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Best Sarasota Restaurants

AOL PICK from our Editors

Sarasota has always had a small but eclectic culinary scene, stoked by the appetite of snowbirds in town for the season. They tended to go back to the familiar roosts year after year, sustaining the best restaurants for decades. That’s expanded with a growing number of small, chef-operated contemporary eateries popping up and offering some edible excitement. It’s still not  the kind of dining destination you expect from a major metro, but it’ll keep you interested and you won’t go hungry.

Cafe L'Europe

Neighborhood: St. Armands Key Price: Expensive

Like many of his wealthy contemporaries, John Ringling hoped that building a mansion and inviting friends to see it would inspire them to follow his example, providing him the opportunity to sell them some of the land he’d bought. Cafe L’Europe is housed in Ringling’s former real estate office, which is now the oldest building in St. Armands Circle. There’s a patio out front, great for people watching when the weather’s nice, while the bricked interior is cool and inviting on a hot day. The original partners, Titus Letschert and chef Norbert Goldner, were European trained veterans of the Manhattan restaurant scene when they brought Continental dining to St. Armands more than 30 years ago. Letschert is still at the helm, and the restaurant still serves up intriguing dishes such as Bison Carpaccio and Tableside Shrimp Pernod, flambéed before your eyes. Chateaubriand for Two is not a lost art, as we discovered here, and it, too, is flambéed tableside. The duckling with bing cherry sauce has been on the menu since opening day, and there are a number of unique entrées, too. When we saw Diver Scallops with Shrimp-Stuffed Ravioli with mushrooms and truffle-saffron beurre blanc we had to try it; it’s genius.

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Pattigeorge's

Neighborhood: Longboat Key Price: Expensive

It’s not surprising that Pattiegeorge’s was a quick success after opening just over a decade ago. The chef/owner is Tommy Klauber, whose family owned The Colony on Longboat Key for almost 40 years before it closed in 2010 due to a dispute with condo owners. Matt was executive chef and food and beverage director at The Colony before opening Pattigeorge’s on his own. Klauber has been noticed by The James Beard Foundation as a “rising star” and the menu demonstrates both his culinary bloodlines and long experience. The cuisine is fusion, with  American favorites, Italian specialties, Asian influences and Caribbean and Latin America accents. We love menus that take a half hour to peruse because that means our choices are endless, and here you’ve got small plates, large plates, stir-frys, pasta, pizzas, and a late-night bar menu. Forget finding your place on the menu, you may not be able to figure out where you are in the world, with dishes like tuna tartar wonton tacos and Paella a la Valencia. Even the sides, called “Accessories” here, tempt the palate; the hashed Brussels sprouts with lemon and poppy will make you want to eat your vegetables. Not only is the food wonderful, but the view over Buttonwood Harbor on the backside of Longboat Key is exquisite. 

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Pattigeorge's  

MoZaic

Neighborhood: Sarasota Price: Expensive

A case in point for diversity, MoZaic serves up a taste of Morocco with some French flavors mixed in. The presentations are pretty, too, but the flavors are on the main stage, helped along by supporting acts like exotic western Mediterranean vegetables such as cardoons (like celery, but nuttier) and sauces such as charmoula. Our favorite (and a good way to get the range of tastes) is to order the trio of lamb chops accompanied by sliced duck breast and pan-seared diver scallops. Vegetarians get equal treatment: The Seven Vegetable Couscous and braised cardoons with lemon confit and raisins is delicious even to meat-eaters. There’s no shortage of flavors here, and various specials like Cous cous Night, Wine dinners and other events add to the appeal. Come prepared to spend—entrees range between $18-36.

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MoZaic  

Euphemia Hay Restaurant

Neighborhood: Longboat Key Price: Expensive

New restaurants wax and wane in Sarasota, but this one has been going strong for more than 30 years, satisfying appetites in the chic surroundings of Longboat Key. Owned by chef and cookbook author Raymond Arpke, everything is made from scratch, right down to the stocks, sauces and dressings. Arpke’s range is expansive: You’ll find “Arpke-ized” dishes from all over the globe—China, Africa, France, Italy and even his own backyard, Southwest Florida. His signature crispy roast duckling (served with bread stuffing and seasonal fresh berry sauce) gets a lot of well-deserved attention. The duck is moist and delicately flavored and has never failed to wow us. However, there’s a lot more to taste here, including our personal favorite, the spicy Shrimp Taj Mahal, served in a homemade curry sauce spiced with jalapenos, tomato, lemon, coconut and ginger. If you’re going to eat in the main dining room, you’ll need reservations, but there’s also a walk-in bistro, the Haye Loft, on the second floor that serves some of the main dining room’s most popular entrees plus lighter fare, including pizza and salads. Extend your experience by lingering after your meal and enjoying one of their exotic coffees or vintage port wines while you take in the live music. Arpke even hosts “Lesson Luncheons” where participants are served a sampling lunch while the chef explains his cooking techniques (schedule on website). Entrées range up to $50 here, so bring your wallet along with your appetite.

