The food here is only part of the draw. The rest comes from the restaurant’s sunny, cheery ambiance and service and its prime location inside Sarasota’s Payne Park. The small patio is balanced between a huge expanse of green space and the park’s sprawling circus-themed playground, letting you easily keep track of the kiddos and focus on lunch at the same time. The $8.75 “Zoë” sandwich is a stunner—blending prosciutto, goat cheese, pine nuts and local honey.
Founded by retiring circus performers back in 1958, the Main Bar has been slinging deli sandwiches ever since in a long, narrow space lined with barstools and small leather-covered booths. Downtown condo dwellers, lawyers taking a break from court and all sorts of other 9-to-5ers pile in daily for the $7.50 “famous Italian,” stuffed with salami, ham, provolone, tomato, peppers, onions and a proprietary oil blend. Or you can choose from a huge list of other classic sammiches.
The sandwiches at this Gulf Gate market and restaurant are legendary, thanks both to their girth (think actual submarine), as well as the plethora of cured meats, cheeses and accoutrements that fill their bread. The “godfather” ($9.50-$11.50) is indicative of what you can expect. Roughly as big as a Pinto, it includes prosciutto, capicollo, salami, sopressata, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, oil, vinegar and a dash of hot giardiniera. You may never need to eat again.
Hard to go wrong when your order includes the phrase “candied bacon.” That’s the star ingredient in the first sandwich listed on the lunch menu at Jim's: the shop’s quasi-legendary candied bacon BLT, which sells for $8 but could easily go for a mint. But it's not just about the bacon. There’s also a generous wedge of actually red tomato plucked from Detwiler’s Farm Market by owner James Plocharsky himself, and a heaping helping of crunchy lettuce, a vast improvement on the typical wilted slice of iceberg. Add in a dash of mayo, two slices of tangy baked-from-scratch sourdough and we’re talking masterpiece. Don't forget to get a cookie, too.
One of Florida’s greatest contributions to the culinary world, the Cuban sandwich has everything going for it: a big meaty punch from the roasted pork and cuts of salumi, lactic grace from the cheese, brightness from the yellow mustard, a dash of sour from the pickles and crunch from the pressed bread. Cafe Havana’s version, which starts at $5.99, hits all those notes—a good reason why it’s known for attracting Cuban ballplayers in town for spring training or the minor leagues. Also splendid: the pan con lechon. Literally translated as “bread with pork,” that’s all you get, and all you need.
Real grouper doesn’t come cheap. Just ask Karen Bell, a co-owner of Cortez’s A.P. Bell Fish Company and the owner of Star Fish Company, the next-door dockside market and restaurant. In her experience, if you’re paying less than $12 for a grouper sandwich, there’s no way you’re eating actual grouper. So while Star Fish’s grouper sandwich will set you back $12.95, you can rest easy you are getting the real deal. And the sandwich is delicious. The fish’s pearly flesh is stitched with black marks from the grill and cooked to the exact point when the flesh solidifies all the way through.