The rub for ribs, a tad reminiscent of Jamaican jerk seasoning and building a nice slow heat on the tongue, is but one of the standout tastes delivered by Nancy Krohngold at her superb new casual restaurant, Nancy’s Bar-B-Q in the Burns Court district.
On our first visit, the line for placing orders was out the door, but when we reached the goal we understood why so many hungry Q fans would spend a good part of a Friday evening chatting with fellow standees, reading and rereading the take-home paper menus and inhaling the heavenly smoky scent emanating from the serving line.
Let’s start with the way the place looks, which is just right and tells you the pig meat and other goodies proffered by Krohngold and her hard-working, congenial staff are going to be the real deal. First, there’s that big black smoker out back, hard by the kitchen door. The landscaping carries the rustic theme forward, complete with an antique tractor parked near some picnic tables. The main seating areas are divided among long indoor trestle tables near the serving area, a screened porch and an open patio, both of the latter with shareable picnic tables. We like the outdoor tables best.
As at Owen’s Fish Camp a stone’s throw away under the big banyan tree on Burns Court, the trappings breathe old Florida in such an understated way that the feeling is organic, as if both places had been there forever instead of being carefully created for our pleasure. That’s no coincidence, since Krohngold’s business partners include Sarasota’s Caragiulo brothers, the entrepreneurial restaurateurs responsible for Owen’s as well as for the Palm Avenue restaurant that bears the family name.
All well and good, but what about the food? Here’s where Krohngold shines. Meat is the star of the menu but, as at Owen’s, the sides are anything but afterthoughts. We were gobsmacked when the woman ahead of us in line said she wanted no meat, just a variety of veggie sides. In a barbecue joint? Turns out she knew what she was doing.
Like the barbecued meats, sides are available either as portions intended for immediate consumption or in bulk (pints and half pints) to go. The cole slaw (a must with pulled pork) is zingy and rich, the edamame succotash a beautifully balanced wonder, the roasted Brussels sprouts a delightful surprise, and the “box” potatoes a superior version of scalloped potatoes. Also tempting are the hoppin’ John salad, sweet potato mash and mac-n-cheese.
Here’s the drill: Meals are served on trays, doing away with the need for plates. First stop in the serving line is the staffer with a carving knife portioning out the main event. Sides are on display as you move along, and so are desserts. When you get to the cashier, either order your drink or pull a longneck out of the ice. (Among the beers on offer is Sarasota’s own Jalehouse Lockdown Lager, a superb choice with barbecue.) Finally, find a table and dig in.
The menu of meats reads like a Q lover’s dream: pulled pork on a bun or naked, even in a taco shell; pork ribs “St. Louis style”; Texas hot links and beef brisket; slow-cooked chicken. There’s even a combo tray with brisket and smoked salmon.
Even our appetites weren’t up to the Tractor Pull combo tray featuring a full slab of ribs, half a chicken, a half pound each of pulled pork and brisket, four hot links and four sides! Wow! This monster could easily feed four for a mere $54.95.
I went for the naked pulled pork tray ($8.95 with two sides) and was as happy as a hog in mud with my choice. The mound of pork was tender and carried the full savor of the smoker. On the tables you’ll find two sauces, one hot and the other sweet. The meat needs no sauce, but we had to sample in the name of science. The hot is just fine, but the sweet is a marvel, perfectly balanced and a perfect complement to the just-right meats. Both Colette and I were converted on the spot.
Colette chose a combo tray called the Nudnik (!), which offers pulled pork or pulled chicken and ribs or brisket ($12.95 with two sides). She had the chicken, which proved to be amazingly moist and succulent, and the ribs, which are some of the best we’ve ever tasted anywhere.
We were hoping to sample the pecan, chocolate and bourbon Derby pie and the Real Deal banana pudding (both $3.95) for dessert, but the Q fiends ahead of us had cleaned them out. We settled for a shared maple and pumpkin cupcake with a maple butter cream frosting ($2.95) that made us swoon.
Will we be back? Silly question.
301 S. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota
Phone (no reservations): (941) 366-2271
Bar: beer and wine
Hours: 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Monday – Saturday
Cards: all major
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: small lot or on street
Yum! Hurry! Don’t wait! Heavenly Q in an eminently comfortable little slice of old Florida at the corner of Ringling and Pineapple.
Sushi Shines at Tokyo Steak House & Sushi Bar.
Tokyo Steak House & Sushi Bar, which occupies the upstairs/downstairs space just off St. Armands Circle that once housed Cork & The Bottle Shop, served us some of the finest sushi we’ve enjoyed since a visit some time ago to Vizen in the Gulf Gate district, where an epicurean wizard practices his rarefied art for the discerning few.
There’s more of a populist vibe at Tokyo, with its hibachi grill tables and performing chefs, but at the upstairs sushi bar a pair of masters of the knife turn out the standard sushi repertoire in anything but standard fashion. Each item we sampled here looked and tasted divine.
We sat at the bar so we could watch the chefs work and admire the display case of gorgeous fresh fish as we sipped a cool white wine. Our mouths definitely were set for sushi, but a couple of hot appetizers from the kitchen tided us over until the main event arrived.
A little bamboo steamer basket of shumai, or steamed shrimp dumplings ($8), proved to be first-rate. The six petite morsels were lightly sweet and tender, each one a little bite of heaven. Next came a pretty plate of tempura veggies ($7), battered in what seemed like cloud stuff and flash fried to a delightful crispness. The veggies inside were fresh and firm and obviously selected with almost the same care as the sushi ingredients. This is the way tempura should be done.
We chose three pairs of nigiri-zushi (the familiar twin lozenges of vinegared rice topped with filets of raw or cooked fish or shellfish), all of ours raw: salmon ($5), escolar ($6) and tuna ($7). Each filet was a jewel, draped over rice as voluptuously as an odalisque over her harem chaise, the flavor of each distinct and superb.
We also sampled two rolls: a dragon roll of cooked eel, cucumber and avocado ($9) that was a feast for the eyes as well as the palate, and a house specialty, a knockout tiger roll composed of spicy yellowtail, asparagus, salmon and avocado ($13) that just flat blew our doors off.
There are outdoor tables both upstairs and down, as well as the communal teppan grill tables for meat lovers who like a floor show with their chow. The place is not quite as sleek and fashion forward as it was under the previous tenant, but it works. For our money, the sushi bar is the best seat in the house.
Tokyo Steak House & Sushi Bar
29 N. Boulevard of Presidents, Sarasota (St. Armands)
Reservations: (941) 556-9758
Bar: beer, wine and sake
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; noon-10 p.m. Sunday
Cards: all major
Handicapped accessible: yes
Parking: on street or in nearby municipal lot