Whether you’re into culinary adventure or top-quality basics or trendy ingredients, Sarasota can satisfy your taste. We scoured the town from top to bottom, discovering everything from small gastronomic miracles to ethnic staples and comfort food. Some local emporiums cater to professional chefs and foodies; others to retirees and immigrants craving an authentic taste of home. We sampled them all, and as the TV commercial goes, m-m-m-m-m.
Big Cheese Karl Nelson is six feet, two inches tall and a powerful ambassador for Wisconsin gourmet cheese. He sells 140 varieties, from cheese curds (bits of fresh cheese before they’re pressed in molds to become cheddar, $7.57 per pound), to world-championship-winning Deppeler’s Baby Swiss (8.79 per pound). Greenleaf Wisconsin Cheese, 4521 S. Tamiami Trail (941) 923-9750.
Wok It to Me Noya Brigham unlocks the secrets of Oriental cooking with weekly wok lessons and a store laden with delicacies from kimchi ($2.99) to frozen sushi-grade bluefin tuna ($7.99-$14.99). Drop off recipes with strange-sounding names and she’ll supply ingredients from China, Japan, Korea and more. Oriental Food & Gift Market; 2234 Gulf Gate Drive (941) 924-8066.
Bread Alone Munich ex-pat Nick Bergbauer is an eighth-generation bread baker who provides top local restaurants with exclusive private-label loaves, and consumers with eight heavenly (and mysteriously cholesterol-free) favorites, from nine-whole-grain multi-seed ($2.75) to cranberry walnut sourdough ($4.50). Bavarian Bread, 5900 S. Tamiami Trail (941) 926-2692.
Gourm-aholics Anonymous? Serious gourmands forage the aisles of this hidden treasure, too good to keep secret with 75 irresistible cheeses, more than 100 artisanal wines, Asiago-filled fresh gnocchi ($7.49), bronze-cut Italian pastas, and a bottled pesto so good professional chefs pass it off as their own (Crespi San Remo, $4.59). Casa Italia, 2080 Constitution Ave. (941) 924-1179.
Midnight Sunshine Sarasotans of Scandinavian descent crave the Nordic licorice, pickled herring, jams, cheeses and groceries you’d miss by heading straight for addictive 30-layer Kringle pastries (from $9.75) by O & H Bakery of Racine, Wis. Extolled by the Wall Street Journal last December, the brand is only at Scandinavian Gifts, 2166 Gulf Gate Drive (941) 923-4313.
Perogies in Paradise The Hungarian Csabai sausage ($8.99 a pound) brought tears of joy to a young immigrant’s eyes at this new market, where patrons say everything from Polish pickle soup ($5.58) to a tantalizing assortment of perogies ($5 a dozen) tastes just like home. M & M European Delicatessen, 2805 Proctor Road (941) 922-1221.
EVOOlution Rachael Ray is credited with coining the acronym for extra virgin olive oil, but Kelly Kary is educating Sarasota’s EVOO palates. Check out Italy’s most coveted October 2007 first-press Novello (new) olive oils in her stash, including Sicily’s Olio Verde ($44) and Apulia’s De Carlo ($34). Sarasota Olive Oil Company, 1419 Fifth St. (941) 366-2008.
British Empire Debbie Gypps reigns over a tea parlor and mini-market stocked with everything from Catherine Zeta-Jones’ beloved Branston pickles to every Brit’s favorite gravy mix: Ahh! Bisto. Check out the homemade scones ($1.50), and Queen Mum’s Cake ($23) spiked with dates. Tastefully British, 2236 Gulf Gate Drive (941) 927-2612.
Personable Chef Customers of Lance Thompson’s Sarasota Catering Company clamored for take-home meals, now available at his gourmet market. Now he’ll make anything to order with 24 hours’ notice, plus fresh-daily soups, patés, desserts and entrées like a best-selling grapefruit-marinated flank steak ($11.95 a pound). Chef’s Marketplace, 6552 Superior Ave. (941) 922-3748.
