You can’t keep a good city down! Despite the pandemic, our editors found brave new businesses and innovative experiences that kept our sanity over the last year and showed us how resilient our region is and why we love living here. Here are our insider picks for the places you need to go.

 

Food & Drink

Best New Artsy Dining Options

Both The Ringling and the Sarasota Art Museum have upped their food games with a pair of new restaurants: The Ringling Grillroom and Bistro. The Grillroom features a wide menu that runs from lunch to dinner, while Bistro specializes in morning and midday fare, with a French-influenced menu built around seasonal ingredients. The Ringling Grillroom, inside The Ringling, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 360-7390, theringlinggrillroom.com; Bistro, inside the Sarasota Art Museum, 1001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 330-9881, sarasotaartmuseum.org/bistro

Best New Pizzerias

Vegans rejoiced when Lila chef Ryan Boeve opened Lucile Pizza & Wine Bar. The restaurant offers terrific plant-based pizzas and addictive, shareable sides. Even meat lovers will find something to enjoy. Farther south, RomanSQ brought rectangular, Roman-style pies to Gulf Gate. The crust is sturdy and crunchy on the bottom, airy and light above, and the toppings are creative and first-rate. Lucile Pizza & Wine Bar, 1660 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 330-0101, lucilesrq.com; RomanSQ, 6670 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 237-8742, romansq.com

Best New Coffee Shop

Rise Coffee Co. & Nye’s Cream Sandwiches doesn’t just serve excellent espresso, drip and cold brew drinks and scrumptious ice cream. It does so with a big heart. The shop hires employees with intellectual and physical disabilities, many of whom live in facilities like The Haven or Easter Seals Southwest Florida. The jobs help them earn a paycheck while also developing work and social skills. Whatever you order, you’ll feel good about it. 1534 State St., Sarasota, (941) 217-6449, riseandnyes.com

Best New Gulf Gate Hangout

The team behind the casual Gulf Gate Food + Beer went upscale with their new restaurant, Seabar, which boasts a stylish interior, an adventurous Pacific Rim menu and creative cocktails. Munch on Kung Pao octopus, slurp udon noodles, split a slice of toast slathered with uni butter and wash it down with a creative spin on an Old Fashioned or a tiki cocktail in an ultra-cool setting. 6540 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 923-6605, seabarsrq.com

Best New Taco Trend

2020 was the year the birria taco took over menus and Instagram feeds, thanks to their rich flavor and mesmerizing red-gold hue, which comes from the way the taco maker dips the tortilla in broth (usually beef) and then crisps it up on a flattop grill. Multiple local restaurants offer them as specials, but you’ll find these tacos full-time here: Bombón in north Sarasota and The Spot Tacos & More in Bradenton. You can’t go wrong with either. Bombón, 1118 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 487-8199, sarasotabombon.com; The Spot Tacos & More, 2303 First St., Bradenton, (941) 741-2011, thespottacocatering.com

Best New Bradenton Restaurant

Dave Shiplett left the world of fine dining to run Birdrock Taco Shack in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts. Then, last year, he expanded his comfort food reach by opening Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen. The restaurant harkens back to Shiplett’s childhood, with a menu drawn from what his mom would make as he was growing up in Bradenton. That means crispy fried chicken, cheesy grits and lightly fried green tomatoes. 1114 12th St. W., Bradenton, (941) 243-3735

Best New Sweet Spots

The University Town Center area was recently blessed with not one, but two great new places to satisfy your sweet tooth: Norman Love Confections and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Norman Love makes picture-perfect chocolates with lots of flavors that rotate with the seasons. Jeni’s, meanwhile, makes high-quality frozen treats with unique flavors like Buttercream Birthday Cake and Goat Cheese With Red Cherries. Norman Love Confections, 192 N. Cattlemen Road, Unit 7, Sarasota, (941) 777-5507, normanloveconfections.com; Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, 190 N. Cattlemen Road, Unit 4, Sarasota, (941) 358-5643, jenis.com

Best Comeback

Fans of Gold Star Donuts had given up hope that the shop would ever reopen after it closed in 2017. But then, like magic, it was reborn last September. The shop doesn’t get crazy with the flavors; you’ll find basics like apple fritters, bear claws and maple, chocolate and sprinkle yeast doughnuts. But these babies are enormous, perfectly made and crazy cheap. 1246 Whitfield Ave., Sarasota, (941) 755-1225

