Ka Papa was originally going to be a plant-based poke restaurant, hence the name, a Hawaiian phrase that is pronounced “kuh papa” and loosely translates as “Papa’s” or “Papa’s Place.” Owner Kim Fraederich, who runs the restaurant with her mother, Bella, chose the name as a tribute to her father, who died two years ago. He loved poke.
Fraederich kept the name, but at some point decided to go in a different direction with the food. That was a smart decision, because Ka Papa isn't just a quality addition to Sarasota’s growing list of vegan dining options. It’s one of the city’s best new restaurants, period.
Before opening Ka Papa, Fraederich worked as a chemical engineer and food scientist in Canada, and while she’s no longer working to isolate discrete components of a pea, she’s using her exacting eye and attention to detail to elevate ingredients like mushrooms, tomatoes and peppers. Some plant-based restaurants, like Lila, offer a mix-and-match approach to their dishes, allowing you to add a wide variety of different proteins or sauces. At Ka Papa, the menu is smaller, but mighty.
Consider the restaurant’s plum- and miso-glazed eggplant ($24). The thick slice of eggplant that’s the star of the dish is impossibly tender. Slice into it with a fork, and the juices flow, yet it still hangs together for a bite. Topping it is a cluster of thin noodles, along with softened wedges of grapefruit, toasted sesame seeds, paper-thin slices of radish and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves. You’ll never look at eggplant the same way again.
Mushrooms are also blessed with the Fraederich touch. An appetizer of shiitakes served in the style of escargots ($12) presents ultra-soft mushrooms drenched in an addictive sauce made with lime juice, garlic, white wine and cheese-like nutritional yeast. Lion’s mane mushrooms provided by Sarasota’s Petrichor Mushrooms ($22) are, meanwhile, treated like crab cakes—tossed with Old Bay, shaped into pancakes and fried until crispy.
The restaurant offers an appealing wine list to go with all of the above, as well as one of the area’s best mocktail menus. The “lemon squeeze” ($12.50) is made with non-alcoholic “gin” and “whiskey” and possesses a charming herbal bouquet punctuated with heat from the chili and lime salt on the rim.
Don’t skip dessert. The cast iron cookie ($11) is nothing fancy, but it’s perfect—a soft, gooey, rich chocolate chip cookie served in a small, blisteringly hot cast iron pan and topped with a vegan “custard.” I challenge you to leave behind even a crumb.
Not everything is rave-worthy. The fruit on the papaya and avocado salad ($12) is ripe and delicious, but the dish lacks the creativity you’ll find elsewhere on the menu. The restaurant also serves soups, beer, kombucha, coffee and tea.
Although the restaurant is geared toward vegans, Fraederich says she hopes non-vegans walk away surprised with how flavorful food made from plants can be. “Plant-based food doesn’t have to be boring and bland,” she says.
Ka Papa | 1830 S. Osprey Ave., Suite 104, Sarasota, (941) 600-8590, kapapacuisine.com