Don’t Forget To…
– Check out Sarasota’s Downtown Farmers’ Market (Saturdays, 7 a.m. to noon) for organic fruits, vegetables, homemade pastas and the fresh catch of the day, with stalls fanning out from Lemon Avenue and Main Street.
– Taste-test everything from artisanal cheese to fat-free chips at the international, natural-foods-touting Whole Foods Market, 1451 First St. (941) 955-8500.
– Grill only world-class knockwurst, bratwurst and bauerwurst made from 100-year-old German recipes at Geier’s Sausage Kitchen, 7447 S. Tamiami Trail (941) 923-3004.
– Sample the amazing selection of Italian charcuterie (there’s more to life than Genoa salami), along with fresh mozzarella made by Claudio Ronchi, co-proprietor of Bologna Café, 5770 S. Tamiami Trail (941) 927-9262.
– Pretend you’re a culinary tour de force with prepared white asparagus and gravlax from the take-out case at French Affair, 2637 Mall Drive (941) 925-3414.
Discover a world of flavor right at home.
Vive Le Chocolat Mireille Guiliano, author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, says you’ll keep fit (and happy) savoring an ounce of intense dark chocolate a day. Scharrfen Berger, one of three American brands she’ll eat, is a hot new artisan chocolate conveniently packed in one-ounce bars ($2.49). Morton’s Gourmet Market, 1924 S. Osprey Ave. (941) 955-9856.
World’s Fairest Winner of gold medals in 1950s Paris and Brussels World’s Fairs, the sinfully delicious white chocolate (coffee buttercream-filled) Manon Café is still Leonidas Chocolates’ best seller. The entire Leonidas collection ($32 per pound; $1 apiece) is shipped weekly from Belgium to La Maison des Chocolates, 1462 Main St. (941) 330-2552.
Ladies Godiva The mother-and-daughter owners of Gourmet Market won over the hearts of Godiva Chocolate execs—and got the exclusive rights to sell bulk Godiva chocolates ($39 per pound) in the region. Irresistible local favorites are the dark chocolate truffle (with traditional dark chocolate ganache) and cool, creamy Key lime. The Gourmet Market, 1469 Main St. (941) 953-9101.
Hearts’ Desire You’ll fall in love with the two talented chocolate makers who dreamed up Monet-inspired, hand-painted chocolate heart boxes filled with choice “gems” like crème de menthe malachite truffles and cherry-filled rhodolite garnets ($1.43 each; $80 for the 18-ounce box filled with your choice of truffles). Divinia Jeanne’s Chocolate Heaven, 1490 Boulevard of the Arts (941) 366-5888.
Raising the Bar Already known for her trendy taste in chocolate truffles and bark, Kelli Kamm has just added four-ounce chocolate bars ($6.50) to her repertoire. Flavored with spices and natural oils, the adventurous choices include chili pepper, sea salt and chai tea. Chocolate Nuts & More, 2114 Gulf Gate Drive (941) 925-1111.
WHO’S IN STORE
Customers have been playing “spot the Mortons” since Sarasota’s first family of gourmet marketeering repurchased its eponymous Southside Village store. On any given day you’ll find up to three generations manning the aisles: Ted Morton, the founder of Morton’s Gourmet Market, his sons, Eddie and DK, and Eddie’s son, Todd.
“We sold the store to the Griffin family in 1997 so my dad could retire,” says Eddie, explaining that Ted couldn’t resist a comeback: his new 12-hour-a-week gig working the crowd. Hospitality-management-degreed Todd, who has supervised day-to-day operations since the Griffins reopened the remodeled emporium in 1999, is now co-owner with his dad. But really, says Todd, “the whole family is on the board.”
