Vroom Vroom

Le Mans Kitchen Is a Swanky New Restaurant From One of Our Best Chefs, and It's Located in a Car Dealership

The restaurant inside Sarasota Ford is an unexpected addition to Sarasota's dining scene.

By Lauren Jackson February 6, 2024

Le Mans Kitchen at Sarasota Ford

An exclusive new restaurant from one of the region's best chefs has opened in an unlikely location—a car dealership.

Le Mans Kitchen is the latest endeavor from chef José Martinez, owner of the esteemed Longboat Key restaurant Maison Blanche, and it's located inside Sarasota Ford, the downtown dealership. The restaurant is not open to the general public; it specifically caters to the dealership’s customers, whether they are buying a new vehicle or having their current one serviced.

“Anyone can service their car here and experience the restaurant," says Martinez. "For now, the people who aren’t customers cannot enjoy the restaurant. It’s like a club."

Martinez was originally contacted by Matt Buchanan, the president and managing partner of the dealership.

“Matt was looking for a Michelin-star chef who could help him give some vision to his kitchen idea," says Martinez. "It was a crazy idea to put a high-end restaurant in a dealership. But I’ve always compared the restaurant business to a car. The dining room is like the outside of the car. It needs to be nice and good-looking, and the kitchen is the engine.”

Le Mans Kitchen's dining room

“Matt was looking for a French inspiration while keeping some American identity,” Martinez continues. “I came up with new recipes and we started testing every week in the kitchen of Maison Blanche. It took all summer. I did research and tasting, and every recipe is very unique.”

Martinez moved to Sarasota 21 years ago from Paris, where his previous restaurant, also named Maison Blanche, received a Michelin star.

“I didn’t want to stay in France because of the political changes, so I left to try Florida. I had an opportunity on Longboat and here we are,” says Martinez.

Although he’s seen much success at Maison Blanche, he has enjoyed the new challenges associated with the dealership concept.

“Here, I have a certain price point," he says. "I cannot do lobster, caviar or wagyu beef. I’m more limited. There is no alcohol, either. And although the restaurant seats 35 diners, we do nearly 140 covers each day, because we feed the staff, too, all day.”

The dining room is light and airy, with wood tones highlighted by blue accents. Guests can see the small kitchen through a window cutout as they enter the space. Many tables are separated by frosted glass partitions, which creates an intimate feeling, and you know immediately that you are somewhere special.

When I visit, it’s lunchtime, and the dining room is full of hungry customers marveling at the refined experience. The restaurant has two menus, depending on when you dine. The breakfast menu features items like a French omelet ($15) and a biscuit topped with a poached egg ($17), Martinez’s favorite menu item.

“I didn’t even like biscuits, and now I love them," he says. "I thought there was nothing good about a biscuit. In Tennessee, there are very good biscuits and after much research, I came up with a very good one.”

The chicken Waldorf salad at Le Mans Kitchen

Image: Gene Pollux

The midday menu, which is available until 7 p.m., when the restaurant closes, skews American, with offerings like a cheeseburger ($18), avocado toast ($13) and a chicken Waldorf salad ($16). Each has refreshing flourishes that are uncommon in traditional versions. For example, the avocado toast is finished with cumin oil, and the burger is topped with Gruyère cheese.

Braised short ribs at Le Mans Kitchen

Image: Gene Pollux

And surprisingly, there are braised short ribs ($24), which showcase Martinez’s fine dining background. They are tender and savory and served with crispy potato wedges with an herbed aioli. Eating them, I’m transported out of the dealership, despite the visible Ford sign shining outside the window.

Chicken Caesar salad at Le Mans Kitchen

Image: Gene Pollux

Dining room manager Blake Campbell recommends the chicken Caesar salad ($17). It’s served as a roasted head of romaine lettuce with brûléed parmesan on top. Thin slices of chicken breast are layered throughout the leaves, which makes it easy to slice a piece of chicken and lettuce for every bite. While it is a Caesar salad, it’s a refreshing take on the classic.

Campbell has also been integral in creating a mocktail menu that rivals that of Sarasota’s best bars. Alcohol cannot be served in the dealership, since it would be unsafe to serve spirits to guests who will be driving shortly after their meal.

The fojito ($9) is made with mint, simple syrup and lime, as one would expect with a mojito, but the addition of kombucha and Seedlip (a non-alcoholic botanical mixer) gives a bite that rivals an alcoholic beverage. Rarely have I had a mocktail that fights back, in a good way.

The "strawberry ember" mocktail at Le Mans Kitchen

Image: Gene Pollux

The “strawberry ember” ($9) is equally interesting, with muddled strawberries, kombucha and Seedlip. But it’s also smoked, giving the drink an aroma reminiscent of whiskey. It’s as beautiful as it is complicated and delicious.

Campbell and Martinez both recognize that the restaurant is an uncommon approach to both dining and dealership, but they’re eager to impress.

“It’s difficult to do something new," says Martinez. "We don’t have the background to gauge success. But I think it will work out great.”

Le Mans Kitchen is located inside Sarasota Ford, 707 S. Washington Blvd., Sarasota. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is currently exclusive to Sarasota Ford customers. For more information, call (888) 349-4989 or click here.

Filed under
Show Comments