Pretentious

My writing often comes across as pretentious. Ach, no-one reads this stuff, so what do I care?

Wait. This review received 17 votes of approval. Huh.

 

The truth about food is that protein by itself doesn’t taste of much. Think tofu or industrially raised pork – they’re texture, not much else.

Flavor lives in fat: Consider a beautifully marbled steak or anything fried in duck drippings. While animal fat is tasty, the other (more healthy) place we find flavor is in the plant world. Thai food illustrates this, but not the Americanized Thai takeaway we grab on Saturday nights. I’m talking about the real stuff that’s redolent of lemongrass and basil and curry leaves.

Which is an unlikely but important way to think about breakfast at Sun Garden. The food here stands out because someone in the kitchen completely understands the protein/fat/plant flavor nexus.

People want eggs for breakfast, but eggs by themselves are pretty boring. They beg to be upgraded with with either cheese or ham or something inventive from the garden. A bagel is boiled dough unless you add figs or avocado or bean sprouts or all three. Bacon (lots of fat) is cured wonderment, but if you complement with pepper it rises to a new level.

It’s no wonder that folks rave about this place…they respect our palates.

Drinking Daze

Back when I was on my uppers and still drinking, I’d hang out at this place. Would I go there now? Probably not, but the location is still cool as hell, right on the water with all those boats and drunks.

Tiki Bars fall dead center in the fine American tradition of finding a tenuous marketing idea and stretching it to the limit. Don’t take that as a criticism. Entire business categories – cosmetics, weight reduction fads, network television – thrive on their ability to appeal to customers’ emotions. Consider them a triumph of imagination over substance.

In the case of all modern-day Tiki Bars, the name alone is sufficient to conjur up visions of exotic sea-side lifestyles obtained with the simple ordering of a Miller Lite and ┬áMai Tai, thankyouverymuch. If you’re going to tip a few adult beverages, why not pretend that you’re spending the week on Bora Bora? That’s the key construct of the Tiki – it’s not a bar, it’s a bar somewhere else, somewhere better than where you actually find yourself.

Therefore, the ingredients to a successful Tiki are an out-of-doors location, a view or surrounds of some maritime beauty or interest, and alcohol. Add non-grudging service and some nod to Gilligan’s Islandish decor, and there you have a success.

Perq Up

Somehow, because of a crease in the time-space field, Sarasota found itself with one of the best coffee shops in the galaxy. Miracle.

 

A long time coming, Perq is a glittering addition to the Sarasota coffee scene. Unfortunately, that’s less of a compliment than it should be, given the mediocre coffee culture hereabouts. The good news is that we now have a truly first-class place that showcases quality coffee.

Hitting you like a stack of Architectural Digests is the gorgeous fit-out. Keith and Erin have clearly thought long and hard about how the perfect coffee shop should look and feel. Not insignificant is that we’re in the sub-tropics, so the climate is a consideration. With that in mind, the high-ceilinged wood-themed open-furnished fit-out is ideal for both seasons – Snowbird and Local. They’ve taken the warehouse look and made it comfortable.

Now for the coffee. Frankly, it’s peerless. As the owners’ blurb explains, the coffee is the star here, with beans from specialist growers and roasters. But beans can only be as good as the treatment they’re given, and that too is first-rate. The Slayer espresso machine is the heart of the operation for my taste, but you will find other techniques employed: Think cutting edge meets simplicity.

For those of us who take our coffee as seriously as a heart attack, this place is like the paddles of life. In a way, it’s almost too good for this town that thrives on thrifty seniors and horrid chains. But I’m hoping Perq is a giant success. I’ll be returning as long as those immaculate flat whites keep coming.

Mango on Toast

I dunno. Everyone else seems to like this joint, but there’s something not right for me. It’s probably me. Yep. It’s me. No, really, I’m wrong.

The restaurant specializing in breakfast has one big limitation; the gap it needs to negotiate between acceptable and first rate is narrow. The difference between greasy spoon and huevos haute can be as simple as the cleanliness of the cutlery or the strength of the coffee. It’s a commodity game, so to stand out you need to be a champion kayaker if you’re aiming to shoot these pre-noon rapids.

Food quality runs that same tight gorge. The difference between a serviceable Greek omelette and an unmemorable Greek omelette is a lesser standard of feta or eggs beaten for fifteen seconds more than necessary. Home fries – the staple of breakfast starches – must not only taste good and be appropriately seasoned, they should be uniformly hot. If not, it tells us they’ve been sitting too long. That is not the stuff of excellence.

Service, too, should be a place where a thoughtful restaurant can shine without much effort. Consistency is probably the key here. When you don’t know who is serving, or more importantly if the servers don’t know who is serving, then waters are troubled. And so is my breakfast.

