“What is going on at The Overton?” Some variation of that question dominated chatter within the Sarasota food scene all last fall. The stylish, open-air Rosemary District restaurant, bar and coffee shop opened in August, then closed, then opened, then closed, then opened who knows how many times, before finally settling into a predictable routine in November, after the exit of two of its founding partners.
The restaurant started as a collaboration between chef Christian Hershman, best known for opening State Street Eating House + Cocktails in 2012, Michael Martella, the president of Boar’s Head, and Keith and Erin Zolner, the couple behind Perq Coffee Bar. Hershman alleges that the Zolners embezzled money from the company, a claim Keith Zolner calls “absolutely not true.” No charges were ever filed, but a mediated settlement led to the Zolners’ departure.
During all the legal wrangling, The Overton faltered. The hours grew spotty and the menu was inconsistent—a major disappointment, considering that when you could get in the door, the experience was often wonderful.
The build-out is beautiful. The Overton is laid out like a swanky garage, with high ceilings and exposed concrete block walls with roll-up doors that stay open all day. The courtyard out front is dotted with wood tables anchored to the ground and circled with low, mod seats, creating a breezy, indoor-outdoor flow of people and air that is comfortable even when temperatures spike.
Hershman designed the menu to focus on quick-fired favorites that would go well with the restaurant’s top-shelf coffees and on-tap cocktails. The combination has made The Overton an ideal destination for all types of occasions. You can grab a nitro cold brew ($5) and kvetch about politics with a friend, extend date night into the next morning with a hoecake ($13) and pork belly ($9) brunch, or hoist an after-hours Paloma ($7) with your cubicle mates. You’ll see businessmen going over building plans, young women refueling after a yoga session and maybe even a shirtless hipster cycling around blasting Toto from a speaker attached to his bike.
It’s Hershman’s attention to detail that elevates what seems at first like a limited pick of foods. The excellent burger ($8 for a single patty, $10.50 for a double) is a lightly fancified diner throwback, with a thin patty that comes either cooked all the way through or just a little pink. A nicely toasted bun, house-made pickles and “secret sauce” complete the package. A shareable pile of French fries ($6.50), meanwhile, is made with ribbon-thin slices of potato fried in beef tallow, an old-school technique that delivers a rich, salty payoff.
And everything tastes better with the restaurant’s cocktails, which are made in large batches and poured from a gleaming, high-tech tap system. The Corn and Oil ($7) is a sticky, rum-heavy showstopper, while the bourbon Old Fashioned ($7) is spiced and sweetened just right.
Not everything hits. A fried chicken sandwich special ($10) is bland, and at $7, the grilled cheese is mediocre. Last fall, the restaurant’s “vegan patty melt” ($10), made with chickpeas, zucchini and some sort of “vegan cheese,” tasted great, but in all the chaos it was dropped from the menu.
Taking a break on a recent afternoon, Hershman seems relieved that the drama of The Overton’s early days is behind him. “We’re here,” he says. “We’ve got legs. We’re not going anywhere.”
The Overton | 1420 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota | (941) 500-9175