Mart and I met up with our friend Susan for dinner and drinks at Umbrellas 1296 last week, and I’ve wanted to go back ever since. I think I’ve told pretty much everyone I’ve seen since then how much I loved . . . loved . . . loved(!) the Brussels Sprouts (I used to turn my nose up at them when I was young) and I can’t get the memory of the Rainbow Trout out of my mind. Suffice it to say, I can’t wait for my next visit.
Umbrellas 1296 is in the historic ivy-covered restaurant situated on the corner of 1st and Pineapple, next to the Sarasota Opera House downtown. (The “1296” in the name refers to their address at 1296 1st Street.) There is a lovely outdoor dining area where you can dine al fresco, or sip on a cocktail while enjoying live music most nights of the week. Inside there are two dining areas – one downstairs adjacent to a beautiful mahogany bar with an exquisite agate feature wall glowing behind it.
I’m told that beauty cost $30k, which was probably a steal when you think of the mining and work that went into it! There is a second dining and bar area upstairs that is accessible via stairs. The interior decor is an eclectic combination of historical antiques, faux finishes, and modern art.
The owner, Paul James, dropped by to say hello and suggested a few of his favorites, starting with the Pineapple Beet Salad. This is a nice sized salad to share but it also makes for a perfect entrée with the added option of blackened chicken. All the salads on Umbrellas’ menu can be ordered as a side salad or entrée-sized portion and be enhanced by adding a protein, whether chicken, shrimp, crab cake, scallops, lobster or salmon. I particularly enjoyed the play of the roasted beets against creamy feta cheese and then the pop of flavor when adding a bite of the pineapple. Great suggestion!
Before I get all nostalgic about Umbrella’s Brussels Sprouts (Could it be only a few days ago that I had them? Sigh!) let me ask if your earliest experiences with Brussels sprouts were like mine . . . boiled and bland. Ugh! They were one of the very few veggies I would avoid at all costs. I don’t recall when I first experienced fried or roasted Brussels sprouts, but that was the game-changer. They are pretty much my favorite – at least until some other Chef presents a different veggie in an unexpected way. Umbrellas 1296 serves their fried Brussels with sriracha, agave and fresh lime, with that spark of sriracha making all the difference here. Not too spicy, but just exciting enough that I could not stop eating them. I even ate the little crispy skins remaining on the plate after all the sprouts were gone.
A great appetizer to share with the Brussels Sprouts is Umbrellas’ Baked Feta. Equally as tasty on its own, either scooped up with a spoon or topping one of the grilled pita points served with it, the Baked Feta is topped with a flavorful black olive tapenade and drizzled with olive oil. That being said, it was swoon-worthy when enjoyed with the Brussels Sprouts. Vegetarians would have a heyday at Umbrellas!
When I asked the owner Paul James if Umbrellas had a specialty, he noted that he tries to give every chef in the kitchen a moment to shine on Umbrella 1296’s menu. “I want everyone in the kitchen and bar staff to play to their strengths,” he said. “That way you have an entire kitchen that takes equal pride in our food, from the specific flavor profiles to the choice of ingredients, and the presentation itself.” With that, we decided not to “miss” the talents at the craft cocktail bar, asking Paul to suggest two cocktails to be shared among us.
The Strawberry Kiss features Tito’s vodka, strawberry, and basil syrup, and topped with lemon basil and a dehydrated strawberry that – if you get to it quick enough – offers a slight crunch to it. The Majestic is a bit more exotic to the taste. The brilliant lavender color comes from Empress 1908 gin, which is infused with 8 natural botanicals that create that lovely color and unmistakable flavor profile. Combined with simple syrup for a bit of sweetness, lemon juice for a bit of tang and egg white to smooth out all the flavors, the Majestic more than lives up to its name. If you haven’t heard the story of Empress 108 gin, click here. However, if you want to try the gin in an excellent cocktail, get over to Umbrellas 1296 and order a Majestic!
