Sarasota Magazine Best of 2012


Photography by Barbara Banks May 1, 2012

Sarasota Magazine Best of 2012BEST OF THE NEW

Our editors select the greatest of the latest.

Our city crackled with entrepreneurial energy this year, with intrepid men and women from all over deciding to start the restaurant—or store—or creative project—of their dreams right here in Sarasota. That was great news for all of us who live or visit here, giving us more flavors, fun and reasons to love this best of all beautiful cities. We challenged our editors and reporters to choose the best of these new additions, from hot dishes to arts and entertainment. And we also assembled some experts to choose the best in their fields, from food critics naming the best new downtown restaurant to retail gurus picking the best new shop. You’ll find their picks on these pages as well. (The winners of our annual readers’ poll, which includes both old and new Sarasota hotspots and highlights, are featured below.)


Best New Food & Drink

Best New Food & Drink

Best New Sandwich

Eat Here’s grilled cheese

This sandwich epitomizes why everyone from school teachers on a budget to well-heeled retirees love this new downtown hotspot. It’s a simple thing made sensational, from the caramelized onions on the side to the garlic-and-butter-brushed grilled bread. Have it with a cup of the tomato soup.

1888 Main St., Sarasota (941) 365-8700.




Yogurtology is cool in so many ways, from the sleek interior and self-serve concept to the party atmosphere, with people of every age chatting it up as they pile on the toppings. All the best parts of a neighborhood bar, without any of the downside of booze. 1635 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 955-8320.


Best New Waterfront Dining

Table Creekside

Our seaside city is surprisingly short of restaurants where the food lives up to the water view, but both are superb at the Table Creekside on Phillippi Creek. Best way to savor the wide-ranging menu? With a bottle of wine at a moonlit table on the terrace—and another basket of those yucca biscuits, please! 5365 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 921-9465.


Best New Aphrodisiac

Oysters at Half Shell Oyster House

Is it lust or love? A bit of both when we feast on oysters in every imaginable permutation at the Half Shell Oyster House while sipping a medley of amazing martinis (including a Cajun Oyster martini, a terrific twist on the traditional Bloody Mary). Here’s looking at you, kid! 1991 Main St., Sarasota (941) 952-9400.


Best New Mexican Food

Savory Street at Night

Who knew that a neighborhood hangout featuring pastries and sandwiches would debut a dazzling modern Mexican dinner menu? Owner Claudia Johnson says her sophisticated creations were inspired by dishes from her Mexican childhood and contemporary South American cuisine. 411 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota (941) 312-4027.


Best New Wine Bistro


South Sarasotans have a chic new Italian enoteca with this upscale sister to Il Panificio, the popular pizza joint next door. The minimalist design includes a see-through wine cellar (good wines at good prices). Nice small bites (love the Tuscan wedge), pastas (go for the penne alla vodka) and more in an intimate yet urban atmosphere. 6630 Gateway Ave., Sarasota (941) 923-5570.


Best New Bakery

Ooh La La

Our favorite new way to start our Saturday is with the seductively rich, dense and complex chocolate almond croissant at this authentic French bakery on Gulf Gate. In truth, we love everything we’ve tried at this sweet little spot, including the signature kiwi mousse cake. 2705 Mall Drive, Sarasota (941) 922-0169.

Best Moveable Feast: Ringling Picnic Food Trucks (fashion provided by saks fifth avenue, earrings by Alexis Bittar)Best Proof We’ve Ascended to Foodie Heaven

Trader Joe’s

Local gourmets went wild when Trader Joe’s, famous for healthy groceries at bargain prices, announced it will open this fall on the South Trail. Shoppers are dreaming of stocking up on everything from frozen chocolate croissants to Two-Buck Chuck wine. 4101 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota.


Best New Moveable Feast

Food Trucks

At last—Sarasota has gourmet food trucks! At Ringling Boulevard and Links Avenue, Ringling Picnic has debuted a rotating cast of lunchtime trucks, including Baja Mexican, sliders, Greek mac-and-cheese and more. You can take away or plop down at a picnic table on site.


