The Best of 2008

By saratemporary May 1, 2008

Real estate is falling, the economy is stalling and those presidential candidates seem to have been duking it out for decades. But let the rest of the country complain about 2008: Here in Sarasota, we’re still busy counting our blessings, from year-round sunshine and technicolor sunsets to sumptuous Sunday brunches overlooking sparkling waters. That’s the message you sent us with this annual reader survey, as you flooded the mail and cyberspace with your votes for what you love about living in our seaside city.

Sarasota’s magic casts an ever wider spell, judging by the number of nominations that came to us from other states—and even countries. We can picture those readers, perhaps shivering in an Iowa winter or fighting midtown Manhattan traffic, thinking back to the restaurants, shops and experiences they savor on their trips to Sarasota and counting the days until they can return. Whether or not they’ve decided to join those of us living here full-time, they’re Sarasotans in spirit, and we like to think that our magazine links all of us who love this place together.

Please note that the winner of each category is listed first, followed by two finalists (more in the case of a tie) who are listed alphabetically rather than by the number of votes they received.

To learn more about our winners, be sure to tune into ABC7’s “Best of Everything” coverage during evening newscasts this month.

And now, get set for a refresher course in what makes Sarasota so special.

Food & Drink

Restaurant View

Marina Jack

Ophelia’s, University Park Country Club

Kick back on Marina Jack’s outdoor patio or dine upstairs in the formal dining room—it really doesn’t matter, when you can look out at blue skies, a bustling marina and the shimmering waters of Sarasota Bay.

American Restaurant


Stonewood Grill, Vernona

Classic pizzas, huge salads, sizzling steaks, the big game on TV—Patrick’s lives up to its rep for casual dining with New York flair. Every hour is happy hour in this winning location on the corner of Main Street.

Meal Deal


Applebee’s, Sweet Tomatoes

Good home cooking at reasonable prices (we’re talking meat loaf, broasted chicken, mashed potatoes and 25 kinds of fresh-baked pie) has been driving crowds to Yoder’s for more than two decades.

Italian Restaurant

Carrabba’s Italian Grill

Café Baci, Caragiulo’s

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, Carrabba’s welcomes you like familia with Italian classics such as minestrone and quattro formaggi pizza and grilled creations galore. There’s a reason chefs eat here on their off hours. 

Chinese Restaurant

Mrs. Chen’s

Empress Garden, Oriental Buffet

Wind your way through Mrs. Chen’s enticing buffet and choose from a multitude of Chinese specialties that are delicious and affordable—and don’t feel bad about going back for seconds.

Japanese Restaurant


JoTo, Pacific Rim

At DaRuMa, the chefs’ knives fly through the air, mesmerizing the watching diners, as they create a feast for the eyes and the palate.

Thai Restaurant


Pacific Rim, Tropical Thai

Bangkok’s traditional décor—complete with intricately carved wooden tables—and Southeast Asian dishes make every meal an exotic adventure. Save room for the sticky honey bananas.

French Restaurant

C’est La Vie

Bijou Café, Café L’Europe, Maison Blanche

If there’s a better way to spend a lazy Saturday morning than lounging at one of C’est La Vie’s sidewalk tables over chocolate croissants and good, strong coffee, we haven’t found it. Be sure to take home a crusty baguette or loaf of hearty farmer’s bread.

Central/South American Restaurant

Selva Grill

Columbia, The Table

Credit Selva Grill with making Peruvian staples like ceviche and anticuchos as Sarasotan as Amish peanut butter pie. Its gourmet take on South American cuisine and the smoldering, urban atmosphere draw serious diners and hip young couch-sitters alike.

Mexican Restaurant

Mi Pueblo

El Adobe, Two Senoritas

This is comfort food at its south-of-the-border finest. Mi Pueblo’s three locations serve Mexican favorites in a family-friendly atmosphere, often accompanied by live mariachi music.

