“Everything we do at Flemings is grand,” says executive chef Patrick Quakenbush, and he’s not just talking steak. His chipotle cheddar macaroni and cheese offers a velvety shot of nostalgia—until that edge of chipotle kicks in, alerting your taste buds to a new macaroni experience. Sautéed leeks, garlic, sharp cheddar cheese and spirals of cavatappi transform the ordinary into the stupendous. Sarasota. (941) 358-9463.
Ruth’s Chris Steak House’s New Orleans-style creamed spinach au gratin is a favorite side of Ruth’s regulars nationwide. Sarasota’s chef, Hugh Charles, tops this classic signature dish with melted sharp cheddar cheese for a spinach treat so supreme Popeye would be licking his lips. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 6700 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 924-9442.
There are two ways to eat broccoli rabe at Ferraris Ristorante: the Italian way or the non-Italian way—that’s to say, bitter or less bitter. But there’s no wrong way, assures chef/owner Marcello Aquino. Also called rapini, this cruciferous vegetable harbors an acrid wallop that doesn’t appeal to all palates, but Aquino can lessen the edge by blanching it first. Any way you slice it, it’s a tasty and verdant accompaniment to pastas and meats. Ferraris Ristorante, 4155 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. (941) 929-7900.
For an elegant, healthy alternative to the baked potato, try Whole Foods’ stuffed zucchini with feta cheese and tomatoes. Chef Mel Ruberg slices her zucchinis lengthwise, stuffs them with vine-ripe tomatoes and feta cheese and roasts them for a succulent, delectable flavor that goes with almost any entrée. Whole Foods Market, 1451 First St., Sarasota. (941) 955-8500.
Chef Shannon Mills at Tommy Bahama fears his whipped bayou sweet potatoes are so sweet they will upstage dessert. Baked and then whipped with honey, cinnamon, allspice and sweet cream butter, the mashed yams are topped with a graham cracker and toasted nut crust and garnished with scallions. Delectable next to the Wha’Jamaican Pork. Tommy Bahama Tropical Café, 300 John Ringling Blvd., Sarasota. (941) 388-2888.
Risotto devotees flock to Ophelia’s for chef Daniel Olson’s decadent crème fraîche and chive risotto. The essence of the perfect risotto is endlessly debated among foodies, but Olson has surely come close. Graced with an al dente firmness, this savory Northern Italian dish never lets you forget that it all started with the humble grain of rice. Ophelia's On The Bay, 9105 Midnight Pass Road, Sarasota. (941) 349-2212.
Every now and then, we need something deep-fried. Cosimo’s can satisfy that need with its waffle potatoes with gorgonzola sauce, a dish proprietor John Ganley says is fabulous next to grilled asparagus and steak and a glass or two of some full-bodied Bogle’s Old Vine Zinfandel. Cosimo's Brick Oven, Westfield Southgate Mall, Sarasota; (941) 363-0211.
You’ll love the jicama slaw at Selva Grill—whether or not you can pronounce it. Chef/owner Darwin Santa Maria juliennes this popular Latin American root vegetable and mixes it with grape tomatoes, black beans, Peruvian Cusco corn, diced red onions, lime juice and cilantro for a crisp, fresh-tasting salad perfect for any occasion. Oh—it’s pronounced HEE-ka-ma. Selva Grill, 1345 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 362-4427.
Bijou Cafe proprietor Jean Pierre Knaggs admits that he “borrowed” the recipe for his celebrated pommes gratin Dauphinois from a restaurant in Baux-de-Provence where he once worked. Sarasotans are so happy he did. Once diners see this acclaimed specialty brought to neighboring tables, they tend to order it for themselves. Knaggs suggests pairing this rich, cream-smothered potato dish, bubbling with a topping of Gruyère cheese, with the Bijou’s rack of lamb and a hearty pinot noir. Bijou Café, 1287 First St., Sarasota. (941) 366-8111.
Those who appreciate rustic fare will delight in Fred’s Panzanella salad, a classic Tuscan dish that makes the best of crusty or day-old bread. Chef Mario Martinez tosses his signature herbed focaccia with vine-ripe tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, garlic, basil and olive oil to achieve what he calls “a simple goodness.” “Pancia” means “belly” in Italian. This healthy and delicious salad will fill yours with good cheer. Fred's Restaurant, 1917 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota. (941) 364-5811.
Our 10 Best lists are not ranked in order of numerical preference.