OK, I confess. It’s borderline irresponsible that the Sarasota Foodies haven’t written about Indigenous before this. After all, I, as one of many, many foodie admirers, am of the opinion that Chef/Proprietor Steve Phelps is arguably the most talented chef in Sarasota. And we all know this is a town chock-full of amazing chefs.
My observation is not made from a distance; I knew Steve when he was Chef Steve at Mattison’s on Longboat Key, shortly after he migrated from Cleveland and made his inaugural foray onto the Sarasota scene in the early 2000’s. In brief – Steve is the restaurateur’s dream of what a creative, balanced and visionary force in food-service should be. Besides his fearless creativity and food knowledge, he shows personality traits that are often elusive in the business. No ego trips or throwing dishes by this consummate professional. He’s calm, cool and collected as he creates brilliant meals from a small kitchen you can see from the main dining room.
In short, this is a chef worthy of a following, a Chef I’ve followed for years now. But thankfully, Steve has found a permanent home at his casually sophisticated Toales Court location, so you can take off your Sherlock Holmes hat, make a reservation, and simply let your taste buds marvel at his culinary creations. Hey, it’s not just me! Ask any of the servers working for Steven, (on this night, it was Chris, himself a raving fan) and you’ll hear the same adoring accolades! Servers liking the Chef? Almost unheard of!
On previous visits, we’ve enjoyed a glass of wine and appetizers in the intimate bar in a separate cottage, steps away from the main and outdoor dining rooms. We also attended a beer-pairing soiree called “The Pig, The Egg, and The Keg”, co-hosted by Chef Steve and Chef Eric of Station 400 fame, designed to attract other food service folk around Sarasota. Kindly enough, Indigenous hosted this event after the regular dining room was closed and more of the local restaurant pros could join the festivities. I do have to apologize that we couldn’t stop eating Steve’s famous Devils on Horseback . . . that’s a date, stuffed with cheese, wrapped in bacon and then broiled to a crispy finish. . . Boy, oh boy! They were just too good to resist!
However, and most notably to our memory was when we hosted a birthday celebration for my daughter. We went in as a table of five and ordered everything single item on the menu with the exception of the vegetarian plate. So trust me on this . . . we’ve had it all and loved every single morsel! We would have blogged on that visit, except Jill was seated next to light with a amber shade on it, so all the photos had a yellow cast. So (again, darn it all) we knew we’d be returning for another visit, if only to shoot better photos because . . . well, Steve Phelps’ food deserves to be shown at its best!
There is a specific memory from that night that I’ll always remember, and it involved Chef Steve’s ah-may-zing Parmesan Beignets. We couldn’t have scripted this. As the server brought the plate of five beignets to the table, each of us reached for one at the exact same time. (It was a perfectly executed example of “synchronized eating”.) We each popped a beignet in our mouths before the plate actually hit the table! And as the server pulled back with the empty plate, we all said, in unison, “Another order, please.”
So, on this evening, we knew Parmesan Beignets would be our appetizer of choice again. In the spirit of compromise, we split beignet #5. No sense in a domestic dispute over this, is there? (Close call, though.) And like before, they tasted exactly like “another order, please,” though we showed more restraint this time.
From the entrée category, Jill went with the signature Braised Short Ribs, a tantalizingly slow-braised, thick and succulent beef rib served with a green apple and horseradish potato salad. Did I forget to say irresistibly tantalizing? I could smell the ribs as they were brought to the table, and the char on the meat was so perfect . . . well . . . just LOOK at it! (The phone number is 941-706-4740 if you want to bypass the rest of the blog and make a reservation now . . .)
Since Jill went with beef, my choice ran to the he Hook to Fork feature du jour of line-caught snapper. It would not be over the top to say that both dinners were eye-rolling, sublime, culinary triumphs of the highest order. Served with a ragout of tomato and corn over green beans, with two perfectly crisped crab & cornmeal hush puppies. Absolute heaven on a plate!
This was an evening that deserved an encore of an (expectedly) perfect espresso, cappuccino, and a crazy rich, (yet gluten free) Chocolate Rum Cake. Thankfully we decided to share an order, because the chocolate was like a truffle — it was so richly delicious — sitting on top of sweet and salty banana and loads of macadamias with whipped coconut (that’s NOT whip cream) and lime power.
I am not being disingenuous when I say that Indigenous is on our very short list of places where “100 times out of 100” you’ll be thrilled with the experience. Steve describes his restaurant as “Seasonal American cuisine inspired by our passions for food, our planet and the community.” If our recommendation doesn’t sell you on Indigenous, maybe knowing that they carefully source local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients to give you a uniquely conscious dining experience.
Indigenous? Could easily be In-Genius, which it is.