Street Talk

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NOISEMAKER BEHIND THE SCENES Writer Llywelyn Tudor Jones comes full circle at The Players Theatre. Born in London in 1968 and raised on Longboat Key, Llywelyn Tudor Jones absorbed every moment of his father, Alun’s, performances at The Players Theatre in the ’70s. “I remember how safe the theater seemed,” he says. “Going to watch […]


NOISEMAKER

BEHIND THE SCENES

Writer Llywelyn Tudor Jones comes full circle at The Players Theatre.

Born in London in 1968 and raised on Longboat Key, Llywelyn Tudor Jones absorbed every moment of his father, Alun’s, performances at The Players Theatre in the ’70s. “I remember how safe the theater seemed,” he says. “Going to watch him got me excited about being in a dark room and creating something magical.” Now Jones’ creations are drawing the spotlight. One of his screenplays was made into a movie entered in the 2002 Cannes Film Festival; another is being filmed in Hawaii. Last summer, his Blackout won “The Play’s the Thing” playwriting competition at The Players. First prize, says Jones, is “something better than cash”-a fully staged production of Blackout at The Players, July 21-23.

What is Blackout about? The trouble you can get into on the Internet these days. A college professor chats up someone [online], and it turns out to be one of his students. What’s the key to your success? People used to say to me, “Write what you know.” Ten years ago I didn’t know anything. Now that I’ve lived a little more, my scripts having taken on a lot more weight. I see progress every year. That’s what inspires me. Any helpful feedback? One reviewer said that a low-budget movie I wrote was “a senseless waste of innocent tape.” Sometimes reviewers come up with the cattiest, funniest things. What’s next? Fear and Clothing, about an effeminate gang in East L.A. It’s Clueless meets West Side Story. And I’m writing something for Sony Pictures called The Other Team, about a homophobic detective who gets paired up with a gay detective. There’s so much material there that it almost wrote itself. -Hannah Wallace

Fat City

Dining off the beaten track with Bob Ardren.

Think about it and I’ll bet you’ll agree some of your most memorable meals have been picnics.

Picnics are wonderful places to fall in love, terrible places to fall out of love (as if there were any good places for that), and don’t forget the old saw, “This must be a great place-a million ants couldn’t be wrong.”

Seriously, good picnics can make even the biggest grouch smile, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be creating a fond memory.

Picnic spots are up to you, but I prefer the water’s edge and out of the heat. Some people actually picnic at night-witness the large Hispanic families at places like North Lido Beach-but I prefer the shade, tables and atmosphere of South Lido Park myself.

Picnic drinks are also up to you, but wine is the clear choice in our crowd, with good beer a close second, especially if, say, cold smoked chicken is the entrée. Many of my favorite picnic suppliers have a good selection of both.

For example, Casa Italia, 2080 Constitution Blvd., has everything you need for a great picnic. You’ll find an assortment of fine breads, imported cold cuts and olives, cheeses that threaten to outshine everything else on the menu and a selection of affordable wines that goes on for aisles.

Splurge and start with a whole loaf of real ciabiatta ($3) and then just find things to have with it. There’s prosciutto from your choice of Italy ($22 per pound), Spain (also $22) or Canada ($15). But heck, no one ever buys more than just a few slices, so it’s actually a cheap treat.

Salamis range from $3.99 to $5.99 a half-pound, and for a real treat, ask for a package of those white unsalted anchovies packed in olive oil ($7.99).

Gorgonzola is just one of the cheeses available in several grades of sharpness ($5.99 a half pound), and for a little sweetness to wrap up the meal, try the fig almond cake from Spain ($7.99). The chore at Casa Italia is to not buy so much food you’ll have to invite a crowd to eat it all.

If your mood isn’t Italian, consider the new Southgate Gourmet shop, 2157 Siesta Drive, where chef/owner Cliff Whatmore has a variety of American-made craft cheeses unmatched in this area.

