For the official winners of our 2003 "Best of the Best" readers’ poll, turn to page 70 in this issue. There are 80 different categories on the ballot, from "Best Waterfront Restaurant" to "Best Thing that Could Happen Here in 2003," and we’re always impressed that so many of you complete the whole thing. All year long, we’re flooded with requests from readers, staff and business owners-especially business owners-to add new categories to the competition. But to keep the ballot from getting any bigger, we have a strict rule: For every category we add, we drop an old one. We also insist that new categories feature lots of competition and involve something the average reader has strong opinions about (which is why, if you are the business owner who keeps lobbying us to include "Best Silk Lampshade Repair," we have once again disappointed you).
Still, every year our editors discover some terrific experiences and offerings that don’t fall into those categories but still seem like Sarasota "bests." So without further ado, here are our unofficial winners-our editors’ picks of the best in Sarasota entertainment, style, food, shopping and lifestyle. (With thanks to Susan Burns, Marsha Fottler, Pat Haire, Kay Kipling and Anu Varma.)
BEST AFTER-HOUR PARTY
The Wednesday piano jams at Marina Jack, where some of the town’s top entertainers show up around 11, after their regular gigs are over, and keep going until 2 a.m.
BEST SEAT IN THE HOUSE
The first row of the mezzanine level of the FSU/Asolo Center: up high enough to admire the full sweep of the century-old Scottish opera house with its elaborate medallions, draperies and niches, not too high to see and hear the action below.
BEST GUILTY PLEASURES
The foie gras on brioche bread pudding at the Beach Bistro. Also worth every calorie and gram of cholesterol: the cheesy bread rolls from Chicken Pie Company; stuffed French toast at Maureen’s Palm Grille on Longboat, and Gordon’s homemade waffles with nuts and maple syrup at Word of Mouth.
A tie, between the jukeboxes at the Hoosier Bar in Osprey and the Broadway Bar in Sarasota. Both joints are smoky, but they jump, thanks to the musical mix of Southern-fried rock, golden oldies and country-western faves.
BEST CABARET VENUE
That would be Florida Studio Theatre’s cozy little spot on the corner of Palm Avenue, where you can indulge in the atmosphere of 19th-century Paris while listening to a wide range of music from the 20th.
BEST NEW THEATER COMPANY
The Banyan, because it offers top-notch acting in thought-provoking plays. Need we say more?
BEST MENU HUMOR
Sean Murphy’s menu notes at the Beach Bistro prove he’s a wit and a wag as well as a first-rate restaurateur and chef.
BEST RECYCLING BIN
Boogie Woogie, at Beneva and Clark Road, which sells used (and some new) CDs for a song. Great selection, staff, and you can listen before you buy.
The ladies’ room at Maison Blanche on Longboat Key. And even if you don’t need to, be sure to visit the bathrooms at Silver Cricket and the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.
BEST LITERARY NETWORKING
The Novel Affair party the night before the Sarasota Reading Festival, of course. Besides, we still can’t get over the guilty pleasure of actually having drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the library.
BEST ATTRACTION GIFT SHOP
At the recently renovated Rain Forest shop at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, you can spend a few dollars or a few thousand for a world of rain-forest themed gifts, from notepaper to drink coasters to fabulous freestanding garden sculpture.
BEST WRITE-IN CANDIDATE
Percy, the border collie/German shepherd mix who made national headlines when he challenged Katherine Harris and others in last year’s Congressional race. (He dropped out. Harris went on to win.)
BEST ALL-AMERICAN OUTING
Minor league baseball games at Ed Smith Stadium, where mascot Gordy the Gecko dances with little old ladies and kids, and hopeful young athletes play their hearts out in front of a smattering of fans. Plus, the most expensive seat is just $12.
BEST DANCE PARTY
The Latin dance aerobic classes at the Euclid YMCA and The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, led by Peru’s Felipe Cava, whose wildly enthusiastic students shake off the pounds as they shake their maracas and their booties.
BEST REASON TO CALL IN SICK
If you need a mental health day, pick a Thursday, when the Gulf Coast Banjo Society jams down at Snook Haven restaurant and campground in Venice. The music plays from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., and we suggest some fried catfish with that.
The Cock ‘N Bull Pub on Cattlemen. The yard outside contains a pile of concrete and two old toilets, but inside, this authentic beergarten features a lively atmosphere and a staggering collection of imported beer. The owner knows his beer and is passionate about it-pity the patron who asks for a Miller Lite.
BEST RESTAURANT DECOR
The cool, curvaceous dining room at Patria’s has the sleek sophistication of modern art, with rich colors and metallic accents that fit perfectly with the pricey, cosmopolitan menu.
BEST REMINDER OF WHY YOU MOVED TO FLORIDA
Sunset at Venice Pier. The crowd is quiet-retirees, children, people fishing. Perch on a rock to watch dolphins frolicking, flying fish leaping and boats streaming home across the fiery orange and pink-splashed waves of a summer sunset.