Jill and I recently joined a group of local foodies to visit two of our favorite waterfront restaurants to see, and taste, what’s new.
The Table Creekside Restaurant & Lounge has been a favorite of ours since opening back in 2012. We’re always quick to recommend The Table to people new to Sarasota, as well as to friends looking for one of Sarasota’s best happy hours, or anyone who wants great food and drinks in a casually elegant atmosphere. Throw in a view of Phillippi Creek, sunset on the water, a group of kayakers or a gondola cruising by. . . and what’s not to love?
Being the height of summer, we assumed The Table would be a little quieter during Sarasota’s “off-season.” Instead, we arrived to a nearly packed parking lot, a clear indication of the popularity for one of Sarasota’s most inspired happy hours. Knowing that we were also going to stop by Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant, (aka Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar,) we decided to park between the two restaurants and headed for our seats at The Table.
If you’re a true foodie, you can relate to the excitement for Executive Chef Pedro Flores’ new Artisan Charcuterie selections. (Speaking of parking . . . if I could park my taste buds in front of a great charcuterie, they’ve have to tow me away!) There are five meat and five different cheese selections available on The Table Creekside’s Artisan Charcuterie menu, all imported from Spain. Trust me . . . you won’t find these indulgent options at your local market! These are the “champagne and caviar” of charcuterie! At dinner, each selection is $8.95 each, but at Happy Hour, you can get them for $5 each. (No wonder everyone is so happy!)
With just one bite of the Cured Pork Loin Sausage that’s been aged for 36 months,(!) a taste of the 21-month aged Serrano Ham, or a nibble of the Spanish Drunken Cheese soaked in red wine, and you’ll know this is not your typical charcuterie platter. Even the Creamy Cabrales Bleu Cheese had us pooh-poohing the bleu cheese crumbles you can pick up at the supermarket. Each bite invites you to take a taste, and before swallowing, hold that flavor on your tongue so you can experience the inspiration and skill that goes into preparing and aging each morsel on your plate. This is like the wine tasting of meat and cheese.
The best part is that diners are invited to mix and match to their carnivore and turophile delight. That means vegetarians can order their platter with just cheese and lactose-intolerant carnivores can stick to the proteins. Win. Win! Adding to the unique Spanish flair of the dish is the rustic presentation, each order arriving on wooden bark-edged serving board, with toasted and seasoned crostinis and a house-made jam made from seasonal fruit. It was no secret that I was checking our friend’s plates, making sure “no morsel was left behind.”
After happily sipping our fresh Mango Sangrias, we chatted about all things food, (as foodies are wont to do,) covering every recent restaurant opening and new menu offering from soup to nuts (is that too corny?) until the group decided to finish our evening enjoying the Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant’s new sandwich creations. Really? I’m the only man at at a table of women, and we’re all heading to my version of munchie nirvana? Let me lead the way!!!
As we ambled over to the north end of the island, I literally had to pinch myself when I saw a waiting line outside the door of Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant.
Are. You. Kidding. Me?????? (A few !!!!! are needed here, too!)
A waiting line . . . in JULY??!!!! On a week day! What does that tell you? It’s no coincidence that Phillippi Creek Village Restauarant is more popular than ever before, especially since Chef Pedro and Raphael Manzano of The Table teamed up with hard-working owner Roy Lalone, making “The Creek” a must-do dining destination for visitors and locals alike.
Once seated, our group opted to share two salads off the vast menu as our starters. The Florida Cobb Salad arrived topped with piping hot Crispy Grouper bits perched over cool field greens, mixed applewood smoked bacon, hardboiled egg, avocado, mango Maytag bleu cheese, and lightly dressed with a Valencia orange vinaigrette. What a lively, colorful, fresh ‘n’ tasty presentation! This is Florida on a plate. Thankfully we chose to share, because this salad is large enough to be a one-and-done for anyone.
Our second salad was no less stunning and masterfully composed. The Calypso Salad is topped with the choice of broiled and glazed salmon, joyfully accompanied with a mix of cucumbers, crisp green beans, garbanzo beans and sweet plantains, and dressed with a Key West Vinaigrette. I didn’t think to ask what was in the vinaigrette, but in my opinion, it’s a moot point. After all, delicious is as delicious does – or something along those lines!
With no insult to the salads, it was the roll-out of Chef Pedro’s new sandwiches that had us all a twitter . . . or was it Instagram? All I know is everyone’s cell phone camera came out when the new sandwich creations arrived. And I would be remiss without saying, as I’ve said many, many times, if my last meal on earth was a freshly caught fish sandwich and a cold adult beverage, I’d leave this earth a happy guy.
I don’t know if Chef Pedro is colluding with my wife on this, but I’m guessing he must be! Why else would Phillippi Creek Restaurant have three new fish sandwiches so delicious they’ll have me sticking around, trying to narrow down which would be my choice for my last meal. I feel so loved!
Warning — do NOT look at the following photo if you want to avoid food cravings . . .
Chef Pedro’s first new sandwich offering was a pan-seared salmon topped with Asian pickled cucumber and a tobiko aioli. Two ginormous crispy onion rings completed the dish, and, let me ask you . . . was I right? Don’t you just want to crunch into those rings after seeing them! We had to cut them into bite sized pieces! The salmon sandwich was heaven on a focaccia roll — the flavors were crowd-pleasingly balanced, with a sophisticated profile that could easily be served in a white tablecloth restaurant.
Staying in the upper stratosphere of heavenly delicious sandwich-dom, next came an escabeche of Florida Grouper complemented by a topping of Napa cabbage slaw, cilantro aioli, and a side of crispy tostones. Bye-bye ordinary; hello amazing! The marinade and spices on the grouper were “I could eat this with a fork” delectable, the crunchy tostones the ideal starch to pair with the acidic/citrus flavor of the escabeche and cilantro aioli. I wanted to take some home with me!
(Spoiler alert – cheap, intended pun coming up.) While we were on a roll (I warned you,) the final pièce de résistance was Chef Pedro’s Asian Po’Boy, featuring panko crusted snapper, Napa cabbage slaw, Pacific oyster aioli. And once again, the fresh focaccia roll was good enough to eat all by itself! The plate came with the most unique side of the evening – portabella fries. These were perfectly golden brown and lightly crisp on the outside, which gave way to that irresistible “meaty” texture of the mushroom. Personally, I think the portabella fries fell in love with the oyster aioli . . . I know I did!
So, with the aroma of summer culinary love wafting through the air around Phillippi Creek, we regrettably pushed back from the table to make our way home. But what’s this? We still have summer inspired cocktails left to share! Maybe we should finish them out on the deck and wait until we’re hungry for dessert?
I think you can guess where this is going . . . They’re going to have to get me a parking pass!