Sarasota is known as a hub of arts and culture in Florida, but restaurants also play center stage in our reputation. For that, we can thank generations of tourists and snowbirds, whose appetite for dining out long provided enough business during the season to keep restaurants alive during the slow summer months. Until recently, the seasonal nature of the town and its small year-round population discouraged many of the big chains from entering the market, but locally owned establishments flourished, and many developed long traditions of quality and consistency.
As the city has grown, so has the restaurant scene. Sarasota is now a year-round community that's home to ever more sophisticated and adventurous diners, and menus are keeping pace with changing tastes and trends. Innovation is evident with fresher and more varied ingredients, healthier, lighter fare and complex, exotic flavors. Wine, once a mere decision of "red or white," has taken a front seat in many formal and casual eateries, and extensive wine lists are now the norm.
But while we're now beginning to attract more national names, it's the long-time locally owned restaurants that still give Sarasota much of its character and flavor. In fact, an association of independent local restaurant owners calling themselves the Sarasota Originals recently formed to promote and preserve their unique role in the city's dining scene.
Amid all the innovations and new influences, some dishes have endured at these restaurants since the day they opened their doors. As we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we asked some landmark local restaurants to share some recipes that have stood the test of time. Each entrée appeared on the restaurant's menu the day it opened, and each remains a favorite today.
Since it opened in 1973, Café L'Europe has brought charm and elegance to the bustle of St. Armands Circle. The food is French continental, the mood romantic-the perfect spot for champagne and an engagement ring. It's the place where tourists fall in love with Sarasota over lobster bisque and vow to move here.
This recipe for Brandied Duckling Café L'Europe with bing cherry sauce is a classic preparation. It was created for the original menu in 1973, and remains one of Café L'Europe's most popular entrées.
3 whole ducks
1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
4 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
4 large carrot sticks, coarsely chopped
3 oranges, sliced in half
2 tablespoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 15-ounce cans bing cherries
1/4 cup currant jelly
1/8 cup honey
3 ounces cognac
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut off excess fat from duck breast. Cut the wing bone in half and the same with the leg bone. Make mixture of the paprika, salt and pepper with 1/2 cup of water to make a rub, coating entire outsides thoroughly. Stuff each cavity with two orange halves. Place in roasting pan with rack, placing ducks on top of the rack. Roast for one hour on each side. In the meantime, strain cherries and set aside. In a large saucepan cook cherry juice, currant jelly, honey and cognac over medium heat, stirring until well blended. Thicken with cornstarch until desired consistency, then add reserved cherries. Remove ducks from oven, remove oranges from the cavities and let stand for five minutes, then remove breast bone. Cut ducks in half, plate them and top with the brandied cherry sauce.
In 1987, young Michael Klauber left his father's venerable Colony restaurant on Longboat Key to open an uptown upstart. His Michael's On East became an instant hit with Sarasota's growing coterie of beautiful people and business leaders, and brought contemporary continental, cutting-edge California cuisine to town. Beyond the dinner crowd, Michael's on East pushed the "power" into power lunches here with thin, crispy onion rings served with homemade ketchup; Chinese chicken salad for the ladies who lunched; and various entrées named for friends and fans. From the beginning, Michael's gave wine priority, developing an adventurous wine list and creating special wine events to educate and elevate local tastes.
While the restaurant's menu and décor have evolved over the years, it has never lost its signature style. Many dishes on the original menu remain the most popular, including this recipe for Michael's On East Famous Bowtie Pasta.
2 single chicken breasts
4 ounces pancetta, diced small
2 ounces snow peas, julienne
4 ounces sun-dried tomatoes, diced
8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced thin
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
2 ounces white wine
1 ounce olive oil
1 pound bowtie pasta
Cook pasta in salted water until tender. Drain but do not rinse; set aside. Season and grill chicken breast until cooked through. Slice thin and set aside. In a large sauté pan add oil and cook the pancetta until crisp, add sliced chicken, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes. Sauté until mushrooms take on a light golden color.