Best Way to Toast the Sunset: Siesta Key Spiced Rum (fashion provided by saks fifth avenue, Jeweled Bracelet and earrings by Stephen Vaubel)Best New Way to Toast the Sunset

Siesta Key Spiced Rum

Sarasota’s own Drum Circle Distilling infuses its newest rum with exotic spices and a hint of sweetness. Drink it over the rocks or in a Spiced Siesta Sunset: two ounces of rum, 1 ¼ ounces orange juice, 1 ¼ ounces pineapple juice, splash of grenadine. Salud!


Best New Food Store


The Publix that rose from the ashes of the old Herald-Tribune headquarters is smartly designed and sumptuously stocked, but what thrills everybody’s inner child is watching the shopping carts ascend and descend on the cool little escalator that travels between the first and second floor. 2301 Bay St., Sarasota (941) 366-4089.


Best New Country Store

Yoder’s Fresh Market

At Yoder’s newest addition to its Amish Village in Pinecraft, you can load your basket up with penny candy, jars of apple butter and jam, fresh-sliced meat and cheeses and—our personal favorite—fresh-made Whoopie Pies in chocolate and red velvet. 3434 Bahia Vista St., Sarasota (941) 955-7771.


Best New Place for a Late-night Date

Music lounge at Brasserie Belge

Tucked away in the back of this Main Street hotspot, this intimate little lounge feels sophisticated and seductive. While the pianist tinkles the ivories, indulge in coffee-laced B52 cocktails as you whisper sweet nothings to each other. 1990 Main St., Sarasota (941) 706-1944.



Best New Downtown Restaurant

Can we just say we don’t believe in ties? A clear winner is what people want; that’s why there have been only two ties in the history of the Academy Awards. But when we told that to our judges for Best Downtown Restaurant, they sniffed. “This is not the Academy Awards,” said our food and wine critic, John Bancroft. Indeed, what our contest turned out to be—in a year when a number of excellent downtown places opened—was a dead heat between two wildly different but equally sensational newcomers.

Darwin’s on 4th (Chad Spencer)Winner No. 1 Darwin’s on 4th showcases the culinary brilliance of Peruvian-born Darwin Santa Maria. “He’s like a mad scientist of flavors,” said judge Jeremy Hammond-Chambers, a private chef and restaurant consultant, adding that Darwin understands the provenance and properties of every ingredient (many of them exotic and tropical) in his complex, nuanced creations. And his genuine humility and appreciation for each customer inform every aspect of the dining experience. Judges also loved the decor, from the whimsical artwork to the inviting bar.

Indigenous (Kathryn Brass)Winner No. 2 Indigenous is a glorious hymn to the farm-to-table movement. Judges praised the cozy cottage setting and gracious service. But it was chef owner Steve Phelps’ deceptively simple and absolutely sublime food that evoked the most emotion. “When he tells me that they caught my red snapper at 2 p.m. and they’re preparing it for me with blood orange Hollandaise, I swoon,” said contributing food and wine editor chef Judi Gallagher. “I get cravings for certain dishes and have to go back right away,” confessed Kanak Bal of international restaurant group Hot Brands. “That’s when you know a restaurant is special.”



Best New Shopping

Best New Shopping

Best New Customer Experience

Diamond Vault

Diamond Vault’s new building on the South Trail has 19 “discovery boxes” that showcase unique pieces and employee favorites, along with a 13-foot “diamond wall” featuring 140 diamonds of varying size, weight, color and clarity, making comparison shopping easier than ever before. 3979 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 921-4016.


Best New Hipster Boutique

Original Stitch Boutique

Carnaby Street meets Covent Garden at the Original Stitch Boutique, where Vinny Sizemore is the creative force behind a chic London aesthetic that manages to appeal to young and not-so-young fashion leaders. Look for hot labels for both sexes, with names like Ted Baker, English Laundry, David Lerner and Psycho Bunny. 1464 Main St., Sarasota (941) 321-5744.


Best New Coastal Fashions

Just Cruizin

The clothes at the first U.S. franchise of this South African-based chain are perfect for Sarasota’s beachy vibe—cool, comfortable and made from 100 percent cotton in simple shapes and a soft, muted palette. The well-cut silhouettes are oceans apart from baggy Bohemian-looking American counterparts. 21 N. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands (941) 706-2150.


