Conventional wisdom holds that a successful restaurant have great food, a great location, superior service, appropriate price points, appealing ambiance, and so on.
Using addition by subtraction, Bob’s Train restaurant cooks up a unique, probably the most unique restaurant vision in Sarasota.
You know the most-interesting-guy-in-the-world who promotes Dos Equis beer? Phhtt.
Let us introduce you to Bob Horne, raconteur, bon vivant, and Renaissance man extraordinaire . . . it’s a given that he holds a culinary license, (one of 17 licenses he holds!) Bob’s mission is to restore, preserve, and showcase Sarasota’s incredible history, while serving up some delicious food from an antique Pullman railroad car. Get out your GPS, because the location isn’t exactly easy to find.
Bob’s Train restaurant is part of the Sarasota Suncoast Railroad collection, located on idle train tracks located behind a building that formerly housed a Stottlemyer & Shoemaker lumberyard on Fruitville Road, and is now home to local philanthropist and entrepreneur Havrey Vengroff’s debt collection business. You drive past a few deserted boats and head toward a huge, cement parking lot that used to be covered with stacks of lumber. At the far end of the parking lot is a dramatic mural covering the side of the Sarasota Fight and Fitness club. And, on the west side you’ll see the famous Bob’s Train.
Note: Do NOT judge this “book” by its cover!
Inside the second train car, a 1960 Pullman, something special is going on. The force of nature that is Bob Horne, is cooking up big flavor, and even bigger plans to make this landmark, into a local and national treasure.
After closing Bob’s Place on Central Avenue, Bob’s Train opened in 2007 – it took 9 solid months of 7 day a week work to get the restaurant up and running. There are actually three 85′ x 10′ cars that are fitted for dining, including a crazy-cute 8 seat Private Dining Room, with a zigzagging table that was designed and built by the exuberant whirling dervish that is Bob Horne.
The back three refurbished cars formerly housed and transported travelling circus performers, so Bob decided to highlight their history with walls of one-of-a-kind circus-y, show-biz, historical photos. And Bob has recorded a one-minute video describing each of the 900+ photos that line the narrow hallway. “Hug the walls” is train-speak letting you know someone, like a busy waitress, needs to get past you. . . the correct move is to press yourself up towards the wall (face first,) just to be polite, and all.
But seriously, this is one blog post that could be of “War and Peace” length before I even get to the food!
Jill and I went for lunch right at opening time at 11 a.m., hoping to get the Readers Digest tour from Bob, but alas, there was a steady stream of enthusiastic customers who had also made this magical place their lunchtime destination.
After quizzing our fabulously friendly server Lindsay, I couldn’t not order the M.O.O.S.E. burger. That’s Bob’s creation of the Mozzarella, Onion,Olive, Special house made horseradish sauce, and Extras (tomato and lettuce.) With the accompanying house made potato chips and pickle, the flavor literally jumps out of this all-American dish. Much like the green olive that jumped out of my burger in an effort to save itself mid-bite! (No such luck my little green savory friend!)
Jill chose the beautifully composed roasted romaine tilapia salad, adorned with marinated artichokes, mandarin orange segments, capers, and raspberry balsamic glaze. Not only a lovely presentation, this was another triumph of sweet and savory that makes you feel that all is right with the world.
While wine and beer are available, we’re just a couple of working folks that chose on this day to let the delicious food and surroundings take over and transport us to yesteryear.
As enthralled as we were the delicious lunches and touring the finished train cars, (and incidentally, the hum of the generator made us feel like we were actually rolling down the tracks … “Hey – only 2 more hours to Gainesville!”) the pièce de résistance was Bob taking us though the JomaR, a 1917 Pullman that was John and Mabel Ringling’s personal car that also hosted President Warren Harding, and General John J. Pershing in its day, just a few of the famous names who clamored to rub elbows with the 4th richest man on the planet!
We would definitely urge anyone that hasn’t discovered Bob’s Train to get on board, and remember – “Stay Hungry My Friends!”