This St. Armands Circle eatery is known for its so-fresh-it-was-just-swimming seafood and extensive pick of excellent wines, but it’s the laid-back sidewalk seating that makes it such a popular attraction. As a piano player tinkles the ivories, shoppers stroll back and forth, eying their prizes, while you dig into a bowl of chowder or a sumptuous platter of crudo.
For 20 years, baguette- and butter-craving diners have been flocking to this café’s streetside collection of tables, particularly on Saturday mornings, when the farmers’ market down the street is in full swing. Dogs lap at water dishes while their owners sip coffee and enjoy authentic French omelets and croque madames. Sit outside, but don’t forget to peruse the pastry case inside for goodies to take home. (There’s a second location near the University Town Center mall, which is also excellent, but it lacks the downtown café’s Parisian sidewalk charm.)
Right across the street from Epicure, Clásico pulls in a younger crowd with live music and dancing, as well as comfy outdoor seating. We love the quiet two-tops next to the restaurant’s vine-covered western wall, where you can split a bottle of white and a tableful of happy-hour snacks while soaking up the vibrant street scene.
Blu Kouzina is a Greek temple dedicated to the clean, brilliant flavors of the Mediterranean, with a simple, refined aesthetic to match. The blue-walled, St. Armands-fronting patio can be lively and bustling one minute and languid and romantic the next—an ideal setting for the restaurant’s focused, delicious dishes, from grilled calamari and octopus to platters of lamb and whole fish, accompanied by exceptional Greek wines.
On a weekend night, few Sarasota corners are more happening than the one at Palm Avenue and Main Street, where men in expensive jeans and women in low-cut tops swarm Cafe Epicure’s outdoor tables and cushioned lounges. They come for the killer Montepulciano and impeccable Negronis, thin-crusted pizzas and al dente pastas, and they linger over sweets and espresso.
When the band gets cooking at Mattison’s, the patio space in front of the stage fills up fast, with a mix of retirees and tourists shaking a leg to “Mustang Sally” and “Soul Man.” The big menu reflects chef and owner Paul Mattison’s restless spirit, with a focus on Italian cuisine and a wide variety of tapas and ceviches as well as pizza, burgers and more. It’s both relaxed and a busy, buzzing center of downtown life.