Best New Fabulous Fakes


Great design shines at this gem of a new shop with a popular older-sister-store in Naples. From head-turning faux diamond creations that would mystify a fine jeweler to fashion-forward gemstone designs for wedding parties and travel, the styling and prices are delightful. 17 N. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands (941) 388-1747.


Best New International Fashion

Ferragamo Shop in the Circle at The Met Fashion House, Day Spa & Salon

The Met has won exclusive dibs on all things Ferragamo in the Sarasota demographic area. You’ll find a carefully edited selection of women’s clothing, high-style shoes, supple handbags and small leather goods. This shop within a shop proves that good things do come in small packages. 35 S. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands (941) 388-1772.



Best New Merchandising Move

Main Street Traders

The former smattering of apparel at this home accessories and gift boutique has morphed into a major commitment to fashion. We no longer need to schlep to Naples or Palm Beach for coveted preppy brands like J. McLaughlin, or to New York for fashions by Spain’s hottest label, Desigual. Check out Jack Rogers sandals, Cape Madras tunics and more. 1468 Main St., Sarasota (941) 373-0475.


Best New Home Accents

Touch de L’Afrique

The common denominator is impeccable style at this boutique brimming with adornments for body and home. From Jenna Clifford statement jewelry and Ndebele beadwork bracelets to lamps fashioned of polished horn and ottomans of ostrich skin, everything is crafted by South African artisans. 464 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands (877) 480-6881.



Best New European Furniture: Home Resource (fashion provided by saks fifth avenue, earrings by Alexis Bittar)Best New European Furniture

Home Resource

Home Resource is on a mission to be the single source for cutting-edge international furniture brands and designer classics. In the last year, Sarasota’s haven for contemporary and modern interior furnishings has added COR, Kenneth Cobonpue, DEDON and Fritz Hansen to a growing stable of coveted brands that includes Knoll, Herman Miller and more. Home Resource, 741 Central Ave., Sarasota (941) 366-6690.


Best New Hip Young Fashions

Pink & Navy

A fashion oasis has emerged on Anna Maria Island, and the stunning assortment of fresh young clothes at Pink & Navy is not a mirage. Discover chi-chi fashions by Milly and Judith March, sexy underwear by Hanky Panky and Coobie Bra and a smattering of tote bags, jewelry and Royal Apothic fragrances (the brand Kate Middleton adores). Pink & Navy, 216C Pine Ave., Anna Maria (941) 567-4000.


Best New Gifts

Bella by the Sea

Retail therapy is epitomized at this inimitable emporium, where gifts you’ll want to keep for yourself are the stock in trade. Look for a blend of repurposed furniture (from old factories, barns and commercial buildings), coastal lifestyle clothes, handbags and fun, hand-crafted jewels. Bella by the Sea Home Boutique 218C Pine Ave., Anna Maria (941) 896-4648.



Best New Store Pink & NavyBest New Store Pink & Navy

Our gaggle of smart shoppers (style editor Carol Tisch, fashion consultant and stylist Jackie Rogers, and keen-eyed browser Jane Kummel) had plenty to consider this year in the hunt for the best new store. They all appreciated the spacious Diamond Vault on South Tamiami Trail (especially the way the jewelry is displayed and the unobtrusive service), marveled at how close to real the fun faux jewelry at DanaTyler gets, and admired the stylish, upscale atmosphere of Touch de L’Afrique, along with its “very different, unique items,” from jewelry to home accents, said Jackie. But when they started talking about the Pink & Navy shop on Anna Maria Island’s Pine Avenue, it was clear we had a winner. “They have a great selection and mix,” declared Carol, “with products that look young but older people can still wear.” “I fell in love with the papier-maché chandeliers and furniture from the Stray Dog design company,” said Jane. She’s also enthusiastic because the merchandise includes pieces made in Haiti and Mexico, helping artisans in developing countries. Bottom line, she added of this cute, relaxed spot: “You gotta go.”


