The Best of 2010

Photography by William S. Speer & Illustrations May 1, 2010

People who could live just about anywhere choose to live in Sarasota, thanks to our magnificent mix of culture, natural beauty and year-round sunshine (we refuse to remember those record lows we shivered through this winter). Every year, we ask you choosy residents and visitors to choose the best of Sarasota, from shops and restaurants to experiences; and we editors make some choices of our own.

So many new businesses, restaurants, cultural events and recreational opportunities started up this year we decided to honor “The Best of the New.” You’ll read about those new “bests” on the following pages, and you’ll see the winners of our annual readers’ poll on page 82.

Don’t see your personal “bests” in this story? Please share them by going to our story at and posting a comment at the end.

Cafe Epicure cosmo with flaming orange peel

best italian addition

The new martini bar at Café Epicure is ultra-cool and modern, from the lighting to drinks like limoncello and cocktails made strictly with fresh fruit. Try the lemongrass martini garnished with—what else?—a sprig of fresh lemongrass. Added bonus: It’s open late! 1298 N. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-5698

Best Enlightened Pet Store

Zen is a four-footed state of mind at Animals by Nature, a one-stop source for all-natural and organic pet foods, treatments, accessories, toys and more—wholesome fun for every pet from fish to horses. No wonder some call it the “Elysian Fields for pets.” 1215 Mango Ave., Sarasota. (941) 953-2983

Best NewBeer Garden of Eden

Lower Main Street’s second-floor Stairway to Belgium offers 180-plus fine and imported brews and a menu that combines sophisticated pub grub with Belgian comfort food. (Flemish stew and moules frites, anyone?) 1359 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 343-2862

Best New Spot to Cook and Party

Scottish-born personal chef Jeremy Hammond-Chambers has a great new space where he can welcome discerning diners and wannabe chefs for classes, demonstrations and, of course, polishing off the delectable results. We’ve been, and we’ll be back! Innovative Dining, 1725 Barber Road, Sarasota. (941) 373-5678

best new happy hour 

Art After Five courts the young and hip with half-price admission to the Ringling Museum from 5 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday. They even set up a bar in the courtyard so you and your buddies can talk about life, politics, sex—all that stuff that inspires art. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 359-5700

Best New Empty Nest Solution

Black Bird Home Gallery is a menagerie of stylish, upscale and comfortable furnishings hand-picked to make your home both edgy and livable. Find furniture that doubles as artwork and accessories like the hot new Oly Studio chandeliers—MoMA exhibits in and of themselves. 1540 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 366-0941.

Best New Park

Maybe we should call this “best recycled dump,” because that’s exactly what Walt Rothenbach Park is. The former landfill at the end of Bee Ridge has been turned into a nature preserve with a wide, paved trail winding through five miles of open views and shady hammocks. 8650 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota

best new festival Conceived by those indefatigable social networkers at the HuB as a way to add sizzle to the summer economy, July’s Vinyl Festival brought in dozens of DJs and attracted some 4,000 through Facebook to venues all over town. It’s back, bigger and better, the third weekend of July.

Best Northern Exposure

We’re now a figure skating mecca? Yep, thanks to Ellenton Ice and Sports, the home rink for both U.S. figure skating pairs that competed in the recent Olympics. Ellenton also hosts public skate sessions, learn-to-skate clinics, hockey leagues and more, for folks who want the winter Olympic experience without the pressure. 5309 29th St. E., Ellenton. (941) 723-3663

Best New Bride and Groom

That would be precious pugs Lola and Bogey, who were married at our annual Pug Parade in February. There wasn’t a dry eye (or straight face) in the crowd when the two, decked out in cur-ture wedding outfits, took the stage. When the minister announced, “You may lick the bride,” the groom did exactly that. Check it out on YouTube.

best new meet-the-artist series The Meet the Composer talks presented by the Hermitage Artist Retreat bring international composers and musicians to the Historic Asolo Theater for free lecture-demonstrations that are such a hit that reservations are a must. (941) 475-2098   

