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SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

When I heard through the “Sarasota Dining Grapevine” Executive Chef Pedro Flores from The Table Creekside was also going to oversee the menu at Phillippi Creek Restaurant & Oyster Bar; my ears perked up. This Dine-mark™ restaurant has a large, long standing, loyal customer base, carefully cultivated, and  comprised of people from Sarasota and visitors alike. So what changes could one expect? What about the menu? Additions? Deletions?  This menu thing could be tricky and fraught with unintended consequences.Creekmenu

I heard there were a number of new items already on the menu, so I decided to go to Phillippi Creek Restaurant & Oyster Bar and check it out. When we first arrived it was busy, but were able to get a waterside table. The typical Phillippi Creek newsprint menus looked the same, but upon further examination, we noticed a number of positive changes and additions.

“Just in time for the change in seasons comes innovative and delicious additions to the menu at the Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar. Nearly two dozen of Chef Pedro Flores’s creations have been added to the already award-winning signature specialties that make Phillippi Creek a year round favorite with locals and winter visitors alike. “

We needed a few minutes to study the menu before we could make our strategic selections. This was not easy because it required us to pass up some of our stand by favorites, so we could try something new. We chose the following as our representation of the expanded menu:

  • Chicken Salad Plate: Free range chicken, seasonal fruit, roasted vegetables, jasmine salad, organic greens $10.95
    Fresh, colorful, full of flavor, the chicken salad had some fruit mixed in but was not sweet, just the way we like it! A great starter for sharing.
  • SONY DSCStuffed Grouper: Shrimp, scallops, and Blue Crab stuffing Market Price
    This was a big piece of grouper, stuffed full with visible bits and pieces of shrimp, scallops, and crab.
  • SONY DSCBaked Seafood Trio: Salmon, mahi mahi, grouper $24.95
    What an outstanding presentation of 3 fish individually placed on a cedar plank, colorful, full of various flavors, can easily be shared.

SONY DSC

  • Wahoo Ceviche Cones: Blue corn cones stuffed with ceviche $8.95
    Although not brand new to the menu, it is relatively new and underscores the theme of fresh, new, exciting presentations.

SONY DSC

  • Chocolate Fudge Brownie: Topped with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce $7.95
    A dark, warm, rich, moist, chocolate brownie with melted swirls of vanilla ice cream and caramel…one word…WOW!

SONY DSC

Even though we passed on our regular faves to try the new dishes, we were not disappointed in the least! Chef Pedro Flores and his team have done an outstanding job of adding some creative and innovative items to the menu while maintaining all of the customer favorites. In fact, these new menu additions are destined to become new favorites. For fresh, delicious seafood, meet me at at “The Creek.”

SRQ Reviews, the restaurant guide you need to find the best dining in Sarasota, Florida.

Now in its seventh year, the Savor Sarasota Restaurant Week, presented by Visit Sarasota County, starts on June 1, 2012 and runs through June 14, 2012. A foodies’ favorite enjoyed by visitors to Sarasota and the people who live here, participating Savor Sarasota restaurants offer specialty0priced multi-course lunches for $15 and dinners for $25. With more than 35 restaurants participating, the breadth of cuisines, style of restaurants and the various locations within Sarasota County provide a range of selections sure to please your palate and dining budget alike.

Waterfront at Ophelia's

The waterfront at Ophelia’s.

Are you a foodie looking to try one of the restaurants from the largest concentration of Zagat-rated spots in Florida? Is there a new place you have been dying to try but just never got around to making reservations? How about a return to one of your favorites or a waterfront locale?  Since specialty-priced lunches and dinners are offered over a two-week period from a wide array of restaurants, there are no real excuses for not sampling some of Sarasota’s finest cuisine. Here is a list of a few of our favorites, with our review and the Savor Sarasota menu:

Derek’s Culinary Casual   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
The Broadway   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
BlueQue Island Grill   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Maximo   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Selva Grill   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Bijou Café   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Salute   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Libby’s Café & Bar   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Patrick’s 1481   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
eat here   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Mozaic   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Lavanda   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Pattiegeorge’s   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Duval’s New World Cuisine   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Caragiulos Italian-American   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu
Ophelia’s on the Bay   –   Savor Sarasota 2012 Menu

As with any special offer, there is limited time to take advantage of it. So why not act now and explore some new dining spots in Sarasota? Your tastebuds and wallet will shower you with appreciation!