Best New Farmers’ Market Food Vendor Pop CraftBest New Farmers’ Market Food Vendor

Pop Craft

Everybody loves the downtown farmers’ market, not only for the fresh produce and plants but for the ever-expanding variety of food vendors—up to 31 at last count. We deployed some serious foodies to choose the best new vendor this year, and the selection process was delectable. In the end, the imaginative assortment of all-natural artisan popsicles from Pop Craft earned the nod. Sarasota Magazine web editor (and ardent baker) Megan McDonald went right after the toasted coconut flavor and couldn’t resist trying strawberry lavender, too—“all in the name of research,” she argued. “Oh my God, this is fantastic” repeated amateur chef Chris DeLeonardo in between bites of his strawberry/basil/balsamic popsicle, as market regular (and Sarasota Magazine fashion blogger) Heather Dunhill ooh-ed and aah-ed over the pink grapefruit and mint flavor. Honorable mentions went out to Barbie Lu’s (aptly named) Sassy Salsas as well as Sweet Slices, for bringing “apple sundaes” into our world.




Best New Arts, Entertainment and More

Best New Arts, Entertainment and More


Best New Downtown Energy

TIE: Upper Main Street and Burns Square

Everybody knows downtown is hot, but now even the sleepy edges are waking up. On Upper Main Street, the new Eat Here and Half Shell Oyster House are generating a festive atmosphere around the sidewalk fountain near Links Avenue. And Burns Square has been crackling ever since the Chalk Festival, with lots of pedestrians enjoying the new shops and restaurants.


Best New Way to Cultivate Young Audiences

TIE: Ringling Museum and Asolo Rep

These neighboring cultural powerhouses found fun and frugal ways to attract young fans. At Ringling Underground courtyard gatherings, young professionals party in the midst of centuries-old masterpieces. And many of those same revelers have joined Asolo Rep’s Culture Collective to snap up discounted tickets to theater, ballet and other performances.


Best New Building

Palm Avenue parking garage

Downtown parking was the story of the year, and if the villains were the City Commission and their parking meters, the hero was this cool signature building, designed by Jonathan Parks Architect and featuring sculptural “sails” and murals in the elevator bays. (And thanks to another commission flip-flop, parking there is now free.)


Best New Art Event

Selby Gardens’ Avant Garden

Art happily collided with nature when the 13 members of the contemporary visual arts collective, s/ART/q, studied the botanical collections at Selby Gardens as inspiration for works that were mounted in a ravishing Avant Garden art exhibition there. 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941) 366-5731.


Best New Water Fun

Kayaking with Mote

Sarasota’s kayaking craze reached new heights when Mote Marine Aquarium launched guided sunrise and full-moon paddles. Hands-on instruction is included, so even novices can relax and enjoy spectacular sea-and-sky moments. (941) 388-4441.


Best New Sports Facility

Lakewood Ranch’s Premier Sports Campus

On any given day, this 140-acre campus might host thousands of Ultimate Frisbee, flag football, rugby, lacrosse or soccer players, who sink their cleats into heavenly grass nurtured by state-of-the-art drainage and irrigation. It’s heaven for local businesses, too, since so many families and fans accompany the athletes. S.R. 70 and Post Boulevard, less than one mile east of Lorraine Road.


Best New Work of Art

Skyspace at the Ringling Museum

Jacob’s Coat, the new Skyspace by acclaimed artist James Turrell at the Ringling Museum, is the latest jewel in the Ringling’s crown. Take your seat on a cypress bench, lean back, look up through the oculus that opens to the sky and immerse yourself in the changing seasons and colors. It’s an out-of-this-world experience. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota (941) 359-5700.


Best New Merger: Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus (fashion provided by saks fifth avenue, vintage earrings and bow provided by ana molinari)Best New Merger

Circus Sarasota and Sailor Circus

What could be better than the creative and financial marriage of Sarasota’s beloved Circus Sarasota to the also beloved (since 1949) Sailor Circus, which trains Sarasota County students from fourth through 12th grades to perform amazing circus acts? It’s the perfect meld of the past, present and future of the circus arts.