Romantic Restaurant


Bijou Café, Vernona

Ophelia’s sensual, sophisticated menu and moonlit views of little Sarasota Bay cast a spell that’s sure to kindle—or rekindle—any love affair.

Restaurant to Seal the Deal


Michael’s On East, Vernona

When a career-changing triumph could be in the cards, grab your briefcase and head to Fleming’s. Get your group into a cozy booth, order them a perfect steak, and by the time you get to the chocolate lava cake, they’ll be signing on the dotted line.

Seafood Restaurant

Bonefish Grill

Barnacle Bill’s, Captain Brian’s

In Florida, we take our seafood personally. Fortunately, so does Bonefish Grill. Serving carefully assembled sautés or cooking your choice on a wood-burning grill, Bonefish makes sure that every bit of fresh-caught flavor shines through. 

New Restaurant


Horse Feathers, Mattison’s 41

Cork lives up to its name with a stellar wine cellar (the restaurant’s downstairs half, The Bottle Shop, offers retail and special order wines) and gourmet reinventions of Continental cuisine. Plus, the second-floor view of the bustling Circle is unbeatable.

Restaurant Wine List


Michael’s On East, Vernona

With more than 100 wines by the glass, including many hard-to-find boutique varieties, Fleming’s delights any oenophile. Start with a single glass or spread your wings and try the popular wine flights or the “Pick of the Month.”

Power Breakfast

First Watch

Broken Egg, Vernona

Many a big-shot business deal has been brokered over the Siesta Key cocktail (granola, organic yogurt, fresh fruit and nuts in a parfait glass) at First Watch, strategically located at Five Points in downtown Sarasota.



Vernona at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota

The Colony, First Watch

At least once in your life, splurge on Vernona’s Sunday brunch. The selection is spectacular and every single item is a work of culinary art. Enjoy it all inside the elegant restaurant or outside overlooking the water.



Outback, Ruth’s Chris

At Fleming’s, the atmosphere is clubby, the steaks are sublime, the sides and desserts are wickedly rich, and the wine list is second to none.

Bar Scene

Ca d’Zan Lounge

Horse Feathers, The Table

The Ritz-Carlton’s Ca d’ Zan Lounge has it all: elegantly relaxed ambiance, savvy bartenders and the finest cocktails and cigars around—plus live music and dancing several days a week. 

Restaurant to Eat Outdoors


Marina Jack, Old Salty Dog

From the waterside tables on Ophelia’s terrace you’ll see diving ospreys, squadrons of pelicans, mullet jumping and an occasional kayak gliding by the mangrove islands across the way. And the food is every bit as good as the view.

Restaurant to Arrive by Boat

Marina Jack

Old Salty Dog, Ophelia’s

A landmark on the downtown Sarasota bayfront, Marina Jack is a beacon to hungry boaters. Tie up for a bite on the patio, a burger by the bar, or a full-on dinner in the fancy dining room—which has won three consecutive Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence.

Non-chain Pizza

Il Panificio

Demetrios’, Rico’s

Great crust, fast service, outdoors, indoors or take-home. What more could you want?

Place for Dessert

Euphemia Haye

Jolly, Yoder’s

Dessert is so important at Euphemia Haye they’ve built a special room for it: the upstairs Haye Loft, where you can deliberate over a long list of out-of-this-world confections.

Place for Salad

Sweet Tomatoes

Columbia, Whole Foods

You could eat at Sweet Tomatoes every day without sampling everything the huge, ever-changing salad bar has to offer, from fresh veggies and soups to homemade muffins.


Pacific Rim

DaRuMa, Yume Sushi

Pacific Rim in Southside Village has become a happening hotspot for diners who love the Asian stir-fries, traditional Japanese sushi and brand-new creations like the Southside roll, with tempura salmon and cucumber.



Cheeburger, Cheeburger, Hob Nob

You can get it Cajun, you can get it South Beach, you can get it black and bleu. Whichever way you go, you’ll be hooked by your first bite into Patrick’s luscious, serious-sized beef burger.