Hanna Schneider and Rochelle Seldin

The Fresh Start Café, one from an abundant crop of new Sarasota restaurants, recently opened in the Burns Court area. Founded by business and life partners Rochelle Seldin and Hanna Schneider, the restaurant represents a new beginning for each. Rochelle, a singer, entrepreneur and entertainer, longed for another opportunity “to do her own thing” and work for herself—to make a new beginning. Hanna, after taking a hiatus from the food service business to focus on the couple’s young family, wanted to put her culinary skills back to work. The seeds for the Fresh Start Café were germinated.

With an emphasis on fresh, the menu is well-balanced, offering familiar and unique breakfast and lunch fare (eggs, frittatas, baked goods, soup, salads and sandwiches), all with a Fresh Start Café signature touch. For our meals we had the following:

    • Pumpkin Muffin: Fresh-baked and covered in powdered sugar.  $2.50
      Very fresh, subtle flavor; great with morning coffee.
    • Apple Muffin: Fresh-baked, with chunks of apple.  $2.50
      Very light and flavorful, sweet but not overdone; another great accompaniment to coffee.
    • Burekas: Flaky puff pastry filled with salted cheese. A popular Israeli way to eat burekas is by adding slices of hardboiled egg, tomatoes and black pepper.  Cheese: $3.50; add $1.00 for the “Israeli Way”
      Very interesting pastry; a non-sweet baked good alternative, simple yet flavorful.
    • Poached Eggs over Spinach: Topped with hollandaise sauce, served on rye toast with a side of chopped salad or fresh fruit.  $7.25
      A very nice presentation: eggs perfectly poached, colorful, flavorful, and the toast was great.

      La Greca Fiittata

    • La Greca Frittata: Three eggs, spinach and feta baked (not fried) to order in a deep skillet, served with toast, strawberry butter and a choice of chopped salad or fresh fruit.  $8.25
      A very filling, flavorful alternative to the omelet; nice presentation, delicious.
    • Going Green Frittata: Three eggs, zucchini, broccoli and chives, baked (not fried) to order in a deep skillet, served with toast, strawberry butter and a choice of chopped salad or fresh fruit.  $8.25
      Fresh and full of subtle flavors and texture; nice presentation.
    • Tuna Salad Sandwich: Choice of Italian ciabatta, black Russian rye, wheat grain or white bread, served with lettuce, tomato and onion.  $6.25
      A well-prepared and presented sandwich served with a side of couscous.
    • Thanksgiving Day:  Your choice of bread with turkey, cheddar, cranberries, and horseradish mayo.  $8.75
      Very flavorful and filling, served with a side of pasta salad; simply delicious.

      Tuna on Black Rye

      The Fresh Start Café offers a limited selection of beer and wine to accompany your meal, while offering a good selection of coffee, tea and soft drinks. The wait staff is very friendly, accommodating, fast and efficient.

      Perhaps the Fresh Start Café is an insider’s place, mostly discovered by locals in the Burns Square and Palm Avenue areas. However, the word is getting out about the quality of the food, and the Fresh Start  is becoming a very busy spot for breakfast, lunch or just for coffee—another welcome addition to the Historic Burns Court neighborhood.

Chef Darwin Santa Maria

Chef Darwin Santa Maria and flavorful food may be synonymous in Sarasota. Darwin has created and served his version of Latin fusion cuisine in a number of Sarasota venues for over a decade. Although a number of stories have been written about Darwin’s culinary skills and talent, I wanted the backstory on Darwin’s culinary evolution. Here is what I found.

JLQ: Many things have been written about you, so I would like to focus on something you would like the Sarasota area to know about you but has not yet been written. Any thoughts?

Darwin Santa Maria: Yes, one thought might be the inspiration behind my cooking; that which inspires me to do new things, to keep going. I do not think anyone has written about that.

JLQ: Sounds good. Before we explore your inspiration, can you share your culinary background?

DSM: I was born in Peru, came to Miami as a child, went to high school in Sarasota and returned to Miami to go to Johnson & Wales’ culinary college. I graduated from Johnson & Wales and was expecting to travel. My plans were to go to France and Hawaii, but before I left on such a long journey, I wanted to return to Peru and visit my father.

JLQ: So what happened when you went back to Peru?

DSM: I went back to visit my father and I reconnected with a childhood friend. As kids and families we did everything together, but I did not see her for seven years and now she was a grown woman! We started dating and I decided to return to Sarasota and visit my mom.

JLQ: I presume your plans for travel were altered?

DSM: Yes, I decided to give Sarasota a try and worked in a number of restaurants starting as a line cook and working my way up from there. I was very fortunate to work with people that let me do my own thing and I learned from them.