Best “We Told You So”

Last May we chose the inaugural Ringling International Arts Festival as “the best new reason to get excited about Sarasota’s arts scene.” With renowned performers and round-the-clock shows, it was all that and more. This year’s fest (Oct. 13-17) promises world premieres and the one and only Mikhail Baryshnikov in performance. (941) 360-7399 or

Best New Biker Bar

Chic Fuel Café attracts motorcycle enthusiasts—more throttle than thunder—for coffee, camaraderie, drinks and moto-themed panini sandwiches like the Ducati Course Club. And the parking lot makes for one heck of a motorcycle show—especially on Tuesday “bike nights.” 2161 Siesta Drive, Sarasota. (941) 373-1222

Best New Indian Food

We’re wild for the fragrant, subtle flavors at Daawat in Towles Court. You’ll find a wide selection of classic Indian

dishes for both lunch and dinner, including tropical fruit drinks, chutneys and more, all at reasonable prices. Plus we love eating on that shady, serene front porch. 239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota. (941) 366-4433

best new trip to italy Andrea’s may be small, but the food—and crowd—is as high-profile as it gets. You’ll see local notables blissfully dining on chef owner Andrea Bozzolo’s divine Italian creations, from homemade gnocchi to veal dishes, along with wines from around the world. 2085 Siesta Drive, Sarasota. (941) 951-9200

Best Free Flicks

A vacant spot at Westfield Sarasota Square Mall has become the comfy SurREEL Cinema Lounge, the perfect place to take a break from shopping. You’ll find plush lounge seating and the very latest in award-winning animation from those whiz kids at Ringling College of Art and Design. 8201 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 323-3129

Best Turnaround 

The supremely talented but financially precarious Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe got a solid rescue plan from community leaders, including business oversight, a powerhouse board and smart marketing. The result: a sell-out season and stable future for this troupe that’s launched a Broadway career or two. (941) 366-1505

Best Triumph from Tragedy

When a fire consumed everything at Binjara Traders on St. Armands Circle in November, owner Cleon Dixon moved across the street while waiting to reopen the original and created an elegant—if unplanned—space stocked with beautiful clothing, home accessories and jewelry. 326C John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands, (941) 388-3335

Best Restaurant Reinvention

The former Five One Six Burns is now Owen’s Fish Camp, and it’s packing in the crowds with its relaxed menu of fresh fish and all the sides. (Oh, that succotash and fried blackberry pie with homemade vanilla ice cream!) The sign at the door reads, “Where the folks are friendly and the fish are game.” 516 Burns Lane, Sarasota. (941) 951-6936

Best Bread Discovery

Our food writers swear that the sourdough baguettes at Fresh Market could hold their own with any they’ve ever tasted in San Francisco. And wouldn’t you rather eat your loaf in sunny Sarasota than in damp and chilly mist and fog? 5251 University Parkway, Sarasota. (941) 355-0417

best new hangout

Media on Main opened in February in the space vacated by the late, lamented Sarasota News & Books, and it soon coaxed back fans with its modern makeover, made-to-order crepes, wines by the glass, international newspapers and free Wi-Fi. You can still buy books, too. 1341 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 914-9411

Best New Local Bird

The Cincinnati Reds have flown and the Red Sox fluttered out of our grasp, but the bright-orange Baltimore Orioles landed at Ed Smith Stadium in March, thrilling baseball fans and keeping Sarasota’s tradition of major-league spring training alive and well.

Best NewDining Club

The posh Concession Golf Club now offers posh dining, too. Sean Murphy grabbed his best dishes from his Beach Bistro on Anna Maria Island and opened the ultra-chic Bistro at The Concession. You don’t have to be a golf member to get a culinary membership—and at press time, culinary memberships were being offered for free. 7700 Lindrick Lane , Bradenton (941) 907-0511.

