Date: May 8, 2013
by: June LeBell | Contributing Columnist




Indigenous is Ingenious
We’d heard about Indigenous but hadn’t managed to get there until recently, when we were out with Dick and Julia Hyman. The old farm-house setting, with a porch we’d all kill for, makes me feel as if I’m in my old Kentucky home that happens to have a gourmet kitchen, alcove rooms that, by candlelight, are more romantic than a French country inn, a couch and settee corner space that’s perfect for an amorous tête-à-tête and food to die for.

The ingredients are, like the name of the restaurant, homegrown and very original. My Uncle’s Burger, although more well done than I like, is the nouveau-comfort cuisine that’s making its way around the country. But the best thing on the menu the night we were there was a wild mushroom bisque that was so rich in loamy, earthy flavors with slices of textured mushrooms, it would make a meal in itself.

The menu changes with availability and market quality. The atmosphere remains consistently yummy. Whether seated on the porch or inside, this Towles Court piece of artistic gastronomy is Sarasota’s truly inventive side.

Updated menu and Full-Service Bar at Americano
Café Americano’s general manager, Diego Malatesta, has an operatic name and knows how to hook the music-and-art lovers of Sarasota for a good pre- or post-performance meal.

We happened in there the other night before attending one of La Musica’s concerts and noticed a brand-new menu and a sparkling new bar. The café, which used to serve only wines, has applied for a liquor license and is now serving cocktails and hard liquor to go with its savory dishes.

Malatesta informed us that the same people all own Café Americano, the rather mysterious Ivory Lounge next door and Sangria, the tapas bar across the street. Interesting, but each serves such distinctly different clientele and food. Even more interesting is that Americano has updated its already excellent menu to include many more inventive pastas, a mouthwatering array of meat and fish dishes and appealing soups and salads that are great as stand-alones or starters.

It’s funny to say an Italian restaurant is “gemutlichkeit,” but that’s exactly what Americano is — a friendly neighborhood hangout that is also a stylish destination for good food and drink.

+ Ophelia’s is a Best Bet for Food and View
We recently attended young Maria Wirries’ lovely recital at Siesta Key Chapel. It was a benefit for Haiti and the super-talented 15-year-old singer entertained and sang the socks off us. That kind of performance calls for a celebration, so we took off down Siesta to Ophelia’s on the Bay, got a great table outside, right near the dock, and watched the parade of water craft as we sipped martinis (a Shirley Temple for Maria) and dove into Blue Point oysters with blue crab, cognac and truffle butter, cider-cured bacon and grana padano crumbs that make my mouth water just thinking about them.

Ophelia’s is a classic. I used to go there with my mother in the early 1980s. But, unlike many classics, it’s updated and gotten even better than I remember. From the fresh, crunchy salads to the Pacific Sea Bream, ribeye of beef and breast of duck, it’s one of Sarasota’s finest. Best of all, inside or out, it’s spectacularly beautiful; a restaurant that looks like paradise.

A couple got engaged out on the dock while we were there and when he slipped the ring on her finger and they kissed, we all burst into applause. The bride-to-be cried. The future groom beamed. And they resumed their seats at a romantic table for two by the water. Ahhh …

+ TidBitlets
We probably spend more time at two Sarasota breakfast/lunch places than anywhere except home: Station 400 — we frequent the one at 400 North Lemon, although we do occasionally visit the Lakewood Ranch location— and, our home-away-from-home, The Serving Spoon, on Osprey Avenue.

We don’t talk about either one that often because, well, we sort of take them for granted. Yet, we can be found at both of them for late breakfasts and noontime lunches more than we care to admit. Why? They have the best food, the most comfortable settings and the most amiable staffs.

Station 400 on North Lemon has our favorite salads served at comfy tables in a garden surrounded by bougainvillea and serenaded by Jonathon Schwartz via Sirius Satellite’s top forties from the 1940s. On a sunny, balmy Sarasota afternoon, it’s pure bliss, especially since we’ve gotten to know the charming wait staff and they make us feel like family.

The Serving Spoon has been home for years — first in its old digs on Beneva and Clark, and now on Osprey where the walls are lined with family photos and the menu Craig and Natasha have put together makes us feel as if we’re home, but we don’t have to do the dishes. We love it. We love them. And we feel well fed, in spirit and body.


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