I wanted to like the Toasted Mango more. It’s completely alright. Go there and contemplate the fine line between okay and excellent while you wait for your coffee refill.

Siesta Java

Back in 2013, Tim Smith and I were on the hunt (still/again) for the perfect Sunday coffee joint. I saw LeLu on Yelp! and figured it was worth a shot.

LeLu and I have fallen out of love a couple of times, but I keep going back. As a sign of my love, as of today I have 71 check-ins. Wow.

 

At risk of sounding like a hack sociology professor, context is important. Fine dining needs cultural and economic support, so big cities are the places for such a thing. Fine coffee shops, on the other hand should work anywhere, but the way a casual cafe goes about its business can resonate with what’s around it, or not. Success lies in such nuance.

Quite enough with the “resonate” and “nuance” there, prof.

All that’s a long way around of saying that Lelu, Siesta Key Village’s premiere coffee (and more) joint is perfectly adapted to its’ surrounds.

In mid-March, the spring break and snowbird crowds are here in force, determinedly wandering beach and (Ocean) Boulevard. Sun, sand and stuff to boast about when they get home is what they’re after, and if they find an appetite for coffee and a snack, Lelu is waiting.

The context of Lelu is epitomized by the fact that it’s across the breezeway from Gilligan’s, the loud late-night tiki bar with a learner drinker and party animal clientele. Lelu is the sober, morning side of Gilligans, perhaps slightly hungover, but still obviously good-looking. There are surfboards on the ceiling, despite the fact that this is Siesta Key where there is no surf, but it’s the thought that counts.

Funky, fun, enthusiastic service, excellent coffee, good food, and an atmosphere totally in keeping with the Key sums up Lelu.

Bob’s Boathouse

Tim Smith and I happened upon Bob’s one Sunday, looking for breakfast and coffee. A fluke, because it was their opening day, memorable only because the end was already visible. They struggled on for nearly two years, but, like a horse with a broken leg, inevitability came with a bang.

 

When Bob and his people sat down around the conference table to plan his new restaurant, I wonder at the unfolding of events….

Bob wanted a nautical theme, because the land he acquired was on a creek – that’s where the “Boathouse” came from, naturally.

Bob’s lawyer suggested that the critical element of a boathouse would be boat paraphernalia – that’s how the decor was decided.

Bob’s marine mechanic Googled “boathouse food” and created the menu.

Bob’s accountant searched assiduously for the best servers and managers Craigslist can provide.

Lastly, Bob’s banker saw an arbitrage opportunity to unload the assets of:

~ a boat repair shop he was shepherding through bankruptcy (all the exterior junk. You’ll see.)

~ a hotel/conference facility on his books in foreclosure (the second-hand chairs.)

~ a lumber yard with excess stock (all the low-grade wooden fixtures including mid-air table storage.)

~ his buddy’s failed commercial clothing business (the kitschy staff get-up. Bowties? Srsly?)

And the services of;

~ a carpentry business his brother-in-law owns (all the poorly nailed and screwed fittings.)

But, you say, this is an establishment serving food and beverages. Well, yes, that’s technically true. Food is served here. It’s fine. But you’ll never notice because you’ll be unable to overcome the feeling that you’re eating in the restaurant equivalent of an oceanic Goodwill store.

Bon voyage.

Grasshopper, MI

Cassie and Tim like the Grasshopper on 41 south of Clark. One suspects that has less to do with food than home town loyalty. From December 2014.

The great iceberg lettuce glut of 2014 will not be without its beneficiaries. The Grasshopper, for example, will be out there bidding pennies for boxes of these things. Huzzah! the owners will cry, chomping on their cigars, our profit margin just tripled!

Friends tell me that El Chapulin caught a ride down I-75 from Adrian, Michigan before creating his Sarasotan home. Call me green with six legs, but since when was anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon line any kind of wellspring of “Tex-Mex”?

The key here is the number of MI plates on the roads around these parts. It seems the plague of Michiganders that descends upon us each winter will eat anything that reminds them of home, all the while shouting “Go Blue” or other chants rather rude about something called “Ohio.” I presume that cacophony is the equivalent of rubbing wings.

There is a word for being more than underwhelmed, but I don’t know what it is. Actually, thinking about my meal, there are several descriptive phrases that spring to mind. One is their use of tasteless shredded cheese instead of Walmart’s Fiesta blend. Another is the surfeit of peppers and onions; el cheapo ingredients Senor Hopper. Yet another might be the bulking out of dishes with those bargain lettuce heads.

Yep. It’s Fiesta Time. Somewhere.