Social on First has finally opened.
And the reason your SarasotaFoodies use the word “finally”, is because we’ve been watching the transformation of the two buildings that make up Social Eatery & Bar for over 16 months . . . wondering what on earth could be taking them sooooooo long?
You see, Social Eatery & Bar sits right next to our Coldwell Banker office on First Street, so close that their valet rents out our parking lot at night. We drive past Social at least twice a day, and look out on it from our office window. For months we’ve witnessed craftsmen toiling at the custom woodwork and watched as a newer, sleeker architecture took over the once “boxy” building. We could only imagine how the interior was going to look, so it felt like forever before they opened their door.
Now, having visited Social twice in three days, I have one word to say. . . Wow! This place is true eye-candy for Realtors, architects and anyone with a sense of design who enjoys dramatic transformations. Over the years the building has been both an office and a retail space, but recollections of those days melt away the minute you walk through the door. The first word that comes to mind is “chic” or maybe “sexy”, in that sleek, California modern style. Dehart Design Studios has certainly proved themselves masters of eye-popping restaurant design.
Social’s tag line is “Eat. Drink. Be.” and the floor plan proves Social is aptly named, with multiple intimate spaces including a garden patio courtyard and bar, as well as outside spaces that become inside spaces and inside spaces that open to the outdoors with the simple twist of a wall divider.
There are four dining areas at Social Eatery & Bar – each distinctly different. As you enter the front door you’ll find a spacious community table with bright red barstools, bar-side seating and a long banquette with two tops that can be pulled together for larger parties. Pops of red pull your eye into the space, where a gorgeous, grey stained concrete floor, polished to a high sheen, bounces light through the rooms.
To the right is an open-air dining space with a retractable roof to protect diners from a sudden rain storm, or the glaring sun on those hot summer nights where darkness falls well after the dinner hour. Here, the color white takes over, with custom built shelving, potted plants and tea lights setting a crisp, casual tone.
Beyond this is the garden patio courtyard with an outdoor bar and lounge, completely open to the stars. Long, custom sofas with modern white cushions surround two gas fire features, clearly establishing that “Eat. Drink. Be.” atmosphere. Here we found ouselves surrounded by Sarasota’s young, hip and fabulous — a place where almost all the ladies chose to wear their cutest little black dress and sexy sandals. (Nice — a chance for a girl to dress up a little and I’m totally casual. I’ll keep that in mind next visit.) Why, even the servers are dressed to impress!
Circling back into the main part of the restaurant, are two more seating areas. The first is the Mezzo Mezzo room, with coffered ceilings and a custom wood-slat wall divider that can twist to open this space to the outdoor dining area. The atmosphere is warm and decidedly masculine. Just beyond it is a smaller dining area poised against a grey, plaid wall covered with black and white photos featuring Sarasota, half a century ago. I especially liked the photograph of the elephant water skiing. No kidding! Kudos, again, for finding a way to mix old-Florida with new, modern contemporary. Will the cool factor ever end?
The emphatic answer is no . . . even the menu has a chic, cosmopolitan flair, featuring numerous small plates fashioned from Italian-American comfort food. Here you’ll find classic cuisine with a creative twist, and a nod towards healthy, fresh, local and delicious.
Our first visit to Social Eatery & Bar was for a simple glass of wine. Two days later, we’re back for dinner to celebrate Mart’s birthday. We came early on a Sunday night – the second table to be seated, – with the intent of grabbing some photos in the daylight, as well as hoping to beat the crowd. This turned out to be ideal, as even more design details were visible in the daylight.
We took our time going over the menu and asking questions from the owners, Jason and John. (The third partner, David, was probably back in the kitchen.) And, after only a few days in business, here’s our prediction on a few dishes we believe Social will be known for. . . First, their meatballs — 7 different takes on the classic meatball served naked with your choice of mixed greens or house cut chips, and their Pretzel Dusted Calamari & Shrimp – which they almost ran out of the first two nights. And, of course, there’s any one of their eight wood-fired pizzas and their custom cocktails and craft beer selection. The menu is decidedly young, fresh and experimental — with a focus on healthier options.
Mart can’t wait to order from the “Meatballeria” section of the menu, focusing on the Mediterranean meat ball, composed of lamb with raisins, walnuts and fresh mint served over creamed spinach. Served as two plates to keep the meatballs and sauce separate from the crisp, house cut potato chips, the dish couldn’t have been any better. Nothing like getting exactly what you want, right?
I was tempted to order some meatballs too, but since we already have an order at the table, I go for something a little unique — Social’s Black Ink Spaghetti, with a large grilled shrimp, aglio olio, pistachio pesto and mozzarella mousse. Now you know why I said the menu was experimental! I’m not hinting that the Chef doesn’t know what he/she is doing — it’s the diner who’s invited to try something new. So I’ll admit it . . . I have NO idea what aglio olio is. But I liked learning that I’ve been making it at home for as long as I’ve been able to stand at a cooktop. Aglio olio is an Italian sauce consisting of high quality virgin olive oil and garlic – about as basic as it gets. (insert the word “duh Jill!” here) Combine the simple flavors of this delicious sauce with the pasta and pair it up with the mozzarella mousse and pistachio pesto. . . YUM! (Note to self . . . don’t photograph food while steam is wafting up from your plate — this dish is so much better looking in focus!)
Mart’s son Tyler is slim and active enough to order two good-sized menu items, so he starts with the Strawberry Kale salad, which I’m thinking is large enough to enjoy as a main course. There are delicious smells coming from Social’s kitchen, especially with a wood fired pizza oven cranking out pizza after pizza, but I’m here to tell you — even the salad smelled awesome! Dressed with a light, aged balsamic dressing and topped with avocado and mozzarella, the Strawberry Kale salad had both of your SarasotaFoodies wishing we’d ordered one.
The Wheat Pumpkin Ravioli, with parmigiano, pear mustard, amaretto crumbs and white pecorino sauce was, in my opinion, the winner of our table’s first taste test. What looks to be a simple ravioli with a light sauce is anything but simple . . . The flavor profile just fills your mouth with a taste that’s decidedly “The Season of Fall”. Who knew pumpkin could be such a delightful component in pasta? (Ok, maybe you did — but I’m experimenting here!) Again, pumpkin ravioli is something I’ve never tried before, and without a doubt, I’m so going to order this next time we stop in!
So the end of the story, if there is one, is having watched this group of young people work so very hard to accomplish a feat as challenging as a new restaurant, you honestly want them to succeed, and so we were wishing the partners of Social all the luck in the world! That being said, at least from a first (and second) visit, I don’t know that luck will play any part in Social’s success. The trio of John, Jason and David obviously know what they’re doing, which is probably why they worked 16 months to be sure their first impression was their best impression. And, as they say, you can’t rush perfection.
While the menu promises to be evolving, as most new restaurant’s menus are, we were quite happy with our meal and even more excited for having been part of Sarasota’s first week’s experience of “being” Social.
Quoting Mart . . . Social is a permanent “Chill Lounge” for Sarasota.
Me? I’d have to say Sarasota just became perpetually chic. . . thanks to Social Eatery & Bar!