JLQ: What did your early working experience teach you about the restaurant business in Sarasota?

DSM: I learned there was an opportunity to introduce Latin food and spices to the Sarasota diner. I had purchased some of my own chilies and spices and experimented with certain dishes. We were getting requests for Latin parties and specials. People were enjoying the new food. It was very exciting.

JLQ: Then what?

DSM: Well, I got married in 1999, went from sous chef at Michael’s on East to the Executive Chef of Fred’s and was named as one of the Top 10 Chefs in the nation by Food and Wine Magazine in 2001.

JLQ: That is a great deal of success and stress in a short amount of time. How did you handle it?

DSM: It was all very weird, exciting, fast and uncomfortable. There were photo shoots, wine dinners and autograph signings. I was very nervous and did not know what to expect, but one of the chefs, Michael Anthony, encouraged me to be myself and that advice had a calming influence on me. He even lent me one of his sets of knives for the “cook-off!”

JLQ: What happened when you returned to Sarasota?

DSM: After my experience in New York and the positive response to my food, I decided it was time to open my own place. I found a small space on Clark Road and the first Selva was born. I was nervous but confident we would do well and it was busy right from the opening. A few years later we moved to a larger downtown location. Business was good but very busy and time consuming. Although things were going well, I did not feel satisfied. There were many conflicts happening at the same time.

JLQ: So you were being pulled in different directions at once. How did you resolve these conflicts?

Inspired by Family

DSM: Yes, that is true. The business was taking center stage in my life. This was not good because at the same time my wife and I were trying to start a family. We adopted our first son. My father became ill in Peru, and the demands of the business continued to require more time. My wife decided to return to Peru while I sorted out the details of the business. I decided to give up the partnership and return to Peru. I put my family first.

JLQ: What happened when you were in Peru?

DSM: While in Peru, my wife became pregnant with twins. I had the opportunity to relax and regain my energy and culinary creativity. I thought about opening a restaurant in Peru but decided my heart was in Sarasota. I did some work with other restaurants and then the opportunity to do my own came about and Darwin’s on 4th was born.

JLQ: How will Darwin’s be different for you?

DSM: First of all, I learned from my prior experiences. My passion for cooking comes from my family, and that energy is strong. I know how important that is to me. I am working to maintain a good balance between work and family. In the past everything came so fast; the balance was not right. Now we are starting out with the right balance with room to grow and be flexible.

JLQ: Any last thoughts?

DSM: I know Sarasota is the place I want to be, and Darwin’s on 4th is the place where I want to share my food with friends both old and new.

JLQ: Thank you for sharing some of your previously unshared thoughts with us.

Derek Barnes

People rarely think about the time and attention a chef puts into planning a restaurant’s menu. After all, how hard can it be to create a list of the items being served? In reality, the days of a legal-sized sheet of paper with a listing of dishes are gone. Today’s chefs see their menu as an extension of their culinary vision: something that reflects their restaurant, skill and creativity—not just a list of dishes!

Although it sounds simple and rather mundane, the planning of a new menu can take months of work and preparation to do it right. I caught up with Chef Derek Barnes, owner of Derek’s Culinary Casual, to understand his thinking on menu planning and the process he deploys when planning to make any menu change.

Derek’s Culinary Training and Background

After graduating with honors from the School of Culinary Arts in Denver, Derek went to New Orleans to work with Emeril Lagasse in his Emeril’s restaurant. Starting there as garde manger, within a year and a half Derek had earned a sous chef position.

After four years with Emeril’s, Derek took a position as Chef de Cuisine at the Beach Bistro and then opened Culinary Casual in January 2006. Derek has earned accolades and awards such as Semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Best Chef South award, Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon award, “Most Innovative Chef” in the Best of SRQ Magazine 2009 and a three-time listing in the exclusive Zagat America’s Top Restaurants list.

JLQ: Before we get started talking about menus, can you tell me a little bit about what it was  like to work with Emeril?
Derek Barnes: Working with Emeril was an incredible learning experience. His persona in the kitchen is a lot different than what you see on TV. He is intense, demanding and expects the very best from you all the time. My time there was incredibly educational and rewarding, one of my best culinary experiences.

JLQ: It seems to me changing a menu at a well-established restaurant like yours is no simple matter. Can you tell us how the process works at Derek’s?
DB: Yes. The process is quite involved and requires careful planning and logistics. When we consider changing a menu we are trying to accomplish a few things. First and foremost, we want to keep our existing customers’ tastes and preferences front and center. Secondly, we want the new menu to be reflective of current dining trends and styles, such as small plates.