At this time deglaze pan with the white wine; reduce until almost all the wine is gone. Add cream and pasta. Stir to coat pasta well and reduce until the sauce thickens. Place in pasta bowls and top with Parmesan cheese and snow peas. Serve immediately.
Take a scenic ocean-side drive out Longboat Key to Holmes Beach and you might find Beach Bistro, an ultra-elegant restaurant with an up-close and personal view of the sand and surf. It's a tucked-in kind of place, a surprise to first-time patrons, with a wine list and menu that belies its casual, beach-side attitude.
Owner Sean Murphy opened Beach Bistro in 1985, creating a stylish, stand-out menu that attracted people willing to travel to sample the lobster "escargots" or the signature blue cheese Caesar salad. After nearly 25 years, the restaurant may be best known for its Famous Bistro Bouillabaisse.
Bistro Bouillabaisse, Famous
First you hire a bunch of pros to build a killer broth. Poach to order,
"Novey" lobster tails, jumbo shrimp, premium market fish, clams, mussels and calamari. Served with clever asides of herbed garlic toast and aioli.
Onions 3 medium
Leeks 3, whites only
Celery 4 stalks
Clam juice 2 quarts
Tomato juice 1 quart
Diced tomatoes 1 quart
Garlic, minced 2 cloves
White wine 2 cups
Tomato puree 2 large spoonfuls
Saffron threads 1 large pinch
Shrimp or crab base 3 tablespoons
Tarragon, dried 2 tablespoons
Fennel seed 3 tablespoons
Tabasco 1 dash
Pernod 1/4 cup
Heat a heavy bottom stockpot over high heat. Add the oil and garlic. Saute the garlic for five minutes and then add the onions, leeks and celery. Stir the vegetables well to prevent burning and allow to cook for an additional three to four minutes, or until translucent. Next add the bases, dried herbs, white wine and Pernod. Bring to a simmer and allow to reduce for five minutes. Add canned ingredients and bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and season to taste.
Egg yolk 8 each
Dijon mustard 1/4 cup
Garlic, chopped 1 tablespoon
Put all ingredients except olive oil in food processor; blend until smooth. Add oil slowly until thickened. Add water if needed.
By 1992, Sarasota was ready for an ethnic food invasion, and just in time, Chutney's opened on Hillview Drive, offering Sarasota great adventures in Middle Eastern and Indian food. Husband-and-wife team, Ash Shukla and Denise May, provide the ultimate personal touch, taking turns cooking and serving and greeting. They know most of their regular clientele by name, and dining in the small but casually appealing restaurant is a lot like visiting friends.
The menu is diverse, covering all the well-known Indian and Middle Eastern favorites-Chicken Korma, Lamb Vindaloo, and a signature dish of incredible spicy red beans served over a sweet potato mash (a sweet/hot ecstasy of flavor). Though Chutney's most surprising menu item is a dessert (one of the most authentic bread puddings with whiskey sauce this side of New Orleans), the original 1992 entrée of Chicken Masala remains their most popular dish.
1 3-pound fryer, skinned and cut into eight pieces
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick), or vegetable oil can be substituted
4 large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
salt to taste
For the dry masala:
1 large onion chopped
1 tablespoon garlic-ginger paste or 3 cloves garlic mashed with 1 (walnut-sized) piece of fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
3 whole cardamom pods
2 sticks cinnamon
Prepare chicken and set aside. In a food processor, pulverize the dry masala ingredients. Rub masala well into chicken.
In a wok or heavy skillet, heat the butter or vegetable oil; brown the chicken on both sides (approximately 10 minutes). Add the tomatoes, cover and simmer until chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened (about 10 minutes). Add water if chicken is threatening to scorch. Add salt to taste.
