Winning Numbers

By staff February 1, 2008

If you haven’t visited 5-One-6 Burns in downtown Sarasota since last fall, go now. You have a treat in store.

Sept.14 marked the beginning of a new regime under proprietor Max Burke-Phillips and chef Seth Groseclose. Burke-Phillips formerly managed Derek’s Culinary Casual, and Groseclose came up under the tutelage of Sean Murphy at Beach Bistro. Not bad pedigrees.

The big banyan tree still shades the patio at 5-One-6 Burns, and the building confers its old relaxed charm. But the colors on the walls inside and out have been reinvigorated, the tables sport white linens and the wait staff is natty in black. The wine list has been thoroughly reworked by consultant Michael Green. Reception at the door is warm, and service is timely and informed. All of this adds up to a more sophisticated but still eminently comfortable setting in which to savor the magic worked in chef Groseclose’s Southern-grounded kitchen.

And make no mistake: The food is the star.

For starters, I’d like to ask you to forget everything you know about fried chicken sold in buckets, boxes and foil-lined bags. That is not fried chicken. That is chicken-flavored deep-fried breading. It bears the same relationship to real Southern pan-fried chicken as plastic spangles bear to diamonds.

I was blissfully reminded of this basic truth when we dined one recent evening under that iconic banyan tree. The setting and the cooking combined to transport us to a time before speed-eating ruled the day. Which is not to say that you can’t get a quick bite here if you find yourself running late for the last show at Burns Court Cinema next door. On Thursday through Saturday evenings, for instance, a tasty little pizza from a wood-fired oven and a glass of wine may be had in a hurry at the bar, and an uptown burger with fries is always an option. If you have the time, though, take it. The fare here feeds the soul as well as the belly and deserves to be consumed as it was cooked, slowly and with the senses wide open.

My wife, Colette, formerly a restaurant critic herself, is passionate about authentic Southern cooking, traditional or nouvelle. When she spotted that latter-day classic shrimp and grits ($11) on the appetizer list and Southern pan-fried chicken ($19) among the main events at 5-One-6 Burns, she was as happy as a little girl. That both a neo-traditional brioche bread pudding and chef Groseclose’s grandma’s pecan pie highlighted the dessert menu sealed the deal. It didn’t hurt a thing that we sipped a fabulously creamy yet dry La Marca Prosecco ($8 a glass) as we pondered our choices. I ordered well, too, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

First, Colette’s pink crustaceans arrived, fresh, plump and sweet, grilled to perfection and placed just so atop toothsome grits jazzed up with a liberal dose of fresh orange. (We couldn’t help but overhear a full-voiced out-of-towner at another table declare to titters from his tablemates, “Grits! Does anybody really eat that stuff?” Ah, well. His loss. I wonder if he’s ever heard of polenta.)

Feeling expansive, we ordered a bottle of Julia’s Pinot Noir 2005 from Cambria ($42) to accompany the main course. Anticipation hung in the air like the scent of night-blooming jasmine.

The free-range chicken—a generous thigh, a breast and a leg—arrived in a light flour coating coaxed to a golden crust in a slow pan. Not a corn flake or a panko crumb in sight. Inside this elegant skin the meat was as tender and succulent as its aroma promised.

And here’s the kicker. Sharing the plate were a soupçon of white gravy, black-eyed peas cooked al dente to preserve their full, earthy savor, and collard greens coated in a slightly sweet, slightly vinegary glaze that brought their natural tartness flawlessly to the fore. A tour de force.

I, meanwhile, had the good fortune to start my dinner with a world-beating preparation of fried softshell crab ($13). The nearly shell-free shellfish was so delicious it could have been served naked on a paper plate with a plastic fork and I still would have swooned. Instead, it came layered with not-too-thin slices of unbreaded, grilled green tomato and topped with peppery watercress, all on a shallow pool of citrusy dill sauce. It was the best of its kind I’ve ever tasted.

Next for me was an old favorite, a pan-roasted duck breast ($21) sliced and fanned over a sumptuous apple and root vegetable hash and sauced in an aromatic thyme-scented cider broth. The skin of the duck was just crisp enough to set off the modest layer of fat that gives this bird its juicy richness, and the hash was a heavenly version of a homely staple.

Mama Jo, as the chef’s grandmother is credited on the dessert list, knows pecan pie as well as she knows fried chicken. Her pie is sweetened just enough to aid and abet the natural sweetness and crunch of the pecans.

Colette was just as happy with her house-made brioche bread pudding (it’s the brioche that earns it our neo-trad label), served high and light with a drizzle of caramel sauce and candied pecans on the side.

The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week now, with a brunch menu standing in for lunch on Sunday. In addition to his wonderful Southern specialties, chef Groseclose turns out such bistro favorites as classic Caesar salad, grilled salmon Niçoise, a filet with horseradish Bearnaise and, at brunch, brioche French toast with maple syrup or a leek, tomato, spinach and Gruyére quiche. And if pecan pie is not your dessert, a molten chocolate cake with blackberry coulis and créme Anglaise ought to do the trick.

