Like many people in Sarasota, I don't cook. I assemble things, like tuna salad and cereal with milk, but I have not once turned on my stove. Somebody gave me a George Foreman grill and I made delicious hamburgers exactly twice. But the endless preparation—the trip to Publix, the constant kneading of the patties, the tedious wait while they cook, the mess on the counters and the cleaning of the grill—spoiled all the fun.
So I insist on eating out or bringing take-out home. My every meal is prepared by someone else, which is just the way I want it. Along the way I have become somewhat of an expert on how to live like this. Many people look at it as some pathetic "lonely-bachelor" kind of life, but let me tell you, I love it. It means total freedom. I never have to eat anything I don't want.
Here are the places that I frequent. I think you'll find that each one fills its own niche in the lonely-bachelor lifestyle.
First of all, Morton's Market. This is lonely-bachelor central, and on any given weeknight right after work they all seem to find their way here. They are not necessarily male bachelors; Morton's gets the ladies, too. In fact, all the unmarried, high-powered business people are frequent customers, and why not—nobody understands how to prepare food for the stockbrokers, judges, and top-level realtors quite like Morton's. The salad counter, which must have 30 different salads to take home, has things like blue crab salad, several different kinds of chicken salad, not to mention pasta salad, fruit salad, even the 1905 salad from the Columbia. Keep looking and you'll find cold poached salmon and cold grilled salmon, plus a gazillion other things that look—and usually are—terrific. (Avoid the turkey tetrazzini.) And I haven't even mentioned the hot take-out dinners. You get an entrée (five or six choices) and two sides for $7.79.
Of course I've tried Whole Foods, but Morton's is much better. And as for Publix—well, they have totally missed the boat in their hot meal department—it's soggy, bland and tasteless. A rare failing in their otherwise superb grocery operation.
Second, the 7-11. The great thing about the 7-11 is that they're all exactly the same. A sandwich from one tastes exactly like a sandwich from another. You're probably thinking: Who would ever eat a sandwich from the 7-11? Well, they're not that bad. I often make a lunch of the tuna or maybe the chicken salad or, if I'm feeling flush (it costs about 50 cents more) the smoked turkey with jack cheese. You drive in, spend five dollars and change, and gobble it down in the parking lot. Here's a convenience store that really is convenient.
The 7-11 is also very good for those moments when you just can't face the psychic strain that a trip to a supermarket entails—the search for a parking place, the endless aisles, the chance you'll bump into somebody you know who will notice that you're wearing a shirt you slept in and that you haven't washed your hair in two days. When this happens in the 7-11, chances are the other person is a bigger mess than you.
Now what about those moments when you as a lonely bachelor want a nice hot meal but don't want to feel like a loser because you're the only single person in the restaurant? God invented Duff's for moments like this. Duff's is a good, old-fashioned all-you-can-eat buffet, one of the few left in the area, and by far the best. There are plenty of single people eating here, and chances are they're much fatter than you. You know how certain bars attract serious drinkers? Well, Duff's attracts serious eaters. And the food is delicious: fried chicken, roast beef, catfish, stuffed peppers and the best candied yams around.
Duff's is located on Tamiami Trail in Bradenton, and in addition to its cuisine, it's also noted for its people-watching. You'll see the fat people dining alone, of course, but you'll also see Mexican families, redneck families, old people from the trailer park, and—my favorite—bikers taking their mothers out to dinner. Believe it or not, I met Little Richard here once. He sat down at my table and gave me a book about God. Just try to imagine that happening in a fancy Sarasota restaurant.
Too many trips to Duff's can take their toll, though. The pounds add up and there's that nagging feeling that you're on a collision course with diabetes, heart disease, glaucoma and neuropathy. When this happens, just head over to Nellie's Deli on Beneva, where the food is so healthy that it squeaks with freshness. It's strictly a lunch spot, but people come from all over town, some three or four times a week. The specialty is salad and sandwiches, and the typical diner is an older person in great physical shape who plans to stay that way. As they eat, the feisty oldsters compare yoga classes, walking trails and where to bird watch.
Actually, I do have friends, and sometimes we even dine out together. When this happens I have two places I always beg to go. For lunch it's C'est La Vie on Main Street. This place reminds me of a little café in Santa Barbara or the California wine country. It's very French, with baguettes, crepes, Croque monsieurs, and killer Napoleons for dessert. The people who run it are French but very nice; in fact, for French people they are almost suspiciously pleasant. C'est La Vie is wildly popular, so try to avoid the peak hours and go a little later. My favorite dish: the Norwegian crepes, which are lox in a cream sauce, wrapped in a buckwheat crepe, with a simple salad where the lettuce is cut in perfectly sized pieces and sprinkled with corn.
And for those evenings when I want a really good meal in a really good restaurant, I'll always choose Mediterraneo. It's Italian, but very chic contemporary Italian, like a restaurant in Milan. There's a dining room in back but I much prefer the bar, where you can look out on Main Street and watch the people walk by. The food is classic Italian, updated slightly, and they have little pizzas if you don't want a whole meal or happen to be a little short this week.
When it comes to the food, Mediterraneo is near the top and has been for years, but what really sets it apart is the atmosphere. It's effortless and sophisticated, with the richest and most accomplished people in town showing up regularly, like it's their own special place. I guess the best word for Mediterraneo is "worldly"—that can be hard to find in Sarasota, and when you're a bachelor out for dinner that's exactly what you're looking for.
My every meal is prepared by someone else, which is just the way I want it. Many people look at it as some pathetic "lonely-bachelor" kind of life, but let me tell you, I love it.