Claire Hamner Matturro's heroine, Lilly Cleary, is the best thing to hit the Sarasota legal community since attorney Gary Larsen demonstrated the tie between comedy stage and courtroom. In fact, an old law partner of Larsen's, Matturro gave up the practice to (in part) write her just-released legal thriller Skinny Dipping, set in Sarasota.
Heroine Cleary buys her clothes at Nello's, curses traffic on the South Trail and simply trespasses across what she thinks should be public right-of-way whenever she goes to the beach. An obsessive-compulsive with a health-food habit and (at least outwardly), a heart of steel, Cleary seems little like her creator, whom we spoke with from her part-time home in Georgia.
The daughter of Sarasota area newspaper columnist John Hamner, the author describes her father as "a man who raised me to think for myself and not judge people on their social or economic status, or the color of their skin."
First seeing Sarasota-like so many of us-while on vacation, Matturro explains, "My folks brought me along when I was a youngster, and I fell in love with a town that had statues from the Ringling Museum in the medians and a bayfront right downtown. Eventually I graduated from Prew High School and went from there to the University of Alabama. After law school, I ended up in Sarasota again, but this time with the firm of Dickinson and Gibbons, where I became the first female partner."
A decade of practicing law in Sarasota later, the budding author began honing her skills by joining the writing faculty at Florida State University College of Law, but eventually retreated to a deep woods home built by her husband in North Georgia, where she presently edits the Florida Defense Lawyers Association quarterly and writes fiction.
"Lilly is trouble on wheels, definitely tough and smart," Matturro says. "But I don't mean her to be scary, and she's wholly a creature of my imagination. Oh, my goodness, yes, please be sure my mother-in-law understands that."
After you've met Lilly and her good ole boy law partners, plus a hunky homicide detective, a lay minister running a U-pick opium farm and an otherwise gentle Rottweiler given to diving off the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, you'll be ready for anything as we start another season in Sarasota.-Bob Ardren
Since the closing of the Old Heidelberg a few years back, authentic German cuisine can be tough to find in Sarasota. You remember the Old Heidelberg-the big box painted like a castle at Fruitville and U.S. 301, where all the FBI and DEA guys hung out after work drinking good German beer in the cozy bar and the food sometimes took a back seat to the trampoline act in the dining room.
But real Bavarian food, superbly done, no less, is now available just over the county line in Manatee.
Called Old Munich Biergarden (no, I don't know why most German restaurants are "old" this or that), this delightful bar and restaurant has a dozen premium German beers on tap, 48 more by the bottle and a menu that has to be seen to be believed.
All breads, sausages-virtually everything on the menu, actually-is made from scratch in the kitchen. If you're happy with supermarket sausages, then you've forgotten how wonderful homemade ones can be.
Try the sausage sampler appetizer ($12.95), which includes hearty samples of four sausages, red cabbage, sauerkraut and a dab of German potato salad. My date called it dinner, and she kept repeating, "We have to come back."
I started with a potato pancake topped with smoked salmon and a beautifully creamy horseradish washed down with some genuine German yeast beer. Other appetizers include lobster strudel ($10.95), and the soup list includes liver dumpling ($6.95), potato cream ($6.45) and goulash ($6.95), among others.
This is not just German food, this is fine German food. The homemade rye bread alone is worth a visit, and I'd honestly forgotten how good my old Bohemian sausage maker great-uncle really was. A visit to Old Munich Biergarden was a wonderful reminder.-Bob Ardren
Holy Whole Foods!
Whole Foods Market has re-invented the grocery business. Its technique is simple: "Good Instead Of Cheap." Well, make that "quality above price." Hence the cheapskate detractors who call it "Whole Paycheck."
Scheduled to open a 35,000-square-foot store in downtown Sarasota this month, Whole Foods has 161 other stores scattered across the United States and recently opened its first in the United Kingdom. That makes it the world's largest retailer of natural and organic foods.
Will that sell in Sarasota? Whole Foods officials say the answer is simple. How much education do you have? The higher the level of education, the greater the prospect that person will be a Whole Foods customer. This probably explains why the chain at least got its foundation built in college communities ranging from Austin to Palo Alto by way of Boulder. Our bet? The deli and hot-food-to-go counter are going to be among the most popular spots downtown during lunch hour. There's even a café area being set up to provide a spot to eat your take-out; and the room is also planned to be used for both cooking classes and even neighborhood meetings. How's that for a little community involvement?
Publix isn't ignoring all this clamor about Whole Foods, either, and has a new market coming out of the ground at 10th Street, in the new Broadway Promenade complex.Sarasotans will benefit from the competition of these two high-end grocery chains; and I, for one, can't wait.-Bob Ardren
MAN IN MOTION
Former NFL star Chad Bratzke tackles a whole new game.
