At this very moment, somebody, somewhere is falling in love with Sarasota. That person may be driving over the Ringling Bridge in a rental car, poring over pictures of waterfront homes on our website, or docking his boat at the New Pass Marina for the very first time for a cheeseburger and a beer. We’ve been there—and so have you. And unlike many real-life lovers, this city has a way of keeping us intrigued and excited with new surprises and delights at every turn.
Every year, we ask you to help us choose what you love most about Sarasota right now. This year you responded in record numbers, with votes pouring in by mail and over the Internet. We also challenged our editors and reporters to choose “The Best of the New”—the hottest new dishes, businesses, cultural events and recreational opportunities they discovered this year. You’ll read about those “bests” beginning on this page. And just to make things even more interesting, we asked some experts to choose the best in their fields, from realtors picking Best Neighborhood to (are we getting bold yet?) food critics naming the Best Restaurant. You’ll find their picks on these pages as well.
Get set for our greatest Sarasota love fest ever—and if you have some personal bests we missed this year, please email editor Pam Daniel (firstname.lastname@example.org) so we can add them to the online version of this story.
Best New Food & Drink
Best Second Act
When Peruvian flavor-meister Darwin Santa Maria left his Selva Grill, fans were heartbroken. Now they’re flocking to The Cottage on Siesta Key, where he’s creating exciting (and affordable) small plates and dinners in a laid-back island setting. Sit at the big horseshoe bar and start with a Pisco sour. 153 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key. (941) 312-9300.
Best New Fish Market
Hillview’s restaurant row got a bracing breath of fresh Northern air: Booth Bay Harbor Lobster, featuring Maine seafood. Take some haddock or steamers home to cook, or order a New England lobster roll, with fresh-steamed lobster heaped on a hot-dog roll and a bowl of hearty chowder. 1839 Hillview Ave., (941) 556-9039.
Best Overnight Sensation
Nancy Krohngold is no longer selling her famous BBQ at ever-changing roadside locations. Now, partnering with the Caragiulo family, she’s got her own place next to downtown’s Burns Court. Fans were peeking into the windows for weeks before she opened, and now her ribs, pork, brisket, chicken and sides are flying out the door. 301 S. Pineapple Ave., (941) 366-2271.
Best News for Beer Lovers
Brewsters scored a double this year. The Rosemary District’s Mad Crow restaurant gave us an on-site brewery with bold new flavors. And in Gulf Gate, Mr. Beery’s emerged with a “no crap on tap” philosophy and tons of special events. Mad Crow, 1525 Fourth St., (941) 954-BEER; Mr. Beery’s, 2645 Mall Drive, (941) 343-2854.
Best Pizza Expansion
Il Panificio has long been one of Sarasota’s most popular pizza joints, and now you can enjoy the famous pizza, subs and pastries at a new Gulf Gate location. A former gas station, the new spot boasts a larger dining area and an expanded menu. 6630 Gateway Ave., (941) 921-5570.
Best Specialty Desserts
At Jim’s Small Batch Bakery in Gulf Gate, James Plocharsky, the former pastry chef at Michael’s On East, focuses on handmade, artisan-style baked goods. You’ll find a couple dozen on display, and he keeps hundreds more recipes on file—like cranberry Clementine muffins or his signature carrot cake. 2336 Gulf Gate Drive, (941) 922-2253.
Best Cottage Charm
Towles Court’s sweet little Shoogie Boogies is both a café and a gift shop that offers Provençal soaps, shabby-chic candle holders, jewelry and more. But the Garden Room café takes the teacake. Sit inside or on the shady brick patio and enjoy an intimate interlude over tea sandwiches, to-die-for cream of mushroom soup and more. 1919 Morrill St., (941) 951-5437.
Best Reason to be Patient
It’s worth the wait to snag a reservation at Pomona in Citrus Square to settle into the charming dining room and dine on fresh, seasonal fare cooked in a sophis-ticated blend of Italian and French style. Our own restaurant critic ends every meal there with the dreamy dark chocolate soufflé. 481 N. Orange Ave., (941) 706-1677.