Best NewKids’ Chic

Picobello children’s store proves cute can be classy. Discerning tots will love the colorful, squeezable, fun products, and parents and grandparents will appreciate top-quality styles from designers like Agatha Ruiz de la Prada and the appropriately named “Bunnies by the Bay” line. 1462 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 373-0475


Best NewSaturday Lunch

By the middle of the week, we’re already thinking about the vegetarian sushi and Korean stir-fries the smiling ladies at the Oriental Food & Gift Mart prepare in the back on Saturdays. At $3.95 for a generous serving, it’s one of the best meal deals in town. 2234 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota. (941) 924-8066


Best New Animal Digs

Among the nation’s largest nonprofit, no-kill cat shelters, Cat Depot now has a 10,000-square-foot facility that houses more than 150 cats in spacious pods, including some with outdoor access. A high-tech allergen-reducing air-filtration system keeps odors at bay and lets people and pussycats breathe freely. 2542 17th St., Sarasota. (941) 366-2404


Best New Wake-up Call

Even if you’re not a breakfast person, you’ll want to start your day at The Breakfast House in a cute little bungalow on Fruitville Road. Great eggs Benedict, island-style pancakes with shredded coconut and macadamia morsels, real Vermont maple syrup—rise and shine! 1817 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. (941) 366-6860


Best New Collaboration

Herald-Tribune publisher Diane McFarlin showed what the spirit of sharing is all about, inviting other media to participate in the newspaper’s longtime “Season of Sharing” campaign. More promotion means a bigger fund for families with emergencies, so more people can get help in these tough times. We’re proud to be one of the new media partners.


Best NewArt-aholic Experience

Madeby in the Rosemary District sells creations from Ringling College of Art and Design students and alumni. Whether you crave landscape paintings, quirky mosaic pieces, handmade jewelry, neat

little note cards or illustrated books, you’ll find something you want here. And virtually everything is quite affordable. 734 Central Ave., Sarasota. (941) 822-0442


Best New Healthy Eating

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to love Gulf Gate’s new Veg; you just have to appreciate fresh ingredients blended in creative, healthful combinations. Sample the grilled Portobello burger on rosemary ciabatta, and you definitely won’t be asking, “Where’s the beef?” 2164 Gulf Gate Drive, Sarasota. (941) 312-6424


Best New Multiple Culinary Personality

Longwood Run’s Fenway’s Pizza and More boasts authentic New England steak “bombs” along with great New York-style pizza and Chinese dishes, so there’s something for every food mood. They do take-out and delivery, too. 5802 Longwood Run Blvd., Sarasota. (941) 358-3888


Best Night in Casablanca

Morocco, the creation of Casablanca native and chef/owner Ammal, serves Southern Mediterranean delights like tagine jelbana (braised lamb shank in a saffron broth), eggplant pyramid and orange flan with rosewater in a comfortably exotic setting lit with hanging lanterns. 7119 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 922-4741


Best New Cupcakes

You’ll smile even before you taste the cupcakes at Cakes by Ron’s new shop; they come in every conceivable flavor, filling and design—even Boston cream pie! At $3 each, it’s easy to indulge in a delicious little work of art. 3620 Fruitville Road, Sarasota. (941) 365-2991


Best New Bakery

For years we’ve raved over the Caribbean Pie Company’s Key lime pie; now their new downtown shop offers an array of goodies, from pies and cookies to paninis and a coffee bar. A great place to refuel—and to replenish your larder at home. 1952 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 953-5758


Best Addition to Downtown

That Palm Avenue parking garage is finally breaking ground, with a winter completion scheduled, and instead of another Med Rev façade we’re getting a modern skin of aluminum “sails” designed by the talented team at Jonathan Parks Architect. Now that’s civic beautification.