5-One-6 Burns

516 Burns Lane, Sarasota

Reservations recommended: (941) 906-1884

Lunch: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until 10 Friday and Saturday

Brunch: 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Parking: small lot and on-street nearby

Handicap accessible

More Mattison’s

Chef Paul Mattison, a veteran restaurateur with a reputation and a following along this stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast, seems to have done it again with his latest venture. Even a mere five days after opening, when most new restaurants are just beginning to find their legs, Mattison’s 41 was running as smoothly as a seasoned marathoner.

It started for us at the granite-topped horseshoe bar, where I was treated to a perfect martini and Colette, following the advice of a demure black-and-white Felix the Cat poster on the wall, drank her wine. She was glad she listened to Felix. The by-the-glass selection at Mattison’s 41 is as tempting as they come, achieving a surprising depth in a relatively short list. Bar service was unobtrusively attentive and cheerful, as was the service later at table. A single flat-screen bar TV allowed those so inclined to keep an eye on the game without intruding on conversation.

If you were in a hurry or a certain mood, you could put together a light but satisfying meal at the bar by pairing a glass of good wine with an item or two from a list of soups, salads, appetizers, sandwiches and pizzas, priced from $6.95 for French onion soup with sherry, thyme, Gruyére and Parmesan to $14.95 for a Greek salad featuring grilled New Zealand lamb chops. We were not in that mood and soon moved to a comfortable booth to pursue our research in depth.

The decor throughout the single big room is a study in understated lighting, colors and especially textures, punctuated by clever, equally understated art. The effect is soothing and lends the open space a welcome intimacy. There is live music each evening, which is fine, but the food will keep discerning guests coming back.

Let’s fast forward to the undisputed culinary star of our evening, which I can’t wait to describe. Colette ordered it, and her radar was really working. The main dish served to her treated a luscious, precisely medium-rare New York strip steak ($31.95) as few steaks have the good fortune to be treated. The roasted shallot butter was certainly a plus, but it was the pre-grilling rub, compounded of coarse sea salt and crushed red sumac berries, that formed a pluperfect crust and launched this deceptively simple prep into the stratosphere. Pair it with impossibly light and greaseless Parmesan-dusted French fries and you have a course to make a carnivorous angel sing.

Colette may have snagged the Big Wally, but I did just fine by indulging my taste for scallops, billed here as being of the jumbo Boston variety ($22.95). I’ve tasted sweeter scallops, but these were impeccably fresh, thoughtfully sauced in a vanilla beurre blanc, and beautifully paired with a super savory pancetta and potato hash with smoked oyster mushrooms.

Mushrooms, shiitakes this time, played a prominent role in my starter, too, which featured sweet and tender escargots bathed in a dreamy roasted garlic sauce spiked with thyme and served with big crisp croutons worthy of the sauce. The snails were not those shriveled little gray things tasting of the can they came in, which escargots, even at some otherwise good restaurants, too often are.

Colette’s artichokes Esther began with flash-fried hearts, crisp outside and tender within, and served on a bed of mixed baby greens with chopped tomatoes and capers, all asserted by a snap of lemon. Delightful.

Gelato was our choice at dessert, mine a vivid espresso served au naturel and hers vanilla atop a fresh and toothsome berry cobbler. Espresso sent us humming happily home, reminding ourselves to keep an eye on chef Michael Caraballo, the man on the firing line who executed the boss’s recipes and inspirations so beautifully.

Mattison’s 41

7275 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

(941) 921-3400

Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday; until midnight Friday and Saturday; bar opens at 4 p.m.

Cards: Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover

Handicap accessible

Ample lot parking

Ask John

I’m a frugal wine drinker and I must taste before I buy, so the supermarket’s out. Tell me where to go.

I didn’t recognize many winemakers or vineyards as I browsed the bottles at the sleek new Cork & Olive outpost at Tuttle Avenue and University Parkway, and there’s a good reason for that. The Tampa-based chain of wine and olive oil shops purveys only the products of small, boutique operations from Italy, France, Australia, South Africa, the Middle East and the U.S. After a few minutes at the tasting table, where 10 wines and four olive oils stood at the ready, I ponied up for trial bottles of a hitherto unfamiliar Beaujolais (Fessy 2005) and a Negroamaro (Parallelo 2004) from Puglia, Italy, both at under $14 a bottle. The tasting table is open whenever the shop is, its wine offerings (all priced more for your table than your cellar) changing by the week. And if you’re a still more frugal wine drinker you can buy bulk wine (call it plonk, vin ordinaire or everyday wine, depending on your mood) from faux casks for about $6 a pop. Dial (941) 358-1429 for details on in-your-home tastings, weekly sip-and-dip evenings, and current hours.

