pablo chips fajita sides:beans and rice pablo tortilla portobello fajitas shrimp fajitas

Gabriel and I had a ‘free dip sampler’ coupon for the longest time and finally decided to use it. When we arrived, we found a very casual but cool atmosphere in a huge space that looked like a converted warehouse or fire station. It was busy, and very family/kid friendly. We were seated immediately at a booth and the waitress took our orders for a frozen margarita to share and the dip sampler. We also placed our entree orders at that time for the shrimp fajitas and the portobello mushroom fajitas.

The dips arrived a few minutes later with our massive (way too sweet) margarita, and we enjoyed the fresh, warm chips and super indulgent dips. This is not the kind of food we’d normally order because it was probably a week’s worth of fat and carbs, but we thought it was a pretty tasty treat. Being that this was ‘moving week’ for us, we were starving, out of kitchen supplies, and totally ok with eating junk food for a meal.

The fajitas and toppings were very plentiful and the quality was so-so. Nothing to write home about, nothing to rush to go back for, but definitely filling and tasty. The shrimp were on the salty side and the mushrooms were flavored with seasonings that I didn’t love, but the tortillas were fresh and hot and the guacamole was cool and creamy.

I doubt we will be back- but not because it wasn’t a perfectly decent meal. We just really love Mi Pueblo, and the price, efficiency, atmosphere and food there all trump Don Pablos by a long shot.

Papa Nick’s Pasta & Pizza: 4940 Fruitville Rd, Sarasota, FL

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wine papa bread papa chowder papa salad paparanch and house papaspinach shells eggplant rollentini penne

 

For 3 months, Gabriel and I lived practically across the street from Papa Nick’s. It wasn’t until the night before we moved to another town that we finally got around to trying it. It was fairly late for dinner (by Florida standards) and there was just one other group there when we arrived. We sat in the main dining room but quickly asked to be moved because it was freezing in there. The waitress was happy to find us a table in a warmer section and we sat down to look at the menus.

The prices are very reasonable, with most entrees around $13 and including soup, salad, bread and pasta. The menu, however,  is nothing special. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect of a strip mall Italian restaurant. We ordered a glass of Chianti to share- but found it to be extremely watery. I guess for a $5 glass, we shouldn’t have expected anything great. The bread was at least a day old already and had a stale crust. The clam chowder was watery and sort of gummy with no real clam pieces and only an occasional bite of potato. It was also sort of luke warm. The salads were mostly iceberg lettuce with a couple of ripe grape tomatoes and a slice of cucumber, and were served with plastic squeeze bottels of dressing. Classy.

Our main dishes were actually quite good- but pretty much everything is quite good when it’s smothered in loads of mozzarella cheese. I should definitely give credit where it’s due however, and the truth is that the tomato sauce is fantastic. It’s exactly how I like it with a slight sweetness to it and a smooth, thick, consistency. The spinach/ricotta stuffed shells were the favorite over the eggplant parmesan, but really both were enjoyable.  The pasta was typical boxed penne- and at that point I was too full to want more carbs.

Overall, for about $15 per person including tip, I guess I would recommend it in certain situations…For instance, if you are starving from packing all day, close by, and with less than $20 per person to spend, give it a shot!

 

 

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.