Best New Power Breakfast

Those enterprising Caragiulo brothers filled the void left by the late Sarasota News & Books by opening a breakfast bar at their Palm Avenue restaurant. Enjoy free Wi-Fi along with treats like cappuccino and applewood bacon, egg and pecorino strombolis. Watch early-morning deals get sealed inside or at sidewalk tables. 69 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota. (941) 951-0866


Best NewShout-Out to Our Gay Community

[email protected] Rep invites those in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-gendered and transsexual) community to see a show at Asolo Rep and hang out later in a welcoming environment. Launched with the Laramie Project: Epilogue piece at the start of the season, it’s turning out to be

a hit. (941) 351-8000

Best NewDowntown Ambassador

As the public face of this winter’s grassroots “I Love Downtown” campaign, that adorable Sarasota Elf (played by The HuB’s Joey Panek) got merchants, residents and business employees to dance, sing and mug in quirky videos that spread like a virus on Facebook and YouTube.

Reader’s Choice

Presenting the winners of our annual poll.

Winners are listed first in each category, followed by the two finalists (more in the case of a tie). The finalists are listed alphabetically, not in the order of votes received. You can learn more about our winners on ABC7’s “Best of Everything” coverage during evening newscasts this month.


Restaurant View: MARINA JACK; Ophelia’s on the Bay, University Park Grille

American Restaurant: PATRICK’S; Libby’s Café + Bar, Michael’s On East

Meal Deal: YODER’S; Applebee’s, Libby’s Café + Bar, Patrick’s

Italian Restaurant: CARRABBA’S; Café Baci, Caragiulos, Mediterraneo

Chinese Restaurant: MRS. CHEN’S; Oriental Buffet, Pei Wei

Japanese Restaurant: DA RU MA; JoTo Japanese Steakhouse, Pacific Rim

Thai Restaurant: BANGKOK; Siam Orchid, Tropical Thai

French Restaurant: C’EST LA VIE; Bijou Café, French Affair

Central American Restaurant: SELVA GRILL; Columbia, Javier’s

Mexican Restaurant: MI PUEBLO; El Adobe, Two Senoritas

Romantic Restaurant: OPHELIA’S ON THE BAY; Beach Bistro, Euphemia Haye

Seafood Restaurant: BONEFISH GRILL; Barnacle Bill’s, Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar

Restaurant to Seal the Deal: MICHAEL’S ON EAST; Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Libby’s Café + Bar

New Restaurant: OLIVE R. TWISTS; Andrea’s, Braza, Pei Wei

Steakhouse: FLEMING’S PRIME STEAKHOUSE; Outback Steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Wine List: MICHAEL’S ON EAST; Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse,Libby’s Café + Bar

Breakfast: FIRST WATCH; Broken Egg, Word of Mouth

Brunch: UNIVERSITY PARK GRILLE; First Watch, Vernona at the Ritz-Carlton

Bar Scene: LIBBY’S CAFÉ + BAR; Ca d’zan Lounge, Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse

Restaurant to Eat Outdoors: UNIVERSITY PARK GRILLE; Marina Jack, Mattison’s City Grille

Restaurant to Arrive by Boat: MARINA JACK; Old Salty Dog, Ophelia’s on the Bay

Non-chain Pizza: IL PANIFICIO, RICO’S (TIE); Cosimo’s, Demetrio’s

Dessert: EUPHEMIA HAYE; Melting Pot, Yoder’s

Restaurant for Vegetarian Food: SIMON’S; Lonjevity, Sweet Tomatoes

Small Plates: CEVICHE; Libby’s Café + Bar, Sangria

Sushi: PACIFIC RIM; Da Ru Ma, Yume

Burger: PATRICK’S; Cheeburger Cheeburger, Five Guys

Barbecue: SONNY’S; Lee Roy Selmon’s, The Oaks Open-Pit

Caterer: MICHAEL’S ON EAST; Morton’s, Nellie’s Deli

Deli: NELLIE’S DELI; Publix, TooJays

Gourmet Market: MORTON’S; Fresh Market, Whole Foods

Wine Store: TOTAL WINE; ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, Michael’s Wine Cellar

Bakery: PUBLIX; C’est La Vie, Morton’s

Happy Hour: HYDE PARK PRIME STEAKHOUSE; Applebee’s, Libby’s Café + Bar



Performing Arts Group: ASOLO REPERTORY THEATRE; Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Ballet