JLQ: Recently you changed your menu and added quite a few new dishes while maintaining many of the “old favorites.” What was the thinking behind this change?
DB: With our  sixth year of operation approaching, we thought the time was right to introduce some new items. This menu change offered us the opportunity to take the standard legal-sized menu sheet and transform it into a booklet, offering more choices and options to our customers. In essence, we were able to expand in a very cost-effective and affordable way.

Derek at work.

JLQ: So once you decide to make some menu changes or updates, can you step through your internal process?
DB: When we make any menu change we look at it very carefully. We know our customers’ tastes very well and try to plan new items accordingly. Generally, we offer daily special items in addition to our regular menu. Depending upon acceptance and feedback, many of these specials will become candidates for the new menu. Once we select a dish for possible inclusion, we source and price the ingredients, develop, refine and rework the recipe as necessary and then orient and train the kitchen staff. In essence we are providing quality control for the recipe, the ingredients, the preparation, the presentation and the pricing before the dish makes it to the printed menu.

JLQ: So once the main menu is finalized, what happens to the dessert and wine menus?
DB: Planning the dessert and wine menu is a much easier process. Since the wine and dessert menus play supporting roles to the main menu, we design both in a complementary fashion after the main menu is established.

JLQ: Any last thoughts about menu planning at Derek’s?
DB: The menu planning process is ongoing here at the restaurant. We want to make sure the meals we serve are creative and responding to our customers’ expectations and tastes. I can see us changing the menu probably twice each year, which means it is ever-evolving.

For weeks I watched the transition take place; the former space of longstanding Zoria and the short lived Main Street Oyster Bar being transformed into the new Half Shell Oyster House. Started in the summer of 2009 in Gulfport, Mississippi and shortly thereafter in Biloxi, the Sarasota Half Shell Oyster House is a joint venture between Bradenton resident Dino Mirando, and the Gulf Coast Restaurant Group headed by Bob Taylor.

Located at 1991 Main Street, on the corner of Links Avenue, the Half Shell Oyster House is an impressive space. Dark rich wood tones, tiled floors, wrought iron railings, white linen tablecloths, and a large high ceiling space, the newest place on Main Street exudes southern charm and offers a menu which is totally complementary.

Signature Charbroiled Oyster

Center stage on the menu, oysters of course, with the Half Shell signature charbroiled being one of many choices. Shrimp, crab cakes, and fish round out the seafood selections; however there are salads, pasta, chicken and steak for the non-seafood lover. In other words, the Half Shell offers a broad choice of menu items for all diners. The Half Shell Oyster House opens daily at 11am.

Pre-opening Reception: A “Win/Win” Event

On Friday January 6, 2012, the Half Shell Oyster House sponsored a pre-opening reception supporting the Mark Wandall Foundation.

About the Foundation:

The Mark Wandall Foundation formed in 2003 in honor of Mark Jeffery Wandall who tragically lost his life due to the negligence of a red light runner. The primary missions of the foundation are to support and nurture children in our community who have experienced loss in their lives and to educate and raise awareness regarding traffic safety and compliance.

This pre-opening reception was most certainly a win/win event attended by hundreds of people. Launching their first event, The Half Shell Oyster House underscores their care and concern for the community; while donating all the food, drinks, wine, beer, venue and staff for the evening, creates a well-received fund raising event for the Mark Wandall Foundation.

What better way to stress test your staff, make sure you are ready to open,  and give something back to the community?

Well done!

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Derek Barnes: Executive Chef/Owner

Question: What is Derek’s Culinary Casual?

Answer:  An absolutely delightful spot for mid-week lunch!

Smoked Pork

Smoked Pulled Pork Sandwich: A perfectly toasted bun (warm and crunchy on the outside; slightly charred on the inside) was the ideal vessel holding moist, stringy, tender pork with layers of subtle flavor. This is truly a refined pulled pork sandwich; absolutely delicious! In fact, I nominated it on my Foodspotting page.

Chopped Wild Salmon Salad

Chopped Wild Salmon Salad: A plate full of flavor, color, texture, and goodness. The light, healthy, and satisfying lunch

Chicken Banh Mi

Bell & Evans Chicken Banh Mi Sandwich: An interesting twist of this Vietnamese staple, full of flavor and textures. Once you taste this chicken, ordinary chicken will never do again. Amazing.

Banana Cream Custard

Banana Cream Custard: A signature dessert and one we always order. Also a Foodspotting nomination!

In addition to the above, Derek’s has many other lunch options.

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