Best New Road

Honore extension

The extension of Honore Road through Palmer Ranch is not only a traffic facilitator, but, with its four-foot bicycle lanes, five-foot-wide sidewalks, multiple roundabouts and plantings of wildflowers and native plants, a pleasure to pass through.


Best News for Businesses

Siesta winning No. 1 Beach

The announcement last spring that Dr. Beach’s pick for the nation’s best beach was our own Siesta helped lift the economic clouds and let the sun shine through. A year later, the whole region is celebrating a banner tourist season, rising numbers of newcomers and priceless international publicity.


Sarasota Magazine Best of 2012Readers’ Choice Awards

Presenting the winners of our annual poll.

The top winner is 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. And we invite you to celebrate all of our winners at our “Best of Sarasota” party, co-sponsored by ABC 7. It’s Tuesday, May 8, at Selby Gardens. For tickets, go to


Best Food and Drink

Food and Drink


New Restaurant

Eat Here

Indigenous, The Table Creekside

American Restaurant

Libby’s Café + Bar

Applebee’s, Patrick’s 1481

Amish Restaurant


Dutch Heritage, Troyer’s

Asian Restaurant

Pacific Rim

Bangkok, DaRuMa

Central/South American Restaurant

Selva Grill

Columbia, Javier’s

French Restaurant

C’est la Vie

Bijou Café, Maison Blanche

Italian Restaurant


Café Baci, Caragiulos

Mexican Restaurant

Mi Pueblo

El Adobe, Two Senoritas

Seafood Restaurant

Red Lobster

Barnacle Bill’s, Owen’s Fish Camp

Sushi Restaurant

Pacific Rim

Kumo, Yume

Vegetarian Restaurant


Simon’s, Sweet Tomatoes


First Watch

The Broken Egg, Yoder’s


University Park Country Club

First Watch, Yoder’s

Late Night Food

Munchies 420 Café

Applebee’s, Gecko’s

Romantic Restaurant

Ophelia’s on the Bay

Beach Bistro, Euphemia Haye

Restaurant to Seal the Deal

Michael’s On East

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Libby’s Café + Bar

Restaurant to Eat Outdoors

University Park Country Club

Marina Jack, The Old Salty Dog

Restaurant for Steak

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse

Longhorn Steakhouse, Ruth’s Chris

Restaurant Wine List

Michael’s On East

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Libby’s Café + Bar


Square 1 Burgers & Bar

Patrick’s 1481, Five Guys Burgers and Fries


Nancy’s Bar-B-Q

Sonny’s, Yoder’s


Michael’s On East

Morton’s Gourmet Market, Nellie’s Deli

Coffee Shop (non-chain)

Pastry Art

Morton’s Gourmet Market, Simon’s Coffee House

Pizza (non-chain)

Il Panificio

Rico’s, Valentino’s

Place for Dessert


Euphemia Haye, Libby’s Café + Bar


The Surfer at Anna’s Deli

Paisano at the Corkscrew Deli, Classic Reuben at University Park Country Club


Andrew Bonner (University Park Country Club)

Derek Barnes, Paul Mattison

Gourmet Grocery/Market

Morton’s Gourmet Market

Fresh Market, Whole Foods

Wine Store

Total Wine

Michael’s Wine Cellar, Norman’s Liquors



Morton’s Gourmet Market, Yoder’s

Bar Menu

Libby’s Café + Bar

Evie’s Tavern, Gecko’s

Bar Scene

Libby’s Café + Bar

Evie’s Tavern, The Gator Club

Happy Hour

Libby’s Café + Bar

Evie’s Tavern, Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse

Outdoor Doggie Dining

The Old Salty Dog

O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill, Libby’s Café + Bar

Best Arts, Entertainment and Sports

Arts, Entertainment and Sports


Art Gallery

(not museum)

Dabbert Gallery

Allyn Gallup Contemporary Art Gallery, Wyland Galleries

Country Club Community

University Park Country Club

Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, Laurel Oak Country Club

Place for Live Music

Mattison’s City Grille

5 O’Clock Club, Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall

Downtown Event

Sarasota Farmers Market

Sarasota Chalk Festival, Downtown Sarasota Festival of the Arts


Fund-raising Gala

Cancer Support Community’s Night of Hope

Cattle Baron’s Ball, Selby Gardens’ Orchid Ball

Festival or Special Event

Sarasota Chalk Festival

Ringling International Arts Festival, Sarasota Film Festival, Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix

Performing Arts Group

Asolo Repertory Theatre

Florida Studio Theatre, Sarasota Ballet

Place to Play Golf

University Park Country Club

Bobby Jones Golf Club, Laurel Oak Country Club

Place to Play Tennis

University Park Country Club

Bath & Racquet, Laurel Oak Country Club

Place to Work Out

Sarasota Family YMCA

Gold’s Gym, YouFit

Best Goods and Services

Best Goods and Services


Hair Salon

Yellow Strawberry Salon

Cutting Loose Salon, Nuovo Salon & Spa

Personal Trainer

Willie Thomas (Gold’s Gym)

Adam Jaco (Jaco’s Boxing), Jess Wilson (University Park Country Club)

Skin Care

The Met Day Spa & Salon

Melody’s Centre for Authentic Beauty, NeoDerm Aesthetics


The Met Day Spa & Salon

L. Spa, Spa Hollywood

Men’s Clothing

(specialty store or department store)


Macy’s, The Met

Women’s Clothing

(specialty store or department store)


Macy’s, Saks Fifth Avenue

Women’s Formal/Cocktail Attire

(specialty store or department store)

Saks Fifth Avenue

Dillard’s, Foxy Lady

Women’s Swimsuits

(specialty store or department store)

Swim Mart

Dillard’s, Macy’s

Jeweler (local)

Coffrin Jewelers

Diamond Vault, McCarver & Moser

Jeweler (chain)

Kay Jewelers

Mayor’s, Zales

Costume Jewelry

St. Armands Antiques and Gifts

Chico’s, Dillard’s

Antique Shop

Sarasota Architectural Salvage

Crissy Galleries, St. Armands Antiques and Gifts, Woman’s Exchange of Sarasota


Beneva Flowers and Gifts

Bee Ridge Florist, The Naked Florist


ArtisTree Landscape Maintenance and Design

Grant’s Gardens, Mike Gast Lawn Care

Home Accessories

Home Goods

Home Depot, Pier One Imports

Interior Designer

Charlene Neal (PureStyle)

Space as Art, Tracee Bomberger (Trade Mark Interiors)

Furniture Store (chain)

Rooms to Go

Baer’s, American Signature Furniture

Furniture Store (local)

Kanes of Sarasota

Home Resource, The Pamaro Shop


Consignment Shop

Woman’s Exchange of Sarasota

Fifi’s, Laura Jean’s

Gift Shop


Crowder’s Gifts and Gadgets, Elysian Fields

Home Health Care

Take Care Home Health Care

Comfort Keepers, Plymouth Harbor, Total Care

Dry Cleaner

Cove Cleaners

Bob’s Laundry & Dry Cleaning, Dry Cleaning to Go

Retirement Community

The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch

Plymouth Harbor, Sarasota Bay Club


Sarasota Animal Hospital

Gulf Gate Animal Hospital, University Animal Clinic

Best Hotspots and Highlights

Hotspots and Highlights 



Jack Ivins

Ego Leonard, Pat Neal

Free Fun


Bayfront Park, Farmers Market

Local TV Personality

Scott Dennis

Bob Harrigan, Lauren Dorsett

Place to Take Your Kids

Mote Aquarium

Beach, G.Wiz—The Science Museum

Place to Meet Singles

Libby’s Café + Bar

Beach, Mattison’s City Grille


Parking meters

Five Points Park benches, Unconditional Surrender and other public art

Place to People Watch

St. Armands Circle

Beach, Downtown Sarasota

Thing That Could Happen Here

Thriving film industry

Hurricane, More jobs

Tourist Attraction


John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Mote Aquarium

Photography by Barabara Banks; Kayla Nelson with Alexa Model and Talent Management; styling by Jackie Rogers; make-up by Eri Vincent, Molinari Model & Talent; hair by Fredrique McCrary and Kelly McGraw, Molinari Model & Talent.

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