Best New Island Vibe
Who needs Margaritaville now that we have MartiniVille? This Key-West-style place on Anna Maria Island will get you in a vacation state of mind with its creative bar menu, small plates and live music. We like the duck fat French fries and poo nang shrimp tempura. 5337 Gulf Drive, Holmes Beach, (941) 779-1000.
Best New Cocktail Lounge
Pangea, an offshoot of smash-hit restaurant Lan, adds a dark and jazzy nightspot to the downtown mix. The restaurant’s famous culinary alchemy is evident in the “tinctures” (liquid infusions like lavender and lemongrass) that star in specialty cocktails, and bar bites like caramel bacon curry popcorn and mini lamb meatball sandwiches. 1564 Main St., (941) 953-7117.
Best New Reason to Go to the Beach
Taste of Asia, a longtime Main Street favorite for Laotian, Thai and Vietnamese food, is now in Siesta Key Village, adding some exotic spice to the already bustling bar and restaurant scene there. Take one of the outdoor seats and enjoy your pad Thai with some sea breeze and sunshine. 5110 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key. (941) 349-2742.
Best All-American Fix
This year Sarasota got not one but two Square 1 Burgers & Bar restaurants. Lots to love on the big menu, but true patriots must try the All-American burger of 100 percent Angus beef with a side of double-dipped onion rings—and don’t forget the chocolate malt! 1737 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 870-8111 and 5239 University Parkway, (941) 359-0001.
Best Reinvented Restaurant Space
St. Armands regulars might not recognize the former Hemingway’s, where Siesta Key’s Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar has opened a new location. Brighter, more inviting and with expanded deck space, it’s the perfect spot to sample tropical appetizers and enjoy the sweet sounds of a dozen daiquiri machines whirring away the night. 325 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands. (941) 388-3325.
Best New Sandwich
We thought brisket was boring until we tried Lee Roy Selmon’s brisket sandwich. From the first bite, we thrilled to the tender, slow-smoked beef piled high on a toasted brioche roll and topped with tangy-sweet sauce. 8253 Cooper Creek Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 360-3287; 6510 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, (941) 798-3287.
EXPERTS PICK: Best Restaurant
When our food and wine writers, an independent chef and a gourmet cook/serial diner convened to name Sarasota’s best restaurant, they described their favorites with the romantic ardor of young lovers. And considering how many possible contenders there were, we were struck by the similarity of their short lists. The finalists: Maison Blanche (“classical brilliance”), Derek’s (“innovative,” “wonderful farm-fresh ethic”), and surprisingly, two newcomers, Brasserie Belge (“well-chosen, wonderful food at an incredible price”) and little Owen’s Fish Camp (“Rarely are concept, food and atmosphere so incredibly harmonious.”) But ultimately, it came down to a contest between Fleming’s (“a chain that feels like a private restaurant,” with “amazing service and consistency along with fantastic food”) and Andrea’s, a “chef-driven haven of spectacular Italian food and wine,” with an atmosphere so warm and comfortable that “even newcomers feel at home.” Our judges would still be there arguing and emoting if we hadn’t finally called the question. The winner? Andrea’s, in recognition of the guts and glory of “one passionate man making his culinary dream come true.” (Thanks to John Bancroft, Judi Gallagher, Jeremy Hammond-Chambers and Howard Tisch. We should note that Gallagher, who consults for restaurants, recused herself from voting on her clients.)
EXPERTS PICK: Best Neighborhood
We gathered four of the town’s top realtors and posed a very tricky question: What is Sarasota’s best neighborhood? Opinions flew, fast and heated. Was it Harbor Acres, the stately grande dame where the town’s doctors and lawyers live? Glamorous Bird Key, with its water views and world-famous celebrities? Historic and stylish St. Armands/Lido Shores? Each neighborhood had its champions, but there was one everybody agreed on—downtown. Yes, the Sarasota version of urban life, with its fine—and sometimes funky—restaurants, cultural activities, boutique shopping and wide range of housing choices, where Craftsman bungalows from the 1920s nestle next to brand-new, million-dollar penthouses, has made our downtown bayfront the place to live. Many thanks to our panelists, Deborah Beacham and Donald Geikie from Michael Saunders, Linda Page from Prudential Palms, and Cheryl Loeffler from Signature Sotheby’s. See you at the Farmers’ Market!
