As Jill and I closed out a particularly hectic month, we decided that it was high time we stepped out of our busy office and treat ourselves to a delicious lunch. The only caveat I had was it had to be someplace “lunch-y.” You know . . . not a dinner destination that also happens to serve lunch, or a breakfast place that stays open until noon. I wanted a place where the all important mid-day meal was the star.
Being that we work downtown, it didn’t take long to arrive at the N.O.F. area of Sarasota. (That’s the new term for the neighborhood North Of Fruitville, a moniker that is quickly establishing in popularity.) Station 400 has long been a popular destination for foodies in the know, and being lunch time on a weekday, we weren’t surprised to see a full parking lot. Fortunately we managed to score the last remaining parking spot, believing the bustling parking scene meant we’d have to wait for a table.
So how happy were we to be promptly seated by our server, Josh, noticing that several neighboring tables were unoccupied. Josh explained that Station 400 is a lot larger than it appears from the outside, with seating for well over 100 inside and out. This is pretty amazing when you consider that Station 400 is an authentic train depot, originally built in 1852 in Kentland, Indiana. The entire building was taken apart, brick by brick, board by board, and lovingly reconstructed in its current location in Sarasota – first as an antique store – and 10 years ago evolving into Station 400 restaurant, complete with an antique train running along tracks above the hostess area.
While lunch is usually an abbreviated affair borne of the necessity to eat-and-get-back-to-work, that’s not the vibe you’ll find at Station 400. This 160+ year old building speaks of a period in time when a slower speed of life was appreciated. It’s a place where diners sit back, relax and catch up with friends and family, even after their meal is done. Where servers keep filling your ice tea glass or coffee cup until you tell them to stop. After the crazy work month we’d had, we earned this time of respite, happy to take things a little more leisurely and relax with the pace of 160+ years ago. Ahhh!
Calm and relaxed is the cue for our meal, with a menu that deserves a thorough going over. Since Station 400 is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., there is a beautiful and tempting breakfast page if one were so inclined. I came this close (with finger and thumb about 1/4″ apart) to ordering the Truffle Eggs Benedict. But that will surely wait for another day… Station 400 is particularly famous for their Saturday and Sunday brunches and made to order coffee bar, or for those so inclined, an impressive array of mimosas.
Since we have been eating like champions recently with theme parties, birthday parties and cooking up a storm at home, we decided to split a salad and a sandwich. This decision was about treating ourselves to multiple choices instead of just one. (We thought we’d accomplished a lot by narrowing our choices down to three of the salad selections, and another three of the sandwich offerings.) And with the arrival of our entrees, we had no doubt chosen a couple of “best in show” dishes. In fairness, I suspect I would have said the same thing regardless of today’s choices. The menu is that tempting, that good!
It was the list of yummy ingredients in the Bibb Lettuce Salad that won me over: Roasted beets, check. Fresh orange segments, check. Shaved fennel, check. Goat cheese, yup. Toasted almonds, definitely. Citrus vinaigrette, bingo. I added the seared tofu, and almost threw my shoulder out from promptly patting myself on the back for making such a healthy choice!
My salad was as colorful as it was flavorful; the chilled Bibb lettuce was harmoniously in concert with the brightness of the orange segments and the vinaigrette was virtually dancing alongside the sweetness of the beets, the crunch of toasted almonds tasted like applause, and the velvetiness of the goat cheese . . . Wow! With seared tofu as the guest star, and a couple of Lavosh crackers on the side, I couldn’t imagine adding or subtracting anything that would improve this salad. Truly outstanding!
From the sandwich side, we chose the (not so) traditional Station Burger. How could we not? After all, this two-fisted handful of happiness is topped with Bibb lettuce, tomato, smoked cheddar, bacon, fried egg, and onion marmalade on a crunchy, toasted English muffin. Hello Lunch, meet Breakfast . . . Hello Breakfast, meet Lunch. (Handshakes and smiles all around.) While all of the sides offered with the sandwiches sounded tempting, the fresh-cut Parmesan Fries got the nod from both Jill and I.
The burger was prepared to a perfect medium, and again, there was nothing to do but savor the sublime combination of ingredients, the highlight of which was clearly the silky egg yolk. One bite and the egg acted like a decadent condiment, oozing through the crispy bacon and cascading over the cheese. This has to be on the nomination list of “Best Burger” next time there’s a round of voting on that. One bite from me and I had to ask, “Do I have egg on my face?” Yep! No way to avoid it!
As is the norm around town, the dishes amounted to more food than we could finish in a single sitting, so we managed to share, and nosh our way to the finish line on the burger and fries, with the knowledge that the considerable amount of remaining salad would be great with tonight’s dinner appetizer.
Interesting enough, as we were wrapping up at what would be considered past prime lunchtime, the restaurant was ramping up with a fresh wave of diners, casually dressed, and no doubt looking to enjoy the same fantastic cuisine and laid-back vibe that we’d just experienced at this gem of a restaurant.
Fresh lunch crowd at 2:15? Maybe they won’t be able close at 3:00 . . .
All for the best, all for the guest, to be sure.