Chronological / Florida / Food / United States

The Surprising Delights of Sarasota Florida

Ca'd'Zan

Ca’d’Zan

Sarasota Florida is known for its sunny weather and sandy beaches, but there’s more to it than just that. Sarasota is full of surprises, starting with a particularly colorful history, thanks to two of its early developers, a couple of the famous Ringling brothers, who were extremely wealthy at the turn of the century. Charles Ringling bought and developed land and even founded a bank. John Ringling also invested in the area, built an impressive estate and relocated the iconic family circus to spend Winters in Sarasota.

Today you can visit the John and Mable Ringling estate, which includes their Venetian inspired Mediterranean revival style mansion Ca’d’Zan, the Ringling Museum of Art they founded and their fascinating and wonderfully interactive circus museums. The grounds of the Ringling Museum are also the site of the annual Corks & Forks food and wine festival. While I’d highly recommend you visit this wonderful event, the truth is that tickets sell out in a matter of hours. I was fortunate enough to attend, and based on what I tasted, I certainly know which restaurants I would seek out and recommend. Here are my top 5 picks:

Oysters

Oysters from Half Shell Oyster House

1

Oysters from Half Shell Oyster House

I have to admit, Gulf oysters are not my favorite, but these were outstanding. They were juicy and bright, not at all flabby, and pleasantly sauced up with just enough spice.

Grouper Sandwich fro Sharkey's

Grouper Sandwich from Sharky’s on the Pier

2

Grouper sandwich from Sharky’s on the Pier

This was perhaps the simplest of dishes, but one of the tastiest. Light, crisp breading really allowed the flavor of the fresh grouper to come through.

Kale salad from Mi Pueblo

Kale salad from Mi Pueblo

3

Kale salad from Mi Pueblo

This was a vegan salad with an amazing sesame and nut topping. It was spicy and creamy and just a knockout. This Mexican restaurant has a full menu of organic, vegan and even raw food.

Stuffed pepper from Ortygia

Stuffed pepper from Ortygia

4

Stuffed peppers Ortygia

This Sicilian restaurant made a stunning bite out of a roasted pepper stuffed with raisins, pine nuts and bread.

Lamb from Euphemia Hay

Lamb from Euphemia Hay

5

Lamb and rice from Euphemia Hay

Red curried leg of lamb on dirty rice with Blue Mountain sauce was the only lamb dish I saw at the event; it was  spicy and saucy and the lamb was perfectly cooked.

 

In addition to spending time at the beach you may find yourself compelled to visit the circus while you are in Sarasota, and depending upon the time of year, there are a couple of them to choose from, including the highly regards Circus Sarasota. I’d also recommend checking out some of the surprising culinary experiences that the town is becoming known for as well.

O'Brien strawberry shortcake

O’Brien strawberry shortcake


O’Brien Family Farms

There are lots of farms in and around Sarasota, including a local favorite, O’Brien Family Farms. O’Brien offers tours of their fields, “you pick” and a taste of their produce. Even if you can’t bring their fruit or vegetables home, do try the incredibly popular strawberry shortcake overflowing with locally-grown, super-ripe and sweet strawberries.

Farms, farmers markets and community gardens are plentiful and offer a myriad of opportunities for picking, shopping or just touring;  to plan your visit download the Tour Sarasota Agriculture publication.

Drum Circle distillery

Drum Circle distillery

Siesta Key Rum

Nothing says vacation quite like rum! It seems the natural thing to drink in this area, and it’s nice to know there’s top quality rum being produced locally. Drum Circle Distilling makes silver, spiced and gold rum sourced from 100 percent Florida-grown table-grade molasses. I loved the spiced rum, which has no artificial flavorings or corn syrup — just spices and honey. It’s smooth and light and may change the way you think about spiced rum, regardless of whether you are a lover or a hater.

Tours of the distillery are sometimes offered, just check the Siesta Key rum Facebook page, and do enjoy the rum when you are in town because it’s not yet nationally available. Bars that carry it include Old Salty Dog (both the Siesta Key and City Island locations), Gilligan’s Island Bar & Grill, and Michael’s on East.

Mote Siberian sturgeon

Mote Siberian sturgeon

Mote Caviar

The intrepid marine biologists and scientists at Mote Marine Laboratory have learned how to farm raise Siberian sturgeon for caviar and are now producing it commercially.

Visit the Aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory to see a display of young Siberian sturgeon, with a general description of how the fish are sustainably raised for caviar production. While there is no mote caviar on the menu at the cafe you can try some at Jack Dusty.

Jack Dusty restaurant

Jack Dusty restaurant

Jack Dusty

Speaking of Jack Dusty, based on my own visit as well as some conversation I overheard at the festival, I’d have to say that it’s the hot restaurant at the moment. A chic and fresh-looking dining room (not to mention the menu) really reflect the gulf coast. Considering it’s in a hotel, the food isn’t fussy at all, but well-prepared and not very expensive, given the quality. I loved the grouper étouffée with greens and the perfectly fried calamari. Never before have I seen 28-year-olds and 82-year-olds sitting next to each other at a seafood bar, all having such a fabulous time! Perhaps it was the caviar that was making everyone so giddy! I can honestly say I believe pretty much anyone will be happy here. It’s conveniently located in the Ritz Carlton.

My thanks to VisitSarsota.org for hosting my visit 

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