Best of Sarasota 2021: Food and Drink


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Best New Artsy Dining Options

Both The Ringling and the Sarasota Art Museum have upped their food games with a pair of new restaurants: The Ringling Grillroom and Bistro. The Grillroom features a wide menu that runs from lunch to dinner, while Bistro specializes in morning and midday fare, with a French-influenced menu built around seasonal ingredients. The Ringling Grillroom, inside The Ringling, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 360-7390, theringlinggrillroom.com; Bistro, inside the Sarasota Art Museum, 1001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 330-9881, sarasotaartmuseum.org/bistro

Best New Pizzerias

Vegans rejoiced when Lila chef Ryan Boeve opened Lucile Pizza & Wine Bar. The restaurant offers terrific plant-based pizzas and addictive, shareable sides. Even meat lovers will find something to enjoy. Farther south, RomanSQ brought rectangular, Roman-style pies to Gulf Gate. The crust is sturdy and crunchy on the bottom, airy and light above, and the toppings are creative and first-rate. Lucile Pizza & Wine Bar, 1660 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 330-0101, lucilesrq.com; RomanSQ, 6670 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 237-8742, romansq.com

Best New Coffee Shop

Rise Coffee Co. & Nye’s Cream Sandwiches doesn’t just serve excellent espresso, drip and cold brew drinks and scrumptious ice cream. It does so with a big heart. The shop hires employees with intellectual and physical disabilities, many of whom live in facilities like The Haven or Easter Seals Southwest Florida. The jobs help them earn a paycheck while also developing work and social skills. Whatever you order, you’ll feel good about it. 1534 State St., Sarasota, (941) 217-6449, riseandnyes.com

Best New Gulf Gate Hangout

The team behind the casual Gulf Gate Food + Beer went upscale with their new restaurant, Seabar, which boasts a stylish interior, an adventurous Pacific Rim menu and creative cocktails. Munch on Kung Pao octopus, slurp udon noodles, split a slice of toast slathered with uni butter and wash it down with a creative spin on an Old Fashioned or a tiki cocktail in an ultra-cool setting. 6540 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 923-6605, seabarsrq.com

Best New Taco Trend

2020 was the year the birria taco took over menus and Instagram feeds, thanks to their rich flavor and mesmerizing red-gold hue, which comes from the way the taco maker dips the tortilla in broth (usually beef) and then crisps it up on a flattop grill. Multiple local restaurants offer them as specials, but you’ll find these tacos full-time here: Bombón in north Sarasota and The Spot Tacos & More in Bradenton. You can’t go wrong with either. Bombón, 1118 N. Washington Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 487-8199, sarasotabombon.com; The Spot Tacos & More, 2303 First St., Bradenton, (941) 741-2011, thespottacocatering.com

Best New Bradenton Restaurant

Dave Shiplett left the world of fine dining to run Birdrock Taco Shack in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts. Then, last year, he expanded his comfort food reach by opening Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen. The restaurant harkens back to Shiplett’s childhood, with a menu drawn from what his mom would make as he was growing up in Bradenton. That means crispy fried chicken, cheesy grits and lightly fried green tomatoes. 1114 12th St. W., Bradenton, (941) 243-3735

Best New Sweet Spots

The University Town Center area was recently blessed with not one, but two great new places to satisfy your sweet tooth: Norman Love Confections and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Norman Love makes picture-perfect chocolates with lots of flavors that rotate with the seasons. Jeni’s, meanwhile, makes high-quality frozen treats with unique flavors like Buttercream Birthday Cake and Goat Cheese With Red Cherries. Norman Love Confections, 192 N. Cattlemen Road, Unit 7, Sarasota, (941) 777-5507, normanloveconfections.com; Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, 190 N. Cattlemen Road, Unit 4, Sarasota, (941) 358-5643, jenis.com

Best Comeback

Fans of Gold Star Donuts had given up hope that the shop would ever reopen after it closed in 2017. But then, like magic, it was reborn last September. The shop doesn’t get crazy with the flavors; you’ll find basics like apple fritters, bear claws and maple, chocolate and sprinkle yeast doughnuts. But these babies are enormous, perfectly made and crazy cheap. 1246 Whitfield Ave., Sarasota, (941) 755-1225

