Sometimes an annoying delay in your plans can result in a really cool experience, in this case, an impromptu lunch with Jill at Sarasota Food + Beer on Fruitville Road. This hot spot is the six-month-old sibling of the wildly successful Gulf Gate Food + Beer, which opened about 19 months ago and has been getting rave reviews for its friendly, laid-back vibe, ice-cold brews and delicious bar bites ever since.
The first thing this sports bar evokes is a warm atmosphere with reclaimed barn wood walls, bright graphics and a wide-open bar area bordered by two rows of booths that separate the bar area from the dining room. This makes for a family-friendly dining area, that, if coupled with the outside seating, makes for a well thought out floor plan for singles who want to mingle, folks who want to dine al fresco with their best 4-legged friend, and families seeking a little togetherness over some delicious bites.
I’d have to say I totally relate with the slogan “Eat Food, Drink Beer.” Not only is it sublimely brilliant, it is equal parts suggestion, a direct order, and a gentle reminder of how to live a quality life. But don’t get the verbiage out of order . . .
Sometimes your SarasotaFoodies just want to stop and have a bite without having to take notes or photograph our experience. I looked forward to sitting back and just enjoying a nice lunch, but those thoughts flew out the window once we felt the vibe and scanned the menu. I can’t ignore totally cool when it smacks me in the face.
With so many unique menu items on Sarasota Food + Beer’s lunch menu, I was seriously in the “kid-in-a-candy-store” mode wanting to order one of everything. Fortunately for the button on my pants, I dialed it back and chose three appetizers instead of a couple of entrées. (I do like quality left-overs!)
Those three irresistible appetizers? Mexican Street Corn, pb+j Wings, and Fries.. Eh? More on them later. . .
Jill, chose the So Fresh, So Green Salad – I just wish I had her sensible tastes but don’t regret my decision one bit. The So Fresh, So Green Salad was impressive, and I can say that because she encouraged me to enjoy a bite or two! Featuring fresh spinach, strawberries, blueberries, and avocado topped with Bleu cheese crumbles and a lemon poppy seed dressing, this salad offered farm freshness in every bite. The ingredients are the story here . . . no embellishment on my part needed! If you’re into crisp and jazzy, the So Fresh, So Green Salad is worth a try!
Now back to my “I have to have that” appetizers, starting with the Fries . . Eh? True, that IS the name of Sarasota Food + Beer’s french fry appetizer and these lovelies are as legit a poutine fry as you’ll find anywhere in Sarasota. And, I learned, this is as it should be. One of the owners is from my homeland of Toronto, Canada, where poutine fries are pretty much a national dish. One fry in and I was transported back home, enjoying the delish, starchy potatoes, the hearty brown gravy and the gooey cheese curds that make for all the goodness of poutine at its finest. Dieters should pretty much beware while poutine lovers can sit back and rejoice! You will be talking about Fries . . Eh? once you order them and trust me, you’ll be ordering them again and again.
Sarasota Food + Beer’s Mexican Street Corn is just stunning to look at, and even more delicious than it looks. Jill would be the first one to tell you that corn on the cob is pretty much my favorite vegetable, so any recipe that dresses corn up a bit is sure to be a hit. This version is drenched in the richness of chipotle mayo, feta and one of my favorite herbs – cilantro. A beauty to behold, and a better beauty to bite into, the corn is roasted to a slight char on the outside and popping with flavor in each bite.
A definite signature item at Sarasota Food + Beer is the Wings, pb&j style. I don’t think any place else has them unless it’s Gulf Gate Food + Beer, who no doubt share recipes! For those who missed the reference, these are Peanut Butter & Jalapeño jelly chicken wings. I’m going to tell you, after eating chicken wings for more years than I can remember, I’d almost suggest the name be changed to PB & Hey! (Think about that for just a sec.) That house-made jalapeño jelly is the bomb, bringing a hint ‘o heat as a counter-point to the creamy peanut sauce. Altogether, this makes for a marriage that ChickenWingMatch.com should have thought of eons ago!
