It makes all the sense in the world that Gloria Moss would select The Bijou Café as her favorite restaurant. Both are Sarasota classics. Not that it was an easy choice; a frequent diner-out, Moss is a regular visitor at several local eateries. But she has been a customer of The Bijou since it opened in 1986.
“The service and atmosphere are pleasing, not fancy, but lovely, charming and comfortable,” she says. “It is pleasant and quiet, which is very important to me. And I don’t have to worry about what I order.”
If the restaurant is consistent, so are Moss’ food choices. Lunch at the Bijou is shrimp and crab bisque plus fried oysters or a salad. Dinner is often steak or rack of lamb and “the potatoes.” Although like many customers she uses the restaurant for big occasions, she also chooses it for more casual meals, ordering a salad and an appetizer or two appetizers when she is inclined to eat lightly — a trend that owner J.P. Knaggs notes happily.
Her quarter-century history with the restaurant means that Moss was around for the transformation of the former gas station into a fine-dining establishment. Her late husband, Marty Moss, gave advice to Knaggs on how to buy the place — and how to handle remediation of the underground tanks from its previous life.
The restaurant has grown from its original capacity of 50 to now accommodating 140. Its classic menu items remain — among them are Moss’ favorite shrimp and crab bisque, rack of lamb, crisp roasted duck and “the potatoes,” more formally known as “Bijou’s Famous Pommes Gratin Dauphinois.” This lavish preparation involves cream, garlic, Gruyère cheese and, oh yes, potatoes — oven-baked and finished under the broiler. An order “for the table” is a regular occurrence, even for normally health-oriented diners.
The most recent change is the arrival of the Chef Stephen Phelps.
“The menu is more contemporary with Steve,” Knaggs says. “Without making waves, the classics have stayed while we have added more modern things. His fish dishes are just mind-blowing.”
Moss’ food experience is more than her restaurant history. She earned a master’s in home economics at Columbia University and worked as a hospital dietician in Jersey City, N.J., and then in the school system before moving here.
WHERE ELSE DOES GLORIA GO?
Oh Mamma Mia!
Michael’s On East
The Oaks Country Club
BIJOU CAFÉ SHRIMP AND CRAB BISQUE
(Serves about four)
1 pound raw shrimp in shell
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup sherry
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
1/4 cup lump crab
1 tablespoon butter
1. Peel the shrimp and reserve the shells; keep the shrimp in the refrigerator.
2. In a saucepot, add butter over medium heat and add celery, onion and carrots, stirring frequently until the vegetables begin to caramelize. Add shrimp shells and continue to stir, lowering the heat. Add tomato paste and continue stirring so paste does not burn. Add sherry and brandy to deglaze. Reduce liquid by half on medium heat. Add cream, cayenne and salt and simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat.
3. Strain liquid with a fine mesh strainer. Place back on low heat and reduce until soup is at desired thickness.
4. To serve, dice raw shrimp and add to a skillet with crabmeat.
5. Pour desired amount of soup into skillet and cook on medium heat until shrimp is cooked through. Pour into bowls as needed.