A big room is tricked out in an industrial-rustic design scheme with a half wall separating the dining room and the bar/tap wall. Exposed ceiling ducts, beer barrels piled up for effect, and plenty of hard surface give the place a slightly gritty warehouse aspect. But banquettes and table seating are comfortable and your napkin is a nice new folded dish towel (a trend in casual restaurants). The floor is stained concrete and a wall of faux-brick adds warmth.Such is the story of Oak & Stone. With its new restaurant, the TableSeide Restaurant Group—the team behind sophisticated Libby’s Café + Bar, Louies Modern and Muse at the Ringling Museum—has created a thoroughly modern tavern that aims at a wider audience, with 56 beers, artisanal pizza and American comfort food.Forget the wine list. These days, new restaurants in Sarasota are more apt to tout their beer selection. We now have a number of home-grown breweries (and more coming soon) and a plethora of eateries high, low and in-between pairing their dishes with the latest in craft beers from all over the world and right here at home.
A host of wall-mounted flat screen televisions shows live or past games or sportscasters talking to one another. But the volume is low and you can easily ignore the TVs and concentrate on the menu and the kinds of beer you’ve been wanting to taste.
The big menu focuses on American bistro food that pairs well with a beer—hamburgers, meatball sliders, chicken quesadilla ($12), bison chile nachos ($14), fried calamari or a Black Angus pale ale hot dog smothered in onions and fried bacon ($10). A house favorite is crispy-fried mozzarella balls that qualify as first-rate Italian street food. You can nibble them with a brew, but they also come atop a pizza or as lollipops on a stick with San Marzano dipping sauce ($10). Sooner or later everybody orders them. You should, too.
Mac ’n’ cheese with a bacon crust is $8; and if you want a full meal there are six entrées (about $15-24), including a bison meatloaf topped with a fried egg and served with mashed potato and onion petals. A salmon filet served with spinach and Tuscan beans is another option. Soups and salads are heavy on the cheese, bacon and onion.
The open kitchen has two fiery ovens that turn out artisan pizzas. These 10-inch pizzas, with thin crispy crust, range in price from $10 to $16 and go up from there depending on how you customize your pie. The Cedar Key pie with white cheddar, bacon, caramelized onion and sour cream is a big hit; also the sausage and meatball one. Ale buttermilk chicken tenders are the star of another pizza that includes bleu cheese, white cheddar, onion petals and aioli hot sauce. The vegetarian pizza combines kale pesto, broccoli, feta, artichoke and mozzarella. And, of course, the classic pizza is vegetarian, too, with fresh mozzarella, basil and pizza sauce. As a pizza kitchen, this one is excellent, with or without a beer. The kitchen believes in generosity with its pizza toppings.
But craft beer is at the heart of the appeal at Oak & Stone, and the way that you sample it is unusual. You’re given a bracelet that becomes your bar tab. When you go to the tap wall and select a brew, you scan the bracelet and are charged by how many ounces you pour. If you want a pint, the price ranges from about $6 to $12. A customer’s bracelet is automatically deactivated when it hits 36 ounces. But if you’re not intoxicated, a server may reactivate the bracelet. There’s also a full bar at Oak & Stone including craft cocktails, several made with beer.
The black-clad young servers, many with seriously artistic tattoos covering large parts of their bodies, add to the cool ambiance. But they’re not just for show. They’re knowledgeable about the bracelet system and the pizza customization and can guide you through a memorable beer tasting experience, too. The buzz about Oak & Stone is positive, and it should be.