I've known Steve Phelps, the James Beard-nominated chef/owner of downtown's Indigenous, for years. I watched him come up in Sarasota's culinary world, and at the first two restaurants where he worked, I often thought, "This man needs to be executive chef and bring the food to the next level." You could just see—and taste—his passion for food on the plate. What’s more, Phelps has a personality that makes you want to be around him. When you're chatting about local sweet corn, or shucking green beans together, you can feel his connection to his ingredients (especially seafood), and his dedication to sustainability.
I can honestly say that I have never ever been disappointed dining at Indigenous. In fact, perhaps my greatest disappointment is that I don't have the chance to dine there more often.
I treasure those moments there, especially among friends. The dining rooms, both inside and out, feel Zen and balanced. Phelps' kitchen is tiny, with his copper pots crowning the space, yet he is a giant of masterfully prepared dishes. I always order the "Hook to Fork" (fish) or "Plentiful and Abundant" (sustainable species from reliable sources) options on the menu, and they always deliver. Case in point: last week the Hook to Fork special was Gulf grouper with Hollandaise, and it was utterly delicious. Same with a new winter menu item: local greens with smoked whipped chevre, apples, beets, spiced pecans and a maple-Dijon vinaigrette.
I also know a certain someone who insists on ordering the mushroom bisque and the grass-fed burger each time we dine at Indigenous, and I inevitably reach over and snag a bite. They're always wonderful. There's such comfort in both the food and the decor, from the dining room to the porch seating to the little wine bar cottage, where I love having a bottle of craft beer and an order of Parmesan beignets.
In short: Phelps deserves the nominations and awards, and I cherish each visit as a fellow chef and admirer.