They range from selections as trendy as Humbolt Fog goat blue to Cowgirl Creamery’s St. Pat ($19.95 a pound), both from far Northern California. Or you might prefer to try some of the Haystack Mountain goat cheeses from Colorado ($14.65 for 10 ounces). Also intriguing: HooDoo Valley chipotle cheddar ($8.95 a half pound) from Idaho and Bittersweet Plantation’s triple cream ($15.12) from Louisiana.

Every single one of these has won national cheese competitions for farmstead cheeses and will have you saying, “Wow, this is wonderful.”

Need a little meat to go with that cheese? Try the cold duck sandwich with caramelized onions to go ($8.75), or perhaps half a roasted chicken ($9.95) that will ruin you forever for the Publix product.

Speaking of cold chicken, perhaps you’d like to try the smoked chicken from the new Northern and Southern Food Express, 3430 N. Tamiami Trail. This is chicken ($4.50 a half, $8 whole) that’s really, really smoked, and it’s also really, really good.

What could be better finger food for a picnic?

Other specialties at Northern and Southern include ribs ($22.50 a slab, $10.50 for the dinner or $8 a sandwich), fried chicken ($5.25 a dinner) and a shrimp po-boy ($4).

But if you’re looking for something very simple and very elegant, one of my very favorite picnic foods is a big container of taramosalata with some good bread and wine to wash it down. For the best-tasting and, frankly, the best bargain taramosalata in Sarasota, stop by the El Greco Café, 1592 Main St. They have “tara” on the specials board as an appetizer ($4.95) every day, but ignore that.

Instead, confuse the lady at the front counter, who will have to go back to the kitchen and ask for the large pint container ($7) of that wonderful white, caviar-flecked ambrosia. She comes back holding it and beaming.

Call that the main course at your picnic.

You might want to toss an order or two of the El Greco cold stuffed grape leaves ($3.25) into the basket, too, or maybe some hummus ($4.95) to slather on your bread for a taste contrast to the tara.

Remember that the best picnics are finger food affairs where the quality of the food is what counts. Find the good stuff and then run away to a picnic with it. That’s the good life.

THE NEW SARASOTA

FRESH ENERGY

Matthews boosts the Farmer’s Market, kids take over Sarasota News & Books, and downtown dogs don leather. By Kim Hackett

John Matthews has been so pleased with how things are going at the Downtown Farmers’ Market, he recently did a little jig. In the two years he’s been running the market, it has expanded from one block to three on Lemon Street, and attendance has quadrupled, averaging about 5,000 on a typical Saturday in season.

“I have the most fun job in town,” says Matthews, who has a blondish-gray beard, a Mississippi drawl and a slightly mischievous smile.

Matthews will do anything to promote the market, including donning a Scottish kilt for festivities that brought elected leaders to the market for a day. On Saturdays, Matthews gets downtown at 4 a.m. to help set up the tents and deal with whatever catastrophe presents itself. On a recent Saturday, a few sleeping homeless men needed to be prodded on their way. Next he found power out on the northern end of Lemon Street, which sent a few vendors into panic.

“All I needed to do was flip the breaker,” Matthews said from a barstool at Mattison’s City Grille, where he takes refuge for an occasional cigarette and cup of coffee.

A native of Tunica, Miss., Matthews worked for an international chemical company, as a bill collector and in telecommunication sales before he started helping his wife, Andrea, with her Herbal Gourmet booth at the market several years ago. When Matthews took over as director in the fall of 2004, market artisans weren’t a happy bunch. They had been relegated to “the sand pit,” an area on the perimeter of Lemon Street, while the lettuce and fresh basil people took center stage.

When Lemon Street construction forced the market’s temporary relocation to Pineapple, Matthew put the artists up front with everybody else. They now edge out the green leafy vendors (prompting a few old-timers to grumble that the market has become “too artsy”).

Matthews made a few other changes, requiring vendors to sign a one-year contract and forming committees to give them a say. He gets dozens of calls a week from people who want to be part of the market. But for them to get in, other vendors have to agree.