EXPERTS PICK: Best Golf Course
In debating the area’s top course, three local golf gurus took all of 10 seconds to come to a consensus: The Concession wins, hands down. PGA pros and Play Golf Sarasota publishers Tony Panico and Mark Bruce, along with amateur champ and volunteer president of First Tee of Sarasota-Manatee Mark Leetzow, were our judges. They lauded the course’s “very difficult and challenging” modern design as well as its extravagant natural beauty—an “unheard of” 522 acres that treat players to stunning vistas and loads of wildlife. (Links magazine agrees; it just ranked The Concession among its top 10 picks to host a future PGA tour championship.) Sara Bay’s classic design and historical importance and the Ritz-Carlton Members Club’s “beautifully landscaped” course, “where every golfer can have fun every single time,” earned honorable mentions.
Best New Hotspots
After a $24 million renovation, Ed Smith Stadium is the hottest spring training venue in the Grapefruit League. The new home for the Baltimore Orioles has classic baseball flourishes—including the dark-green seats directly from Camden Yards. More concessions, shade, and room to stretch your legs, too. 2700 12th St., (941) 954-4101.
Best Place to Spot Celebrities
Ringling College’s Digital Filmaking Studio Lab events bring in big-name film folks for workshops with students and public appearances. Audiences have enjoyed screenings and talks with director Werner Herzog, actors Bill Paxton and Andy Garcia and media mogul Martha Stewart. Call 780-8100 to learn how to get involved.
Best Light Show
Downtown is bursting with new life, and those LED lights draping the trees at Selby Five Points Park are the crowning glory. More than 15,000 lights twinkle through millions (literally!) of color combinations and effects. Bravo to the powers-that-be for making this the first public park in the world to boast these dazzling, energy-saving diodes.
Best New Music Venue
The Rosemary District’s Everything but the Girl now has an alternate persona: On Friday and Saturday nights, the boutique turns into The Closet, a quirky new spot for live music. Store owner Laura Daniel Gale promises they’ll feature the best of the local music scene. 430 Central Ave., (941) 954-8800.
Yes, we all agonized over installing a roundabout at Main Street and Pineapple Avenue. But now we love the way it works—and looks, with its plantings, flagpole and brick pavers. And somehow, slowly circling this crucial downtown meeting point allows us to better savor the bustle and activity taking place around it. Great for pedestrians, too.
It took six years to go the distance, but the Legacy Trail is now complete. The 11 miles from McIntosh Road to the Venice Train Depot are a beautiful day-trip for walkers, joggers, roller bladders and bikers. The final leg, a repurposed railroad trestle bridge across Dona Bay in Nokomis, opened last summer.
Best New Poling Place
Some of the best bodies in town got that way in the pole-dancing fitness classes at Midtown’s Apple Jelly Studios. There are classes for every level, all in an encouraging, non-judgy environment (ladies only, nudity’s a no-no). Hip-hop, aerial silks and “ballet boot camp” classes, too—plus guy-friendly pole-dancing workshops. 1221-A S. Tamiami Trail (above Michael’s On East), (941) 343-2977.
EXPERTS PICK: Best View
Watching the sunset from Avenida Messina on Siesta Key
Who better to judge the very best spot to soak in Sarasota’s natural beauty than Virginia Haley, head of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors’ Bureau? After some initial resistance (“Boy, you are going to get me in trouble on this one!”), Haley admitted her very favorite view is the spectacular vista of the sun setting over the Gulf as seen from the end of Avenida Messina at the north end of Siesta Village. “Because it’s not actually on the beach, you can bring your dog,” she points out. And sunset always brings out a colorful crowd, from beach bums and visitors to old-timers and residents on their way home from work. “The people watching is half the fun of sunset,” she says. “Afterwards, stroll back to the Village with friends for a cold one. Life is good.”
