Editors' Picks: Best of the New
Best New Late-night Food
The new sandwich counter at Melange, the Main Street restaurant formerly known as Lan, was an instant hit with downtown nighthawks, including restaurant and bar workers famished after their shifts. Stop in from 8 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. any night except Tuesday for a panini on housemade focaccia, soup and salads. Pair it all with an exquisite cocktail from Pangea, the restaurant’s tiny lounge. 1564 Main St., (941) 870-5555.
Best New Place for Chocolate
Chocolatier Carol Sirard has had a following around town for years, but when her new Sirard’s Chocolate Café added lunch and a coffee/pastry bar—with virtually every item containing chocolate—to her already famous handmade truffles and other goodies, our vehicular GPS started sending us there on its own. 5170 Palmer Parkway Blvd., (941) 923-2462.
Best Total Restaurant Reinvention
Talk about an extreme makeover. The transformation of the Ritz’s formal Vernona Restaurant into the hip and happening Jack Dusty seafood eatery, with an open concept and cool tones of driftwood and blue, is a complete jaw dropper right down to the beautiful water views. Stop by the bar for a hand-crafted cocktail and enjoy the scene. 1111 Ritz-Carlton Drive, (941) 309-2266.
Best New Menu Expansion
A family-friendly seafood icon, Phillippi Creek has raised its game with some modern new menu items, from avocado-topped fish tacos in blue-corn tortilla shells to Sarasota’s most sophisticated grouper sandwich—with Key lime mustard and avocado on crunchy ciabatta (ask for it special). Plus, there are sensational new salads at lunch, created by the chef at Table Creekside next door. 5353 S.Tamiami Trail, (941) 925-4444.
Best New Addition to Siesta Key
Sean Murphy had a stroke of genius when he created the casual, small-plate centered Eat Here on Anna Maria, and downtown Sarasotans were ecstatic when he brought its clone to north Main Street. Now Siesta Key Village-goers have their own Eat Here to cheer over. Same great formula and almost identical menu. 240 Avenida Madera, Siesta Key, (941) 346-7800.
Best New Stargazing
On a balmy evening, follow the in crowd to the ultra-chic new Shore Diner upstairs on St. Armands. Open and airy, the design recalls the Sarasota School of Architecture, and although there’s a lively cocktail lounge and beautiful dining room, we love sitting on the back patio, where on most nights they peel back the retractable roof so you can wine and dine under the stars. 465 John Ringling Blvd., (941) 296-0301.
Best New Grocery Store
For local foodies, Trader Joe’s arrival in Sarasota last September was a high point of the year. The specialty store is famous for delicious, healthy groceries at unbeatable prices. Relatively small but brimming with goodies, the store attracts diehard fans who rave about everything from its coffee and wine, including the legendary Three-Buck-Chuck, to freezers full of gourmet fare (don’t miss the Indian offerings). 4101 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 922-5727.
Best New Reason to Try Raw
Forget raw food stereotypes: At Ionie’s Raw Food Café, offerings are packed with big-time flavors like garlic, ginger, coconut, cilantro, lemon and many more. The tiny café serves a selection of juices, smoothies and salads, as well as a handful of fascinating entrées—think kelp noodle pesto and even raw lasagna with macadamia cheese and zucchini noodles—that delight your palate and defy expectations. 1241 Fruitville Road, (941) 955-4599.
Best New Sandwiches
Mozzarella Fella quickly earned a legion of fans for its New York-Italian-style sandwiches. Wrapped in deli paper, the sandwiches span classics like chicken/veal/eggplant parm, deli creations like Boars Head ham with pesto aioli, and daily specials like the heavenly, quick-to-sell-out, gravy-soaked braised short rib—and almost all feature the Fella’s house-made mozz. 1668 Main St., (941) 366-7600.
Best New Southern Roadhouse
Take the soul of chicken and waffles and the sophistication of a New Orleans Sazerac cocktail, add some Southern catfish, Cajun shrimp and all-American mac ‘n’ cheese, and you’ve got the Rosemary District’s Blue Rooster, where you’ll spot a lively mix of local hipsters and movers and shakers. After you’ve eaten your fill, don’t be surprised if a live bluegrass band gets you up and dancing. 1525 Fourth St., (941) 388-7539.
Best New Place to Study Tequila
With a menu of 101 different types of tequila, you’ll find exactly the taste and texture you’re looking for at new downtown bar and eatery Tequila Cantina—and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, the knowledgeable staff will help you navigate the clear, un-aged blancos, wooden barrel-aged reposados, and añejos, aged no less than one year. ¡Salud! 1454 Main St., (941) 554-8586.
Best New Reason to Celebrate Cheese
Cheesemongers-in-training and cheese novices alike will love downtown Sarasota’s Artisan Cheese Company, where owners Louise and Parker Converse source specialty cheeses, gourmet jams, jellies and nut butters and small-batch pastas, crackers, cookies and more. You’ll also find a small but excellent lunch menu, including an abundant salad and a grilled cheese to die for. 1310 Main St., (941) 951-7860.
Best New Urban-chic Restaurant
With its downtown location and mid-century-modern, industrial-chic décor, State Street Eating House + Cocktails was a hit the moment it opened its doors. Lovers of libations can gather around the bar for craft cocktails and tasty bar snacks; those who prefer to sit and savor can enjoy chef Christian Hershman’s sophisticated comfort food. 1533 State St., (941) 951-1533.
