State Street Eating House, you had me at “fresh Bloody Mary”.
It’s been a while now, but our first introduction to this cool new place was several months back on a Saturday morning at the Downtown Farmer’s Market. The Market was hosting a special cheese tasting from the Wisconsin Cheese Shop, along with several local restaurants dishing out samples of their best. Paul Mattison was there, ’cause he’s everywhere isn’t he? Starkeeper Cafe, another of Sarasota’s gems was also there. Moving along, we sampled food from a place called the State Street Eating House + Cocktails, which I’d never heard of. Wait a second. We’re ON State Street!
As I turned to scan the street, lo and behold and as if by magic, there it was. All brand new, inviting us in.
We immediately made our way over to this funky, urban chic establishment, with its exposed brick and re-purposed wood interior and found that they weren’t actually open yet. However, the doors were open that morning for a sneak peek, and we were invited to check out the menu, the wine room and the private chef’s kitchen, as well as sample the aforementioned Bloody Marys, and Greyhounds, (for sustenance, naturally.) When in Rome…
Excuse me while this Foodie goes a little nuts talking about the bar because State Street Eating House + Cocktails could easily reverse their name to State Street Cocktails + Eating House. You see, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill cocktails, and you really should enjoy “one” before you even think about the food. They actually press fresh tomatoes for their Bloody Mary, and hand whip the egg white into a meringue for the classic whisky sour. Who does that? The Bloody Mary was so fresh it tasted like I was drinking something healthy! I’m just sooo impressed by the attention put into these liquid libations. So, if you’re used to the “sling and serve gin-mill” approach at most bars, the time it takes for a cocktail here may take some time for you to adjust, but take my advice. . . Sit. Relax at the bar and watch the steps put into the drink they’re making especially for you. Then take a sip and hold it on your tongue before swallowing. Just savor the clarity of flavors dancing in your mouth. It doesn’t matter if you order a Negroni, Mint Julep, Mojito or a Bloody Mary. You will taste the difference, as in “these babies sing!”
It’s been a fair few weeks since that fateful day, and since that time we’ve stopped by a number of times for cocktails or one of their innovative appetizers, such as the grilled fresh sardines with baby arugula. It is so rare that I see a fresh, whole sardine that it takes me back to days growing up on the lake in Ontario, when my Estonian relatives used to serve sardines at breakfast. (I’m not lying. Breakfast!) I also had a crazy good lunch there once with my broker. I don’t know how or why she ordered a grilled cheese sandwich when there was Lobster Mac and Cheese on the menu . . . go figure! Me? I stayed with my love of seafood and wolfed down the house cured salmon gravlax with pickled beets, fried capers, spicy cress, cream cheese and rustic toast.
So after numerous visits for lunches, cocktails and appetizers, Jill finally insisted we celebrate her last real estate closing with dinner at State Street Eating House, which seemed like a novel idea! Besides, who’s arguing?
Following my own well-heeled advice, we started with cocktails and appetizers. Me, with a classically prepared Manhattan and Jill ordering a Bramble; a refreshing gin cocktail with whole blackberries and Creme de Mure. (Did I mention that they have Pims No. 7 Cup at the bar? But I digress. . .) We followed with an order of fried okra with white truffle oil as a starter, as well as “I’ll have another” mini lobster rolls. Note to self: When serving a deep-fried veggie, take a hint from the chef at State Street – serve them hot in a trimmed brown paper bag. Any excess oil is soaked up by the bag while the okra stayed nice and warm. Jill thought it looked ‘cute’, but I’m all about the wisdom behind the presentation.
For my main course, I wanted something warm and cozy, to match the “Manhattan state of mind” I was working on, so I ordered up the braised pork shoulder with fresh peas, carrots and pork gravy. This was presented in a cast iron cook pot on a wood cutting board. Looks nice, tastes even better. We also ordered up a side of the brussel spouts roasted in duck fat. These were a real treat, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed brussel sprouts quite so much. The outside had just a hint of crisp, and they were cooked slightly past al dente, which provided just the amount of crunch. I think even Beaver Cleaver would order these again! (but I’m dating myself, remembering that episode)
Jill toyed with ordering the wild salmon as her main course, but succumbed to the sliced flat iron steak with fresh horseradish gremolata, (a chopped herb condiment typically made of lemon zest, garlic, and parsley). We’re always intrigued by how local chefs take a basic, like flat iron steak, and thrill us with different presentations, in this case the gremolata. She thought it was quite delicious, with a slight char on her medium rare steak, and a vegetable accompaniment that was ideally balanced. The meat juices made for a nice dip for the french style whipped potatoes and the green beans.
As anyone who live here knows, there are a lot of good restaurants in Sarasota. Some stand out for their location, their decor, their atmosphere, their food or their clientele. Others, like State Street Eating House + Cocktails get it right on many levels. And while restaurants come and go at a dizzying pace, it’s a safe bet that State Street Eating House + Cocktails is here to stay.
If you’re like us, you may come for the cocktails but you’ll stay for the food.