Best New Sandwich Makers

The first Smoqehouse opened in Bradenton Beach in 2017, but it didn’t hit the mainland until last year, when it took over the South Trail spot that once housed The Oaks Open Pit B-B-Q. As the name indicates, the emphasis here is on smoked meats, which are combined with other ingredients to make fantastic sandwiches. The menu changes often, but we enjoyed the Korean beef sandwich, and the restaurant’s basic brisket burger is a banger. 6112 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-9090, smoqehouse.com

Best New Food Truck

After Antonio Pereira was laid off from a gig as a server in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, he took matters into his own hands and launched a new food truck. Savor 100x35 is named for Puerto Rico’s length and width in miles, and Pereira’s food does justice to the island’s cuisine, with bright bowls stuffed with yucca, plantains, cilantro, avocado, rice, beans, guava, chicken, beef and pork. Find them on social media and smash that follow button. (787) 564-8354

Best New Booze Trend

The pandemic has wrecked business for countless local bars and restaurants, but one bright star shone amid the darkness. To help give bars a boost, the state allowed them to begin selling takeout cocktails in sealed containers. Some restaurants, like Sarasota’s Sage, even began bringing drinks out to your car. Let’s hope this is a trend that outlasts the pandemic.

Best New Customer Service

With in-person dining curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, many local restaurants were forced to get creative to stay alive and added or upgraded their online ordering and delivery options. Eating fine dining takeout on your couch, you’ll definitely miss the ambiance of your favorite date night spot, but the food tastes just as good, and you’re throwing your most-loved spots a lifeline until things get back to normal.

Best Mobile Market

If you want to get the farm to your table with ease, Grove Ladder Farm has turned its chicken-and-egg operation into a mobile farmers’ market. Farmer Tim Clarkson drives his green trailer, filled to the brim with edible goodies, to six spots from Manatee County to Stickney Point Road. Beyond his own Arcadia-raised chicken and beef, Grove Ladder offers meats and organic produce from Blumenberry Farms, Pastured Life Farm (non-GMO pastured poultry) and Tatum Ridge Farms (forest-raised organically fed heritage hogs). Just order online, find the nearest location and convenient time, and pick up. groveladderfarmllc.grazecart.com

Best New Restaurant Trend

So-called “ghost kitchens,” shared commercial kitchens, have been around for a long time, but the pandemic made their popularity explode. At Your Culinary Place in Gulf Gate, for example, you won’t find any tables or servers, but the space is home to both Tralia, a new sourdough pizza place, and Bootsy’s Pot Pies, which makes exceptional chicken pot pies. Order ahead, swing by at the appointed hour and head home with your treat. Bootsy’s also offers delivery. Your Culinary Place, 6592 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 922-9222, yourculinaryplace.com

Best New Holiday Tradition

Coquito, “small coconut” in Spanish, is a beloved Puerto Rican alternative to eggnog. Sugary, thick and strong, it’s made with rum, sweetened condensed milk and coconut cream, and now you can buy it from a local maker. Roberto Villanueva launched Coquito Roberto last year, selling 375- and 750-milliliter bottles that can either be picked up or delivered. Don’t be misled: Drinking coquito might be a Christmas tradition, but there’s no need to wait until December. coquitoroberto.com

Best New Farmers Market Vendor

The Sarasota Farmers Market endured an up-and-down year, with a closure forced by the pandemic followed by a loss of vendors who either went under or didn’t want to rejoin the market when it reopened. But the market ended the year strong, with an impressive slate of new vendors and products. Circle 6 Farm & Ranch is among this new cohort, joining the market last October to sell eggs, chicken and beef from its property in Duette. (813) 493-7921, (615) 440-2163, circle6farm.com

Best Upgrade

Beachside lobster rolls are back, thanks to chef and restaurateur Laszlo Bevardi, who recently renovated and reopened the concession stand at the Lido Beach Pavilion. The Lido Island Grill, as it’s now known, makes sandwiches, panini, tacos, burgers and salads, but it’s the return of the stand’s much-missed lobster rolls that is getting locals jazzed. The new look is part of a comprehensive overhaul of the pavilion, which also has new tables, benches and awnings. 400 Benjamin Franklin Drive, Sarasota, (941) 444-7495, lidoislandgrill.com

Shops & Services

Best New Air Escape

We love that Southwest Airlines made its first flight into Sarasota Bradenton International Airport from Baltimore on Valentine’s Day, since it was a match we’ve all been waiting for for years. Besides Baltimore, Southwest is also offering nonstop flights to and from Nashville, Houston, Chicago, Dallas and Grand Rapids (plus seasonally from Pittsburgh and Indianapolis), meaning no more drives to Tampa to get those fares we’ve craved. 

