Those goofy guys on The Freezer are enlivening local TV.
Craig Worsham and Nick Ribaudo are spicing up blab TV with a half-hour weekly talk show called The Freezer. Worsham, a director of national commercials who moved here from Los Angeles, is the straight man; Ribaudo, a 1989 Pine View grad, is the comic sidekick. Among their first-season guests were a tattoo artist, a lawyer/musician/ producer who wants to form a filmmakers collective, and a businessman who went to jail for selling hookahs. Man-on-the-street parodies by mock reporter Robert Wisteria and laugh-out-loud taped adventures of a guy named Stan fill out the show. How did The Freezer come about? Nick: The original idea was to start a TV production school for kids. But by the time we were done planning, it was the end of the school year. So we said, "Why don't we start our own talk show?" What's with the name? Craig: We tape the show in an old ice-cream warehouse. Doors open at 7, we start taping at 7:45, in between we have a cocktail hour. The tapings have become a hot ticket; we have to turn people away. Are you more Oprah or Conan? Nick: Eighty percent of the time, we want to be irreverent and have people laugh, but this doesn't mean we can't create some awareness [of local issues.] We don't mind being a little Oprah. What can viewers expect this season? Craig: Investigative pieces on things like steroids in the workplace, commercial parodies, more "Stan on the Street." When did you know it was a success? Nick: When we looked in the audience and saw a Ringling student with spiked hair and body piercings three seats away from [doctor and downtown developer] Mark and Irene Kaufmann, and they're both laughing. That's pretty cool. -Ilene Denton
Dining off the beaten track with Bob Ardren.
There's no more varied meal than breakfast-varied in menu, varied in when we eat it and, certainly, varied in quality. After all, anyone can scramble an egg. But as the late, great food writer M.F.K. Fisher said, you tell how much a woman loves a man by how long it takes her to properly scramble his eggs. (She thought 20 minutes is the minimum in a genuinely happy relationship.)
It's easy to get breakfast in Sarasota, but fine breakfasts are scarce. Some items, such as authentic three-inch-thick French omelets, can't even be found in Sarasota-you have to go someplace like Ooh La La in Holmes Beach.
But we do have some wonderfully cooked breakfasts in Sarasota. At Word of Mouth in Gulf Gate, at 6604 Gateway Ave., I've seen some of my favorite chefs having breakfast. That's how good it is.
They start by doing their own baking at World of Mouth, long before the 8 a.m. opening. Ask for whole wheat toast and you'll get European-style bread-long, low and dense enough that you'll understand how, for centuries, people were sustained by bread and sometimes little else.
On the other hand, if the Tennessee Mountain Biscuits were any lighter, you'd need to keep your butter knife atop them. Muffins, scones, croissants and cinnamon buns are all baked on the premises, as are the cookies and brownies you're supposed to save for lunch.
Maybe it's our Midwestern and Northeastern heritage in Sarasota, but fruit isn't featured at many breakfasts here. Word of Mouth is an exception. They boast of the "best fruit selection in Sarasota," and it's true. Small bowls are $2.75, or if you're really jonesing for fruit, the full bowl is $3.95.
That same fruit is also available on the homemade granola ($2.95), cooked-to-order oatmeal ($2.50) and, of course, the waffles and pancakes ($3.50) with real maple syrup, $1.75 extra. In fact, "Gordon's favorite waffle" is a thin one covered with fruit ($6.95). I haven't seen fruit that toothsome since dining in a Montreal restaurant that boasted it used only fruit flown in fresh daily from Cuba.
Of course there are the usual egg dishes and awesome omelets ($3.50 to $6.95), croissant, sourdough or seven grain-based French toast ($4.50 to $5.50), crêpes ($8.50) and cheese blintzes ($8.95).
Lunch is basically soups, salads and sandwiches. But the specialty of the house, breakfast, is served until the daily 2:30 p.m. closing except Sunday, when it's 1:30 p.m. So now you, too, have "the word" about Word of Mouth.
Blue Dolphin Café at 470 John Ringling Blvd. on St. Armands is the midtown Valhalla of breakfast, where it's served from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. closing seven days a week. (There's also a branch at 5370 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key).
The truly starved can order the Blue Dolphin Special of two eggs, two pancakes, two strips of bacon and home fries ($7.50). Corned beef hash ($7.95), served with two eggs, is honestly homemade here (none of those impossibly tiny cubed potatoes), and the sausage gravy is heavy with real cream and plenty of meat and is quite possibly the best in town, as it's served over grilled homemade biscuits ($4.95).
Waffles are those big Belgian-style ones ($5.95 to $7.95, depending on toppings), and all omelets ($6.95 to $8.95) are made with at least three jumbo Sutter Egg Farms eggs from right here in Sarasota.
