Beer is the new wine, but you already know that by all the restaurants sprouting like hops all over the country and in our part of Florida. They’re called brewpubs, gastropubs, beer gardens, taverns, alehouses, taprooms and sometimes just bars or pubs.
These new beer-centric places are millennial-skewed and celebrate craft beers from local breweries as well as international beers, some of them outlandish. They all have the same look—relaxed-rustic-industrial with lots of wood, exposed ceiling mechanicals and metal. Then the look bends to glam with a glittery light fixture or two.
Classy-looking Cask & Ale in downtown Sarasota is the newest. Cask & Ale doesn’t make beer, but the place does showcase local craft and artisan beers as well as international beers made with wheat, citrus, honey, chocolate—you name it. Beer is on tap and in bottles with strange and funny names from far-off places. Servers offer sample shots to help you navigate the maze. Cask & Ale also has a menu of craft cocktails so creative they could take business away from the beers.
The big room features a long, handsome bar (yes, wall-mounted televisions) and a variety of seating that includes high-top pub tables, traditional tables, banquettes and a roomy round booth for large parties. There’s also outside seating on a cramped street-facing patio that fills up fast with clutches of friends under the age of 30.
What sets Cask & Ale apart from similar beer-centric places here is the food. It’s original. Executive chef Justin Sells pays particular attention to what pairs nicely with beer and what just tastes good on its own. His menu of small plates and entrées is tightly curated and imaginative. A graduate of both The Culinary Institute of America and Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, Sells worked his way up through three Emeril Lagasse restaurants in New Orleans, Orlando and Charlotte, North Carolina. And for five years he was the chef at Snake River Grill at L’auberge du Lac, a well-known casino resort in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Now he’s in Sarasota getting Cask & Ale up and running. The recipes he’s brought to town are first rate, and the presentations are sophisticated and artistic. The quality of ingredients and the creativity of the chef are reflected in the prices. Small-plate portions are not generous enough for sharing. At least I wouldn’t, especially the foie gras served on rustic toast with chestnut jam and bee-pollen sorghum molasses. It’s just a few little bites, but worth the $20.
Another small plate features two slices of medium-rare duck breast with kabocha squash, red quinoa and smoked cherry sauce at $18. The tender and flavorful Spanish octopus, nicely nestled in confit potatoes, wild arugula and red chimichurri, is $15. There’s whole grilled squid with squid ink aioli and garlic chips ($14), fried oysters with bacon lardons and Camembert cheese ($12) as well as chili-lacquered pork shank with lemongrass and roasted peanuts ($17).
Entrée options include trout schnitzel with yuzu pimento butter ($20), roasted half chicken with beans and greens ($22) or bison with parsnip purée and leeks fondue ($28). Each dish that comes out of the kitchen looks more tempting than the last, making Cask & Ale a unique eating experience whether or not you have a passion for beer. But do let your server suggest just the right beer to marry with your smoked salmon sitting atop a warm potato waffle topped with Mote Marine caviar.
If you don’t choose a beer out of a legion of options, peruse the cocktail menu and be adventurous for about $10-13. There’s a wine list too, with wines by the glass so that you can change your wine with the next small plate you order. Just remember, if you have a big appetite for strange and wonderful beers and unique and delicious small plates, you can run up a big bill by the end of the night. Sometimes you just have to indulge.