What I’m Drinking

This month’s wines are among those consistently favored by diners at Roy’s, that showplace for chef Roy Yamaguchi’s acclaimed Hawaiian fusion cuisine. They also are favorites of Roy’s Sarasota wine manager Chuck Karoub. He’s ordered them for us from lightest to heaviest and provided tasting notes. As always, the retail price points cited are approximate and will vary with merchant.

Trimbach Pinot Gris, Reserve, Alsace, 2003. $25. This wine has a rich, fruity style with a great finish and a great balance of crisp acidity with a slight smokiness. It’s perfect for a tropical lunch of Florida stone crab claws.

St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, 2005. $25. A crisp, fruity wine with hints of grapefruit, pineapple, nectarine and lemongrass to balance. This wine is refreshing and lively, just right for sipping on a warm, sunny afternoon.

Branham Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, 2006. $35. This all stainless-steel-aged chardonnay tastes of crisp green apple, kiwi, pineapple, lemon and grapefruit. It’s a great choice with salads, poultry and seafood.

Far Niente Chardonnay, Napa Valley, 2005. $45. Ripe melon and fig, layered with spice and earth, emerge on the nose. The wine is smooth and rich with tropical flavors and a touch of minerality. Fantastic with sushi, seafood, poultry and beurre blanc dishes.

Etude Pinot Noir, Carneros, 2005. $45. This wine has expressive aromas of fruit spice, red fruits and minerality with a soft, earthy note. It tastes of black cherry, black plum and perfume. Excellent with Roy’s blackened Ahi tuna and barbecued foods.

Branham “Jazz” 2005. $20. A blend of zinfandel, petite sirah, cabernet sauvignon and syrah, this wine opens with fruit on the nose and segues to melodies of black plum, dark berries and coffee notes on the palate. It finishes with a great blend of tannins and acidity. This wine will hold up to any meat, blackened fish or spiced dish.

Franciscan Cabernet, Oakville, Napa, 2003. $30. Aromas of chocolate, coffee and cassis with notes of dark fruit and raspberry. Very rich taste, with flavors of coffee and toasted oak; supple tannins on the finish. Once again, a good fit with any meat, blackened or assertively flavored fish or spiced dish.

Quintessa Cabernet, Rutherford, Napa, 2004. $130. Beautiful and powerful aromas of sweet red fruits, black currant with spices, raisins and tobacco. Medium dry and medium bodied, well balanced, with smooth tannins and spicy notes. This is a terrific bottle of wine to pair with a great steak.

An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many publications, most recently for The St. Petersburg Times.

In Season

Chef Judi Gallagher keeps it low-cal but tasty with spaghetti squash.

I first started cooking with spaghetti squash in 2004, when the low-carb frenzy was at full speed. It was love at first bite—flavorful, nice texture and a dream when tossed with salt, pepper, butter and grated Parmesan cheese. This cylinder-shaped vegetable is available year-round, but peak season is late fall through winter. A four-ounce serving of spaghetti squash has only 37 calories and is a perfect substitute for white pastas. A four-pound squash yields about five cups. Here are three ways to cook it.

To boil, heat a pot of water large enough to hold the whole squash. Drop into boiling water and cook 20-30 minutes. When a fork goes easily into the flesh, it’s ready.

To bake, pierce the shell several times with a large fork and place in a baking dish. Cook at 375-400 degrees for approximately 50 to 60 minutes and let rest 15 minutes before cutting open.

To microwave, cut squash lengthwise and remove seeds. Place squash cut side down in microwave-safe dish with ¼ cup water or chicken stock. Cover with plastic wrap and cook on high for about 10 minutes. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.

Once spaghetti squash is cooked, cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Pull a fork through the flesh to separate into long strands.

Spaghetti squash with sausage and fennel

1 pound bulk Italian sausage

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 cup chopped red onion

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 cups puttanesca or marinara sauce

1 tablespoon fennel seed

Fresh basil sprigs to garnish

½ cup chopped Roma tomatoes for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Wrap squash halves in plastic wrap. Cook in microwave on high until tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Pierce plastic to allow steam to escape. Cool. Sauté sausage, bell pepper, red onion, fennel and garlic over medium-high heat until sausage browns and vegetables are tender, breaking up sausage with back of spoon, about 12 minutes. Mix in marinara sauce.

Using fork, pull out squash strands from shells, leaving shells intact. Mix squash strands into sausage mixture. Season with salt and pepper, and if you wish, half a teaspoon of dried oregano. (You may serve this either in a casserole dish or inside the squash shell.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange filled squash halves on baking sheet. Sprinkle each with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Bake uncovered until heated through, about 20 minutes (30 minutes if previously chilled). Cut each squash half in two and serve. Top with fresh diced tomatoes and a sprig of fresh basil.

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