Making the most of a Saturday in Sarasota.
By Hannah Wallace
So Saturday was one of those free days that can leave me paralyzed and unsatisfied. Every time I’m faced with spare time, I come up with a list of potential destinations and realize I’ll never be able to give them all the attention they deserve. As though I’m supposed to have this Santa Claus-like ability to visit every great restaurant and attraction in a single evening.
I’m trying to adjust my mindset, though, so that I instead think of all these great local places as though I have lots and lots of friends—I can’t hang out with them all at once, but just knowing that they’re there adds richness to my life.
Still, Saturday turned out to be a day for making new “friends,” and I felt pretty productive for that.
First thing, CCB and I met up with Big J for a late breakfast at The Breakfast House. That place sure has generated some buzz. Two weeks ago, when I noticed the sign along Fruitville, my first reaction was to call it a “crackhouse-cum-restaurant” (you gotta admit, that’s an interesting location). But almost immediately folks were full of praise, and frankly, Judi Gallagher had me at “homemade Hollandaise.”
I’m pretty picky when it comes to my eggs Benedict—the first (and still best) I had came from the restaurant that was once called Chef Paul’s and used to occupy the building where Aristo is now. (Years ago it moved to the Days Inn on the North Trail and has been through several iterations since—though the eggs Benedict have remained stellar, as of the last time I was there a few months ago.)
So maybe I’m just permanently biased, but the Breakfast House Benedict (traditional style) didn’t quite measure up. The Hollandaise is indeed good—tangy, creamy and with a decent kick on the back end—but, well, Chef Paul’s still has not been unseated. (Not sure what to think of a restaurant that uses an egg poacher, either; I’ve been harassed several times by cooks who eschew those neat little poaching molds for the traditional poaching method). Of course, I’m not so picky that I didn’t devour it all in 30 seconds flat. Next time I’m getting the pancakes, which have been at the heart of the Breakfast House’s praise. People talk about them like they are indeed laced with crack, so maybe the crackhouse location isn’t so strange after all.
From there, CCB and I decided to take advantage of Selby Gardens’ free day. Selby is one of those local “friends” I’m ashamed to say I don’t visit very often, so this was a perfect excuse to get to know it. And I realize the gardens are considered one of the area’s major attractions, but man, I did not expect the turnout to be what it was. They actually created a traffic jam around Orange and Mound. We joined a throng of people who left their cars on the downtown side of Mound and walked across, then stood in line to get into the gardens themselves.
It was great, though—great to experience the gardens, and great to see so many people so excited to read up on the origins of orchids and the relationships of ants and plants. I find the whole idea of the gardens soothing: You don’t have to rush to be anywhere at a particular time, and there wasn’t any one single attraction that I absolutely needed to see. So once we were inside, the whole point was just…being there. Like, you’re surrounded by beauty; you don’t have to do anything, just enjoy it for a little while.
Next, we walked up Main Street to check on the status of Stairway to Belgium—and sure enough, they’d just had their soft opening. No surprise, a place promising good beer and hearty food had caught our attention. And yes indeed, they have a massive beer list—and the expertise to back it up. I got a tasty draught Victory pilsner and looked over the food menu, which, dude, is almost as exciting as the beer: They promise the best pomme frites in town (“You’re going to start trouble in Sarasota with that claim,” CCB observed), plus there’s mac ‘n cheese (made with Gouda!), burgers, wings, sausage, lamb, beer-battered fish (go figure), and—get this—rabbit stew, among all kinds of fun stuff. Alas, I was still too full of eggs and ham to order anything, but you better believe I’m going back there for dinner sometime soon. Seems like a place my dad would dig, too.
And I just love that second-floor location—especially on a rainy afternoon as Saturday turned out to be, with the dark brick and wood walls overlooking Main Street. I know several restaurants have come and gone from that spot in recent years, and I’m always hoping that they’ll last, because it’s just too cool a space not to be visited. But Stairway to Belgium has so far won special attention for me, so here’s hoping this is the place that sticks.