“Where are we?”
That’s Erin, my companion for the night, making her concern known as I park in a dark, vacant lot at the corner of Lemon Avenue and Fourth Street, just north of Fruitville Road.
“Don’t worry,” I say, and lead her down the short walk past Station 400 to The Blue Rooster, Sarasota’s newest dining destination.
The Blue Rooster is a soul-food joint, with wood siding on the walls, waffles and collard greens on the menu and plenty of personality on the staff. A big-boned bleach-blonde with a bunch of piercings holds the door open for us, and we’re greeted by a group of hip downtowners checking out the hot new thing during a “Friends and Family” party before the restaurant’s official grand opening.
Haven’t heard of The Blue Rooster? Owners Devin Rutkowski and Bill Cornelius planned it that way to let their staff get comfortable before putting the word out to the town at large. “We don’t even have a sign,” Bill tells me, after coming over to our table to say hello with his usual hug and smile. “It’s like a speakeasy!”
If I know Sarasota, that’s just the vibe that draws us out: It’s a secret, and you’re not invited.
Among those who’ve made the guest list: blues singer Lauren Mitchell in some bright red pumps, Jesse White of nearby Sarasota Architectural Salvage and neighboring chefs Darwin Santa Maria (Darwin’s on 4th) and Eric Bein (Station 400). The neighborhood has put up a strong showing for one of their own, and as I chat with Jim Lampl, owner of The Savory Street, just around the corner on Orange, he explains that all the “North of Fruitville” business owners are continuing a push to unite as a new downtown district called NOF. Can it fulfill the hopes we all have for the Rosemary as a vibrant dining, shopping and nightlife destination? This group definitely brings some energy to the area with full, noisy tables inside and out.
And oh yeah, there’s the food. Finger lickin’ good. Literally. Before I know it, I’m up to my elbows in greasy fried chicken and loving it (honorable mentions go to the macaroni and cheese au gratin and Minny’s chocolate pie). The ambiance makes me feel comfortable pushing up my sleeves and tucking a napkin in my blouse; Radio Free Carmela and The Transmitters are on the small stage at the front window belting out some bluegrass. Couples take up with some two-step every so often, and later in the evening, most of the tables are pushed to the side to prepare a dance floor, while even in the ladies’ room a woman belts out strains of “Folsom Prison Blues.” Ain’t nobody got the blues up in The Blue Rooster, though. And you won’t, either—the restaurant quietly opened to the public on Sunday.
Read Veronica’s “Party Girl” column in our January issue by clicking here.