Best New Arts & Entertainment
Best Dance Discovery
The Ringling Museum’s “Art of Our Time” series at the Historic Asolo Theater was a unique opportunity to see some wildly diverse contemporary dance/theater, all in an intimate 18th-century Baroque setting. More, please. 5401 Bay Shore Road, (941) 360-7399.
Best Reason for Readers to Rejoice
Yes, Borders is bankrupt, but print is not dead. Witness Main Street’s new Bookstore No. 1. Owner Georgia Court wants the store to be a gathering place, too, with a full slate of author talks, poetry readings, book club meetings and even art shows. 1359 Main St., (941) 365-7900.
Best New Home Sweet Home
For years, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe players moved from one borrowed/rented space to another. Now they have a place of their own, behind the Binz Building on Orange Avenue. Its urban/industrial feel adds to the excitement of their shows, which have played to full houses all season long. 1646 10th Way, (941) 366-1505.
Best Russian Rendezvous
We really didn’t know much—make that anything—about 20th-century Soviet and Russian Realism until the new Lazare Gallery opened downtown, exhibiting works by artists with names like Korolev and Kugach. Visiting is like stepping into a vanished world of Russian rivers, trees, peasant farmers and changing rural seasons. 10 S. Palm Ave, (941) 487-7134.
Best New Spot on the Dial
Last fall, WUSF 89.7 switched to news and information programming with all-night jazz and moved the classical music to WSMR 89.1. The station’s home is a new studio at USF Sarasota-Manatee, perfect for hosting local and visiting artists. After some technical glitches, WSMR is now on-air and already a vibrant part of our cultural scene. wusf.usf.edu.
Best Capital of Drag Queen Bingo
That would be us, folks. At the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre, they draw the numbers and dish out the camp every Friday night; at Horse Feathers, the queens get naughty every other Tuesday and the jello shots are free. Golden Apple, 25 N. Pineapple Ave., (941) 366-5454; Horse Feathers, 1923 Ringling Blvd., (941) 955-9179.
Best New Shopping
Best Vacation for Your Toes
Flip flops are a way of life in Sarasota, and that’s why we need the new Flip Flop Shops. St. Armands Circle now boasts the ninth Florida store of this soon-to-be national retail chain—with names from REEF to Havaianas and OluKai and prices from $20 to more than $100. 9 N. Boulevard of Presidents, St. Armands, (941) 388-1777.
Best New Coastal Style
Coquillage is a mélange of architectural elements and furnishings of Swedish, Tuscan, and French descent—all in the newest grayed whites and reclaimed woods favored by designers. The picture-perfect shop offers an artful mix of furnishings and lighting from brands both new (Aidan Gray) and iconic (Arteriors). 1515 Main St., (941) 487-7160.
Best Rock Star Boutique
Fashion celeb Gia Ventola’s new 6,000-square-foot boutique stocks the same clothes that earn raves (and recurring Best of Boston awards) at a sister store on Beantown’s North Shore. She’ll dress you head-to-toe with a flair that garnered designing gigs for Britney Spears, Pink and Beyoncé. 610 S. Pineapple Ave., (941) 373-1980.
Best Prints Charming
Former fashion designer Sigrid Olsen translates her exuberant, colorful prints to original art for the home. Part Scandinavian, part Caribbean and totally unique, the watercolors she creates adorn everything from note cards to hand-painted pottery in her new lifestyle gallery store. 407 S. Pineapple Ave., (941) 312-5826.
Best Shabby Chic
Fans from coast to coast shop Suzie and Mark Holt’s online store, but nothing compares with complete immersion in their new Palm Avenue Posh on Palm. Fall in love with dreamy white vintage furniture, cozy slip-covered upholstery, vintage (and repro) jewelry, shabby chic clothes, sleepwear, and luscious Belle Notte bed linens. 33 S. Palm Ave., (941) 954-7674.