Sharing allows each of us to order an entrée and offer each other a bite (or two!) to enjoy. No complaint here! Susan suggested the Lobster Bolognese, which came with an entire Florida lobster tail on top. It would be a toss-up to award the flavor or the presentation as the star on this dish. A hearty sized portion, the three of us polished off this entrée so quickly that the others may have felt unappreciated . . . if entrées have feelings, that is! Fyi . . . Susan focused on the lobster, but who would blame her?
My entrée of choice was the Rainbow Trout with a strawberry champagne sauce. Believe it or not, that IS a good-sized portion of mashed potatoes next to the trout, and more than enough asparagus. The portion size of the Rainbow Trout was quite large, the meat flakey and tender and the sauce bright and fresh. Unlike some fish, I loved the crispy, nutritious skin on the Rainbow Trout, one of the healthiest fish we can eat. Mart seemed equally as impressed . . . he ate most of the meal!
But not to fear! There was more than enough to eat since Mart had ordered the Rack of Lamb, which I may have ordered if I hadn’t focused on the trout first. Served like a meaty pyramid, the lamb had that succulent, juicy interior we so love, with a crispy, well-seasoned skin worth nibbling off the bone. Served with fingerling potatoes and asparagus, the lamb rested in a mint gremolata, which offered a hint of lemon zest and garlic as well. Six thumbs up, since Susan liked it as well.
Although Umbrellas 1296 isn’t an Italian restaurant per se, we staggered our meal in the Italian tradition of ordering an appetizer, then a pasta, then an entrée. But we went off the script a bit, enjoying the salad first, (in Italy it is usually served after the entrée and before the cheese course) we added an order of the Creole Pasta as well. I admit it, we over-ordered because the Creole Pasta sounded just too delicious to pass up! The bucatini pasta, also known as perciatelli, is best described as hollow spaghetti, and at Umbrellas 1296, it is so fresh and that hole in the center is ideal for soaking up the flavorful, lightly creamy wine sauce of the Creole Pasta. Shrimp, mussels, clams, spinach, tomatoes, and Mediterranean seasoning complete the dish, but the bucatini, sprinkled with parmesan cheese, stole the show. And although it is considered gauche to order a to-go box in Italy, thank goodness it isn’t in Sarasota, so after each of us enjoyed a bite or two, out came a take-out container.
By this point, the owner, Paul James, had seen us photographing the food and over-ordering as we
sometimes often do when blogging, so he sent over a tray of desserts, just to make it harder for us to leave. And my goodness, what a spread!
Let me start off with the stupid good Homemade Doughnuts. Trust me . . . when the menu describes them as stupid good, they have something to live up to . . . and they do! Two eclair-sized cinnamon donuts grace the plate with two syringes filled with gooey goodness placed next to them. The deal is, you get to infuse your donuts with as much chocolate or caramel sauce as you like! How fun is that! I can see parents telling kids they have to behave throughout the entire meal in order to get these doughnuts and the kids happily doing so!
This photo shows a host of other desserts offered at Umbrellas 1296. Starting from the top in the martini glass is the Kahlua Mousse, made in-house and as rich and flavorful as it looks. Next to it is the Ricotta Cheesecake, which is personally made by a friend of the owner from back when he lived in Westchester. This friend, a retired pastry chef, flies down weekly just to make the Ricotta Cheesecake offered at Umbrellas 1296! (Maybe the weather here helps, but still . . . every week!) Shown in front, and not to be outdone, is Umbrellas’ Flourless Chocolate Torte and Key Lime Pie. You get to guess which is which! Ha! Ha! Next time I go to the Opera or see one of Sarasota Ballet’s acclaimed shows at the Opera House, I’m coming here afterwords for a dessert spread exactly like this. But honestly, I will bring friends to help me enjoy it!
Like many restaurants, you can order delivery from Umbrellas 1296 through GrubHub and other delivery services, but we highly suggest you make a reservation or drop in. The atmosphere is delightful and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable. Throw in an evening of live music and it’s obvious that some of the downtown residents have already become regulars! After checking out the line up updated weekly on Umbrella 1296’s website, I might become a regular as well! I hope this popular, historic location has finally found the restaurant that never leaves!