Aside from sharing the same owner, Spice Station, which opened in the Rosemary District in April, and Maximillian’s Cafe, which has been a Gillespie Park mainstay for years, couldn’t be more different.
If you think of Sarasota’s dining scene like a music scene, Maximillian’s would be the somewhat grungy, hard-working underdog band, cranking away at the margins of popular conscience while catering to a devoted fan base. From the outside, Maximillian’s doesn’t look like much, but it does big numbers in takeout and delivery, supplying nearby shops and offices with soups, salads and sandwiches and some of the area’s top brownies.
Spice Station, meanwhile, is the flashy side project that charges into the spotlight with the right sound at the right time. The pan-Asian restaurant is situated in a new Rosemary District building adjacent to a courtyard that’s also home to another new restaurant, The Overton, plus housing and studio space for actors and dancers.
The buzz is real. Even during the usually slow summer months, Spice Station is hopping, pulling in a crowd during lunch and dinner. In the course of two meals, I run into an actress and screenwriter, an arts education executive, a longtime Ringling College of Art and Design instructor and a local historian and writer. Clearly, word of Spice Station’s quality has hit the Sarasota arts scene.
People come for both the food and the excellent deals. Lunch prices range from around $8 up to $14, while dinner is more in the $10 to $15 range. The menu hops around the Asian continent. On one side of the restaurant, a sushi chef puts together a pick of both traditional and specialty maki rolls, plus sashimi platters, while on the other side, the kitchen cranks out Thai platters, poke bowls and Japanese items.
The appetizer section of the menu is a blast to explore. Pot stickers ($5) are wonderful snacks—light and crunchy. A plate of karaage ($6), Japanese-style fried chicken, tastes like a better version of chicken nuggets, while a spread of paper-thin slices of hamachi ($10) comes dressed with a sweet yuzu ponzu sauce punched up with crunchy slivers of jalapeño. One miss: the restaurant’s rock shrimp tempura ($8), which buries the flavor of the crustacean with too much breading and a too-aggressive pour of sauces.
In the entrée world, a $9 plate of salmon doused in a red curry sauce and served with steamed bamboo shoots, carrots and green peppers, basil and a mound of rice makes for an ideal lunch. I’d like more spice in the sauce and more texture on the fish, but the dish is creamy and satisfying. More inventive is the restaurant’s brisket, dunked in a bath of Massaman curry flavored with tamarind, cashews and avocado ($13). As with the salmon, the texture of the beef could use more attention, but the swirl of flavors is invigorating. A chef’s pick of sashimi ($24), meanwhile, is delicious, but doesn’t offer much in the way of creativity.
I’ll be back, and so will all those people I ran into. Spice Station sits near the center of a rapidly gentrifying quadrant with a spiking number of new residents, and its affordable prices make it a place you can hit up once a week for either business or pleasure. It may be more extravagant than its more down-to-earth sibling, but, like Maximillian’s, it seems built to endure.
Spice Station | 1438 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota | (941) 343-2894 | Open 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 4:30-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday