While 2020 will go down as the worst year for the hospitality industry in at least a lifetime, Sarasota and Manatee County restaurateurs did an amazing job persevering during the pandemic. They offered expanded takeout options, increased outdoor seating, and implemented numerous safety measures to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus including new and improved air filtration systems.
In addition to our longstanding local restaurants continuing to serve the community, we also welcomed many new exciting dining destinations during the past year. These ranged from seafood spots and a Southern soul kitchen, to an Irish ale house and a new spot for French cuisine. They joined already booming restaurant scenes in such places as Sarasota’s Gulf Gate neighborhood, Lakewood Ranch and Anna Maria Island.
Here’s our list of the 10 openings that created the biggest buzz with our audience – meaning, these are the restaurant and bar openings that generated the most clicks, comments and shares on social media. These are also some of the places that impressed us the most when we visited for stories, columns or just for our own pleasure. They are presented in roughly chronological order, according to opening date.
Daiquiri Deck opens on Anna Maria Island
107 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach; 941-253-3300; daiquirideck.com
Daiquiri Deck, the local chain known for its signature frozen drinks and raw bar, opened a new location on Anna Maria Island in March featuring awesome vistas of surrounding Bradenton Beach. Located on the dining, drinking and shopping row Bridge Street, the new building stands three stories high (the limit on Anna Maria Island) with Daiquiri Deck offering open-air seating featuring views of both the Gulf of Mexico and Intracoastal Waterway.
Russell Matthes, Troy Syprett and Matthew Grover are the owners of Daiquiri Deck, which also has four locations in Sarasota County including the original one in Siesta Key Village. The new 14,000-square-foot Manatee County restaurant offers an extensive menu including oysters, various seafood entrees, sandwiches and pizza, just like the other Daiquiri Decks.
It was built on a former empty lot where owner Jake Spooner, vice mayor of Bradenton Beach, used to offer free parking. Spooner’s store, Bridge Street Bazaar, moved into the ground floor, and the restaurant occupies the top two.
Whiskey Joe’s opens Manatee River location
5313 19th St. E. Ellenton; 941-263-3111; thewhiskeyjoes.com/manatee
Bringing beachy fun to the north banks of the Manatee River, Whiskey Joe’s Bar & Grill opened its Ellenton location in March. Reachable by land or water, it was the fourth Florida location for the “Floribbean” style restaurant and bar chain that started in Tampa.
Located in the Rocky Bluff neighborhood, Whiskey Joe’s features indoor seating and outdoor dining options on a white-sand setting, with boat pull-ups, fire pits and palapas (think small chickee huts). The full menu includes Whiskey Joe’s signature dishes such as the Mango Mahi Mahi, Grand Grouper Sandwich, Tampa Bay Shrimp Tacos, and Gator Bites.
There’s also Whiskey Joe’s World-Famous Barefoot Tiki Bar where guests can enjoy boat drinks such as the Tropical Bahama Mama, over 40 types of margaritas and mojitos, plus local craft beer on tap.
Floridays Woodfire Grill & Bar opens in Bradenton
12332 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton; 941-741-8700; floridays-annamaria.com
Overlooking Anna Maria Sound, Floridays opened in July as part of the Jimmy Buffett-inspired hotel Compass by Margaritaville, with the hotel’s swimming pool located just out of reach from the bar. If traveling by car rather than boat, the restaurant will be found on Manatee Avenue West, just east of the bridge leading to Anna Maria Island.
Featuring an open-air chickee-style structure with a quirky, Old Florida fish house motif, it places guests right on the water for gorgeous sunset views. The extensive menu includes classic Southern dishes, locally sourced seafood and wood-grilled steaks, as well as various cocktails such as, yes, margaritas.
Floridays, which shares its name with a Buffett song and album from the 1980s, was developed by Sarasota-based Floridays Development Co. and the creative team at Blue Orbit Hospitality Consulting.
Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen opens in Bradenton
1114 12th. St. W., Bradenton; 941-243-3735
Occupying a historic cottage on the main road through Bradenton’s Village of the Arts, Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen opened on the last day of September. It’s near chef and owner David Shiplett’s other eatery, Birdrock Taco Shack, and has indoor space adorned with local artwork as well as al fresco dining.
There’s seating out front as well as a spacious, fenced backyard area with sprawling trees providing shade with dangling Edison lights. There’s also a covered stage in the back where bands have been performing since November.
Cottonmouth’s tightly-constructed menu focuses on dishes such as fried green tomatoes, collard greens, shrimp and cheese grits, and fried chicken. Another popular main attraction is the Bradentucky Meatloaf Burger with melted cheddar and tomato on Texas toast served with a side of tater tots.
The Point opens in Osprey
131 Bayview Drive, Osprey; 941-786-3890; eviesonline.com/location/the-point
Local restaurant and entertainment group Evie’s unveiled the newest addition to its assortment of businesses this year with The Point, which held its grand opening in October.
Located on the same Evie’s at Spanish Point property in Osprey that houses a separate tiki bar and restaurant, the three-floor The Point features an alluring view of Little Sarasota Bay complemented by a casual Florida atmosphere and menu. Dishes include a grouper sandwich and seared sea scallops, with New England touches like a lobster roll and clam chowder.