Mammoth homemade muffins ($2.75) change flavors depending on the day. If you need something to carry out and eat on the road, try the breakfast wrap ($7.95), overstuffed with scrambled eggs, homemade veggie chili, cheddar cheese, green onions and sour cream. That should hold you 'til lunch.
No list of Sarasota breakfast spots can leave out Yoder's, 3434 Bahia Vista St., where you'll find breakfasts for real working folks on their way to doing the hard labor of Sarasota. Where else would you find fried cornmeal mush ($3.95) that, for only a dollar more, can be topped with your choice of sausage or hamburger gravy? (Hint: Get the sausage; it's really mild and will still require a couple jots of hot sauce.) Of course you can have straight biscuits and gravy ($5.95) or a half order (I've never been able to finish a whole one) for $3.95.
Amish Scramble ($4.95) is two eggs scrambled with fried potatoes and topped with cheese. For $2 more, they toss in a generous handful of bacon, ham or sausage, and onions or mushrooms add another 75 cents.
Stuffed French toast ($3.80 for one slice, $6.95 for two) is thick-sliced homemade bread stuffed with cream cheese and raspberry filling, dipped in egg batter and grilled golden brown. Want to feel like you're eating healthier? How about oatmeal mixed with hot cooked apples ($4.95) and brown sugar?
Some snowbirds make this one of their first stops upon arrival every winter. Open at 6 a.m., Yoder's serves breakfast until 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday.
I can't find one a good reason to hit one of the fast food franchises for breakfast in Sarasota-unless you're too busy to eat. And in that case, you're too busy, and it's time to stop, take stock and smell the bacon.
Florida elections became controversial, even comical after 2000. The job is tinged with political risk now, and the Florida Legislature and county administrators are peering over supervisors' shoulders. We asked Sarasota County Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent about her challenges.
Q: On Jan. 1, 2006, much previously confidential information becomes public, including voter's names and voting history. The implications? It's a mass mailer's dream. Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers are exempt, but addresses, ages, party affiliations and voting history [not the actual votes, but participation by election] will be open for public inspection. I worry that some may not want to register because of this.
Q: So one could build a list, say, of Republican women aged 25 to 40, frequent voters living in wealthy areas? Absolutely.
Q: Will you put that information online? No, but anybody can call and request this data on a CD. I expect [election] supervisors will take some heat when the public finds out about this change.
Q: How is early voting changing elections? Thirty-eight percent of all our voters last November voted early or by absentee [ballot]. Parties and candidates now have to get their information out earlier. Last-minute appeals won't have the same impact, because people may be making up their minds 15 days before the election. Even endorsements will have to come earlier. Some states report that up to half their people vote early. For 2006, I'm probably going to have seven early-voting sites.
Q: Why are you an elected official when your activities are tightly regulated by state law? County commissioners do not affect my day-to-day operations, so I can operate without the extra pressure. It's a check-and-balance situation. You can be the biggest whiz in the world with electronic stuff, but you have to understand all the processes that go along with elections. For those reasons, I wouldn't want the county [administrator] to be in charge of elections.
Q: Is the state trying to exert more control over elections? This year, there was a major impetus to put binding directives on supervisors of elections [and hold them] personally liable, with fines [if they did not obey]. We spent most of the session fighting these directives. As long as supervisors are not breaking the law, they should be allowed to process the data the way they feel best for the voters. -Stan Zimmerman
Inside the visual arts with Mark Ormond.
Kyle Cross, who's lived in Sarasota since he was 16, is owner and creative director of Digital Three, a Rosemary District design firm that's dedicated most of its space to exhibitions of emerging artists. Cross says they want to "engage the community in some form, do some funky things, like you'd see in any other big city." In July, the firm hosted a fascinating show called Into the Flesh, which was inspired by the tattooed body. This month's exhibition focuses on the changing architecture of Sarasota.
Sarasota art critic and writer Marcia Corbino recently submitted a play that was chosen for a reading by the Players Theatre. The play is titled Circle of Flame and, Corbino explains, was inspired by the life of Federico Garcia Lorca, the heroic Spanish poet and playwright whose work anticipated the human rights movement. She's now sending it to some Hispanic and university theaters, hoping for a production.
Abstraction in painting is back, and 2002 Ringling School graduate Kris Chatterson, who was born in Orlando, is showing new paintings at Western Project, a gallery in Culver City just outside Los Angeles. Chatterson settled in L.A. after receiving his M.F.A. from Claremont University in Claremont, Calif.
Sabrina Small, whose family lives in Sarasota, returns from Berlin to show new work and a selection of drawings and paintings from the past five years, at Metamorphosis Gallery in Towles Court, through November. Small, one of the artists behind the first Pure/Impure exhibition on State Street a few years ago, says this show includes new work where she has sewn or stitched on the surface, making her line more three-dimensional. Her art has been shown in London and Budapest as well as New York and California.
