Date: January 30, 2013
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist




+ Forks & Corks uncorks some winners
The Sarasota-Manatee Originals’ sixth annual Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival is as ubiquitous as butter, but better for your heart. We’ve been hearing and reading about this for ages, and, back in December, the festival’s 16 wine experts gave a trio of wines “Best in Show,” with one each from New Zealand, Oregon and California. Alas, none came from those great wine regions of Sarasota and Manatee (or was that orange juice?), but the winners are being featured in various spots from Michael’s On East’s magnificent Wine Cellar to the gorgeous spaces (some inside, some out) at the Ringling Museum.

In fact, just a few days ago, Forks & Corks held a sumptuous four-day culinary festival featuring a variety of winemaker events we’re told was a Best in Show, itself.

+ Michael’s On East takes diners on culinary adventures
Michael’s On East has been celebrating Greek cuisine since the new year.

Missed out this month? Michael’s Epicurean Adventures present delicious journeys to a new destination every month. In February, it’s taking us to one of the world’s most romantic foodie countries, France. It promises Parisian gastronomic grandeur as well as “la petite” dishes from Provence and Burgundy.

Oh, did I mention there are wine pairings for all of these adventures? For an additional $10 at dinner and just $5 at lunch, this may be the best-priced gastronomic travel adventure of 2013.

+ Tea time at the Crosley
One of the great delights of living in my old hometown of Manhattan, N.Y., was taking visitors to afternoon tea at either the old Plaza Hotel or the refurbished St. Regis on Fifth Avenue. But now, the exquisite Powel Crosley Estate, on Sarasota Bay, is teaming up once again with Simply Gourmet for a traditional royal English tea service 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons in March in the exclusive upstairs living area of the mansion.

A “royal” English tea is, according to Chef Larry Barrett, president of Simply Gourmet Caterers, a tradition that began in 1860 with Queen Victoria. “It’s a grand and colorful affair,” he says. “Men wear suits or military uniforms, and women wear dresses with hats and gloves. The Crosley Estate offers the perfect ambience for our recreation of this royal event.”

Lest you think a royal tea is relegated only to great teas and scones, don’t have too much lunch and forget about a big dinner. This afternoon event includes cassis-marinated strawberry parfait, vanilla cream fruit tartlets, Devonshire cream to go with those flaky scones, double chocolate triangles and a variety of savories, from turkey/sundried tomato pinwheels to a royal tea sandwich medley.

“I see it as a type of culinary theater,” Barrett says.

+ Downtown Dining 
We were dropping something off at the Opera House the other day and noticed that, once again, the restaurant around the corner seems to have bitten the dust. Maximo, the latest culinary attempt at 1296 First St., looks, from the for-rent sign on the gate, to be out of business.

How many eateries have tried that spot in the past decade? There were a couple of Italian restaurants, a chop house or two, a romantic bistro owned by a European couple, an all-American café — complete with dance music — and Maximo, which was South African, I believe. Many of these places have been terrific with excellent food and service, a really good bar and a fun-to-elegant atmosphere.

OK, there was one that was great in season and then cut back on everything (portions, quality and service) when the snowbirds flew home. But, aside from that one, we’ve really enjoyed the others. And the proximity to the Opera House and what’s now become the Florida Studio Theatre “campus” was wonderful.

We sincerely hope the landlord isn’t raising rents beyond the capacity of the restaurateurs. We just can’t imagine why so many good restaurants can’t seem to make it in that excellent space.

Thought: Wouldn’t it be nice if the landlord would offer it at a reasonable price to the opera? Imagine dinner there, walk through to the opera lobby and go back later for dessert. A fantasy, perhaps. Or not.

Gecko’s revives culinary history
The local firm behind Gecko’s Grill & Pubs is launching a new restaurant concept — with a hint of old Sarasota in the mix. 

The new restaurant is S’macks Burgers & Shakes, a quick-casual eatery. Executives with Gecko’s Hospitality Group, the owner, say S’macks will incorporate two restaurant industry trends: the use of locally grown products and produce and a higher-end version of fast casual food. The restaurant will provide counter service.

They also wanted to do something historical. The name is a play on Smacks, which was a burger joint on Main Street in downtown Sarasota from 1930 to 1958. That place, Gecko’s Hospitality Group co-owner Mike Quillen and his business partners discovered, was the heartbeat of the Sarasota social scene. Says Quillen: “We are reviving a little bit of the history.”

S’macks, scheduled to open by the middle of the spring, is at the corner of Bee Ridge Road and Shade Avenue.

The company’s renovation of the property will include new landscaping, a patio and energy-efficient kitchen equipment and lighting. The menu will include old-fashioned frozen custard shakes, burgers, fries and hot dogs. A manager with the Gecko’s in the Landings in Sarasota, Alex Floethe, was named a managing partner of the new venture.
— Mark Gordon


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