This year also saw Evie’s rebrand the long-running Sarasota music venue and watering hole Five O’Clock Club as Brady’s Neighborhood Bar, and sell Office Bar SRQ and Evie’s on University Parkway, the latter becoming Solorzano’s Pizzeria & Tavern.
Bistro at the Sarasota Art Museum
1001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-330-9881; sarasotaartmuseum.org/bistro
When the Sarasota Art Museum reopened in October, attendees were able to explore exhibition galleries, as well as a new dining destination simply dubbed the Bistro.
The menu features homemade soups, salads, tartines and artisanal sandwiches such as the Lemon Dijonaise Chicken Salad, made with preserved lemon; the Griddled Cheese containing fontina, mornay and sharp white cheddar; and a house-brined turkey sandwich topped with smashed avocado, sprouts, tomato, and served on seven-grain bread.
Operated by the Constellation Culinary Group (responsible for various cafes inside cultural institutions including Verde at Perez Art Museum Miami), Bistro is run by Chef Kaytlin Dangaran, a Tampa native who most recently worked in Miami.
The Ringling Grillroom opens at Museum
5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota; 941-360-7390; theringlinggrillroom.com
After about five months without a restaurant inside its John M. McKay Visitors Pavilion, the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art began welcoming patrons to its Ringling Grillroom in October. The restaurant, which replaced Muse, features indoor and outdoor seating overlooking the handsome Ringling grounds with views of a lagoon and the Circus Museum, as well as an indoor bar area.
The Grillroom, which is run by the museum’s new food service vendor, Pennsylvania-based Metz Culinary Management, aims to honor the rich history of the Ringling brand and the legacy of the globe-trotting circus moguls John and Mable Ringling, whose winter residence overlooks Sarasota Bay. The menu ranges from hand-cut steaks and chops to freshly caught Florida seafood with various international flavors.
The Sarasota Bay fish tacos, crispy Sicilian calamari, steak frites with wild mushroom cognac peppercorn gravy, and the crusted ahi tuna salad are some of the more popular items. The Grillroom also pays homage to the Ringling brand with categories such as Big Top Sandwiches, Three Ring Sides and Freakshow brand wines.
Seabar opens in Sarasota’s Gulf Gate neighborhood
6540 Superior Ave., Sarasota; 941-923-6605; seabarsrq.com
The owners of Gulf Gate Food + Beer, which opened in 2018, further expanded their dining and drinking footprint this year when it opened Seabar in November in the same Gulf Gate neighborhood in Sarasota.
The new concept takes inspiration from the collective cultures of the Pacific Ocean with a focus on seafood, with entrees including kung pao octopus, soy-marinated swordfish and yaki udon noodles with hanger steak and pork belly.
Along with Gulf Gate Food + Beer and Seabar, which are connected through a doorway, the restaurants’ owners also operate Sarasota Food + Beer on Fruitville Road, which opened last year.
McGrath’s Irish Ale House opens in Lakewood Ranch
8110 Lakewood Main St., Lakewood Ranch; 941-210-4398; mcgrathsirish.com
The biggest Lakewood Ranch restaurant opening of the year, McGrath’s Irish Ale House began welcoming patrons in November. It replaced the Scottish-themed MacAllisters Grill & Tavern and features Irish dishes along with traditional European selections, often with creative twists. The new build-out includes additional patio seating overlooking the lake and a larger inside bar area, plus a private dining room for hosting live music on Fridays and Saturdays.
Owned by a team of local restaurateurs including Adam and Albert Myara, McGrath’s chef is Isaac Johnson, whose former job titles include chef de cuisine and sous chef at venerable downtown Sarasota restaurants Indigenous and Lila. Johnson said he implemented sustainable seafood and antibiotic free chicken at McGrath’s, and is working with local farmers to use local produce on the menu.
The shepherd’s pie consisting of lamb, carrots, peas, onions, and parmesan with a potato crust is among the popular menu items; which also include the chicken pot pie (bechamel sauce, English peas, carrots, leeks, flaky pie dough), and the Waterford burger (with mushrooms and Swiss cheese, topped with caramelized onions and gravy).
The Chateau Anna Maria opens on Holmes Beach
5325 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach; 941-238-6264; thechateauannamaria.com
Waterline Marina Resort on Anna Maria Island replaced its former Eliza Ann’s Coastal Kitchen space with a new restaurant, which customers may already recognize from their television screens.
The Chateau Anna Maria, a second location of the Bolton Landing, New York, restaurant The Chateau on the Lake, opened its doors in December at the Holmes Beach hotel. Buddy Foy Jr. and Michelle Foy, a couple who star in the Food Network show “Summer Rush” about the family’s multiple Bolton Landing restaurants, are co-owners.
The restaurant features a similar sensibility of “French-inspired, Italian portions” to the original location, with plans to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. OpenTable has named Chateau on the Lake one of the Top 100 Most Romantic and Scenic Restaurants in America in past years.
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Wade Tatangelo is the Herald-Tribune’s entertainment editor. Email him at [email protected].