Best News for Antique Lovers
Burke Antiques has reopened! Cheryl Burke’s dazzling new shop offers pedigreed Continental and Chinese antiques as well as eye-catching showstoppers from Africa, the U.S., and the far corners of the globe. 12 S. Palm Ave., (941) 952-0042.
Best Floor Art
Rugs As Art’s new collection of hand-knotted rugs by fine artist Rex Ray is already a hit with local condo owners looking to punch up the color and whimsy quotients in their homes. San Francisco’s Ray is a favorite of Elle Décor and other hip design magazines. 6650 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 921-1900.
Best Vintage Treasure Trove
At John and Dianna Allaman’s charming new Smitten in historic Burns Court, an eclectic assortment includes everything from marriage glass to tablecloths converted into seaside fashions. Don’t miss Dianna’s Tattooed Waiters (hand painted serving trays) and John’s giclée prints of old French botanicals. 537 S. Pineapple Ave., (941) 735-7602.
Best Relief for Boomer Feet
Next door to the New Balance store Molly and David Jackson own on Stickney Point Road is Molly’s, specializing in shoes for women that combine fashion and comfort. Every brand features invisible comfort technology, from arch support to strategic cushioning, and even kitten heels are made for serious walking or standing. 1874 Stickney Point Road, (941) 921-1221.
Best New Casual Lifestyle Boutique
Sarasota fans of this easy, casual lifestyle brand are celebrating their good fortune since the fashion house opened its new boutique on Lemon Avenue. For the first time in the region, everything in the top-of-the-line Eileen Fisher Signature collection (from clothes to shoes, bags, and myriad accessories) is under one roof and available at the same time as in big city stores. Eileen Fisher, 1501 Main St., (941) 365-2435.
BEST OF SARASOTA 2011: Reader’s Choice
Presenting the winners of our annual poll.
The top winner is listed first in each category, followed by the two finalists (more in the case of a tie). The finalists are listed alphabetically, not in the order of votes received. You can learn more about our winners on ABC7’s “Best of Sarasota” coverage during evening newscasts this month.
FOOD AND DRINK
C’est la Vie
Central American Restaurant
Finalists: Two Senoritas, El Adobe
Restaurant for Vegetarians
Restaurant to Seal the Deal
Finalists: Fire and Stone Pizza, Red Elephant Pizza and Grill
Restaurant for Steak
Restaurant Wine List
Restaurant to Eat Outdoors
Place for Dessert
Finalists: Oaks Open Pit, Nancy’s Bar-B-Q
ARTS, ENTERTAINMENT AND SPORTS
Performing Arts Group
Sarasota Opera Opening Night Gala
Finalists: Selby Gardens Orchid Ball, Planned Parenthood Safe Sex
Place to Work Out
Festival or Special Event
Finalists: Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota Holiday Boat Parade
Finalists: Sarasota Bay, Green Bridge, Ringling Bridge
Local Sports Team
Tampa Bay Rays
Finalists: Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Orioles
Place to Watch a Performance
Place for Live Music
Place to Play Tennis
Place to Play Golf
GOODS AND SERVICES
Finalists: Diane K Salon & Spa, Jflo Boutique & Salon
Finalists: Jflo Boutique & Salon, Brooks Brothers
Monee at Diane K Salon & Spa
Finalists: Anne Weintraub, Kirk Pinkerton
Finalists: Trade Mark Interiors, Tracee Bomberger
Finalists: Swim Mart, Island Bazaar
Finalists: Courtesy Cleaners, 60 Minute Cleaners
HOTSPOTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
Finalists: Siesta Key Beach, Mote Aquarium
Place to Take Your Kids
Finalists: Lido Beach, Bradenton Beach
Finalists: Bayfront Park, Walking the Ringling Bridge
Place to Meet Singles
Finalists: Ca d’Zan Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Beach
Place to People Watch
Finalists: Beach, Mall
Unconditional Surrender statue
Finalists: Roundabouts, Parking
Thing That Could Happen Here
Film industry takes off
Finalists: More jobs, Real estate market rebounds