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Euphemia Hay Restaurant  

Cha Cha Coconuts

Neighborhood: St. Armands Key Price: Moderate

If you’re down in St. Armands Circle doing some shopping, Cha Chas is a great respite from the heat—cool, island-style interior with high tops painted in Caribbean colors, frosty drinks and a menu filled with tropical-themed specialties. If you’ve never had Caribbean style pork ribs glazed with sweet, sticky guava barbecue sauce, the Voo Doo ribs at Cha Chas are tender and tasty. There’s also a host of unique seafood plates, including Merluza with Caribbean rose sauce and plantains and Yucatan fish tacos, plus burgers and sandwiches.

If it’s not stifling outside, we prefer to sit on the sidewalk under the wide yellow awning and watch the shoppers buzzing around St. Armands’ bouquet of boutiques. Take your time and wash down the food with a couple of tall Bahama Mamas.

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Cha Cha Coconuts  

The Columbia

Neighborhood: St. Armands Key Price: Moderate

This is the Sarasota branch of the famous Ybor City eatery and it’s located on fashionable St. Armands Circle. The Spanish menu is authentic, but also includes some of the Gonzmart-Hernandez family’s own recipes. Recommending a single dish is difficult, but the house 1905 Salad (named for the year the original Columbia opened) is a must. It’s constructed tableside and served with a house-made dressing. The entreés run the gamut of Cuban and Spanish favorites; there are three kinds of paella alone. Snapper Adelita (grilled snapper topped with hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and onions) is one of the signature dishes, but it’s difficult for us to order anything other than the bistec palomilla (thin-cut steak grilled and topped with onion, parsley and lime juice) or, especially, the boliche (eye round stuffed with chorizo).

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Hemingway's Retreat

Neighborhood: Sarasota Price: Moderate

While Euphemia Haye goes completely out of the box for its entrées, Hemingway’s has stayed in business for almost as long by putting a slight twist on traditional favorites. The decor is a little Havana, and a little Key West—Ernest Hemingway’s most famous residences. There are some tropical-based items on the menu, including an excellent Cuban roast pork panini with chipotle mustard, but it’s the heartier American fare that gets our attention. There’s a pot roast with cabernet, pork tenderloin with apple smoked bacon and pears and—our all-time favorite comfort food, beef-and-veal meatloaf stuffed with pepper jack cheese and covered with a mushroom demi-glace. This ain’t your Papa’s meatloaf. There’s plenty of lighter fare—salads and seafood including an awesome pecan-crusted tilapia—and the restaurant’s signature desert, Rum Runner Bread Pudding served with banana ice cream, caramel and chocolate sauce. Come hungry.

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Hemingway's Retreat  

Broken Egg Restaurant

Neighborhood: Siesta Key Price: Budget

This big, bustling, breakfast and lunch restaurant is cheerful and sunny (literally), with hanging plants and local artwork plastering the walls above the booths that ring the interior. The Broken Egg has been an institution on Siesta Key for more than 25 years, serving up football-sized omelets, gently toasted English muffins, crispy hash browns and fluffy pecan-studded pancakes for breakfast. There are some specialties, especially the crab cakes Benedict and (our favorite) the Siesta Key: a blue crab, tomato and Swiss cheese omelette. Lunch may be a wrap, burger or piled-high salad. In any case, it’s an excellent way to break your fast without breaking the bank. Attire is very casual, so this is a good place to slip in with just a cover-up before or after a morning on the beach.

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Broken Egg Restaurant  

The Village Cafe

Neighborhood: Siesta Key Price: Budget

With the emphasis on beaching it, it’s no wonder there’s a raft of casual, beachside places where you can come as you are for basic fare. The Village Café is located right in Siesta Key Village and serves up breakfast and lunch standards. There’s a little Mexican twist to some—there’s a wrap with eggs and chorizo and refried beans, huevos amigos (eggs with salsa, vegetables and cheese)—but you can get the usual spread of salads, burgers and sandwiches along with the quesadillas.

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Turtles on Little Sarasota Bay

Neighborhood: Sarasota Price: Budget

Turtles is one of the best-known of Sarasota’s beachy diners. It’s located south of Siesta almost to the south end of the barrier island and close to the gorgeous Turtle Beach. This place knows its crowd, starting happy hour at 3 every afternoon. The food is several cuts above what you’d expect from a beach bar. Sure, there’s a crab roll and grouper sandwich (both very good) but there’s also more gourmet fare such as a potato-crusted haddock with Key Lime buerre blanc. Find yourself a table on the wooden deck out back to get the full experience, order up a cold adult beverage and just relax.

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