Best New Sandwich Makers

The first Smoqehouse opened in Bradenton Beach in 2017, but it didn’t hit the mainland until last year, when it took over the South Trail spot that once housed The Oaks Open Pit B-B-Q. As the name indicates, the emphasis here is on smoked meats, which are combined with other ingredients to make fantastic sandwiches. The menu changes often, but we enjoyed the Korean beef sandwich, and the restaurant’s basic brisket burger is a banger. 6112 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 923-9090, smoqehouse.com

Best New Food Truck

After Antonio Pereira was laid off from a gig as a server in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, he took matters into his own hands and launched a new food truck. Savor 100×35 is named for Puerto Rico’s length and width in miles, and Pereira’s food does justice to the island’s cuisine, with bright bowls stuffed with yucca, plantains, cilantro, avocado, rice, beans, guava, chicken, beef and pork. Find them on social media and smash that follow button. (787) 564-8354

Best New Booze Trend

The pandemic has wrecked business for countless local bars and restaurants, but one bright star shone amid the darkness. To help give bars a boost, the state allowed them to begin selling takeout cocktails in sealed containers. Some restaurants, like Sarasota’s Sage, even began bringing drinks out to your car. Let’s hope this is a trend that outlasts the pandemic.

Best New Customer Service

With in-person dining curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, many local restaurants were forced to get creative to stay alive and added or upgraded their online ordering and delivery options. Eating fine dining takeout on your couch, you’ll definitely miss the ambiance of your favorite date night spot, but the food tastes just as good, and you’re throwing your most-loved spots a lifeline until things get back to normal.

Best Mobile Market

If you want to get the farm to your table with ease, Grove Ladder Farm has turned its chicken-and-egg operation into a mobile farmers’ market. Farmer Tim Clarkson drives his green trailer, filled to the brim with edible goodies, to six spots from Manatee County to Stickney Point Road. Beyond his own Arcadia-raised chicken and beef, Grove Ladder offers meats and organic produce from Blumenberry Farms, Pastured Life Farm (non-GMO pastured poultry) and Tatum Ridge Farms (forest-raised organically fed heritage hogs). Just order online, find the nearest location and convenient time, and pick up. groveladderfarmllc.grazecart.com

Best New Restaurant Trend

So-called “ghost kitchens,” shared commercial kitchens, have been around for a long time, but the pandemic made their popularity explode. At Your Culinary Place in Gulf Gate, for example, you won’t find any tables or servers, but the space is home to both Tralia, a new sourdough pizza place, and Bootsy’s Pot Pies, which makes exceptional chicken pot pies. Order ahead, swing by at the appointed hour and head home with your treat. Bootsy’s also offers delivery. Your Culinary Place, 6592 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 922-9222, yourculinaryplace.com

Best New Holiday Tradition

Coquito, “small coconut” in Spanish, is a beloved Puerto Rican alternative to eggnog. Sugary, thick and strong, it’s made with rum, sweetened condensed milk and coconut cream, and now you can buy it from a local maker. Roberto Villanueva launched Coquito Roberto last year, selling 375- and 750-milliliter bottles that can either be picked up or delivered. Don’t be misled: Drinking coquito might be a Christmas tradition, but there’s no need to wait until December. coquitoroberto.com

Best New Farmers Market Vendor

The Sarasota Farmers Market endured an up-and-down year, with a closure forced by the pandemic followed by a loss of vendors who either went under or didn’t want to rejoin the market when it reopened. But the market ended the year strong, with an impressive slate of new vendors and products. Circle 6 Farm & Ranch is among this new cohort, joining the market last October to sell eggs, chicken and beef from its property in Duette. (813) 493-7921, (615) 440-2163, circle6farm.com

Best Upgrade

Beachside lobster rolls are back, thanks to chef and restaurateur Laszlo Bevardi, who recently renovated and reopened the concession stand at the Lido Beach Pavilion. The Lido Island Grill, as it’s now known, makes sandwiches, panini, tacos, burgers and salads, but it’s the return of the stand’s much-missed lobster rolls that is getting locals jazzed. The new look is part of a comprehensive overhaul of the pavilion, which also has new tables, benches and awnings. 400 Benjamin Franklin Drive, Sarasota, (941) 444-7495, lidoislandgrill.com

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