Best of Sarasota 2016: Food and Drink

Here are the can't-miss places to eat and drink in Sarasota right now.

By Sarasota Magazine Staff April 29, 2016

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Best New Ethnic Restaurant: Blu Kouzina

Dennis and Effie Lorandou’s devotion to their Greek heritage and culinary tradition quickly made their St. Armands’ eatery a hit. From horiatiki salad to fish flown in almost daily from the Mediterranean and organic olive oil from their own grove in Greece, Blu Kouzina has brought the flavor of a picturesque harborside taverna to Sarasota. 25 N. Boulevard of the Presidents, St. Armands, (941) 388-2619

Best New Feast for the Senses: Servandos

Servandos menu is artistic, with Pan-American offerings like foie gras and chicken liver mousse with jellied ginger kumquat or miso and sugar-crusted seabass over saffron risotto and wild mushroom consommé. But this new eatery, in the building that housed Darwin’s on Fourth, also invites painters to create art while you dine. You’ll leave both satisfied and inspired. 1525 Fourth St., Sarasota, (941) 954-7400, servandossarasota.com

Best New Restaurant Bar Scene: Beulah

Beulah’s interior sparkles with crystal chandeliers and a marble bar topped with mirrors, glass shelving and barware. The atmosphere is welcoming and the Italian-accented food very good, but it’s also a celebratory spot to enjoy a drink with a pizza or some ceviche, and the crowd inside at the bar or on the back patio is upbeat and attractive. 1766 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 960-2305

Best New Doughnuts: La Dona Donuts

Chelsea Elliott started La Dona Donuts as a doughnut delivery service but soon had so many fans she opened a shop, where she serves her creative confections from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until she sells out (which happens often). You’ll find flavors like blueberry almond cream, raspberry champagne, s’mores and banana cream pie, as well as doughnut breakfast sandwiches (!) and funnel cakes, too. 4567 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota (941) 702-5207, ladonadonuts.com

Best New Source for Locavores: Grove Ladder Farm

What started out as a backyard hobby for Tim and Chelsea Clarkson quickly expanded into a full-fledged business—their Grove Ladder Farm, one of the downtown Sarasota farmers market’s newest vendors, offers grass-fed, free-range chicken, rabbit, eggs and bone broth, and, during the holiday season, turkeys raised to the Clarksons’ exacting standards. Get there early—they sell out quickly. (941) 928-5891, groveladderfarm.com

Best New Global Menu: Baker & Wife

Baker & Wife’s delicious—and artfully presented—menu changes often, drawing its influences from all over the globe (think octopus soppressata, crispy chicken wontons and Korean-style barbecue short ribs). The interior is beautiful, too, with its black-and-white walls and warm wood tables and accents, and the staff is warm and friendly. 2157 Siesta Drive, Sarasota, (941) 960-1765, bakerwife.com

Best New Healthy Dining: Fresh Kitchen

At this University Park spot, you pick your meal’s base, veggie, protein and dressing, giving you nearly endless healthy—and reasonably priced—options. Brown rice, roasted mushrooms and tuna poke with creamy white ginger dressing? Kale slaw, Buffalo cauliflower and baked almond chicken with herb balsamic vinaigrette? Mix, match and enjoy. 8491 Cooper Creek Blvd., Suite 101, Sarasota, (941) 208-3900

Best New Spirit: Siesta Key Toasted Coconut Rum

Already receiving international awards for its silver, gold and spiced rum varieties, Sarasota’s artisan Drum Circle Distilling this year released Siesta Key Toasted Coconut Rum. Got Rum magazine says, “It raises the bar for every coconut rum in the U.S. marketplace.” We say it’s the perfect way to toast a Siesta sunset. Available at ABC Liquors, Total Wine and other liquor outlets. drumcircledistilling.com