Lee Roy Selmon’s, The Oaks Open Pit BBQ

Sonny’s promises to make you feel good. How could you feel any other way with a plate heaped with smoky, tender barbecued pork, beef and chicken? Add some sweetened iced tea and you’ll be downright euphoric.


Phil Mancini of Michael’s On East

Mattison’s, Nellie’s Deli

Sometimes it seems as if there couldn’t be a party, wedding reception or bar mitzvah in this town if it weren’t for Phil Mancini’s catering team. Crab cakes, rack of lamb, California rolls…everyone has a favorite, and the service is as superior as the food.



Nellie’s Deli, TooJays

Boar’s Head meats, cheeses, four kinds of rotisserie chickens, salads galore and a crew that turns out custom sandwiches in no time flat—no wonder the Publix delis won your vote. 

Gourmet Market

Morton’s Market

Publix, Whole Foods

Morton’s is as beloved for its specialty foodstuffs and take-out cases stuffed with freshly made goodies as it is for pizza, wine, cheese—and a bakery that churns out gorgeous fruit tarts and chocolate cakes. Is it lunchtime yet?



C’est La Vie, Morton’s

At the Publix bakery, they mix, knead, decorate, frost and display the biggest variety of first-rate baked goods in town.

Restaurant Service


Mattison’s City Grille, Vernona

For an exceptional dining experience, the service must be as top-notch as the food. The Fleming’s waitstaff has mastered this subtle but exacting art, cosseting you with comfort and anticipating your every need.


Ice Cream Store


Big Olaf, Coldstone Creamery

True confession: We’ve been known to down a slice or two of super-rich homemade fudge while waiting in line for a scoop of Kilwin’s mocha chip ice cream at the popular St. Armands confectioner.

Arts, Entertainment & Sports

Performing Arts Group

Asolo Repertory Theatre

Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Ballet

The Asolo’s season started with a bang, with the world premiere of Broadway-bound A Tale of Two Cities. Now New York will know, as we have for years, the brilliance of our longtime theatrical mainstay.

Local Actor or Actress

Carolyn Michel

Cliff Roles, Elex Bornett

Michel has played immigrant mothers, sophisticated ladies, Holocaust survivors, spinster schoolteachers, acerbic writers and even a dog. Offstage she’s a dedicated supporter of philanthropic causes and special event producer. When does she sleep?

Black-tie Event


Oceanic Evening, Orchid Ball, Florida Winefest Party

The magic of the illuminated Ringling Museum courtyard at night…the sight of 1,000 or so fashionistas wearing their finest…the creative “theme” surprises…no wonder no one wants to go home the night of UnGala.

Place to Work Out


Gold’s Gym, Lifestyles

Sure, the Y is bright and clean and the equipment is first-rate. But it’s the good this longtime charitable leader has done for so many Sarasota kids and families that builds your community spirit while you build your bod.

Festival or Special Event

Sarasota Film Festival

Arts Day/Night, Florida Winefest & Auction

The little film festival that could has, over the past 10 years, made a name for itself far and wide, while giving us new movies to watch, star-gazing opportunities and even helping young filmmakers get their start.

Place to Watch a Performance

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Sarasota Opera House

In a town full of stages, the Van Wezel remains the cultural centerpiece, the place where you thrill to the dance/illusions of Momix, the passion of Rent or the exuberance of Patti LaBelle.

Place for Live Music

Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Ca d’Zan Lounge, Gator Club, Mattison’s City Grille, 5 O’Clock Club

The Big Purple brings us world-class symphonies, Japanese drummers, top-flight jazz and Broadway musical hits. Oh, and operettas, pop stars and chamber ensembles, too. (Hard rock: not so much.) And FridayFests on the Bay go one better; they’re free.

Place to Play Tennis

University Park Country Club

Bath & Racquet Club, The Colony

The members at UPCC love their beautiful tennis courts…and their top-ranked pros…and their fully equipped fitness center…and their relaxing massage therapy. Darn it, why aren’t we members?