In 1996, Giovanni Migliorini and Daniele Baroni, two young European entrepreneurs, brought Milan to Main Street when they opened Mediterraneo. The bustling Italian bistro is a meet-and-greet kind of place where you might stop in before or after a movie and run into friends doing the same. The atmosphere is hip but friendly; the menu is extensive. Pasta dishes run from traditional (lasagna, fettuccine Bolognese) to nouveau popular-a pumpkin risotto, perhaps. The entrées are varied and enticing-a chicken breast atop spinach and creamy baked brie, or sliced sirloin sauced with gorgonzola.
Topping the entrée list in 1996 and still prominent on today's Mediterraneo menu is Costoletta di Vitello alla Milanese con rucola e pomodori, or Veal Chop Milanese with arugula and tomatoes. Buon appetito!
Costoletta di vitello alla Milanese con rucola e pomodori (veal chop Milanese with arugula and tomatoes)
Milanese style refers to the way the dish is prepared in Milan, Italy. Normally any dish called Milanese means breaded and lightly fried. Chicken can be used as a substitute.
1 (12-ounce) bone-in veal chop
3 large eggs, beaten
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 cup of white bread crumbs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the salad:
2 ripe plum tomatoes
a bowl of arugula salad
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and ground black pepper
Pound veal chop to about one-third inch thick. Dip it in the eggs previously beaten (make sure to shake off excess). Dispose the bread crumbs on a flat plate, then place veal chop and bread it both sides, pressing the crumbs into the meat with the palm of your hand. Heat 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can substitute oil with butter if you prefer) in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, fry the veal until golden brown, about three minutes each side. Add salt and pepper. Remove from pan onto paper towel to absorb any excess oil.
In a stainless steel or ceramic bowl toss tomatoes previously diced (about 1/2 inch), add arugula, dress with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and ground black pepper. Plate veal chop and top it with the salad.
Fred's began as an upscale neighborhood restaurant, but quickly became a social mecca for Sarasota's young, beautiful, and mostly professional crowd. The restaurant opened in October of 1999, and almost overnight put the previously sleepy Southside neighborhood on the map, filed under "stylish and trendy." Pass by Fred's on a Friday or Saturday night for phenomenal people-watching-there's a spill-out crowd of designer jeans and diamonds, leather jackets and after-the-fact black-tie, and the accessory of choice is a cell phone.
Beyond the glitz, Fred's is a fine dining destination, a place to bring visiting friends and families, with a high-velocity menu and wine list. There's crispy calamari, a sprinkling of sushi, sensational sea bass, and a creamy, savory, "adult" macaroni and cheese. Today's trends embrace comfort foods, and Fred's delivers those with a significant dash of sophistication. In fact, one of the most popular and enduring entrées since 1999 is Fred's Famous Meatloaf, a far cry from your mother's. The recipe follows.
FRED'S MEATLOAF (Serves 8-10)
2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2/3 cup diced onions
1/3 cup diced carrots
1/3 cup diced celery
2 tablespoons dried basil leaves
2 tablespoons dried oregano leaves
1/2 cup brandy
2 cups ketchup
4 pounds ground beef
3 large eggs
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Sriracha Chili Sauce (substitute Crystal brand or other comparable Louisiana hot sauce)
3 cups Japanese-style bread crumbs
1 pound apple wood-smoked bacon
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy saucepan set over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic, onions, carrots, celery, basil and oregano and sauté 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the brandy and continue cooking another 3-5 minutes, rubbing the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to lift up any browning. Add the ketchup and continue cooking another 3-5 minutes or until thickened again to a "ketchup" consistency.
Remove from heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl and allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Once the mixture is cool, add the remaining ingredients (except for the bacon) and mix well. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Line a 2-quart capacity loaf pan or casserole dish with the bacon in such a way so as to leave sufficient overhang of the strips to wrap over the top of the loaf. Pack the meatloaf mixture into the pan and wrap with the overhanging bacon strips. Bake the meatloaf uncovered at 350ºF. for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF. Loosen loaf from pan, drain off drippings (save for the gravy), invert on a heated platter, and serve.