When Mark, “the Alpine Gourmet steak guy,” wanted to set up a tent, Matthews referred him to the market’s food board, which is made up of Gary the seafood guy, Chris the coffee guy and Ed the hot dog guy.

“We all know each other by what we do,” Matthews says. “I asked Gary, ‘Do you have a problem with Alpine?’ And he said, ‘No, the steaks go with my shrimp.’ And so Mark the steak guy got in.”

THE PLOT THICKENS

Some might be unsettled to see their beloved Sarasota News & Books under the ownership of a couple of 20-somethings with no experience in running a bookstore. But given the alternative, no one is complaining.

The independent bookstore on the corner of Main and Palm almost fell into the hands of a wanted felon who was featured in a New Haven Advocate article titled “The Man who Duped New Haven.” Thomas Coelho, convicted of larceny and forgery, moved to Sarasota in 2003 and befriended many movers and shakers, including Derek Filcoff, a Sarasota attorney. The two convinced Caren and Dick Lobo to sell them Sarasota News & Books. Coelho had told Filcoff a little of his troubled background, but not everything.

The Lobos had owned the popular downtown landmark since 1997 and cultivated a following for their smart collection of 15,000 titles and the big-name authors who came to visit. When the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that there was an active warrant for Coelho’s arrest, among other unsettling charges, the Lobos scuttled the deal.

A phone call and three weeks later, Andrew Foley, 24, and his sister, Meghan, 27, became bookstore owners.

“We had to hit the ground running,” Andrew Foley said one day recently, sitting at a table in the bookstore with Meghan, who quit her job with Michael Saunders & Company to focus on the café.

The Foleys are no stranger to downtown business deals. Their late father, Jay, made his name renovating the Gator Club and turning the 10-story Orange Blossom Hotel into condominiums, where the siblings now live, across the street from the bookstore. Andrew also has an interest in a building going up on a former parking lot across the street from the bookstore. He quit his job at the Downtown Partnership to run the bookstore, and since then, it’s been an on-the-job crash course on the art of bookselling.

“One of the perks of the business is you get to meet amazing people,” says Andrew. The Foleys kept the same 23 employees but changed the coffee and menu in the café, getting rid of the PB&J and cottage cheese.

They soon found out that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. As Meghan was talking up the new menu to a reporter, a man approached the table and introduced himself. “I’ve been coming here for years and years and years,” he told the Foleys. “And the food is just lousy.”

Andrew listened patiently as the man complained about the turkey, and told him he’d consider his suggestions. “He made a few good points,” Andrew said.

CANINE CONNOISSEURS

As Netta MacMahon can attest, some Sarasotans are going to extreme lengths to pamper their pets.

“They have the bling,” says MacMahon, who has owned Max’s Place Dog Bakery on Main Street since 2003. “You wouldn’t believe it.”

Popular these days is the leather and lace collection of doggie wear, which ranges from a white satin ballerina-looking outfit to the leather bodice with metal studs and collar. You have to be a svelte 20 pounds or less to wear this garb, a hard weight to maintain with the nearby “Terrier Mizu” slices made with whipped yogurt frosting.

There’s also an array of pet strollers that look a lot like the umbrella strollers for babies, and, at $139 to $189 each, cost just as much. “They’re good for dogs with hip problems,” MacMahon explains.

MacMahon is also peddling the $189 Kittywalk, so feline owners don’t feel left out of the strolling craze. It’s got two compartments-one covered with vinyl plastic and the other peek-through mesh. “You can put two cats or two dogs in it,” MacMahon says.

How about a cat and a dog?

“It depends on if they’re friends,” she says.

In a trend paralleling their human owners, canines are turning to sports drinks as they stroll more and exercise less. A few months ago, MacMahon started carrying Cool-Dog, a chicken-flavored Gatorade. “The dogs just love it,” she says.