Jill had to laugh at me toward the end of my lunch after I knew I was totally satiated, I stopped the waitress as she walked by with on the restaurants GIANT hot pretzels. Seriously, I was so enamored of the menu, I had to make another visit before writing a blog about the joint. This menu offers an amusement park for my taste buds and like little kids, they wanted to continue playing even though my tummy was full.
So . . . Back I went, but what a difference a couple of weeks make! Since our first visit, all of America’s major sports franchises have taken a hiatus during the nationwide practice of Social Distancing. All of them! (I want to scream, even though I support their decision!) So . . . I wondered what would a sports bar be like with no live sports on the telly? Is it still a sports bar?
So I headed back to Sarasota Food + Beer for a solo lunch. It was a Sunday and I was hankering for a burger, and super happy to discover their dedicated brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays. This innovative menu was equally as exciting as their regular menu. They even have a brunch burger that I could NOT resist, though I was almost swayed by several other offerings. Sound like “Same story, different day?” Everything on their menu is so tempting!
Open at 10 am (!) I arrived a bit before 11 am to find people savvier than I had already done some initial visits to the DIY Bottomless All You Can Handle Mimosa Bar – there were even gummy bears in the mix options – good on ya!
But what is a Sunday without a fun day Bloody Mary? My Bloody Mary was handsomely garnished with an Old Bay rim (nice!) a leafy celery stalk, lemon, lime, and an apple cider glazed crispy strip of bacon. (A new flavor profile for this bacon lover!) So good.
As I sat there waiting for my order, I glanced around at the many Hi-Def TVs and wondered about the fate of sports bars after the major sports leagues went on voluntary hiatus. My curiosity was soon answered by the many regulars that were greeted by name as they came in and took a seat — 5 or 6 feet apart from each other. It dawned on me that pubs like this are actually “community centers” for all. It is the commonality of food and drink that make this world go ’round and when we’re all free to go about our lives again, sports bars will no doubt be one of the FIRST restaurants people will flock to.
All musings aside, my burger arrived and it was all, and more, than I was hoping for. (Insert OMG emoji here!) The warm, house-made buttermilk biscuit held all the burger’s deliciousness together, creating a 100% breakfast vibe . . . everything I wanted as I sunk my teeth into it. The toasty warm biscuit gave way to a fried egg in all its runny yolky richness, American cheese, thick slices of bacon, sriracha syrup and house-made sausage gravy that dribbled down into the very heart of the juicy beef patty. My reaction? I wanted to yell out “SCORE!” (a sentiment that might be more appropriate if live sports were playing instead of games I’d seen before.) Oh! I can’t ignore all those crispy, diced home fries. They were cooked perfectly and great on their own and especially delicious when dragged through the sausage gravy/egg yolk mixture that somehow landed on my plate.
Being a Sunday, with the entire afternoon ahead of me, I opted for one more cocktail . . . the “Feelin’ Cute… Might Delete Later” craft cocktail that’s unique to Sarasota Food + Beer. With a base of Ciroc Watermelon Vodka, a splash of cranberry juice, a splash or so of Elderflower liquor, champagne and fresh basil, I started to wish Jill or my daughter Jen were with me to taste this. This cocktail was so refreshingly delightful, I felt each sip took me to the beach.
So rounding up this blog post, my second visit to Sarasota Food + Beer confirmed what I’ve probably always known, but hadn’t really thought about. It’s not sports that bring people together at a pub or sports bar, it’s people that bring people together, and who is more fun, more spirited than sports fans? Being away from sports right now gently reminds me to appreciate the quality of life we’ve always enjoyed in Sarasota. Seriously . . . I had a great time at a sports bar without sports as the focus!
And so, since we can’t root for teams that aren’t playing, let’s all cheer for all the teams that make up our local restaurants, those cooks, servers, and bartenders working their buns off to keep life feeling as normal as possible while scouring the place from top to bottom to make it safe for guests to stop by. If you prefer to eat at home, but already tired of processed food or just need a break, give your favorite restaurant a call and order delivery or curbside take-out . . . the staff will be more than happy to serve you. Thankfully Sarasota Food + Wine is already celebrating these unsung heroes — featuring a Service Industry and College Night every Sunday from 6 pm to close. Woot! Woot! Go team service industry!