While our northern friends enjoy four seasons, with everyone having a personal favorite, we Foodies adore both of our two seasons here in Sarasota – Tourist Season (or just “Season,” as everyone calls it,) and “Off-Season,” aka summer . . . which is heralded by Savor Sarasota the first two weeks in June and lasts until late October.
Up north, season is determined by the changes in the weather; like the first snow and the colorful leaves of fall. Here in Sarasota, Off-Season is heralded by the lighter traffic patterns, and the colorful changes on the summer menus of our favorite local restaurants. Keep your falling leaves . . . we’re happy to rake in the flavors of summer in Sarasota!
And so it was that we visited one of Sarasota’s tastiest gems, Libby’s Café + Bar, to sample Chef Kyle Harrington’s fresh offerings for Summer 2015.
After our weekly radio show on WSRQ Sarasota Talk Radio, we decided to treat ourselves with dinner at Libby’s Bar & Café. Obviously, we weren’t the only ones who had this idea, as both the bar and the dining rooms were buzzing at 6 p.m. on a weeknight not in”Season!”
While the front bar’s happy hour has always attracted a following, we noticed that the newly renovated L-Bar had it going on as well – but more on that later.
Clearly everyone at Libby’s has their hospitality oars in the water, as the hostess, manager and our server, Adam, all engaged us in the first few minutes, greeting us and making sure we settled in comfortably.
With glasses of wine in hand, Adam walked us through the new menu items. Why did I think that narrowing it down to only the newest additions to the menu would make ordering easier? Phhht. So much for that fuzzy logic! For goodness sakes, the complimentary bread basket came with three-cheese biscuits (cheddar, asiago, parmesan) and a dish of Amarini cherries in sugar brandy, white truffle whipped butter (yum) and roasted whole cloves of garlic.
With so many delicious options, it took us awhile to zero in on just one or two starters. We happily chose an order of Grilled Peach Flatbread (what says “summer” more than peaches?) and the Beetroot Humus to start things out.
The Grilled Peach Flatbread was about as decadent an app as I have had in some time, with it’s rich and creamy goat cheese béchamel, made all the more delicious with a contrasting pickled red onion (zing!) fresh basil, and balsamic drizzle (double zing!) all atop a cracker-crisp flat bread. While some people consider flatbreads to be the illegitimate step-sister of pizza, this is clearly not a faux pizza. A glass of wine and a Grilled Peach Flatbread will be on my mental rolodex next time I want a quick one-and-done bite and libation, for sure.
Now, the Beetroot Hummus was, dare I say, humm-licious! Gorgeous roasted red beet in color, with the added texture of chick peas and just a bite of horseradish, the Beetroot Hummus was served with grilled pita toasts, crispy carrot and cool cucumber slices and a dollop of zesty dill tzatziki. (Check out those colors, all you northern leafer-peepers!) The only way I could improve this dish would be another full size order of Beetroot Hummus! Hmmm, that’s one happy hour we’d be all-in on! (This would also be a spectacular condiment for roasted pork or beef, but let’s just keep that secret between us, OK?)
Our proclivity for trying new, colorful flavors on old standards, drew me to the Tuscan Braised Short Rib. I’ve never met a braised anything I didn’t like – while Jill instantly went with Seared Sea Scallops. A tag-team surf ‘n’ turf sounded delicious to me, and boy, did the kitchen deliver!
I’m a decent home cook, but the Tuscan Braised Short Ribs obviously separates me from the pros. The star of the plate was the red wine braised, melt-in-your-mouth short ribs, perched atop a humble, yet elegant, whipped potato, with a side of colorful sautéed veggies and ringed with a deeply rich red wine braising sauce reduction. Crowned with crispy flash-fried onion straws, the short ribs were “Ooh” and “Ahh” worthy in its beautiful plating and fork to mouth enjoyment!
That said, I couldn’t help but envy Jill’s beautifully seared scallops when they were placed in front of her. I mean, look at that! There’s a reason that scallops are the posterchild for menus in great restaurants everywhere.
Perched atop the complimenting flavor and slightly crunchy texture of a roasted corn risotto, the perfectly seared diver scallops were dressed with a equally complimentary chimichurri sauce. It takes a talented chef to understand how these diverse flavors and textures can work together so sublimely.
“Would you care for a coffee, dessert, or an after dinner liqueur?” asks Adam. Thanks but, we couldn’t eat, or drink, another thing!
But, as fate would have it, just as we were walking out, two of our dearest friends, Craig and Erin McLeod, were walking in. “Care to join us for a coffee, dessert, or an after dinner drink?” they ask.
Hopefully Adam didn’t take it personal as we slipped back into Libby’s and stepped into the sophisticated speak-easy L-Bar. Yes, we were full, but never too full to miss spending time with good friends.
To paraphrase The Eagles: We could check out any time we like, but why would we ever want to leave?