Boca bar uqscdz

Sitting on the very narrow patio at Boca, shielded from the street by an eye-level hedge of herbs—which the staff tells us are plucked by the cooks for use in the kitchen—I kept thinking about Rick’s Café in Casablanca: “Everybody comes to Rick’s.”

At the moment in Sarasota, everybody comes to Boca. An elegant elderly lady, who, it turned out, was dining alone. A Jersey Shore guy on the prowl. A party of eight young women celebrating a birthday, balloons and presents included. An impossibly gorgeous couple in their 50s, a type Sarasota is starting to see more. Actual children. And of course, a hefty dose of the relentlessly with-it retirees, without whose patronage all local restaurants fall flat on their faces.

True, I didn’t see any political refugees desperate for letters of transit, but if things come to that I’m sure Boca will be their hangout, too.

It’s got a great location, smack in the middle of downtown. Not a big space but an unusual one. Never have I see more “venues” crammed into a restaurant. In addition to the patio there’s a big and very convivial bar. On one side are high-top communal tables, on the other are booths and tables in no particular order. Up a very busy stairway is a loft space with even more tables. You get a lot to choose from.

Food-wise the restaurant has a very strong gimmick, which I am trying not to hold against it. The owners—who have several other versions of Boca in Central Florida—believe in locally sourced farm stuff. That movement leaves me cold. I couldn’t care less where the food comes from. But I have to admit the food is good, with lots of unusual choices.

But the best thing about the food is the way it provokes conversation. At one of the communal tables you may well take a bite of a stranger’s flatbread with pickled pumpkin and arugula or other produce of the day. And the menu alone gives you lots to talk about. It’s the perfect place for a first date.

No, I take that back. I tried that the other night. With so much to look at, so many people to check out, my poor date felt totally neglected. So come for the people watching. It’s where Sarasota is hanging out this winter. 

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