Gentrification of old Siesta Key has been ugly at times, and never more so than when city government declined to observe a state law saying commercial fish markets can't be closed to pacify complaining neighbors. After the market's owner, Guy Asbury, won the first round in court a few years ago, the city appealed, and Asbury says he couldn't afford to continue the legal battle. A second round in court provided by a volunteer attorney recently again saw the city legal staff beaten; and only then was Asbury offered a $200,000 settlement so the city could avoid a jury trial for damages.
Q: Did you think you'd lose when the city first opposed you?
A: It didn't scare me, because I had what I thought was a clear state law protecting the fish market. The fright came facing the continuing fight, because while I had a free attorney, I had no money to hire the experts I would need. So I couldn't afford to defend myself against the city's appeal.
Q: You couldn't find money to continue operating the market?
A: Enterprise Bank was supportive, and we had good credit. But when the city commission-with the exception of Commissioner David Merrill, who stood with the market on principle-announced, "You're out," Enterprise couldn't continue its support. I had been recovering from the shock of the net ban, and fishermen were frantically converting over to hand-thrown cast nets-and eventually catching more fish than ever. To get through the hard times, I set up a little six-table restaurant and started selling prepared food for folks to take home, too. Funny thing was, sales were up; but the market and I were busted and gone.
Q: What now, after Judge Becky Titus forced the city to settle with you or face a jury?
A: It was a hollow victory. I certainly didn't break even, and my attorney, Bill Moore, lost money defending me. But we faced four more years of fighting in appeals court; and the only winner, if we'd kept going, would have been the city attorney who threatened to take the case to the state's Supreme Court. He got fully paid, but nobody else did.
Q: What's the worst part of the loss?
A; The 15 to 20 families of fishermen who made their living selling at that landing point. They're not fishing anymore. So Siesta Key has lost its fish market, taxpayers have to pay out their money for my settlement, and now here we are in West Palm Beach-er, no, Sarasota.
Now hear this:
"It's a long, difficult, 16-mile drive from downtown Sarasota to Lakewood Ranch."
Brett Hutchens of Casto Southeast, developer of the Whole Foods market downtown, on why development at Lakewood Ranch poses little threat to downtown Sarasota.
No dish has so unfairly fallen so far in the culinary world as old-fashioned hash. John Ringling used to eat it by the pound, according to his cook (sometimes with a dozen or so poached eggs on top), and Ringling was certainly no fool when it came to food.
Enter Ooh La La!, a chef-owned continental-style bistro in Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island, where beef Wellington and filet mignon are specialties and chef Damon Presswood is wise enough to buy whole beef filets that are trimmed out in his own kitchen, so he knows he's serving exactly the quality wanted.
Are you getting the picture?
Every other Sunday morning Ooh La La! has a special on the breakfast/lunch menu of the most flavorful beef hash you've ever put into your mouth. The meat is those trimmings from the top-quality beef filets. And the taste is such you'll understand why hash has been a favorite of kings, circus and otherwise, at other times in this world.
But it's important to remember that the dish ($9) is served only every other Sunday, so call ahead (941-778-5320) and reserve your table for a dish that modern fashion has chosen in its ignorance to forget.
Mailing in the vote
It's a fact, according to the city's auditor and clerk Billy Robinson. You can legally hold a city election by mail-but only if there are no candidates.
You might wonder why the city is eyeing such a seemingly goofy idea.
And you wouldn't be the only one wondering.
The answer is, the city was supposed to have a referendum last March to approve (or not) issuing $20 million or so in bonds for building a new police station. But other things, such as finding an appropriate site downtown (a big job, it turned out) got in the way. And when they couldn't find a site, nobody in city government wanted the embarrassment of moving the police station out to the edge of town when the point of the abandonment of the police station was part of the city/county deal to keep county government downtown.
But with the county's plans to expand its judicial center onto the site of the present city police station, a new cop shop is not just wanted, It's required. So come November, the city may well hold its first-ever election-referendum, whatever-by mail. Nobody really knows what such a move will cost, much less how it would affect the number of votes; but it's under serious consideration by the city leadership.
An Ethnic Explosion
You've probably noticed the seemingly explo&emdash;the digging, the cement and steel work, framing, drywall and finally, the landscaping?"
You may have also noticed our feature story on Latino restaurants last year-and if you put the two together, you're on the right track. Not only have Latino establishments multiplied wildly on U.S. 301 in the past 10 months or so, Asian immigrants such as the Vietnamese are opening everything from fresh seafood takeout to an Asian supermarket in the neighborhood.
So let's jump in the car and take a quick tour of interesting, working-class ethnic food possibilities within a minute or two of downtown. Some serve breakfast, all serve lunch, and some serve dinner, so call ahead.
First of all, notice the popular Vietnamese restaurant Miss Saigon in the new Walt's Plaza between Fifth and Sixth streets. It's pretty, tasty and affordable, but you may have to wait for a table many evenings because a lot of us non-Vietnamese have discovered it.
Just a couple of blocks farther north you'll find Mi Tierra, with
authentic Colombian food and a welcoming atmosphere. Across the street at 1155C in Washington Plaza, Dona Chela Tortelleria (we've got our own tortelleria in Sarasota!) sells still-steaming fresh tortillas, seven days a week. Don't miss taking a look at the nearly life-size Mexican paper dolls decorating the business.
Almost next door, at 1160, is Mi Gente Market, another good Mexican grocery also serving sandwiches and lunches to go. Take a left on 12th Street, go one block to 1944 12th, and you find Phuoc Loc Tho Oriental Supermarket. Got an hour or two? This place is fun, especially for those of us who miss having a Chinatown in Sarasota.
One block farther north on North 301 to 13th and you'll spot Captain "N"s, a fresh seafood market with an extensive Vietnamese seafood menu and American items like shrimp fish or oyster po-boys. A couple more blocks to 1620, and there's Guadalupana Caribe and Mexican Food, with the prettiest interior in the neighborhood to go along with the good food.
Two more new Mexican restaurants can be found in the 2200 block: The Mexican Grill at 2211 and Taqueria Aguascalientes at 2267. Both are open seven days a week and mainly cater to those high-steel and concrete workers laboring downtown and their families. But if you don't mind stretching your Spanish a bit, you can probably enjoy either one and have a good, economical meal, too.
Edges are often the most interesting places, and downtown Sarasota is no exception.