The original Fred’s, its nameplate now retooled to read Fred’s Restaurant & Bar, has returned to Sarasota’s Southside Village. It’s not the same old Fred’s we knew and loved for years, but its return under new ownership and management still is cause for celebration.
The adjacent Tasting Room, with which Fred’s paired so harmoniously, is still under renovation and not scheduled to reopen until this summer, but a little bit of its former space hosts comfy club chairs just right for small talk over cocktails. That comfort extends to the new, more generously sized and cushioned sidewalk seating, which is a big improvement over the old bare cafe chairs and small tables. Those were stylish but not conducive to unhurried dining.
Inside, much remains of Fred’s signature design style, including the black-and-white tiled barroom floor asserted by red cursive capital F’s and those fanciful blown-glass light fixtures, not to mention the handsome bar itself. The overall feeling, however, is lighter, more contemporary. This is especially true in the north dining room, where banquette fabrics have been updated in bold swoops and swirls of black and white. When the Tasting Room reopens, it will feature an enlarged, L-shaped bar and private dining room.
While interior design has taken a turn for the new, the menu has become both more traditional and more streamlined. A list once known for nearly encyclopedic breadth has slimmed down to one that would be at home in any top-of-the-line steakhouse. This is not a complaint. Colette and I missed the old all-over-the-map approach for a moment, but only until chef Scott Kuhling’s kitchen began sending perfectly executed, unfailingly savory fare to our sidewalk table.
Service, which always has been excellent at Fred’s, hasn’t lost a step in the transition to a new menu and new owners. One thing that has changed, however, is Fred’s hours. Lunch is a thing of the past, unlikely to return. Now, the bar opens for happy hour at 3 p.m. and dinner service begins at 5 p.m. every evening.
I started a recent dinner under the new regime with an order of Buddha Rolls ($5.95), cool rice-paper-wrapped fresh rolls stuffed with crisp julienned veggies and served with a just-right dipping sauce compounded of cilantro, ginger and lime juice. On a warm summer evening, these will be just the ticket. Colette opted for the Fungi Absolute ($8.95), a beautifully constructed salad of fresh spinach generously topped with sliced portabella and oyster mushrooms and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Hearty warm bread came along for the ride.
We accompanied our appetizers with a bit of bubbly (Gloria Ferrer’s delightfully subtle Blanc de Noirs at $8.95 a glass) and called for a Hahn Estates blend of silky Monterey reds ($38.95) to stand up to the serious meat to come.
The menu features both fresh fish, with special emphasis on Florida grouper and wild-harvested Gulf shrimp, and fowl like Cornish game hen (lightly smoked, roasted, mandarin orange glaze); but the chef’s heart belongs to steak, lamb and ribs. And potatoes, the substantial au gratin variety, nicely spiked here with horseradish. These are our pick, but there are other potato options and rice pilaf, too.
Colette practically inhaled a generous portion of the perfectly slow-roasted, fall-off-the-bone baby back pork ribs in a yummy lemongrass barbecue sauce ($24.95), while I plumped for the more than ample 14-ounce New York strip ($29.95). This gorgeous steak arrived at a just-as-ordered medium rare under a flawless crust. Both dishes were mouth-wateringly good, and both were nicely complemented by those au gratin potatoes.
Since steak is the thing at the new Fred’s, let’s survey the other choices, all of which are more modestly portioned than the strip. An 8-ounce top sirloin comes simply grilled (always a good choice for the devoted carnivore), or marinated in teriyaki sauce before firing, or paired with a lobster tail. Grilled tenderloin comes in a 9-ounce filet mignon version, wrapped with bacon and Bearnaise sauced, or in a 7-ounce version wrapped in bacon and topped with crumbled blue cheese.
If meat and potatoes are not quite enough, several additional sides are available, most notably grilled asparagus in herb butter, sautéed mushrooms in a port reduction, and snow peas spiced up with a Szechuan-style sauce.
And then, if you’re not foundered, there’s dessert to consider, which I always do in the name of science. In this case Colette and I shared a chocolate lava cake, which has become a staple of sweets lists all over town. Everybody and his aunt offers it, but if it isn’t done just right it comes out more gooey than molten. Fred’s does it just right.
Fred’s Restaurant & Bar
1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota
Bar opens at 3 p.m., dinner begins at 5 p.m., 7 days a week; bar closes at midnight Monday-Thursday, at 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, at 10 p.m. Sunday; kitchen closes 1 hour before bar
V, MC, AMEX, Discover
Full bar and wine list
Parking on street and in Morton’s lot opposite
Arosa’s European Approach
Arosa, with its hybrid “new German kitchen” approach to menu building, may prove to be a valuable addition to downtown Sarasota’s eclectic dining geography, once it finds it legs. We visited in its infancy and found both promise and work still to be done.