Best New Restaurant Tech
Carmel Café iPads
We love Carmel Café’s take on modern Mediterranean cuisine, but we love even more its individual iPad menus, which let you browse and select from small and large plate choices, along with the suggested wine pairings. With a swipe of the finger, your order is placed. Quick, easy and fun. 8433 Cooper Creek Blvd.; (941) 893-5955.
Best New Healthy Dining
Picture this: A beautiful table set outside, the scent of orange blossoms wafting through the air and the stars shining above you. A collaboration between Bradenton’s King Family Farm and event-planning biz The Loft 5, Table to Farm: Redefining Dining dinners (only farm-fresh, local ingredients) showcase the beauty of both local produce and the farm’s pastoral environment. Visit theloft5.com or call (941) 779-9801.
Best New Brunch
The insanely creative chefs at The Table Creekside are wowing diners with what they call a “global” Sunday brunch. And globe-trot they do, with served choices like Kobe beef carpaccio, Nantucket scallop risotto, Napa grape salad, Venezuelan king crab quesadilla, Mediterranean lamb frittata—and much, much more. Choose a trio for $19.95 and make sure to order one of the excellent craft cocktails. 5365 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 921-9465.
Best New Ethnic Restaurant
All you have to do is drive by the parking lot at Yummy House to know the winner here. Before it opened, fans of its Tampa Bay locations were buzzing with anticipation; once the kitchen’s chefs started cooking up dim sum for lunch and Hong Kong fare for dinner, they were willing to wait an hour or more just to order the salt-and-pepper tofu or roasted duck. 3232 N. Tamiami Trail; (941) 351-1688.
Best New Sweet Treats
Toasted s’more truffles. Triple fudge chunk cookie bowls. Lemon blackberry cheesecake mousse. The Short Giraffe delights with an array of baked-from-scratch mini confections. Join the growing corps of devotees, including nearby opera and theater staff, who are finding it hard to get through a day without stopping in at the tiny First Street shop, owned by Leigh Growney. 1247 First St., (941) 704-2378.
Best New Reason to Stay Caffeinated
The Coffee Loft not only offers a menu bursting with delicious treats; its locally roasted coffee is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to its community and cultural awareness. The nonprofit coffee shop provides customers, particularly college students, a safe, comfortable place to interact. And the profits go to both community and international humanitarian projects. Tastes good, feels good. 5025 N. Tamiami Trail, (941) 706-4047.
Best Amish Restaurant
Der Dutchman (formerly Troyer’s Dutch Heritage), Dutch Valley
Best Japanese Restaurant
JPan, Pacific Rim
Best French Restaurant
C’est la Vie
A French Affair, Miguel’s
Best Latin American Restaurant
Best Italian Restaurant
Best Mexican Restaurant
El Adobe, Two Senoritas
Best Seafood Restaurant
Owen’s Fish Camp
Captain Brian’s, Walt’s Fish Market & Restaurant
Best Sushi Restaurant
JPan, Yume Sushi
Best Vegetarian-Friendly Restaurant
Simon’s, Sweet Tomatoes
Best Restaurant for Breakfast
Station 400, Yoder’s
Best Restaurant for Brunch
Station 400, Yoder’s
Best Romantic Restaurant
Ophelia’s on the Bay
Beach Bistro, Michael’s On East
Best Thai Restaurant
Thailand, Tropical Thai
Best Restaurant/Bar for Craft Beer
Darwin’s on 4th, World of Beer
Best Waterfront Dining
Old Salty Dog, Ophelia’s on the Bay
Best Restaurant for Steak (chain)
Fleming’s, Ruth’s Chris
Best Restaurant for Steak (non-chain)
Michael’s On East
Alpine Steakhouse, The Waterfront Restaurant
Best Upscale Restaurant
Michael’s On East
Fleming’s, Ruth’s Chris
Best Restaurant Wine List
Michael’s On East
Best New Restaurant
State Street Eating House + Cocktails
Darwin’s on 4th, Shore Diner
Square 1 Burgers & Bar
Patrick’s 1481, Five Guys
Michael’s On East
Best Coffee Shop (non-chain)
The Coffee Loft, Simon’s
Yoder’s peanut butter pie
Euphemia Haye’s chocolate cake, Morton’s peanut butter brownie cake
Best Pizza (non-chain)
Il Panificio, Rico’s
The Surfer at Anna’s Deli
Cuban at Corkscrew Deli, Italian at Main Bar
Darwin Santa Maria, Steve Phelps
Best Specialty Food Market
Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods
Best Place to Buy Wine
ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Norman’s
Jim’s Small Batch Bakery, Morton’s
Best Sports Bar
Miller’s Sarasota Ale House
Evie’s Tavern, Gecko’s Grill & Pub
The Bramble at State Street
Bloody Mary at Libby’s, Chocolate Martini at The Ritz-Carlton
Best Happy Hour Menu
Libby’s Café + Bar
Fleming’s, Hyde Park, Roy’s (tie)
Best Outdoor Doggie Dining
Old Salty Dog
Mattison’s City Grille, O’Leary’s