It is right up there with “What do women want?” on the list of enduring, if not endearing, questions: “Where shall we eat before we go to … ” Herewith, a random selection of some of the options for those going to the FSU Center for the Performing Arts from downtown Sarasota, plus one digression for those coming from the east side.
1213 N. Palm Ave., 366-1840
casanticarestaurant.com; 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday
This is the latest venture of Pietro Migliaccio, the experienced restaurateur who created and formerly owned Café Gabbiano, on Siesta Key. Now he is in the “old house” of failures from A (Aria) to Z (Zwiwwel), but success for him seems all but assured based on a recent osso bucco and one of the best plates of pasta ever. Migliaccio suggests a 6 p.m. reservation to make an 8 p.m. curtain at the Asolo.
211 N. Tamiami Trail, 366-8480
cafeamalfi.com; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Sunday
On the other side of the street and the opposite end of the formality scale: This pasta-and-pizza outpost takes reservations and says that most of its pre-theater diners are in-and-out in 30 to 45 minutes.
1001 Cocoanut Ave., 953-4343
11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday
This Sarasota classic, one short block off the trail, claims to make the best pizza in Sarasota, and theater folks seem to agree — it is a favorite after-performance hang-out. No reservations are accepted, but large parties can call ahead and it will do its best to accommodate. On a busy night, you may have to wait 15 minutes for a table, but you will be out in an hour from being seated.
1603 N. Tamiami Trail, 312-4711
elpescadorsrq.com; 4 to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday
El Pescador is Spanish for fisherman, but the food is definitely Italian. It is the second location for restaurateur Joe Casadio, owner of 15 South Ristorante Enoteca, on St. Armands. On a weeknight, a 6:15 reservation should get you to the FSU Center for an 8 p.m. curtain; allow more time for busy weekends.
3232 N. Tamiami Trail, 351-1688
11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday
This newcomer to the North Trail doesn’t have a website, well, because it doesn’t need one. To boot, it has only one phone line, which can make getting through to make a reservation or order carry-out challenging. It is to dinner what Toasted Mango is to breakfast and lunch — busy and usually worth the wait. If you want a reservation and can’t get through, make it in person at lunchtime. Plan ahead because it gets booked.
5401 Bay Shore Road, 360-7390
11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Treviso is located in the visitors center of the Ringling Museum. It is to both Asolo theaters what Mattison’s Bayside is to Van Wezel: You only have to park once. Chef de cuisine is Jeff Trefry, who has one of Sarasota’s more impressive resumés. The space is bright; the staff is accommodating and the dinner menu offers both small plates and regular entrées and pastas, the former an excellent option for pre-theater dining.
Gold Dynasty Restaurant
4195 N. Tamiami Trail, 822-0288
golddynastysarasota.com; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Sunday
A New Yorker to the core, Annette Scherman, founder of Community Video Archives, raves about Gold Dynasty: “I just love that place; it’s a family operation like a New York Chinese restaurant and they tend to you like you’re family. We go every chance we get — anything you order you will like.” In-and-out in an hour is easy; less is possible.
5050 N. Tamiami Trail, 355-7700
11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday
This is the North Trail outpost of the popular downtown eatery named “best of the best” seafood restaurant for 12 years and “best early bird” for this year. It offers a $59 dinner for two, including two appetizers, two entrées, one dessert and a bottle of wine. The operations manager says you can have dinner in an hour; a bit more time might be a lot less pressure.
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