Best New Food Truck: The Amish Baking Company

Sadie Peachey and her brothers have been making delicious, oversized doughnuts and pretzels since 2007—but in 2015, they bought a food truck and took their business on the road, from Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee to the Florida Strawberry Festival. You can visit the truck at the Phillippi Farmhouse Market every Wednesday in season—just follow the smell of fried dough and sugar. facebook.com/theamishbakingcompany

Best New Bakeries: Flour Parlor and Sift Bakehouse

How sweet it is! We got two great new bakeries downtown in one year. At Amy Nichols’ Flour Parlor, the former Lollicake Queen whips up her signature cake pops along with a decadent selection of cookies, bars and cakes. Meanwhile, at Sift, Christine Nordstrom puts her twist on traditional favorites, like layer cakes named after her grandmother, granola, biscotti and scones and more. Flour Parlor, 128 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 993-8649, flourparlor.com; Sift Bakehouse, 1383 McAnsh Square, Sarasota, (941) 552-8079, siftbakehouse.com

Best New Retro Soda Shop: Drago’s

A café that fits right in with its quaint setting east of downtown Bradenton, Drago’s has a red-brick façade, linoleum floors and marble lunch counter. Folks come in for mixed-to-order Italian sodas and fresh-made milkshakes and sandwiches, along with Cuban specialties, like café con leche and guava pastries. 904 Manatee Ave. E., Bradenton, (941) 757-0953

Best New Coffee Shop: The Clever Cup

The Clever Cup filled neighbors’ hearts with joy when it opened in Gulf Gate this January—finally, a high-quality, independent coffee shop in one of the city’s best dining districts. The Cup delivers espresso-based drinks and classic drips in gallon-sized mugs, alongside pastries and sweets delivered from Sift Bakehouse. Bonus points for its BYOB Friday night events. 6530 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, (941) 447-8383, theclevercup.com

Best New Coffee Shop on Wheels: Out and About Coffee

One of Sarasota’s best coffee shops, Perq, increased its reach this year through Out and About Coffee, a mobile, wood-paneled java jalopy. The unit, helmed by Justin Banister, pops up regularly on Main Street across from Il Panificio and at farmers’ markets, serving signature brews and blends to caffeine junkies heading to work, heading back from lunch, heading home… really to everyone doing anything. Various locations, (941) 716-1830

Best News for Barbecue Lovers: Li’l Nancy’s at the Ranch

The long-gestating second location of Nancy’s Bar-B-Q opened in January, slinging meat, meat and vegetables laced with meat on Lakewood Ranch’s Main Street. It doesn’t serve all Nancy’s classics (no ribs, unfortunately), but the pulled pork remains just as juicy and bark-encrusted as at the downtown location. May Nancy’s empire never stop growing. 8141 Lakewood Main St., #104, Lakewood Ranch, (941) 362-2833, 

Best New Chicken Sandwich: Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse

Yes, people enjoy the barbecue, but the real draw is the fried chicken sandwich. It doesn’t sound special—just a hunk of fried white meat served on a Kaiser roll. But the chicken is fried perfectly, the flesh encased in a crispy shell that complements rather than overpowers the meat. A dash of hot sauce makes it a masterpiece. 19 East Road, Sarasota, (941) 312-5969, stottlemyerssmokehouse.com

Best New Proof of Talent: Dave Shiplett

In addition to his innovative cuisine at Soma Creek Side, chef Dave Shiplett opened Birdrock Taco Shack in Village of the Arts and also took over the menu at Ace’s Live nightclub. We’re impressed that Shiplett can whip up tasty bar food and tacos along with gourmet creations. Birdrock Taco Shack: 1004 10th Ave. W., Bradenton; Ace’s Live: 4343 Palma Sola Blvd., Bradenton, (941) 795-3886, aceslivemusic.com

