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Arts and Entertainment Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2019 6 months ago

The Venue brings the taste of the Big Easy to St. Armands Circle

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The new restaurant and music venue combines New Orleans spirit with All-American flavor.
by: Su Byron Contributor

Night owls looking to salsa until the wee hours used to head to 15 South Ristorante on St. Armands Circle, where the upstairs crackled with jazz and Latin music from dusk to dawn. You’ll still find a smoking hot restaurant and music club in the same spot. But that club has been transformed.

The new venue is called, well, The Venue. The family behind it has a solid gold track record in the hospitality industry.

Patriarch Michael Samuels boasts a 15-year career as director of operations for Darden Restaurants, the firm behind such industry leaders as Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. His wife, Rhonda Samuels, comes from an entrepreneurial family behind a host of popular nightclubs and restaurants. Their son, Marcus Mitchell, had a stint at New Orleans’ Bayona Restaurant under noted chef Susan Spicer.

The family trio purchased the building at 15 Boulevard of the Presidents in November and decided to reinvent it. This month, The eatery reopened with a new name, look and sensibility.

Upstairs is where the music happens — a lively nightclub with a dance floor, a massive horseshoe-shaped bar and a balcony overlooking St. Armands. The spot is still hot — though they’ve tweaked the beat.

The Venue’s live music now evokes the cosmopolitan vibe of New Orleans. Even the interior design strikes a musical note with portraits of music legends adorning the walls. 

“Live music gives New Orleans its life and soul,” Michael says. “Sarasota doesn’t have enough live music venues, and we’re happy to step up.”

Michael says the lineup is a gumbo of talent. The Al Hixon Jazz Quartet will kick up some New Orleans-style spirit on Mondays and Thursdays, and live Latin groups will sizzle Fridays and Saturdays, with a Latin DJ spinning dance tunes on Sunday nights. Area musician impersonators get their time to shine on Wednesday nights.

Along with the tunes, the family has also reinvented the tastes.

The walls of The Venue are lined with music memorabilia. Photo by Niki Kottmann

“The cuisine had been Italian,” Michael says. “There were four other good Italian restaurants on the Circle ... We wanted to offer something no one else did.”

The new menu offers all-American comfort food, including brick-oven pizza, wings and burgers. 

There’s even a milkshake bar where you can customize your shakes. Options include Reese Twix, Oreo chocolate chip, Nutella, and more. (The brave can enjoy an “adult” shake laced with rum, tequila or bourbon.)

Let’s get back to those burgers.

That’s where The Venue sizzles. We’re not just talking beef. Here, you build your burger, and you never have to wonder what’s inside. Like beef? You got it — big, meaty, juicy and primal. Prefer chicken? So be it. Or try the crab cake burger — a bestseller. And vegetarians need not compromise. The Venue serves up the Impossible Burger. It’s plant-based but nearly indistinguishable from the real deal.

The Venue replaced 15 South Ristorante. Photo by Niki Kottmann

And what you put on your burger transcends cliché condiments.

Michael points to more than 20 choices, including eggplant, truffle butter, spinach and guacamole. Want a fried egg on top? You got it. Gluten-free bun? Check. Green bean fries next to it? Coming right up.

“It’s all about choices here,” says Michael. “We’ve got the best burger on the Circle — and the best toppings anywhere.”

He adds that it’s also all about place.

“Venue actually means place,” Michael laughs. “If you’re looking to listen to music and enjoy great food and fellowship, you know you’ve come to the right place. Upstairs, downstairs, it’s all happening at The Venue. We’ve got the spirit of New Orleans and the flavors of America. You just can’t go wrong with that.”

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