This blog entry is a big different than what we normally post on SarasotaFoodies.com, because it isn’t about a restaurant or an event featuring food — it’s about one of the bestest foodie havens in Sarasota, Morton’s Gourmet Market on Osprey Avenue. In addition to the market itself, we were able to partake in Morton’s 4th Annual Celebration of Brewing event — but let’s talk about the market first.
Morton’s Market is one of those ‘foodie faves’ for several reasons. First, it’s a family owned institution since 1969, back when Ted Morton purchased Marable’s Market — Sarasota’s very first full-service independent grocery store. Morton’s Market has survived when bigger stores have failed, and never lost the families focus. You can still catch one of the Morton family behind the deli counter or register now and then, and when you do, they’re always happy to talk to you.
So what’s the secret of Morton’s Gourmet Market. Quality and variety. If you’ve lived or traveled outside of Florida and the United States, you may have discovered a condiment, candy or cheese that you just can’t find in your local grocery store, not matter how hard you look. While certainly not large enough to have every item imaginable, Morton’s just may have it — and if not, you’ll enjoy the search and probably find something as equally exciting to try right there on the spot, or to incorporate into a meal at home. So while Mart can’t find that odd Australian condiment, Vegemite at Morton’s, he’s always bringing home other international condiments and spices he never knew about.
Another great reason to go to Morton’s is the butcher shop, cheese selection, wine room . . . you get my drift. Think of any dish you plan to whip up at home, and Morton’s can upgrade it. Each department is manned by knowledgeable employees, many who’ve worked there a decade or more, ready to share preparation ideas, side dish suggestions and even the occasional recipe. Become a regular at Morton’s and they’ll know your name and even shoot you a call or an email when one of your favorites comes in. Morton’s is truly a neighborhood market.
Folks working anywhere near downtown or Sarasota Memorial know that Morton’s Market is a quick, and easily healthier, alternative to fast food. Call it Gourmet-on-the-Go, if you will. And talk about selection? There’s a sandwich station where you can get hot pressed Cuban sandwiches and Italian paninis, a brick-oven pizza bar (will that be a whole pie or by the slice?) a deli counter, a smoke house for barbequed ribs, pulled pork and smoked chicken and a hot soup bar. We’ve been know to grab some of their tasty cheese, some fresh baked bread or a box of European crackers, a bit of fruit and a bottle of wine for a quick picnic in the park or on the beach.
In the center of the store is Morton’s claim to fame — their Gourmet To Go counter, where you can buy one of the Executive Chef’s innovative gourmet entrees, like Moroccan Chicken with Couscous, Beef Stroganoff, Eggplant Rollatini, Lamb Curry . . . or one of your comfort foods, like mashed sweet potatoes or creamy mac ‘n’ cheese. Want to host a dinner party without the stress and mess? Call Morton’s Gourmet Market and tell them what you need, and they’ll take care of you! Need to catch a plane and don’t want to pay extra for that cardboard airplane food? Morton’s can fix you up a to-go container that will have the pilot inviting you into the cockpit begging for a sample. You can even order online!
The big challenge, for me anyway, is getting in and out of Morton’s Gourmet Market without a detour to their bakery. Kindly, Morton’s has given the bakery it’s own corner of the store, and you can enter and exit without setting foot past their mouth watering, eye candy pasty and bakery displays. What you can’t do, however, is avoid the smell of the hot bread and rolls as they waft out into the store, so I manage to stroll into the bakery even when I’m on the strictest of diets. The custom cakes, pastries and sweets are enticing, to say the least. Oh! What I’d give for a teenaged metabolism again. . . I could eat here for a month!
But this visit, in early August, isn’t just about the market, it’s also Morton’s 4th Annual Celebration of Brewing, where folks were Grillin’ & Chillin’ with Morton’s own chefs while sampling more than 40 craft beers from around the globe, a charity event that raises money for Morton’s Culinary Education Fund.
The event started at 4:30 on a hot August afternoon, the perfect setting for sampling icy cold beer. Executive Chef John Teitsch and Chef Fernando Cruz were on hand, sampling burgers, sausage and onions, and one of the very best smoked pastrami sliders I’ve had in a loooong time. Chef Teitsch soaked mustard seeds in stout before whipping up his own spicy stoneground beer mustard, and boy . . . that made all the difference. Served on a pretzel roll, the balance of the pastrami against the mustard was sublime — even though I added more to my dish. Bottle that mustard up, Chef Teitsch, and I’m first in line! This simple trick took a standard pastrami sandwich to another level! My mouth is watering again, just thinking about it!
The Celebration of Brewing seemed to attract folks from all around, some arriving on bikes, others by car, and even more walking over from the lovely, West of the Trail neighborhood. There were all types of beers to sample, most all delivered in a two ounce pour, from countries as far away as Iceland, to local breweries in Tampa and Bradenton.
We were happy to see such a strong turnout, especially knowing the funds helps train culinary students, which — it seems to me — “feeds” right into the SarasotaFoodies’ wheel house! And it was great to sample some of the cheeses that Morton’s Gourmet Market kept bringing out — including one that contained chile and cocoa, and another goat milk cheese that was one of the first cheeses to disappear.
At the end of the event, which went by quite quickly, we found ourselves relaxing at one of the cafe tables outside Morton’s considering whether a coffee was on the list before heading home. After all, they have a coffee grinding station just inside the front door, so we could try one, and take a pound home as well. Hmmm. . .
Morton’s Gourmet Market – your store is impossible to resist!