Date: April 10, 2013
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist




+ Louies Modern Is Open for business
After months of squinting through cracks in the window coverings on the Palm Avenue side of the new parking garage downtown, the much-anticipated restaurant in that space has opened. Louies Modern, with its state-of-the-art open kitchen, wood-burning oven and grill, has finally opened its doors and, if we’re happy, the Seidensticker family — owners of Libby’s Café and, now, Louies — must be ecstatic.

The concept is modern and energetic. Unlike Libby’s, which is a casual neighborhood hangout (with great food), Louies aims for more advanced dishes prepared with contemporary techniques.

While Libby — the Seidensticker mother — liked to keep things simple, Louie — the family’s patriarch — fancied the finer things in life, particularly good food and drink. So Louies Modern will be more sophisticated and will offer a contemporary spin on “the good life,” where associates and families gather in a downtown social setting for great food and drink.

Louies is offering everything from snacks such as sunchoke fritti or smoked trout deviled eggs, and small plates — petite prime beef tartar or a country terrine — to flatbreads and pizzetti from the wood-burning oven, dinner-size portions of fire-roasted sea scallops or butcher’s bistro steak frites and even a “gluten free and simply wood fired” list of possibilities.

+ The Francis Is Open for business
Sitting right next door to Louies Modern, and also owned by the Seidensticker family, the Francis is also now officially open. This 300-seat special-events venue bears Steve Seidensticker’s middle name and, coincidentally, Executive Chef Francis Casciato’s first name.

Until now, there were only two or three venues that could be rented by arts and philanthropic organizations for major luncheons and dinners. The Francis, which was supposed to be open a couple of months ago, has managed to allow a few dinner parties through its doors but, until now, the bathrooms and ballrooms were barebones. Now, the paintings have been hung on the walls and the fixtures have been properly mounted, so Sarasota has a major venue for food and ambience right downtown. And, with the parking garage adjacent, it makes life easier for those of us toddling in with stiletto heels and minimal cocktail dresses. Good move.

Now that Derek Barnes has announced he’s moving from the Rosemary District to Bradenton, he’s also announced plans to host a culinary excursion much farther afield — to Portland, Ore. Barnes, a semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef South award for Derek’s and winner of Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon award, will be hosting a wine-and-culinary excursion to Portland with Admiral Travel International.

Kate Atkin, executive director of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, says this marks the third such culinary tour the group has hosted since 2011. The program includes behind-the-scenes visits to top wineries, walking tours of downtown Portland, excursions to outlying areas, encounters with celebrated chefs and visits to off-the-beaten-path restaurants and farms.

“I’m really excited about hosting this trip,” Barnes says. “Willamette Valley is the largest wine-producing region in the state … That entire region is so lushly beautiful, it’s the perfect backdrop to enjoy fabulous food, beer and wine.”

For more information about the trip, visit AuthentEscapes.com or freshoriginals.com.

+ Eat Out by Stopping In
With the weather warming up, a day at the beach is within the realm of possibility and there’s nothing like a good sandwich to take to the sands of Siesta Key beach. The Crescent Beach Grocery, a staple of the community, has always made good take-out items but now it’s offering a bourbon bacon BLT with brown sugar mayo. Pick it up and take it with one of the unusual sodas you’ll find in the aisles and a bag of gourmet chips. You’ll lap it up as the Gulf of Mexico laps at your feet.

+ Carmel Café and Wine Bar Spices Up University Park
We had a fantastic dinner recently at Carmel Café, on Cooper Creek Boulevard. And while we were there, we heard about the café’s modern-looking, cozy but sleek plans for spring.

Stretch out in a comfy armchair and sample the refreshing texture, taste and colors of the spring pea bruschetta. Or have a charbroiled, smoke-infused flatbread of shrimp, red peppers, olives, tomatoes, English cucumber, fontina and feta cheeses and yummy pea shoots while looking out the window from a cozy booth.
My favorite dish was the ravioli verde: spinach and ricotta ravioli topped with fresh peas, portabella mushrooms, haricot verts and pea shoots. Tender and tasty, I could have made a whole meal out of these delicate morsels that seemed to have layers of flavors bursting from their delicate wrappers.a


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