Black-Tie Event: UNGALA; Night of 1,000 Stars, Orchid Ball, University Park Country Club Diamond and Crystal Ball

Place to Work Out: YMCA; Gold’s Gym, Shapes Total Fitness

Festival or Event: SUNCOAST OFFSHORE GRAND PRIX; Christmas Boat Parade, Sarasota Film Festival

Boating Destination: MARINA JACK; Egmont Key, South Lido Beach

Place to Watch a Performance: VAN WEZEL PERFORMING ARTS HALL; FSU Center for the Performing Arts, Sarasota Opera House

Place to Hear Live Music: VAN WEZEL PERFORMING ARTS HALL; 5 O’Clock Club, Mattison’s City Grille

Place to Play Tennis: UNIVERSITY PARK COUNTRY CLUB; Bath & Racquet, Laurel Oak Country Club

Place to Play Golf: UNIVERSITY PARK COUNTRY CLUB; Bobby Jones Golf Complex, Laurel Oak Country Club

Museum: RINGLING MUSEUM; G.WIZ, South Florida Museum

Art Gallery: DABBERT GALLERY; Selby Gallery (Ringling College of Art and Design), Wyland Gallery

Blogger: MC COOLIDGE; Robert Plunket



Hair Salon: YELLOW STRAWBERRY; Cutting Loose, Nuovo

Baby Shop: CHILDREN’S WORLD; Babies R Us, L. Kids

Women’s Boutique: CHICO’S; Foxy Lady, L. Boutique

Men’s Boutique: THE MET; Brooks Brothers, Tommy Bahama

Skincare: NEODERM AESTHETICS; The Met, Monee @ Diane K

Antique Shop: CRISSY GALLERIES, SARASOTA ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE (TIE); Blue Moon, St. Armands Antiques, Woman’s Exchange

Bookstore: BARNES & NOBLE; Books-a-Million, Borders

Bank: BANK OF AMERICA; SunTrust, Wachovia

Florist: BENEVA FLOWERS; Bee Ridge Florist, Flowers by Fudgie

Interior Designer: SALLY TROUT; Anne Folsom Smith, Judy Graham

Home Accessories Store: HOME GOODS; Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Resource

Furniture Store: KANES; Baer’s Furniture, Robb & Stucky

Consignment Shop: WOMAN’S EXCHANGE; Designing Women Boutique, Laura Jean, Plato’s Closet

Gift Shop: CROWDER’S GIFTS AND GADGETS; Elysian Fields, Persnickity Cat

Swimsuits: SWIM CITY; Swim Mart, Splish Splash

Spa: THE MET; Body & Spirit, The Ritz-Carlton Members Club Spa

Landscaper: CRITTER RIDGE; ArtisTree, Bayside Outdoor Services, Jeff Hibbs Landscape

Dry Cleaner: COVE CLEANERS;60 Minute Cleaners, Bob’s Laundry and Dry Cleaning

Retirement Community: THE GLENRIDGE; Bay Village, Plymouth Harbor

Veterinarian: BAY ROAD ANIMAL HOSPITAL; Bee Ridge Animal Hospital, University Animal Clinic



Tourist Attraction: SIESTA KEY BEACH; Mote Aquarium, Ringling Museum

Place to Take the Kids: G.WIZ; Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Mote Aquarium

Beach: SIESTA; Crescent, Lido

Free Fun: BEACHES; Bayfront Park, Siesta Beach drum circle 

Place to See Wildlife: MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK; Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Mote Aquarium

Scenery: BAYFRONT PARK/MARINA JACK; Ringling Bridge, Siesta Key Beach

Place to Meet Singles: LIBBY’S CAFÉ + BAR; Bonefish Grill, church, Horse Feathers

Place to People Watch: ST. ARMANDS CIRCLE; Main Street (downtown Sarasota), Siesta Key Beach

Reason to Move Away: NONE; cost of living/taxes, heat/humidity

Reason to Stay: WEATHER; beaches, arts/culture

Thing That Could Happen Here: anything and everything; real estate turnaround, more live music/nightlife

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