Labor Day weekend could have been a downer this year, except it wasn’t. A friend I’ve known over 25 years came into town from Los Angeles, with the promise of moving here to be closer to myself and fellow gal pal, Kimberly. I have one thing to say about that . . . “Oh, Nora!”
Flying in late on a Friday night, I thought the best way for Nora to get a hint of what it would be like to live in Sarasota was to head over to the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market located in downtown SRQ and then a drive over to St. Armand’s Circle. She’d brought her little dog along, so the three of us, Kimberly, Nora and I, joined Portos (a certified therapy dog) for a summer stroll around Sarasota.
If you haven’t been to Sarasota’s Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, you’re missing out. There is so much to do, see and eat that, well, you just have to go sometime. Since it isn’t snowbird/tourist season, I felt this was a great venue for Nora to get an idea of the “local” population . . . or at least the folks who stick around through the summer.
After strolling the market, and picking up a few items, we drove over to St. Armand’s Circle for a quick tour. By then it was approaching noon, and it was a bit hot to go strolling the circle. So, at Kimberly’s suggestion, we headed back downtown for brunch at Boca Sarasota.
Boca Sarasota has a great vibe about it, and it’s ideally located on Lemon Street, overlooking the Farmer’s Market. The outside seating area is surrounded by a wrought iron fence with planter boxes full of fresh herbs. When the wind moves just right, you get the aroma of fresh basil, oregano, mint, and thyme. Even the table decor is composed of fresh herbs. What a great way to show your restaurant’s profile! We’re talking farm-to-table!
It probably doesn’t hurt that the Chef can pick up fresh herbs at the weekly Farmer’s Market, but then again, they grow their own lettuce and greens at Uriah’s Grow Wall, located inside the dining room. Nothing quite like a farm-to-table restaurant actually farming at the table!
Support of local farmers is key to Boca’s success. They’re known for their fresh ingredients and healthy spin on small plates you often see folks noshing on at the bar. They also clearly mark what menu items are Gluten Free, and their market fish is exactly that — fresh from the fish monger’s boat that day.
It’s odd that Mart and I haven’t blogged on Boca Sarasota before. We’ve both gone, but never together. So when I went I took a photo of what I’d ordered, and then he went he took a photo of what he’d ordered only to discover we’d ordered the exact same entrée! With three of us going out to lunch that day, I knew there was little chance we’d all order the same thing!
Nora’s first taste of Sarasota was Boca’s Brie + Apple Flatbread. (Funny . . . that’s the dish both Mart and I had ordered when we went to Boca!) So, without stealing a single slice of her flatbread, I can honestly attest to the crispy thin crust of the flatbread, which held up to a number of toppings. Roasted air-chilled chicken, creamy melted brie, slivered Granny Smith apples, and pickled red onions are sprinkled with a sweet aioli and toasted to a bubbling, cheesy gold. Although the single serving sized flatbread is meant to be consumed by one person, it proved so abundant that Nora elected to pack up a number of slices to take back to my house.
Someone asked me recently what the difference was between flatbread and pizza, and for the life of me, I confess there isn’t much difference . . . except flatbread is often square or rectangle, featuring a thinner, crispier crust and less sauce and cheese than a pizza. So, for those of us watching our calories, flatbread allows us to indulge in the spirit of pizza with a lot less guilt.
Kimberly followed her diet by ordering the Shrimp Thai Noodle Salad. Featuring the smoky flavor of grilled shrimp with zucchini and carrot noodles, pickled onions, watermelon, and crispy quinoa, her salad was dressed in a light, lemongrass soy vinaigrette. If you’ve never tried zucchini noodles, you’re in for a treat. Once you get over the expectation that the noodles will “taste like noodles,” you’ll experience a fun way to enjoy your vegetables and a unique presentation of what is essentially a salad masquerading as a pasta dish.
There are so many enticing menu items on Boca’s brunch menu. They offer a smoked corned beef hash, which has got to be amazing, as well as a BBQ Pulled Pork Benedict with cilantro lime hollandaise. (You had me at cilantro lime.) The Hangover Panini caught my eye, but since I didn’t have a hangover, and didn’t need the carbs I focused elsewhere. I’m told the Staff Meal is always a sure bet at Boca Sarasota, however, I decided to order the Boca Cubano.
Wow, what a pleasant surprise this sandwich was. First to note, it came with a side of parmesan truffle fries, which, I must say, were somewhat subtle on the truffle flavor. They were good, just not truffle enough for this “Truffleupagus!” The sandwich was delivered stacked one half on top of the other and packed with smoked ham, pork and soppressata (an Italian dried salami,) tomatoes, sweet onions, crunchy pickles, and gruyère cheese. Even with all those flavors, the real star of Boca’s Cuban was the Urban Canning German IPA mustard. I was aware Urban Canning made a spicy brown mustard with Stout beer but had never tasted this IPA infused mustard. Quite nice, I have to say. I also liked the char on the bread, which was super crunchy in that perfect way you expect from a hot pressed Cuban sandwich. Nice touch!
Whether you dine inside or out, upstairs or down, there is a lot to enjoy about Boca Sarasota. The attention to detail found in the food extends to the decor of the restaurant, with friendly staff ready to serve almost every whim.
The Mezzanine upstairs is a lovely spot for a quiet dinner or lunch, and ideal for meetings, parties, and special events. I can imagine an intimate wedding reception, family reunion, or shower taking place in this space. Everything is so well appointed.
At Boca, they believe that everybody wins when you dine farm-to-table. The local farmer and specialty food purveyors certainly benefit, as well as the chef, who gladly works with the freshest ingredients, and certainly the diner, who has the pleasure and health benefits of high-quality, locally-sourced food. Throw in a 25+ year friendship and, well . . . our brunch couldn’t have been better! Even Portos (the dog) was in on the fun, curled up next to his “mama” and using those caramel colored puppy eyes to encourage her to share a small bite (or two) of the chicken off her flatbread. Adorable!
So after repeated visits without our posting a blog, cheers to Boca Sarasota! Here’s to friendship and
good great food!