Best New Bookstore

Barnes & Noble may be a chain, but we say “Hallelujah” to any new spot where we can browse books (as well as toys, games and vinyl). When the University Town Center’s 14,000-square-foot location opened last summer, customers were waiting in line. When we set foot inside, we breathed in a deep helping of new book smell and felt as at home there as in the longtime South Tamiami Trail location. 200 N. Cattlemen Road, (941) 554-0317, barnesandnoble.com

Best New Special Delivery

During the pandemic, Sarasota mom Lisa Grabisch started an online gift box company called Happy & Humble, providing sustainable gift packages to friends and family. From corporate gatherings and holidays to house warmings and “thinking of you” gifts, Happy & Humble beautifully packages a variety of products like candles, specialty food and drinks, stationery and more, and delivers it to your door. These gifts are sure to make your loved ones smile. (941) 735-1237, shophappyandhumble.com

Best New Parrot Head Hotel

Jimmy Buffett made wasting away famous, and the Buffett-branded Margarita’s Compass Hotel Anna Maria Sound invites guests to do it in style and comfort. The waterfront restaurant, Floridays Woodfire Grill & Bar, has about 300 seats, 100 of them outside. Inside the six-story boutique hotel, each of the 123 rooms boasts a water view and nautical design elements marked by vibrant blues, bright whites and wood details to give your stay a Buffett-inspired resort feel. 12324 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 741-9700, compasshotel.com/anna-maria-sound

Best New Hope for Golfers

Club Champion Fitting Studio, a cavernous 3,000-square-foot shop, sells and builds custom clubs using big name brands like Titleist and Fujikura, and uses high-tech tools to analyze your swing and make it sing. If you don’t think you’re up to par for a custom fitting, think again; it’s said that amateurs see the biggest gains when they wield the right tools. 5275 University Parkway, Suite 110, Bradenton, (941) 216-144, clubchampiongolf.com

Best New Medical Marijuana Trend

Since Florida’s 2016 vote approving the use of medical marijuana, dispensaries have popped up like weeds. And now that edibles were OKed last August, THC-infused cookies, brownies and chocolate bars have plumped up dispensary menus. Trulieve, Florida’s largest medical marijuana provider, responsible for more than half the state’s medical marijuana volume, opened its 56th Florida location in Englewood, giving South County’s retirees a convenient high. Trulieve also has locations in Venice, Sarasota and Bradenton. 1720 S. McCall Road, Englewood, (941) 300-5496, trulieve.com/dispensaries/englewood-fl.

Best New Way to Smell Great

While most of us were busy making sourdoughor learning to knit, Bradenton native Kenzie Fisher used her time in quarantine to found Élu Parfums. Inspired by her travels to France, her perfume—which is blended and bottled in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world—is an ode to Provence and features notes of lavender, rose and warm woods. It’s a vacation in a bottle. eluparfums.com

Best New Facial Treatment

Elizabeth Thomas, who owns Bradenton’s Pure Skincare by Elizabeth, is always on the cutting edge of what’s happening in skincare. Case in point: her new Qi beauty treatments. Using acupuncture techniques and tiny, gold-plated magnets (yes, magnets!), Qi treatments claim to stimulate collagen and elastin, lift brows and define the jawline. No lasers, no downtime. 4012 Cortez Road W., Suite 2204, Bradenton, (941) 448-0512, pureskincarebyelizabeth.com 

Best New Way to Get Framed

Warby Parker, the eyewear brand beloved by hipsters everywhere, opened a new store at The Mall at University Town Center in March. The light, bright store features the brand’s full range of trendy eyewear, including sunglasses and contact lenses, and comprehensive eye exams are available, too. 140 University Town Center Drive, Sarasota, (941) 822-9686, warbyparker.com

Best New Relocation

Sarasota designer Camilyn Beth relocated from a tiny second-floor showroom on Palm Avenue to a bright and airy new space on the ground floor, allowing her feminine, classic pieces—including her signature dresses and colorful separates—to shine. She also carries accessories like earrings, handbags, scarves, candles and more. 75 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 313-2217, camilynbeth.com

Arts & Entertainment

Best New Public Art Trend

In 2020, it seemed like murals were popping up everywhere, searching our history (as with two murals at the Lido Beach Pavilion and two marking the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce centennial on their downtown HQ), celebrating our diversity and our arts (at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s home) and exploring the power of myth (1526 Fruitville Road). They join Second Street’s Sarasota Heroes, which Sarasota Magazine was proud to partner on last spring. More to come.