Best New Food Fight: Jewish Deli Drama

When Sol Meyer NY Delicatessen opened last winter, we couldn’t believe our luck. Finally, high-quality Jewish deli food in Sarasota. But the family owners started feuding right away, and when chef Sol Shenker bolted down Main Street to launch Sol’s NYC Delicatessen, it forced Sol Meyer to rebrand as Doc Sam’s New York Deli & Gourmet Eatery. The relaunch failed less than a month later, leaving Sol’s NYC as the undisputed champion of Sarasota’s brief but vicious deli battle. 1991 Main St., Suite 100, Sarasota, (941) 444-0413

Best New Reboot: Seafood Shack

If the name weren’t the same, you’d think it was a whole new restaurant. Cortez’s Seafood Shack’s $1-million-plus renovation turned a dated dining room into an Old Florida chic space with a redone deck that offers top bayfront eating. The Shack also refreshed its menu, emphasizing fresh Gulf catches and local produce. 4110 127th St. W., Cortez, (941) 794-1235, seafoodshack.com

Best New Global Menu: World Bites Kafe

The concept is genius: global street food. That means Korean tacos, Caribbean chicken, Italian salads and Turkish coffee, all at budget prices. Don’t miss the iced tea; it comes infused with combos like mango and cilantro, dark cherry and aloe, or ginger and Thai basil. Around the world in eight bites. 2805 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 448-0007, worldbiteskafe.com

Best New Romantic Meal: Dining Under the Stars, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota

Just you and your soulmate, moonlight glistening off the bay just feet from your dinner table. The new customized experience, “Dining Under the Stars,” at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, offers all that and more. Sparkling wine on arrival, a three-course gourmet menu and custom accoutrements, from flowers to music to tableside food prep. Starting at $500. (941) 309-2401, ritzcarlton.com

Best New Pizza: Mercato Pizzeria + Bar

There are lots of other good choices (and a handsome bar) here, but pizza is the marinara-pumping heart of what makes Mercato great. The major draw is the crust. The dough is crunchy on the outside and blessed with black and brown toasted spots, but the inside remains chewy and moist. Lots of toppings, all excellent. 1936 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941) 365-3300, mercatopizzabar.com

Best New Vietnamese: Phoở 99 Vietnamese Restaurant

We welcomed an invasion of new Vietnamese restaurants this year, especially Pho 99. The pho is built on a broth that’s dark, rich and complex, with a hint of sweet that elevates everything you dunk into it. Go for the full combo, which includes beef, tripe, tendon, noodles and fresh flavorings. 5191 Clark Road, Sarasota, (941) 922-1888

Best New Beer Bar: Craft Growlers to Go

Lakewood Ranch has joined the craft beer revolution thanks to Craft Growlers to Go, a 45-tap bar. You can fill up your 64- or 32-ounce growlers here, but you can also meet up with pals for a flight or pint. The huge menu of brews includes St. Pete and Tampa varieties, plus a choice national selection. 8141 Lakewood Main St., Lakewood Ranch, (941) 822-8131, craftgrowlerstogo.com

Best New Picnic: Michael’s On East/Selby House Café

Michael’s On East took over the Selby House Café at Selby Gardens, and now you can grab a salad, like the new baby kale and Brussel sprouts with walnuts and fruit, or a sandwich (balsamic-roasted Portobello wrap, anyone?) and head for a table under the banyans. Or spread a blanket on the Great Lawn for a post-picnic snooze. 900 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota, (941) 366-5731. selby.org

Best New Artful Dining: Muse at The Ringling

The Ringling Museum boasts a world-class collection, and now a restaurant to match. Muse at The Ringling offers fresh, modern fare that’s as lovely to look at as it is to taste. On a pretty day, lunching on its lakeside terrace is pure bliss. Make a reservation; it fills up fast with museum-goers. 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 360-7390, ringling.org

Best New NoFru Dining: The Rosemary

Foodies are raving about the meat loaf and fish cake Benedict at The Rosemary, just north of Fruitville Road on Orange Avenue (aka NoFru). With its white tablecloth service and so much variety at breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s driving traffic to a part of town that seemed a whole lot edgier before it arrived. 411 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, (941) 955-7600, therosemarysarasota.com

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