Let’s start with some pluses, high on the list of which is the restaurant’s building, the charming vine-covered one next door to the Opera House, the same Old World double-decker that previously sheltered Munroe’s. It boasts comfortable, tasteful dining rooms and bars upstairs and down, as well as an inviting patio.
The setting is appropriate to the style of cooking at Arosa, which takes this and that from the cuisines of Germany, Italy and France and combines them to mostly satisfying effect.
An appetizer of three large and tender prosciutto-wrapped scallops served atop three little mounds of shaved fennel in turmeric dressing ($11), for example, was first rate, as was an antipasto ($9) starring tasty grilled red peppers, eggplant and zucchini set off by crimini mushroom caps stuffed with goat cheese. Lovely, as was our Sancerre aperitif, which proved to be worth $11 by the glass. The wine list overall, constructed by manager Thomas Roesicke, is equally satisfying. We were perfectly happy with the Erath Pinto Noir ($36) from Oregon we chose to accompany our main course, nor would we have gone wrong with several other well-priced bottles.
If Roesicke or non-cooking proprietors Kerstin and Addy Goldberg had taken similar pains to train their mostly young wait staff, the service might have lived up to the ambition of the wine list and the menu. Perhaps that’s already been attended to. As I say, we visited just a month after Arosa opened its doors.
The evening’s standout main dish was served to Colette. A generous pair of perfectly braised lamb shanks was bathed in a rich and savory brown herb gravy and served over a heavenly beet root risotto ($19). This dish is what happens when the kitchen sticks with its European roots. The barramundi baked in and served on a banana leaf ($24) is what happens when it doesn’t. The best thing about this ill-considered nod to Floribbean cuisine was the chile oil drizzle that imparted a welcome spark to the mild farm-raised fish, although the little kick failed to save the dish from blandness.
While we pondered the dessert list, our waiter delivered a complimentary chilled shooter concocted of vanilla vodka and Bailey’s. Although it’s unlikely we would ever order such a thing, we found a sip to be a welcome and tasty surprise.
What we did order was a Key lime yogurt mousse ($6)—yes, yogurt, and it was just right. The consistency displayed an agreeable grain, and the tartness of the yogurt and the lime, sweetened with a light hand, finished our meal nicely without finishing us.
On balance, the promise outweighs the missteps at Arosa. We’ll be back one day soon to see how chef Daniel Burth and his colleagues are getting on.
1296 First St., Sarasota
Lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; dinner 4:30-10 p.m. Monday-Saturday
V, MC, AMEX, Discover
Full bar and wine list
Downstairs dining room and patio handicapped accessible
Valet (shared with Bijou Cafe across the street) or on-street parking
My precious puggle is un peu peckish. Where can I find him a nice holistic cookie?
Colette judged the carob chip cookie not as sweet as one would expect and maybe a tad dry, but otherwise quite tasty. I concurred. Our dogs, Pearl and Tasha, made their portions disappear in two snaps of their canine jaws and sat up alertly, indicating a willingness to experiment further. A heart-shaped meat-flavored snack, the tasting of which Colette and I generously left to the dogs, met with similar strong approval. Max’s Dog Bakery, a fixture at 1375 Main St. in Sarasota since 1999, was a hit at the Bancroft house. And why not? Its baked goods contain only “human-quality ingredients,” like whole wheat flour, carob (which, unlike chocolate, is safe for dogs), yogurt, molasses and liver. These are crafted into round drop cookies, pretzels, snack bars, faux ice cream cones and lots of other shapes, some covered in sprinkles. Dogs are always welcome in the store, of course, and on occasional Friday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. proprietor Beth Ealing throws wide the door for Yappie Hour (wine for human companions is available at Café Amici next door). Call her at (941) 330-0330 for the current party schedule and business hours.
The Place: Chipotle Mexican Grill, 1608 Cortez Road W., Bradenton (in the Lowe’s shopping center at Cortez and U.S. 41)
The Fare: Chipotle is a chain, but everything is fresh as can be; the pork, chicken and steak naturally and humanely raised without hormones or antibiotics; the beans organic; the salsas bright and authentic. Soft drinks, bottled water, juices and beer, including my favorite Mexican brew, Negra Modelo.
The Drill: Industrial chic decor; hip soundtrack; order and pick up at counter. Start by deciding on burrito, hard or soft tacos, or burrito bowl (no tortilla wrapper); move on to choice of fillings: adobo grilled chicken, pork carnitas, adobo grilled steak, beef barbacoa or beans (black or pinto), with or without rice. Finish up with toppings: shredded queso blanco, guacamole, four different terrific salsas and real sour cream. Add a drink (or not) and pay up. Get plenty of napkins. Carry your meal to a table inside or out.
