Around the world in two-tenths of a mile: From locally grown produce to a dazzling assortment of canned peppers; from Irish bacon to middle-European wursts; from a fresh-from-the-oven almond croissant to a crispy Scandinavian Kringle imported from O&H Danish Bakery in Wisconsin; and from a modern vegetarian-and-seafood eatery to a classic Italian trattoria, there is an almost unimaginable variety of food to be found in the strip of shops on the south side of Gulf Gate Drive, starting just east of South Tamiami Trail.
The food stores and restaurants are all mom-and-pop operations in the best sense of the word, with plenty of parking, good value, good food and good fun. Most of the stores are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with closings Sunday and/or Monday. Call or visit websites for specifics. You can also get more information on these stores and additional eateries (and there are many more) in Gulf Gate Village at GulfGate.biz.
2164 Gulf Gate Drive
312-6424 | vegsrq.com
“Have you eaten at Veg?” has become a frequently asked question. This 35-seat restaurant has earned a big reputation serving lunch and dinner during its three years in business. It bills itself as “A Vegetarian & Seafood Eatery” and is the only restaurant in Sarasota without any beef, poultry or pork on the premises. Reservations are strongly recommended.
2. Maks Chinese and Thai Cuisine
2224 Gulf Gate Drive
This Oriental hybrid has a predictably long menu, including interesting Thai specials, such as the Amazing Bankok made with chicken, pork and shrimp and chef sauce. A busy lunchtime befits the $5.65 to $6.45 lunch special.
3. Thailand Sushi and Steak House
2238 Gulf Gate Drive | 927-8424
This Oriental hybrid established 17 years ago is open for lunch and dinner. Owner Venna Sysouvanh says, “People come just for pad Thai. They skip downtown and come to us.” At dinner, pad-Thai lovers pay $11.95 for beef, chicken or pork varieties; $14.95 for shrimp, scallops or squid; and $17.95 for seafood. Lunch prices range from $8.50 to $11.50 and include a spring roll.
4. Oh, Mamma Mia!
2324 Gulf Gate Drive
Owner Giuseppe Urbano features authentic Italian cuisine, not Italian-American. You won’t find fettuccine Alfredo or veal Parmigiana on his menu. There is still plenty to choose from, and if you order it to-go, it is 20% off menu prices, which is such a sensible idea, one wonders why it isn’t more common. As a charming aside, Oh, Mamma Mia! sells beautiful Venetian masks; remember that for your next costume party.
Wine and Spirits
2140 Gulf Gate Drive
Proprietor Mitchell Soffer has 33 years of wine-buying experience, and for many of those years, he tasted wine on a professional level five days a week. About half of his business comes from the website; the other half comes from savvy oenophiles who like to come in and talk wine.
6. Discount Beverages
2316 Gulf Gate Drive
This is the strip’s “convenience store” and is under the new management of Rick Singh, who has been on board for the last four months. Singh has increased and organized the discount-priced selection of merchandise.
7. Chocolate Bark Company
2114 Gulf Gate Drive
Owner Kelli Kamm has been making fine chocolate in Sarasota for 15 years, first at a location on Osprey Avenue and now in the Gulf Gate location, where she has been for the last decade.
Everything sold in the shop is made in the shop. And the store offers more than just chocolate bark in varieties from white and milk to very dark (70% cacao) and even 80% cacao bars studded with everything from cranberries to cornflakes. It also offers an impressive assortment of truffles.
8. Piccolo Italian Market & Deli
2128 Gulf Gate Drive
Subs with meaty names such as Tony Soprano and Sly Stallone, along with vegetarian options such as the Floridian and Palm Springs, are made here. This deli also caters, offering specialties such as lasagna ($35 for a half tray) and chicken parmigiana ($45 for a half tray).
9. Scandinavian Gifts, Baked Goods & Grocery
2166 Gulf Gate Drive
This is the place to go for foods from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland, including cookies, candy, chocolates, cheese, breads and crisp breads. Add to the list beverages, meats and sausages and more. Need lingonberries or matjes herring? You’ll find them here.
10. A Taste of Europe
2212 Gulf Gate Drive
Alla Shifman has been the owner and hospitable manager of this international-food market since 1996. Although she is Russian, her merchandise comes from many countries, including Poland, Ukraine, and Czechoslovakia, as well as Russia. Be sure to check out the charming tea sets — they make great gifts at $25 to $30 for six cups.
11. Oriental Food & Gift Mart
2234 Gulf Gate Drive| 924-8066
Sue Kim, her husband and her mother own this immaculate shop that features foods from nine different countries. The selection of soy sauce, teas, rice and such is mind-boggling, but whatever you are looking for is remarkably easy to find. Kim’s mother comes into the shop from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays to make sushi and Korean foods to-go. There is a section of gifts and a lovely selection of bamboos Kim arranges.
12. Tastefully British
2236 Gulf Gate Drive
927-2612 | tastefullybritish.com
Tastefully British is a combination gift shop and grocery, with a full-fledged tea room in the back where all the food is prepared from scratch using natural ingredients and family recipes. The tea room seats 26 and can be booked for private parties or meetings.
13. Gulf Gate Produce
2320 Gulf Gate Drive | 552-6122
This is a no-frills store that stocks produce that is about 80% local, plus local milk, butter and eggs. The produce is not certified organic but is grown using “sustainable growing methods.” Asked why she shops here, a customer said, “They have better stuff, cheaper prices. It’s more convenient and healthier.” Enough said.
14. Jim’s Small Batch Bakery
2336 Gulf Gate | 922-2253
Jim Plocharsky is to baking what Kelli Kamm at the other end of the strip is to chocolate — a passionate and highly skilled practitioner of his chosen food art and a creative entrepreneur. He bakes different bread every day, and there is always a fine assortment of sweet treats often including a carrot cake that Plocharsky says, “Is what I’d throw down Bobby Flay with.” My vote goes to his almond croissant.
Of note: The best lunch buy in town may be here, with two sandwiches, two waters and one dessert to share for $12.