Boots Culbertson, known for her works in clay, and her husband, John, are looking forward to moving into a new home and studio designed by daughter Carla, who grew up in Sarasota and now practices architecture in California. The house has loads of glass and is nestled on a lot they've owned for decades near the Ringling Museum, filled with oaks, palms and bamboo. In fact, Carla planned the house around all the existing trees, only moving five palms. In addition to a separate building for Boots' kilns and studio, the house also has the lap pool she says she's always wanted.
The Parking Shuffle
There's one simple way we could start to solve the problem.
There's an old saying in Bradenton: "I work in Manatee County but I play in Sarasota." As downtown becomes increasingly attractive, more people are coming to play. But they soon discover they can't find a parking space, and the fear is that they'll go someplace else to play.
Last summer, every parking deal the Sarasota City Commission tried to put together fell apart. The quick snap-up of the Orange Dolphin property near Burns Court to create a parking garage collapsed under an avalanche of criticism. Then Plaza Verdi (the planned combination of the Golden Apple, Sarasota Opera, condos and retail) dissolved, and the public parking component sank with it.
While the politicians and administrators may say, "More downtown parking is No. 1," the reality is, downtown parking won't improve for years because the plans keep falling apart. As one downtown merchant described the situation: "Current parking is a disaster!" He could have added, "And the future doesn't look good, either." But there is a partial solution to this mess, and it could happen overnight without spending a single public penny.
When the Downtown Partnership conducted a survey last summer, it found-surprise, surprise-"public parking" was the top priority of downtown business leaders. "No growth without parking," replied one survey respondent.
The reality is a little different. What's lacking, often, is a space directly in front of where people want to go. Sarasota, it seems, is a little different from most places. The idea of walking more than a block between your parked car and your destination is alien here. And too often you can't park in that spot you want-the one right in front of your favorite downtown destination-because some downtown merchant or their employee already has. And they'll keep filling it all day long.
The city's massive "Downtown Master Plan Parking Study" came to a similar conclusion. The document, about four inches thick, contains a thorough examination of the current situation. "Only 35 percent to 40 percent of the merchants and their employees do what they should be doing, parking-wise, so they are actually creating many of the problems that must be solved," said one study participant. The problem is called "the parking shuffle game."
Business owners and employees drive to the front of their store and park. When their two free hours are up, they drive away and look for another free spot as close to their store as possible. They do this all day long. "This was indicated to be a big problem among downtown business employees, particularly those working along Main Street," the report says.
The study used "stakeholder meetings," drawing people from many concerned groups to help examine the local angles. "All three groups voted that employees should not be allowed to park on the street in areas adjacent to retail during normal business hours," the report says. These folks are tying up spots all day long; if they were forced to park elsewhere, each spot they're using could accept five or more folks who just want to stop for an hour or two. That's a five-to-one ratio.
The numbers are compelling. If you look at the total of shops, restaurants and offices along Main Street, and if it's true that 60 percent of the workers are taking the available spots and then shuffling their car every two hours, then it's easy to understand why there's no parking.
Sarasota shoppers don't like to walk, so those the customers are simply going to drive on by, because the employees have taken all the parking spaces.
With no new parking structures on the horizon, I can see only three solutions. The first is impossible: Break the "can't walk" ethic. As the study concludes, "Currently, based on the stakeholder discussions, it appears that walk access distances greater than one block, are, for many, inconvenient and relatively undesirable."
The second option is explored exhaustively in the study: Get serious about parking. That includes creating a $2 million per year parking authority that installs dollar-an-hour meters on Main Street with reduced rates further out, increasing fines to $25 per violation, and aggressive "booting" for repeat offenders.
But there's also a third approach, which would cost nothing and could go a long way towards solving the problem: Get the merchants and employees to park elsewhere.
When City Manager Mike McNees proposed the $4.4 million purchase of the Orange Dolphin property, he told city commissioners, "Based on the price of this land and the estimate of the engineers that have done the preliminary work on the parking garage, that would come around to between $23,000 to $24,000 per space. Now, I'll sit here and say, 'That's very high. That's a lot of money.' But the real issue is, it's only going to be higher tomorrow and it is never going to be less than it is now."
If even 100 employee and merchants' cars were moved off Main Street (say, to not-that-distant spots in the Rosemary District or the big public lots just a street away) that would, using McNees' figures of $24,000 per space, be the equivalent of a $2.4 million parking garage. And parking 100 employee cars off Main Street would actually free up 500 customer parking spaces over the course of a business day, with each space right in front of exactly where you want to go on Main Street.
One of those merchants, responding to the Downtown Partnership's survey, hit the nail squarely: "More spaces will bring more people downtown." Isn't that the idea?-Stan Zimmerman