Eating Our Way Through Sarasota

Being a foodie, I always look forward to eating out at new places.  But besides being a foodie, I am also an aesthetic person.  It is important to me that I have a delicious meal, but it is equally important to me that it be in a fun, interesting or beautiful environment.  My sister and I are probably a restaurant hostess’s worst nightmare.  We inevitably want a different table than the one the hostess guided us to.  We want the one by the window, a booth instead of a table, the one next to the fire, or the table closest to the rail overlooking the water.  Our husbands just roll their eyes and mumble under their breath.  But we both want to enjoy our meal in a pleasant aesthetic.   I call it the “cute factor.” It makes a difference in my enjoyment of the dining out experience.  Non-foodies beware, this post contains food pictures.

One of my goals during our month in Sarasota was to try several local restaurants with excellent seafood and fun atmospheres.  Mr. U and I are not particularly interested in eating at high end restaurants with tiny morsels of food served over starched white tablecloths that we inevitably spill on and feel bad.  These places are a nice treat once in a while, but we prefer finding the tucked away places. 

I don’t know about you, but I have found Yelp to be less reliable lately.   Instead, we have found the best way to find a good place to eat is to ask the locals.  The locals always know the best places.  They know the quirky unique places with the best food, and they know the best deal for your money.   If a few different people recommend the same restaurant, we know it is a winner.  The other option is Mr. U’s favorite – when driving around, notice which places are packed and return to them. That being said, I will still check the Yelp star rating to ensure we aren’t walking into a disaster. Our rule is, “four or forget it.”

Cortez Fishing Village

One afternoon we bought some stone crabs from a fisherman that sells his daily catch at a parking lot near the marina where we are staying.  Since he is a fisherman, he seemed like a reliable source to ask where the best seafood restaurants are.  He, as well as several other people, recommended going to Cortez Fishing Village, an iconic little village just off of Anna Maria Island. The casual restaurants at the village cook up seafood fresh off of the fishing boats while you sit out on the decks overlooking the bay. No white tablecloths here. Just excellent seafood, eaten while you watch the fishing boats come in with the day’s catch.   

Probably the most eclectic place we went to at Cortez Village (recommended by a couple different locals) was Annie’s Bait and Tackle.  It is mostly a bait shop with a little bit restaurant.  It is located in a crusty building with a few tables scattered inside and picnic tables on the dock.  The owner is a grumpy old salt that appears mad that you came in.  It did not even rank on the “cute factor” scale.  It also failed the “four or forget it rule.” However, sometimes the best atmospheres are quirky dives.  As long as I know this going in, I can enjoy the uniqueness of it, but I would not have picked it out as a place to go if it had not been so recommended. Mr. U had a huge bowl of peel and eat shrimp that were so fresh, flavorful and meaty.

The outside of Annie’s Bait and Tackle is, well…very quirky.

Downtown Sarasota

On this trip, we typically eat breakfast at our place and then go out to dinner.  But one sunny morning we ventured downtown early to stroll through the Saturday Farmer’s Market and have breakfast. Using Mr. U’s technique, we stopped at C’est la Vie, just because it was busy the previous day, and it met the “cute factor” for me. Like the name sounds, C’est la Vie is an authentic French bakery and cafe in the heart of downtown Sarasota that specializes in authentic French food and pastries.  The croissants were so fresh and flaky.  You can sip stout coffee and enjoy the sunshine at one of their sidewalk tables and feel like you are in Paris or New Orleans.   

St. Armands Circle is a charming, historic destination located on Lido Key.  I would recommend that you work up an appetite poking in all of the shops at the circle and then stop in to eat at the Columbia. It is the oldest operating restaurant in Sarasota and is known for its Spanish/Cuban cuisine.  It was recommended to us by several people and lived up the hype.  Either make reservations or plan to get there early to get a table for lunch or dinner. We both had Columbia’s Original “1905” salad which is tossed at your table. Get the Cuban bread to go with it.  Fortunately, an older gentleman that we met on the trolley told us to get a pitcher of their sangria. They mix it up at your table with fresh squeezed citrus. It was the perfect way to end a hot day.

I enjoyed all the al fresco dining while there, especially since it is hovering around 30 degrees at home.

By far and away, the most frequently recommended place to eat was Owen’s Fish Camp.  It has delicious food in a fish camp atmosphere.  It is very popular so you may have to wait a good hour or two during peak times.  You will never be happier that a place does not take reservations because waiting for your table is the best part!  They have an outdoor patio with picnic tables and music.  You can order drinks and an appetizer to hold you over.  It is a festive, fun experience and you will feel like you just went to fish camp, without all of the work.

During our month stay, we stopped by a few different tiki hut restaurants/bars.  While the food is usually not anything special, you can’t beat sitting at a table in the sand, watching the waves roll in.   A cold drink at a tiki hut tastes the best after a day playing at the beach.   One evening we stopped by O’Leary’s Tiki Bar & Grill. which is located at the bayfront in Sarasota.  We enjoyed some live music and the view of the bay as they city lights came on. 

Weighing In

Despite the fact that we have been very physically active this trip, I suspect I have gained weight. I don’t have a scale (thank goodness) to confirm this, but the pants are definitely getting tighter. It is pretty difficult to eat out almost every day and not consume too many calories, even with seafood. Because…where there is southern seafood, there are cheesy grits and hush puppies and ice-cold margaritas. Enough said. It is time to go home, for no other reason than I can’t continue to eat out and not gain weight. Thanks for joining me on our travels through Florida. Now it is time to go back to the snow.