When my mom was young, she used to shop at her local Woolworths, using every excuse to meet up with friends at Woolworth’s Soda Fountain for a cherry soda and a BLT. Those days are a thing of the past, but I’ve always liked the idea of an instore restaurant where shoppers could slip into a booth, shopping bags beside them, and enjoy a delightful bite or two before heading home. Perhaps that’s why food courts exist, though no one would call them relaxing or delightful.
So given the option of traveling back in time to a sofa fountain or dining in a food court, I am so glad for the best option of all – lunch at Sophie’s on the second level of Saks Fifth Avenue at the University Town Center Mall. You never have to leave the store!
Sophie’s offers a delightful bar with views into the kitchen, a stylish dining room and an outdoor terrace and lounge where you can dine in the shade, or in the sun. And forget milkshakes and burgers . . . Sophie’s menu reflects the style and elegance of Saks Fifth Avenue. Focusing on lighter fare, Sophie’s is inspired by the legend of Sophie Gimbel, who presided over couture at Saks for over 40 years. Sophie Gimble was known for scouring the globe for inspiration and fabric for the iconic store’s fashionistas, and Sophie’s chefs mirror her commitment to quality and creativity. Sourcing the region’s finest ingredients, guided by the seasons and inspired by global flavors, Sophie’s culinary goal is to fulfill their diner’s needs with an approach to health and well-being. Their menu substitutes grains for many starches, utilizes yogurts when possible to replace butter and oils, and features natural agave over artificial sweeteners.
We were thrilled to hear that one of Sarasota’s more acclaimed chefs, Chef Evan Gastman, has taken the helm at our local Sophie’s restaurant. A hardworking man who recently oversaw the menus of four restaurants on Siesta Key, the switch to Sophie’s allows Chef Gastman time to devote his talents to Sophie’s and still get home in time to enjoy life with his wife and young daughter. Sophie’s, you must know, is only open until 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and the last seating on Mondays-Thursdays is 6 pm.
Mart and I stopped by Sophies a few weeks ago and learned that the menu changes with the season, just like a well-fashioned Floridian! After settling into a corner table, we ordered a glass of wine (Take that! Soda fountain!) and gazed over the menu. Everything enticed me, but as I focused on the menu, I was enjoying the bread plate, which included a side of house-made hummus, apple butter, and whipped butter. The aroma of hot bread is impossible for me (and Oprah, it seems) to resist, so thank goodness Mart was there to share all that deliciousness!
When I saw Wagyu Steak and Frites on the menu, I knew what Mart would order. Asking for his steak cooked rare/medium-rare, Mart was pleased with the seasoned bark on his steak and how the wagyu was so tender he barely needed to chew! Our server, Joan, described wagyu as a love story in your mouth, and we’d have to agree with her! The steak was topped with herbed compound butter, whipped so light and flavorful that it paired equally well with the warm truffle frites. The truffle frites were served waffle cut, fried to a golden crisp and seasoned so there was no missing the truffle profile. Fortunately, there were enough frites on his plate that Mart didn’t mind my stealing more than a few. (Like he had a choice!)
For my entree, I ordered that day’s special, a Mumbi -style Mahi-Mahi sandwich on a brioche bun. The fish was marinated in a mix of curry, yogurt, honey, and spices, then grilled and topped with tamarind slaw and grilled pineapple. The dish also featured a beet salad with blueberry vinaigrette and candied walnuts. This was one of those ideal matches between the citrus toppings of the Mahi-Mahi alternating bites with the crunch and sweetness of the beets in the salad. Yum!
The portion sizes of the lunch entrees were ideal, but there was still a little room left for dessert. Staying with the tropical profile of my Mahi-Mahi, I ordered the grilled pineapple with a raspberry gastrique and a sprig of fresh mint. This was a crisp, guilt-free dessert option, which left plenty of room for me to “help” Mart enjoy the luxurious indulgence of his dessert . . .
There aren’t too many desserts that speak of indulgence like a rich, honey-soaked bread pudding, and Sophies’ Coconut Bundt Pudding is worth ignoring any diet you may currently be following. The bundt pudding is served hot and bubbling, with a side of freshly made Chantilly cream that begins to melt soon after cozying up to the coconut bundt pudding. If a bite or two of dessert is all it takes to make your day, Sophies’ Coconut Bundt Pudding will make you extra happy. What a way to top off a meal!
One of the nicest discoveries at Sophie’s was the price points. Some would imagine any restaurant attached to a high profile store like Saks Fifth Avenue would cater to a high ticket crowd. That wasn’t our experience during our recent visit. You can enjoy one of their small plates for under $12, one of their entree portion salads (with protein) for under $20 and most entrees are in the $20-$30 price range. Just click on the link to Sophie’s and check out their menu, as it does change seasonally – just like a fashionable wardrobe.