Conventional wisdom holds that you don’t visit a new restaurant for a couple of weeks after they open and wait for the initial crush of curious customers dies down a bit . . . give the restaurant staff a chance to catch their breath and let them settle into a more normal pace.
That’s the idea we were under when inviting our client, Bernie, out for dinner at Oak & Stone at University Parkway and Honore. After all, it was about a month after they opened, a Sunday evening, during a rain storm. Should be a safe bet, wouldn’t you think?
Nope! Not in this case. When we pulled up a little after 6, and the parking lot was full, I couldn’t help but wonder “Are they GIVING beer away?” Oak & Stone was jam packed.
We already knew going in that Oak & Stone would have their act together. After all, with The TableSeide Restaurant Group (Libby’s, Louie’s Modern, Muse at the Ringling) teaming up with an old SarasotaFoodies favorite, Michael Santa Lucia of Lucia’s Pizza Italian Grill fame, this has all the makings for a dynamic super hero culinary team. Couple that with a self-service wall of craft beer on tap and, well . . . what part of “self-service wall of craft beer” and pizza doesn’t pique anyone’s interest?
Before we get to the food, let me explain how the beer station works. When you check in at the front desk, they’ll ask if you want to take advantage of the self-service beer wall. When you say “yes,” (as our friend Bernie and I did,) you’ll be asked to provide a picture I.D. and a credit card. At that point, they’ll hook you up with a wrist band that looks somewhat like a Swatch . . . only you can’t collect these, they take them back when you pay your bill. It’s this arm band that tracks how much beer you pour and that amount ends up on your check. That’s pretty snazzy stuff in my book!
Want to sample a few different beers before you pick a favorite to enjoy with your meal? No problem! The taps are arranged from lighter beers to more robust brews, and descriptions and per ounce pricing is on each screen. Tap your magic bracelet on the Oak & Stone logo for your beer of choice, and voilà! You are now your own beertender! Pours are charged in increments of 1/10th of an ounce – so there’s that going for you. But beware . . . Go over 40 oz, and you’ll be cut off, at which point you can get a staff member to re-activate your beer bracelet up to an additional 36 ounces.
Bernie and I were pretty tickled at the 56 different craft beers to choose from, and there were even some hard apple ciders and flavored craft beers, like the Tiramisu beer I enjoyed as my “liquid dessert.”
Holding down the fort at a nearby table, Jill had placed an order for a calamari appetizer for the three of us to share. What’s not to like about Oak & Stone’s presentation? Everything on the menu is straight-up good food, much as we expected at a place that has a cutting edge technology and a hip sports bar vibe. The calamari arrived piping hot, lightly coated and fried to a crispy crunch, with the two dipping sauces – a San Marzano marinara sauce and a garlic ranch butter. I can’t say which we enjoyed more.
Bernie told us that he’d been craving a burger all day, so he zoned in on Oak & Stone’s Griddle Burger, topped with white cheddar, lettuce, O & S’ special sauce and onion petals. Served with a side of delicious French fries . . .the kind with the skin still left on when they slice them . . . and Bernie got pretty quiet during dinner. Whenever a diner guest is smiling while eating, and giving you that “thumbs up” sign, you know they’re pretty happy.
Jill has been watching her carbs lately, so she was happy that Oak & Stone served her Shrimp Po-Boy without the bun. She used the lettuce and tomato that came with her “sandwich” to cradle her fried shrimp, and then dunked it in Oak & Stone’s Louisiana inspired remoulade sauce.
I had the personal-sized Prosciuto pizza, a hand crafted 10″ pizza made with a spring wheat flour dough that’s been yeast fermented over 36 hours in triple filtered water. The kitchen throws in a bit of sea salt and extra virgin olive oil, leaving me with a crust so tasty I’m happy munching on the crust alone! Being wood fired, the edges are crisp, with a nice char, while the center holds up to whatever toppings you choose, while still being chewy. Munch time happiness for this pizza lover! My prosciutto pizza included large swaths of prosciutto, garlic spinach, roasted peppers and little dollops of ricotta cheese. Just for fun I added one of Oak & Stone’s crust dipping sauces, my choice being a Ginger Mustard sauce (that was great with the fries I stole off Jill’s plate.)
I’ve already got my eye on a few other items on the Oak & Stone menu . . . gotta try the Cedar Key Clam pizza (the clams come in the shell,) the Baked Potato pizza and the Ale Buttermilk Chicken Tenders pizza. As the menu says, “Pizza makes me think that anything is possible,” (a quote from Henry Rollins.) Though what may be a better quote is one from Benjamin Franklin; “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy!” Who could argue with Ben? I suspect, were he alive today, he’d be right there next to us, tapping an ice cold beer and noshing on a pie . . . pushing those bi-focals up on his nose and watching the game.