Place to Play Golf

University Park Country Club

Founders Club, Palm-Aire Country Club

Not just any 18 holes here—27, designed by famous golf course architect Ron Garl. Old oaks, shimmering lakes, challenging play—and the outdoor café offers a lovely view of it all, even if you don’t get into the game.


John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art

G.WIZ, Mote Aquarium

The Ringling has always been one of our crown jewels, but with its beautiful new gallery wing, a top-drawer restaurant and the refurbished Historic Asolo Theater, it’s now a 21st-century art phenomenon. Join so you can visit as often as you like.

Art Gallery

Wyland Galleries

Paradise Gallery, Selby Gallery

Wyland’s old space on St. Armands just wasn’t big enough to handle the admiring—and acquisitive—crowds drawn by its marine and environmental paintings and sculptures, so the gallery recently moved to a new and expanded location.

Attraction for Kids


Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Mote Aquarium

Who wouldn’t want to spend a morning with the children or grandchildren at a hands-on museum intriguingly named The Gulfcoast Wonder and Imagination Zone?


Siesta Key Public Beach

Lido, Turtle

We’ve lollygagged at beaches from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, and nothing compares to the spectacular swath of powder-soft white sand that is Siesta Key Public Beach. Is there any doubt why it’s won the world’s whitest sand beach contest?

Goods & Services

Hair Salon

Yellow Strawberry

Diane K, Nuovo Salon & Spa

The professional stylists at Yellow Strawberry Global Hair Salon offer a full range of services and pleasing pampering, whether you want a trim or a complete makeover.

Travel Agency


Landings, VIP World Travel

The folks at AAA want to make sure you get where you’re going, whether you need roadside service or a flight to Europe. And for members they have great rates on flights, cruises, hotels, car rentals and vacation packages.

Women’s Boutique

Foxy Lady

Chico’s, The Met

With two locations, this family-owned store has for more than 20 years been providing Sarasota’s best-dressed women with unmatched personal service and the hippest, hottest brands around.

Men’s Boutique

The Met

Saks Fifth Avenue, Tommy Bahama

The Met is a mecca for stylish men, with brands like Hugo Boss, Burberry, Armani and Ted Baker—and the lady in your life will love its equally excellent collections for women.

Skin Care


Monee at Diane K, The Met

The most flawless skin in town gets that way at this physician-supervised clinic, which offers state-of-the-art procedures and products and an expert staff of nurturing women who make every visit fun.

Antique Shop

Woman’s Exchange of Sarasota

Crissy Galleries, Sarasota Trading Company

Posh designers and savvy shoppers crowd the aisles at the Woman’s Exchange, a longtime local institution that’s beloved for its ever-changing collection of consigned antiques, silver, art, jewelry and so much more.


Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million, Borders, Main Bookshop

The aromas of Starbucks grab you when you walk in, but you’ll be equally hooked by the extensive selection of books and CDs, helpful staff, comfy reading nooks, and the perpetual hope that Mr. (or Ms.) Bookworm Right is lurking around the next shelf.


Bank of America

SunTrust, Wachovia

We have a host of banks on almost every corner, but you deposit your greatest trust in Bank of America, a national giant with 19 local locations.


Beneva Flowers & Gifts

Tiger Lily, University Florist

The arrangements are fresh and original, and there’s a great selection of gifts and other products, but it’s Beneva Flowers’ “Yes, We Can” philosophy of service that keeps longtime customers loyal.

Home Accessories


Pier One, Pottery Barn

Domestic divas thrill to HomeGoods’ ever-changing inventory of quality discounted furniture, rugs, lighting, kitchenware and decorative accessories.

Furniture Store

Kanes of Sarasota

American Signature, Robb & Stucky

Furniture is big business in this go-go-growth town, and Kanes has dressed many of Sarasota’s fine homes and condominiums with high-style furnishings since 1950.