Art Buzz

Inside the visual arts with Mark Ormond

The Ringling Museum’s seductive painting of Salomé, by Robert Henri, is hanging in Paris through Sept. 18, in an exhibition organized by the Louvre about the relationship between American artists and the French museum. And on the subject of dancing after dinner.maybe it’s a good thing the Ringling Museum keeps its modern art collection in storage. At a Martini-fest hosted by Clear Channel at the Milwaukee Museum recently, male guests had to be pulled off a life-size bronze sculpture by Gaston Lachaise, called Standing Woman. (The Ringling also owns one of the 12 authorized casts.) Revelers were apparently so out of control that museum director David Gordon said they would have to re-evaluate their facility’s rental policies.

Shawn Barber, who graduated from Ringling School in 1999 and has garnered international attention for his work, has moved to San Francisco. He’s keeping busy; a book of his tattoo paintings was released in April, and he’s done work for Rolling Stone as well as GQ and is now found in the collection of Van Morrison. Colleague Jeffrey Schwartz, who worked with him during the Ringling School pre-college program, says Barber is “one of the most driven young artists I have ever met.”

In and around the galleries: Hastings on Court, a new gallery in Burns Court, was opened by Kate Goodridge in March. Goodridge also has a gallery in Vineyard Haven, Mass., and her gallery here represents artists from Martha’s Vineyard, including painter Thom McQuade, as well as Florida-based artists such as Miami photographer Phillip Ross Monroe. Ramses Serrano, owner of Sonnet Gallery on Main Street, has donated a sculpture by Ivan Rojas of Venezuela to the city of Sarasota; it was recently installed outside the gallery. Several paintings by Olympia Zacchini have been donated to Manatee Community College and will soon be on display, according to MCC gallery director Joe Loccisano. The gallery is moving to a new extension behind Neel Performing Arts Center that will increase his square footage considerably. It should open by spring 2008.

New College student Lea Rosen will be working in Washington, D.C., this summer, thanks to Dana Gioia, chairman of the NEA, who gave a talk at New College in January. During the question period Rosen made a comment about the future of the NEA that stuck with Gioia, who later contacted the dean of students to find out who “the curly-haired student was,” because he wanted to offer her an internship. The dean sent out a student-wide e-mail and discovered it was Rosen, who attended as part of her research for her senior thesis.

HOT SEAT

Sarasota Schools Superintendent Gary Norris spent most of the school year pushing voters to approve an extension of the one-mill property tax to fund his Next Generation learning plan. They gave him what he wanted, and with the $250 million the tax will generate, Norris plans to increase test scores and teacher pay and to close the achievement gap between whites and minorities-he’s staked his job on decreasing that gap by 25 percent in five years.

People seem confused about Next Generation. Can you describe it in a few sentences? The premise is kids now learn differently, we have to prepare [them] for a whole different work force, and students are going to have to compete on a global nature. It’s about an active classroom, about group learning more than the old row-and-column seats of one-at-a-time learning. It’s about targeted teaching, about more focused instruction for different children at different levels even in the same classroom.

You’ve actually said that if the district doesn’t meet these goals, you’ll step down. How serious were you? One hundred percent serious. There’s no way I could retract that statement after going out before a tax referendum and promising people.

Critics say this is Gary Norris’ plan. How do you make it the school district’s plan? I spent a year going around the district listening and talking to people. I [also reviewed] the research and saw what was working at other school districts. The only way anyone could justify calling it Gary Norris’ plan is because I’m the one who listened and I’m the one who read the research. I’m confident that most of our fine professionals would have come to a similar judgment.

This spring, enrollment projections were off by about 1,100 students, meaning the district has about $7 million less than anticipated this year. Will you have to use referendum money to make up for the shortfall instead of using it for what was promised? We’re not going to go back on any of our referendum promises. We can make adjustments.

Poverty is the No. 1 predictor of academic achievement. How can schools make up for that deficit? In districts in the United States where they’ve overcome poverty, a significant part of getting the kids on the right track was done at the school. That doesn’t mean we don’t need help from our community. We need to beef up all early learning opportunities for young people from poverty. And we need to beef up our child-care provider program. The research is crystal clear that what happens in that early time frame makes all the difference in the world. Before the kids get to kindergarten, we could make a huge start in closing the achievement gap. -Kim Hackett