St. Armands Circle has lots of options for al fresco dining. A classic is the casual and eclectic Café Galante. For a quarter century, the Hungry Fox occupied this space on the second floor directly over Cha Cha Coconuts. Ikbal Joseph purchased it about three years ago, in a deal that apparently included the previous owner’s daughter, Janet, who is still a waitress there.
As Janet tells the story, Joseph operated the restaurant as the Hungry Fox for only a few months, before the building had to shut down for major reconstruction. In that time, the new owner traveled to Italy to buy new furnishings and tableware that give the premises its decidedly Milanese flair.
Café Galante promises “authentic Lebanese, classic American and a touch of Italian.” By day, the American comes first in a breakfast menu that offers all the classics at pleasantly affordable prices. “A touch of Italian” here is an omelet with Italian sausage, green peppers, onion and mozzarella toped with the restaurant’s homemade marinara sauce ($9.75).
Lunch offers a nice selection of classic sandwiches from a B.L.T. ($8) to a traditional Philly cheese steak ($11). The burger ($8.50) delivers the promised half-pound of beef; at a recent lunch, it arrived cooked as ordered with thin, crisp French fries. Salad-lovers will find a half-dozen to choose from, and those with heartier appetites can select from entrées such as eggplant parmesan ($9.50) and lemon chicken ($12).
Galante’s Lebanese specialties dominate at dinner time. Mezza (appetizers) sampled include baba ghannouj, eggplant and tahini dip ($6); tabouleh, a salad of parsley, mint and burghul (aka bulghur) ($5) and labneh, Lebanese yogurt cheese ($5). All of Galante’s Lebanese specialties are made from scratch and all our appetizers were good. The labneh was spectacular — tangy without being sour and unusually smooth for its ilk.
Meshawi amounts to a sampling of Lebanese main dishes, including filet mignon slices; shawarma chicken and kafta, grilled skewers of ground sirloin, richly seasoned, onion and parsley, topped with a dollop of tomato concassé ($24). One diner had falafel ($9) — offered as an appetizer but more than adequate as an entrée. The fried chickpea patties topped with tomato, parsley, mint, turnips and tahini and wrapped in pita bread were tasty albeit on the dry side. A big surprise was the lasagna, which was astonishingly light, in large part thanks to the restaurant’s own marinara sauce ($14).
Café Galante has both inside and outside tables. Flatware comes wrapped in a paper napkin and tabletops are beautiful but bare. Great care is evident; the neck of a catsup bottle was conspicuously and pristinely clean.
Locals and snowbirds alike will find a lot to like at Café Galante. The view from the second-story terrace is both charming and protected from street-level hustle and bustle. And that mix of “authentic Lebanese, classic American and a touch of Italian,” unusual sounding though it may be, means lots of choices for everyone at the table.
IF YOU GO
419 A. St. Armands Circle, Sarasota. 388-2222.
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