Consignment Shop

Woman’s Exchange of Sarasota

Designer Consigner, Laura Jean’s

You name it, the Woman’s Exchange has probably stocked it during its 46 years, all the while providing more than $7 million for scholarships for arts nonprofits and students.

Best Gift Shop

Persnickity Cat & Co.

Elysian Fields, Wish

For your in-laws, your neighbors and the boss who has everything, Bee Ridge Road’s Persnickity Cat is packed full with gift-giving inspiration.

Best Swimsuits


Splash, Swim City

Swim Mart has the suits, sandals, resort wear and more to keep you stylishly dressed even when you’re wearing less.


The Met – Fashion House, Day Spa & Salon

Body & Spirit, The Ritz-Carlton Spa

The Met offers every aesthetic treatment imaginable in serenely elegant surroundings. To really spoil yourself (or someone else), go for the “Full Day Retreat”—seven-and-a-half hours of pure, uninterrupted bliss.



Jeff Hibbs Landscape, Hazeltine Nurseries

From palms to peonies, top builders and private homeowners turn to ArtisTree for landscape designs that add beauty and value to their properties.

Limousine Service

Boss One

Luxury Limo, Prime Time

How do you distinguish prom from any old dance? A bachelorette party from gals’ night out? Boss One limos are the way to go when it’s more than a special occasion. Choose from Lincoln, Hummer, the “limo lounge” or even a shuttle bus.

Dry Cleaner

Cove Cleaners

60 Minute, Michael the Cleaner

Every well-dressed man or woman depends upon a good dry cleaner, and you, our styling readers, depend on Cove Cleaners most.

Retirement Community

Plymouth Harbor

Bay Village, Sarasota Bay Club

You may have to get on a waiting list to get into Plymouth Harbor, which offers beautiful bay views, a world of activities and the company of sophisticated retirees, but those who are happily ensconced there say it was well worth the wait.


University Animal Clinic

Bay Road Animal Hospital, Bee Ridge Veterinary Clinic

University Animal Clinic’s caring, highly trained staff makes sure your dog’s tail is wagging (or your kitty cat is purring) when you leave the office.


Hotspots & Highlights

Tourist Attraction


Mote Aquarium, Ringling Museum

Balmy Gulf breezes, swaying palms, warm water, crystal sands, sensational sunsets and better-than-you’d expect food at the concession stands. What are you waiting for?

Best Local Controversy

Midnight Pass

Growth/development, “What is art?”

Let it flow or no? Impassioned arguments for and against restoring the original Midnight Pass waterway have been going on for 25 years. Whichever way the tide is pulling, you guys refuse to let it go.

Local TV Personality

Heidi Godman

Scott Dennis, Silke Rible

Heidi Godman celebrates her 20th anniversary with ABC7 this year. You’ve witnessed her growth into a crisp and confident pro with an endearing soft spot for children. 


Vern Buchanan

Charlie Crist, Katherine Harris

His first race for public office ended contentiously, but after a year on the job, Congressman Vern Buchanan won your vote.

Place to Meet Singles

Horse Feathers

Ca d’Zan Lounge, The Table

A stylish crowd gathers around the—what else?—horseshoe-shaped bar at downtown’s one-year-old HorseFeathers. (And if you’re already hitched, sit in a corner and enjoy the duck confit or lobster tower instead.)

Free Fun


Bayfront Park, Downtown Farmer’s Market

Our beaches are among the few in the state that don’t charge for parking—yet. But the county is expanding its fees as tax revenues shrink, so grab your blanket and head to those warm, welcoming white sands while they’re still free.

Reason to Move Away

Property taxes/cost of living

Hurricanes, none

While it’s hard to live like a beach bum in Sarasota, we’ll take this place over the blighted big city any day.

Reason to Stay


Beaches, culture/art

As we tallied the votes for this contest in February, it was 74 degrees. Enough said.


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