Here, familiarity breeds success. The store is electrifying, the staff’s excitement contagious, and positive changes abound. Look for a new convenience grocery department, the return of sushi by Kyoshi, and in response to the economy, a fantastic selection of under-$20 artisanal wines. —Carol Tisch
Morton’s Gourmet Market, 1924 S. Osprey Ave. (941) 955-9856
Get Hooked Prepared foods like executive chef John Teitsch’s hush-puppy-encrusted lobster tail ($32.99) are more popular in this economy than ever before. “People want restaurant-quality take-out and realize it would cost them two or three times our prices to duplicate these meals at home,” Todd explains.
What This Town Needs “We need our baseball stadium. Spring training is a tradition in Sarasota and an asset the city and country should find a way to save,” says Todd. “I skipped school to sell Cokes at the stadium,” Eddie recalls, quickly adding, “My mother knew about it, though.”
Can’t Live Without The consensus is family first and foremost, then raspberry fudge cake ($26) and baseball. They have no favorite team: “We’re baseball fans.” And does Ted pack Morton’s gourmet lunches for the ballpark? “Heck, no; I eat everything they sell, from hot dogs to snow cones,” he says.
Do the Dew The peppadew, that is. Peppadew is the brand name of a spicy/sweet pickled South African pepper its growers claim is the first new fruit since the kiwi’s discovery 26 years ago. Naysayers’ DNA tests link its ancestry to a Central American habanera pepper. Controversy aside, this international taste sensation ($6.49 a pound) is spiking everything from gourmet kebabs to martinis. Casa Italia, 2080 Constitution Ave. (941) 924-1179.
R…ice Cream? Strolling St. Armands Circle, you overhear the buzz about Miami Rice Pudding Co., a new franchise with 35 flavors of rice pudding in cups or cones to go. Owner Lori Hearn says the best seller is coconut cream; banana nut is a close second. At $4.20 a small cup, it’s low-cal, gluten/preservative-free, kosher and delicious. Miami Rice Pudding Co., 119C N. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands Circle (941) 388-2220.
Hot, Hot, Hot Would you believe a store with more than 500 varieties of hot sauce, “from mild to nuclear?” That’s how Buffalo (wing) born and bred Chuck Rizzo Jr. describes his new specialty shop devoted to fiery fixings, including wing sauce ($6.25) by the inventor of Buffalo wings (Anchor Bar) and a 1950s version by the Buffalo pizzeria (La Nova) that Rizzo says perfected them. Big Daddy’s Fiery Foods, 6555 Gateway Ave. (941) 922-8357.
Tie it all together with these nifty knots.
By Jill Obrochta
Tie it all together with these nifty knots.
1. What A Waist!
Yours should be graced with this sweet red-patent leather cinch, created entirely from eco-chic materials. Tie one on. Brave, $69. Juno & Jove, 100 Central Ave., Sarasota (941) 953-9500.
2. Step It Up
You’ll make quite an entrance in these exquisite hot pink, metallic, high-heeled evening sandals. Two steps fashion forward. Guess, $95. Dillard’s, Westfield Southgate, 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 955-2241.
3. Two Little Kittens
Just purr-fect! Red satin slip-on kitten heels adorned with Swarovski crystal bow coronets. Cooler than catnip. Mario Bologna, $565. T. Georgiano’s, 1409 B First St., Sarasota (941) 870-3727.
4. Keep Your Hand on the Clutch
And shift into chic. Signature Coach insignia clutch bag with this season’s new silk print bow in light pink. A racy little number. Coach, $148. Dillard’s, Westfield Southgate, 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941) 955-2241.
Beckon attention in this pretty, pink, wide-brimmed sun hat. Interwoven grosgrain
ribbon provides a feminine, flirty finish. Eric Javits, $275. Saks Fifth Avenue, Westfield Southgate, 100 Southgate Plaza, Sarasota (941) 364-5300.
6. Fit to be Tied
Raw-silk fuchsia pencil skirt, fitted cummerbund waist and stylish bow-tie belt. Sexy and slimming. Designed to hug your curves perfectly. Chloe Angus, $249. Juno & Jove, 100 Central Ave., Sarasota (941) 953-9500.