Development of the University Parkway corridor always held commercial growth potential for Bradenton and Sarasota. And with the commitment and subsequent development of the new mall, University Town Center, the pace of change and development in the surrounding areas has accelerated.
Not only is this true for big-box retailers and chains, it's also true for Sarasota restaurants hoping to serve a growing population of residents and visitors. Sarasota restaurants Tandoor and Half Shell have relocated to the area, and Valentino’s, Square One and Carmel Cafe also have new locations there. It appears University Town Center's "restaurant row" is beginning to take form.
One new restaurant, which opened this summer in the space formerly occupied by Urban Flats, is Apollonia Grill. Owned by the same family that owns and operates downtown's, El Greco Café, Apollonia Grill is a bright, modern, open and airy “mall-like” restaurant. With a high ceiling dining room, large bar, open kitchen and patio seating, Apollonia offers a balance between casual comfort, family dining and a slightly casual upscale dining experience.
The menu is Mediterranean inspired and primarily Greek, but there are some Italian options. There is a wide range of options for lunch and/or dinner. Soups, salads, Greek appetizers and entrees, pizza, flat bread, seafood and grilled meats provide ample choice for diners and are great for sharing. For our meals we chose the following:
- Apollonia Mezze Platter: Chicken skewers, gyro meat, spanakopita, kalamata olives, tzatziki, tomatoes, cucumber, beets and grilled pita bread. $12.99
A perfectly sized appetizer for four people. A little taste of everything, which is delicious. One of the real stand-outs on this platter is the tzatziki. The fresh, creamy cucumber flavor of the tzatziki puts it in a class by itself. A must-have, in my book.
- Greek Salad: Fresh lettuce, garnished with tomatoes, olives, cucumbers, pepperoncinis, beets, green peppers, onions and Feta cheese. Small $3.99, Large $8.99 We ordered the large. It was an able-sized salad with very fresh, crisp ingredients. Great dressing.
- Seafood Platter: Fresh mahi-mahi, ocean scallop skewer, fresh Gulf shrimp skewer, grilled and served with rice and vegetables. All entrees are served with house salad or cup of soup. $22.00
A generous-sized portion of very fresh seafood. The scallops were sweet; the shrimp was grilled perfectly and the mahi-mahi was moist and flaky.
- Pastichio: Layered macaroni pasta, feta cheese and seasoned ground beef with béchamel-sauce topping and roasted vegetables. All entrees are served with house salad or cup of soup. $15.00 A wonderfully layered pasta dish with rich, flavorful beef and a creamy, mouthwatering cheesy sauce. A Greek comfort food.
- Lamb -n- Orzo: Tender pieces of lamb baked with orzo pasta. Sprinkled feta and kasseri cheese, a dash of Greek yogurt and served with grilled bread. $17.99
Yet again, another Greek comfort food. Tender, moist, stringy bits of lamb (just the way I like it) mixed with tender orzo in a cheesy casserole. The perfect meal for a cool night.
Apollonia Grill offers full bar service and an adequate selection of beer, wine, and soft drinks to accompany your meal. The wait staff is very friendly, attentive, efficient, and accommodating. In addition to the lunch and dinner menu, Apollonia also offers a daily happy hour menu from 4 to 6 p.m.
With a balanced approach, Apollonia Grill seems perfectly suited for the University Town Center area. The restaurant setting is mall-like, with undertones of a family-run business. The menu offers a range of options to accommodate the quick-bite crowd as well as the lingering diner. With reasonable prices, it's family friendly, yet upscale enough for couples dining.
Repurposing a former chain restaurant’s location into a successful, independent one can be challenging. Seems to me Apollonia Grill is on its way to making it happen. Something old is something new.
Apollonia Grill — 8235 Cooper Creek Blvd. Bradenton / 359-4816
Hours: Monday through Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday: 4 to 10 p.m.