The Bottom Line: $7.72 with tax and soft drink for this favorite workday lunch, a trio of soft tacos (all portions are generous): black beans with guacamole, queso blanco, fresh tomato salsa and sour cream; carnitas with sour cream, queso and tomatillo-green chile salsa; adobo chicken with the same toppings as the carnitas. If it’s not a workday, I’d pop an additional $1.70 and sub a Mexican beer for the soda.
What I’m Drinking
Joe Farrell’s Wings Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, declared one of the Top 10 Napa Valley cabs of its vintage by the San Francisco Chronicle, will travel to the Florida Winefest & Auction in Sarasota this month from its birthplace in California. Farrell himself will have a considerably shorter trip. He’ll be driving up from Casey Key, where he’s lived for the past 10 years.
A few bottles of Farrell’s 2003 will go on the block at the festival’s big charity auction, set for 1 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, but he’ll bring several cases for sampling at tastings and a wine dinner over the festival’s four-day run, which begins April 24.
Wings Winery’s first release is a classic Bordeaux-style blend of cabernet sauvignon (76 percent), cabernet franc (14 percent), merlot (9 percent) and petit verdot (1 percent). The grapes were sourced from three Napa Valley vineyards and blended by Wings winemakers Alex Cose and David Elliott. The blend components were aged for up to 24 months in new, tight-grained oak barrels from France’s Tronçais Forest, and the final blend was returned to the oak for further maturation before bottling.
The result, Farrell says, is a big wine with a soft finish, a wine that will drink smoothly now and age well over the next 10 years, too. He cites the wine’s dense structure, cassis, dark berry and crisp cherry flavors, its supple body and its deep violet color. The Chronicle judges noted “currant and black fruit amid toasty oak and anise (with) a bit of char and solid tannins to finish.”
The winery produced only 500 cases of the 2003, and 80 percent of that was reserved for sale direct to consumers. Some of the remaining 20 percent can be found locally on the wine lists at Michael’s On East in Sarasota and at La Tosca in Osprey and on the shelves at Michael’s Wine Cellar and J.D. Ford Wines at Morton’s Market. Roy’s and Fleming’s in Sarasota each were allotted a case, but those, alas, likely will be gone by the time you read this. The wine has been selling retail at about $60.
Farrell’s big cab will be joined by wines and winemakers from around the world at this year’s Winefest, proceeds from which benefit a wide variety of children’s charities in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Over the past 17 years the annual event’s grants committee has awarded more than $6.1 million to more than 70 charitable agencies. To learn more about Winefest’s schedule of winemaker dinners, food and wine tastings, seminars, parties and other tasty treats, call (941) 952-1109 or visit floridawinefest.com.
Read our past restaurant reviews at sarasotamagazine.com.
An editor, writer and online publisher, John Bancroft has reviewed restaurants, books, movies and music for many magazines, Web sites and newspapers, most recently for the St. Petersburg Times.
Chef Judi Gallagher serves up a blooming spring salad.
April showers may bring May flowers, but here in Sarasota, edible flowers bloom brightly in April. Roman, Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern cultures have all used edible flowers in cooking. Not every flower is edible; to determine which are, consult a science book or go online to Colorado State University Extension and click on “horticulture.”
Unopened flowers tend to be on the bitter side, so select your edible beauties as you would for a flower display. Some flowers may be dried and used in cooking like herbs. I find delicate pansies and zucchini flowers safe bets for lovely enhancements. Zucchini flowers (sometimes available at the farmer’s market) are scrumptious deep-fried—try the tempura-stuffed zucchini flowers at Divino’s when they’re featured as a special. I like adding flowers to a simple spring salad mix with goat cheese and blackberry honey. Edible flowers are extremely fragile, so pick just before you’re ready to use. I suggest planting a small display in a semi-shaded area near your herb garden.
Composed Spring Salad with Goat Cheese and Blackberry Honey Drizzle
4 cups organic field greens, washed
1/2 pint fresh blueberries or blackberries
1 pound fresh chevre (Haystack Mountain is a favorite)
2 Granny Smith apples, sliced thin
1 handful of Marcona almonds
4 teaspoons of strawberry or blackberry honey (to drizzle over goat cheese and almonds)
1-2 dozen fresh pansies
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Light olive oil that’s fresh and fruity
Toss greens with salt and pepper to season. Toss in lemon juice, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle in berries and gently toss. On an oblong serving dish or bamboo platter, arrange the dressed greens in the center. Display 3 slices of goat cheese, slightly overlapping, and sprinkle with Marcona almonds. Drizzle with fruit honey. On opposite side, fan Granny Smith apple slices. Arrange edible pansies on greens and to the side of goat cheese and almonds. Serve with a chilled fork and a simple French Sancerre.