Chicken Milanese in a lemon-butter white wine reduction, sundried tomatoes, golden raisins, capers and pinenuts topped with a lemon-feta arugula salad.

Chicken Milanese in a lemon-butter white wine reduction, sundried tomatoes, golden raisins, capers and pinenuts topped with a lemon-feta arugula salad.

Tampa-based Grillsmith opened its fifth location in Sarasota in 2019—but it's enjoying a resurgence.

“We had a beautiful thing going, and Covid put the breaks on our efforts to weave into the community and be part of the neighborhood,” says Ross Hughes, the restaurant’s vice-president of operations. “We did a lot of curbside orders, and now we feel like, hey, knock on wood, the pandemic is less top of mind. We wanted to get back out there and re-showcase ourselves.”

Chefs at Grillsmith restaurant in Sarasota

Chef Jo Jo Emmanuel and vice president of operations Ross Hughes.

Image: Kim Doleatto

Grillsmith is doing that with colorful new cocktails to celebrate the season and a special Mother’s Day menu. Located in south Sarasota, the casual American restaurant flexes its muscles with globally-inspired flourishes, like adding sundried tomatoes and pinenuts to its chicken Milanese ($21), and offering a blue crab and shrimp burger with sriracha aioli and kicked up fries ($17.90). (There’s still a classic burger, too.)

But the “Grill” in the restaurant's name highlights a stand-out steak section. “My fave is by far the ribeye,” Hughes says. “We use certified Angus beef and only 5 percent of the cows make the cut. We work with family-owned farms in the Midwest, and every steak is aged 40 days."

And the dedicated Mother’s Day menu, running from May 4 through May 10, brings that craft to order with a 6 oz. tenderloin filet Oscar with butter-poached jumbo lump crab, asparagus and mashed cauliflower ($32.90).

I recently enjoyed the Chilean salmon dish, one of Grillsmith's most popular, topped with a lightly sweet honey-bourbon cracked pepper glaze with fresh seasonal string beans and mashed cauliflower–my choice. Other side options include sautéed spinach or jasmine rice.

The homemade Key lime pie delivered that sweet and tart balance it's known for, and melted in the mouth against the bite of pecan graham cracker crumb crust, ($8.50).

A lavender-colored gin cocktail.

The Garden Party cocktail.

As part of my due diligence, I also tested out the spring cocktail selection called Cocktails in Bloom. They were pretty as a picture, but I showed no mercy toward the lavender-colored Garden Party—a refreshing gin recipe with lemon juice, balanced with the sweet notes in elderflower liqueur and rosemary syrup ($11.50). The Strawberry Mango Smash was equally delicious ($10.50).

Inspired by what’s sprouting locally, during strawberry season, you’ll also find a strawberry shortcake martini. There’s also a thoughtful selection of nonalcoholic drinks, like homemade raspberry lemonade, so the whole table can enjoy a colorful cheers.

What to wear? Inside, rustic wood paneling, low lighting and comfy booths create a polished yet welcoming atmosphere, whether you’re coming from the beach or dressing up. The restaurant serves lunch, dinner and brunch.

Grillsmith is located at 6420 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Mark Johnston, owner and founder, opened the first Grillsmith in Clearwater in 2004. He and his brothers also own The Melting Pot and founded Burger 21.

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