Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Contemporary restaurant opens in Sarasota's Rosemary District

Arts & Central wants to woo customers with its creative, casual food and ambience.

Arts & Central's rendition of a bistro steak.
Arts & Central's rendition of a bistro steak.
Image courtesy of Jessica Guadagno
  • Arts + Entertainment
  • Eat + Drink
  • Share

Restaurants have had a tough time finding their footing in the up-and-coming Rosemary District. Longtimers and newcomers alike have been stymied by lack of foot traffic. Now, Dan Henson and Dan Henson Jr., a father-and-son team with no previous restaurant experience, are taking their chances.

What do they have in their favor? To start with, a memorable address: Arts & Central, which lets people know exactly where they’re located. Second: valet parking, which is necessary to draw patrons from outside the neighborhood. Last, they’ve done their homework and assembled a team of experts.

Be warned: This isn’t a restaurant review. I looked at the Arts & Central menu and met the executive chef, but I didn’t taste any of the food. I will go back soon for the “dirty rotten” fruit basket, featuring seasonal fruit, kimchi mascarpone, fermented garlic honey, candied walnuts, and herbs and flowers ($18).

Entrée prices at Arts & Central range from $26 for linguini to $55 for prime rib. In between, you’ll find everything from wild mushroom risotto for $30 to the cowboy pork chop with grilled corn and garlic chived rice at $36. There are also lots of shareable snacks as well as salads and sandwiches.

Arts & Central opened Feb. 19 at 611 Central Ave., Sarasota.
Image via

Running a restaurant isn’t for the faint-hearted. Even before COVID and the so-called “great resignation,” it was hard to find reliable staff. Anyone’s who’s read Anthony Bourdain’s food industry tell-all “Kitchen Confidential,” knows that kitchens are some of the few places where ex-convicts can get work.

It’s also a business with notoriously thin profit margins, which leads some managers to cut corners. That’s why Bourdain advised New York City diners to avoid ordering fish on Mondays because fresh deliveries arrived the next day.

Still, despite business failures and bad press, the dream of having a restaurant of one’s own lives on, especially for celebrities who like seeing their name in lights. If Jimmy Buffett could do it with Margaritaville, why can’t they?

But being famous isn’t the goal of Henson, a former General Electric Co. executive who moved his family around the world, including his son, Henson Jr., a Baylor University grad who worked in commercial real estate in Texas.

Both Hensons are numbers guys, but they’re incredibly thoughtful about aesthetics. In addition to opening their new restaurant at the corner of Boulevard of the Arts & Central Avenue, they believe they’ve found the intersection of creative and casual dining.

Dan Henson Jr. and Dan Henson pose at their new Rosemary District restaurant, Arts & Central.
Photo by Monica Roman Gagnier

To wit: With its open kitchen, private and semi-private areas for dining and tastings, abundant greenery and dark wood, Arts & Central exudes class and luxury. But it doesn’t feel stuffy. It’s a suit-without-the-tie kind of place. 

If you really want to feel relaxed, head to the outdoor seating area, which is protected from the sun.

My favorite thing about Arts & Central is the attention to detail, down to adjustable lights on each table that you can turn up to read your menu and scale back for a more intimate mood. 

In addition to having “arts” in the name of their restaurant, the Hensons are repping Sarasota artists with the paintings and posters on the walls and menus of their eatery. Each month they dedicate their menus, printed in-house, to the works of a Sarasota artist.

This month’s artist is Vicki Chelf, who pays tribute to the Women of Resistance. My menu featured Lee Miller, a model and muse to surrealist Man Ray who became a U.S. Army photographer in World War II. 

Many neighbors of the vacant warehouse at the corner of Boulevard of the Arts & Central assumed it was going to be a food hall. The Hensons kicked that idea around but ultimately settled on opening a restaurant with what they call a “Sonoma” vibe that brings the outdoors inside.

Taking a page from the playbook of California designers, architect Baron Schimberg designed an eating establishment with retractable 10-feet garage doors on two sides of the building. For those who want to drink but not dine, there is a walk-up bar in the patio area shared by Arts & Central and other food emporiums.

Forgive me for getting excited about the restrooms of Arts & Central, but I’ve been on the front lines of covering the culture wars and regulations about public bathrooms. 

The Hensons have left the drama behind: Everyone gets their own bathroom. There are five private restrooms that can be used by anyone. “Isn’t it a great idea?” crows Henson Sr., beaming like the proud papa he is, in more ways than one.

If you look down the corridor to the bathrooms, you see giant male/female signs pointing the way.

Arts & Central has an open kitchen and private and semi-private areas for dining and tastings.
Image via

Being former corporate guys, the Hensons understand the need to recruit talented, experienced personnel and not to try to do everything themselves. 

Toward that end, they’ve hired Ted Eisenhart as operations manager. Eisenhart’s a veteran of Outback Steakhouse who has spent time with the Aussie-influenced steak chain in Sarasota-Bradenton and in the Chicago suburbs.

Executive Chef Eric Walker started his career in aerospace engineering before changing lanes and moving to culinary arts. He credits his discovery of the joy of “playing” with star chefs like Heston Blumenthal and Ferran Adria, who take a “scientific yet whimsical” approach to food. 

Walker’s culinary journey took him across the Atlantic to the U.K., where he worked under Michelin Star chef Simon Hulstone at the Elephant restaurant. 

Here in Florida, he learned the business side of the restaurant equation by working for restaurateur Ed Chiles.

Corporate thinking can have its limitations, particularly when the suits try to roll out a great concept nationwide but give local staff no autonomy to serve regional tastes. There’s no danger of that happening here, not unless the Hensons try to turn Arts & Central into the next Margaritaville. 

In a town where eating out is a competitive sport, there’s a new player in town. Let the games begin!



Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.

Latest News