Best New Arts Pivot

The pandemic made just about every arts organization in town quickly become adept at filming, recording, livestreaming, YouTube videos and any other way you can think of to stay connected and present their music, theater, visual art and more, safely. While nothing can replace in-person entertainment, in dark times it was a comfort to sit before our screens and share what local arts has to offer.

Best New Outdoor Entertainment

We’ve always been lucky that our climate means we can enjoy a show or concert outside. Covid-19 concerns made outdoor gatherings even more popular. To name a few: The Sarasota Orchestra teamed with area parks for small-scale performances; Asolo Rep constructed its outdoors Terrace Stage, kicking off with a welcome holiday show; and hosting spots like Selby Gardens and the Hermitage Artist Retreat’s beach added natural beauty to the mix. A trend worth keeping.

Best New Dialogue on Diversity

The Suncoast Black Arts Collaborative, a nonprofit promoting the unifying power of the arts, is not brand new, but several of its initiatives are, including its Arts and Racial Justice Panel series—“courageous conversations” that bring together arts leaders for frank discussions of where we are and where we need to be when it comes to inclusion. Not only are the panels thought-provoking, they’re free. suncoastblackartscollaborative.org

Best New Arts Marriage

Sometimes when an idea is a win-win, it’s just obvious. That was the case with the merger of Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Historic Spanish Point last May. Selby, with a burgeoning number of visitors, was able to expand its footprint into South County, and Historic Spanish Point gained from Selby’s financial support. And we’re all the beneficiaries of more great nature and history programming at two locales. Somewhere, Marie Selby and Bertha Palmer are smiling. Downtown Sarasota campus, 1534 Mound St., and Historic Spanish Point campus, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey, (941) 366-5731; selby.org

Outdoor Experiences

Best New Drive

It took three and a half years of unsightly construction and delays, but one of the nicest drives in the city is now a stretch of North Trail from Fruitville Road to 14th Street. The City of Sarasota and the Florida Department of Transportation finished three roundabouts, adding palm-lined medians, public art and wide sidewalks. Some people gripe about navigating the roundabouts, but they’ve made the drive smoother and created a beautiful entrance to downtown. Next up? The roundabout at U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue. Estimated completion: fall 2022. Patience, everyone.

Best New City Program

The pandemic didn’t improve much, but we can’t complain that the City of Sarasota has been closing off parts of Main Street to vehicles, allowing retailers and restaurants to offer outdoor shopping and dining on the street so people can venture from their dens and enjoy being part of a community. The closures run from 3:30 p.m. to midnight Fridays and Saturdays at Lemon Avenue from Main Street to State Street, and on Main Street from Mira Mar Court to South Palm Avenue. We hope these temporary closures become permanent.

Best New (Reopened) Pier

Almost three years after Hurricane Irma destroyed the historic Anna Maria Pier, and $6.8 million later, the newly constructed 700-foot dock reclaims its rightful place as the beach town’s community hub. Two other tropical storms and red tide added barriers to its rebuild, but it’s back stronger than ever and The City Pier Bait Shop makes it easy to grab a cold beer, cast a lucky line and catch a postcard sunset. 100 N. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, (941) 708-6130, annamaria.com/history-of-the-anna-maria-island-city-pier

Best New Beach

If you’re headed to the south end of Lido Key, you may want to take a beach cart to navigate the sand. Yes, sand! Over the years, erosion had whittled the shoreline on the southern end, threatening homes, businesses and infrastructure, so there was no beach to traverse. But the just-completed Lido Beach Hurricane and Shoreline Damage Reduction project brought 710,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from Big Pass to renourish more than 1.5 miles of beach and added more than 150 feet of width to its shore. But how long will it last?

Best New Treetop View

Want to explore nature from a bird’s-eye view? Visit the Canopy Zone, a new attraction at Robinson Preserve in Manatee County. Climb two stories and enter a world nestled in the treetops, with a series of boardwalks, rope bridges and slides. Whether you’re a kid or a seasoned birdwatcher, the Canopy Zone will foster your sense of adventure. Find the attraction at the south end of the preserve. 99th Street N.W. and 17th Avenue N.W., Bradenton, (941) 748-4501, mymanatee.org

Best New Walk

The Bay Sarasota is planning a 53-acre park along Sarasota Bay, and has completed phase one, a lush mangrove boardwalk that meanders around the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall. Completed during the pandemic, the covered boardwalk, landscaped trail and lit path are great for walking and spotting local wildlife, day or night. 655 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 203-5316, thebaysarasota.org

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