As a member of the National Football League's Indianapolis Colts from 2000 to 2003, Chad Bratzke anchored a defense that ranked seventh in the NFL in points allowed. His 10-year NFL career includes a prior stint with the New York Giants and 253 tackles. An ex-Colt since 2004, Bratzke now resides in Sarasota with wife Kristi, two award-winning Dobermans, Zeus and Cale, and a third dog named Alley, while tackling development for Westwater Construction. Still, the six-foot, five-inch 32-year-old cautions, " I'm not officially retired. If the right team calls, I might go." What was your best season? My last two years. The Colts made it to the AFC Championship game in my last year, the closest I've gotten to the Super Bowl. Why Sarasota? I grew up in Brandon. When I was in high school, I came to Siesta Key Beach often and fell in love with the water and lifestyle. Why development? I was looking for an exciting transition from football. Real estate is a fast-paced and thrilling business. Money is on the line and people expect you to perform, so it's the same attitude as football. Which is more dangerous? Physically, football. But in development, we're placing a lot of money and reputation on the line, which is also dangerous. The end result is I like to win.-Pat Haire
Inside the visual arts with Mark Ormond.
The Pollock-Krasner House in East Hampton, N.Y., is working on an important Syd Solomon exhibition to open in August 2005. Abstract expressionist painter Syd Solomon, who passed away this year, was a major figure in the art world of both Sarasota and East Hampton. House director Helen Harrison says the exhibition "will include works inspired by the coast environment of Sarasota and the Hamptons," and that the paintings chosen will be about "the phenomenon of nature and the weather as Syd expressed them in abstract terms." The Pollock-Krasner House was the home and studio of Jackson Pollock, regarded as the leader of the Abstract Expressionist movement, and his wife, painter Lee Krasner.
Mitchell Merling, who as curator of European Art before 1900 at the Ringling Museum (from 1997 to 2003) reinstalled the permanent collection and produced the first handbook of the collection, is now the Paul Mellon Curator and head of the department of European art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Rhicmond. Chief curator, Dr. Joseph Dye, says Merling "is bringing an exceptional and imaginative mind to the collections." Like the Ringling, the Virginia Museum is a state art museum, one of only three in the United States. The North Carolina Museum of Art is the third.
A Paul Rudolph design on Siesta Key has a new owner. Martie Lieberman, founder and co-chair of the Sarasota Architecture Foundation, recently purchased the David Cohen house. David was the concertmaster for the Florida West Coast Symphony and his wife was a pianist, so acoustics were a priority in this one-story house made almost completely from pre-fabricated materials. In a 1956 issue of Architectural Record, the Cohens mused, "The house is right. Not fancy-very ample and straightforward-practical-not ornate-no lost space, none-no silly walls with curves or dead end rooms." Liebermanis working on the interior with friend Andrew Weaving, author of a new book on Sarasota architecture soon to be released by Rizzoli. Weaving has a gallery in London called Century that specializes in mid-century modern American design. He's also restoring a modern house in Kensington Park he purchased through Lieberman, who as a real estate agent specializes in modern architecture.
Patricia Ringling Buck's self-published book about John Ringling, called The Ringling Legacy, is still flying off the shelves. It's now in its fourth printing. David Chaplin, manager of Sarasota News & Books on Main Street, says, "There are only a couple of books about the Ringlings, and this one does very well for the store." Buck says she's been doing extensive research on other members of the family and is thinking about a new book. She is, by the way, the granddaughter of Augustus Theodore Ringling, one of John Ringling's older brothers.
From the October issue of Sarasota/Manatee BUSINESS:
Life After Charley
Catastrophic as they are, hurricane can bring growth to a community, says Dr. Doug Woodward, an economist at the University of South Carolina, who has studied the economic impact of hurricanes. "A hurricane is a God-given make-work project," says Woodward. Soon billions of dollars in federal aid and insurance money will flood Charlotte County, hit by Hurricane Charley in August, and a building frenzy will follow, he predicts, boosting employment and income 20 to 30 percent above the normal trend for the next two years.
Commercial real estate goes crazy.
The region's top commercial realtors say it's a seller's market, with scarce inventory and lots of buyers seeking to park their money outside the stock market. Commercial realtor John Harshman says some downtown properties are selling for $300 a square foot while their rents are $15 a foot, much lower than the $25 to $30 that would underwrite the investment. Lakewood Ranch commercial realtor John Swart, chair of the Sarasota chamber's office space committee, says, "I'll make you a promise. Rents will go up. There's no vacancy."
The three-story brick Sarasota Times building on First Street has housed a newspaper office, art school, architect's studio and guava jelly factory. But for the past 20-plus years it's been vacant, allowed to quietly deteriorate while the Tamiami Trail-Gulfstream Avenue area around it has blossomed. Don and Lisa Murphy of D. E. Murphy Construction purchased the old building last spring and spent the summer restoring the exterior. The obvious uses, Murphy says, are a restaurant and professional offices, and he's already been in conversation with a couple of restaurateurs.
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