Date: October 9, 2013
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist


+ Uncle Peter and nephew Marc revamp Café Gabbiano
Café Gabbiano on Siesta Key just north of the Village has been reinvented, and it took a family, not a village, to do it. Peter Tracy actually lives in California but, because he’s spending more time on Siesta Key near the Gulf of Mexico than along the Pacific Coast, he’s really a Sarasotan. His job as general manager of the 4,000-square-foot café keeps him in town most of the time. And his nephew, Marc Grimaud, the restaurant’s proprietor, has moved here with his wife, Laura, and they love every minute.

Four thousand square feet may sound big, but Café Gabbiano feels intimate. It also has one of the best chefs for authentic, delicious Italian cuisine. Chef Paolo is known as “The man behind the vision,” and that vision is more like a magnificent vista filled with delicacies such as burrata — fresh Italian cheese made from creamy mozzarella so delicate it melts on the tongue, served with speck (a sort of gentle prosciutto), fresh pesto and yummy, crusty Italian bread.

Think Italian and you might see visions of pastas swimming in red sauces. Not at Gabbiano. Chef Paolo, who’s originally from Ischia, has an osso buco ravioli that floats. His fillet of grouper, with sundried tomatoes, spinach and capers in a white-wine sauce, is perfect for waste-line watchers. And the scaloppine Mamma Lucia, sautéed in Marsala with wild mushrooms, thinly sliced eggplant and fresh mozzarella, is so tender you won’t need your knife.

Peter has been in the restaurant business since he can remember and, together with Marc, Café Gabbiano has taken on a whole new ambience that caters to romantic evenings for two and parties of 150. My favorite is a charmingly intimate paneled dining room that would be perfect for an intimate, candlelit dinner of 10. Like home, but better.

Oh — they also have a full bar and 220 different kinds of wine — 3,000 bottles on the premises — and 23 hand-selected Italian wines with artistically designed ceramic labels.

+ Darwin’s is brewing at two spots
OK, it hasn’t opened yet, but Darwin’s on 4th, one of our favorite spots in town, is building a brewing company in Bradenton. Matt Cornelius, who’s helping Chef Darwin Santa Maria pull it together, says, “We’re in the process of winning approval from the Bradenton Zoning Board and City Council before construction begins. Our goal is to be open at 803 17th Ave. W., across from McKechnie Field, by March.”

That doesn’t mean Darwin’s on 4th is closing. Far from it. It just means the brews that are made and on tap in Sarasota will soon be available to the north.

“We are a production brewery and will be strictly serving beer in our Bradenton tasting room and accompanying beer garden,” Matt explains. “But we plan to invite community food truck vendors to serve on our property.”

What are some of the brews we can expect in Bradenton? Well, among them are the West Coast IPA, which was second runner-up as best beer in Florida. There will also be Ayawasca — a Belgian dubbel; and Charapa — a spiced porter, which Matt says was accepted as an entry into the Great American Beer Festival Competition this month. And, because Chef Darwin is from South America, there are also “American craft beers inspired by and infused with the exotic flavors of the Amazon and the Andes.”

We’ll still find Chef Darwin spending most of his time in Sarasota, but Matt says, “This is a family business. My family partners with Chef Darwin. I had completed law and graduate school in Chicago and was beginning a career there, but ultimately couldn’t pass on the opportunity to work with Darwin and our brewmaster, Jorge Rosabel, in getting this operation off the ground.”

Matt moved in March to Sarasota. The concept of a lawyer involved in brewing beers (and probably drinking them) fascinated me, so I asked how one affected the other. Matt replied, “I’m not licensed to practice in Florida, although I am giving some consideration to sitting for the Florida Bar next summer. But that will depend on how busy we are at the brewery.” Meanwhile, he adds, “A background in law helps in any business or profession.”

+ Extra bites to chew on
Cosimo’s Restaurant and Catering is launching a charitable program called “Cosimo’s for a Cause” and will be raising money for schools and non-profits in our area by hosting fundraisers on select Tuesday evenings this month at the restaurant with 10% of every check going to the featured organization. John Ganley, general manager, says, “We’ve been part of this community for more than 15 years, and it’s important to us to give back.” For information, go to www.cosimos.net.

We’ll tell you more about this charming restaurant in the future but, for now, we want you to know about Fresh Start Café, an appealing indoor-outdoor hidey-hole at 630 S. Orange Ave. that’s family owned and has spectacularly great sandwiches, salads, soups and breakfasts concocted by Chef Matt with Hanna and Susan doing a little of everything and Sam serving. Oh, and don’t forget Jonah. He’s responsible for those yummy shortbread and butter cookies they give out as gifts when you get the check.

“We like slave labor,” Sam joked. “Jonah’s 9.”

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