It has been said “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Such was the case for Giuseppe and Nanette Galloni. Originally from Sicily, the Galloni’s came to Sarasota by way of Venezuela. In the early 1980’s, authentic Italian groceries, meats, and cheese, were hard to find locally. Living in Sarasota yet yearning for the foods of Italy, the Galloni’s decided to source their own Italian specialties. In December, 1984 Casa Italia was launched and Sarasota had a new Italian specialty food market.

Over an 18 year period, Giuseppe and Nanette built a thriving gourmet food business. With a passion for authentic, high quality, Italian delicacies and groceries, the Galloni’s searched for new owners, who might share the same passion. In February, 2002 the Galloni’s met Raj and Nita Mathur and a new chapter for Casa Italia was set 


in motion.

Casa Italia’s 28th anniversary was celebrated in December, 2012.



I recently spent some time with Raj and Nita, learning more about them, the Casa Italia story, and their plans for 2013 and beyond. Here is what I found:

JLQ: So how does an Indian couple living in London come to Sarasota and wind up owning an Italian specialty market?

Raj: Nita and I were raising our family in London, had traveled throughout Europe, and wanted to include the United States in our travels. In 2001 we visited the US for the first time and immediately thought this was a place where we could live. In short order, we made the decision to move to the US.

If we owned a business in the States, the immigration issues would be less complicated. So we returned to Florida in February, 2002 with the intention of finding a suitable business to purchase. We traveled throughout the state exploring various businesses and locations before the Casa Italia opportunity was presented.

JLQ: And then what happened?


Raj: Nita and I share a great passion for food. We traveled throughout Europe sampling and tasting various cuisines. We were/are particularly fond of Italian cuisine. So the thought of owning an Italian specialty market seemed like a good idea. In fact, it felt right!

Since my professional training was accounting, I was able to examine the numbers from the Casa Italia business and quickly determine the viability of our idea. We decide to purchase the business and put our plans in motion.

JLQ: That was a big step to take. Tell me about the challenges in making such a change.

Raj: First of all we were determined to make this move to the US. This determination helped us overcome some of the challenges we naturally faced. It was going to be a 6 month process to get all the paperwork in order. I submitted my 6 months notice, hired a lawyer to manage the immigration process and also to handle the purchase of the business. We then planned our move from London to Sarasota but had to wait for all of the immigration and business buying iss


ues to be resolved before we could physically move.

JLQ: So in essence you bought a business and with it a new life?

Raj: Yes indeed, we changed professions, country, and lifestyle, as a result of this singular move.

JLQ: So the deal is complete. You move to Sarasota and then what?

Raj: The purchase became official in September, 2002. We worked very closely with the Galloni’s for a 3.5 month period to learn the business from the inside out. They were extremely helpful and remain so 



JLQ: Did you have any hesitations once you were here?

Raj: No, not really. We were very enthusiastic about the business, the opportunity, and the products. We gradually expanded the number of products we were offering. Additionally, we saw an opportunity to offer “grab and go” prepared foods. Chef Frank Silvestro introduced himself to us and offered some cooking demonstrations at the store. Since the food was well received by our customers, we started to offer prepared Italian dishes weekly. With today’s busy lifestyle, the prepared food is a big hit for us and our customers.Image

JLQ: I could not help but notice the selection of Indian dishes in the prepared food section. How did this come about?

Nita: Initially we were very hesitant to offer any Indian foods. We did not want to change the character of Casa Italia and risk losing some loyal customers. However customers regularly asked if we would consider offering an Indian cooking class. To offer such a class would be easy for us, so we decided to give the Indian cooking class


 a try. It was a big success. Today, the classes are a regular part of our business. We also have a small section, in the back of the store, where customers can buy Indian spices for their own food prep. And of course we offer “grab and go” prepared Indian dishes on Fridays.

JLQ: Adding Indian products and prepared foods certainly projects an international feel.

Raj: Yes that is true. Casa Italia’s Italian roots are deep but over time the products have become more international. For instance we not only offer olive oils from Italy but also from Spain. The same is true with our cheese, meat, vinegar, and almost all products. In fact just the other day I noticed we had a product from Iceland. So I guess you can say we have become an international specialty market.

JLQ: So where is Casa Italia going in 2013?

Raj: Since our Italian and Indian cooking classes have been so well received, we plan on doing more this year. We will continue to offer a wide range of unique, high quality food products. We are in the process of expanding the frequency of our wine tastings as well; so customers can expect more tastings in 2013.

JLQ: Thank you Raj and Nita for your time. I enjoyed learning more about Casa Italia and your adventure to Sarasota.

Raj & Nita: Thank you Jack. It was our pleasure.



SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Has this ever happened to you? You are reading a menu in a fine restaurant. Everything sounds delicious. Making a decision on what to order is difficult. You are relying on the item descriptions and preparation to assist you; however many of the terms being used are ones which are unfamiliar to you. Well it has happened to me and let’s face it, there are only so many times you can request assistance from the waiter/waitress without feeling sheepish!

A great solution to this culinary dilemma is offered by Derek Barnes, chef/owner of Derek’s Culinary Casual, one of Sarasota’s most innovative restaurants. His menu includes a Foodnotes section which defines many of the culinary terms used in the food descriptions.

We liked this idea so much at SRQ Reviews, we decided to follow Derek’s lead and start defining some of the terms used in our restaurant reviews and/or blogs:

  • Culinary Adventure: Used to categorize a restaurant which may not have all the expected attributes of fine dining, yet serves very good, specialty prepared foods. In other words, there may be something lacking such as décor, locale, menu selection etc. but the quality of the food trumps all.
  • Culinary Explorer: An individual on a quest to discover the newest or best restaurant; often very knowledgeable about food, wine, and a wide variety of restaurants.
  • Food Channel Foodie: Amateur to semi-professional chef always looking for new food combinations to taste and try to prepare at home; cooking styles may vary but focus is always on the ingredients.
  • Foodie: An individual focused on fine food, wine, and the latest food trends. Quality is of utmost importance and price is not a factor if the quality is commensurate; not to be mistaken for a food snob.
  • Food Snob: An individual keenly interested in trying the latest and greatest ingredients and newest restaurants; price is never an issue; will only dine in a limited number of restaurants; trendy.

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

Everyone loves a party, especially one done in grand style. Such was the case for the 2012 Forks and Corks Grand Tasting held on Sunday, Jan. 29. The 5th Annual Forks & Corks Food & Wine Festival was hosted by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals and made possible through event sponsors, donors and business partners.  Sarasota’s culinary creativity, range and diversity were all  showcased in a series of winemaker dinners, interactive seminars and classes and with the culminating public event, the Grand Tasting.

The Sunday afternoon was “picture perfect” for an outdoor event: bright and sunny, not a cloud in the sky with temps in the 70s. The magnificent courtyard of the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art served as center stage for a palate-pleasing presentation. The performers, approximately 50 local chefs and restaurateurs, combined their culinary talents with 80 international winemakers to present one of the finest flavorful food festivals in Sarasota.

The Grand Tasting event was scheduled from 12-4 pm. We arrived fashionably late (12:20pm), only to find the crowd already sizeable. With 1000-plus people attending and this event being a quick sell-out, we anticipated some difficulty with logistics. This was not the case at all! Registration was easy, the program well-organized, signage was good and the flow of people easily managed. All we needed was a plan to navigate more than 85 tables offering food, beer and wine. Our initial plan was amazingly simple in concept: start in numeric order, do a quick survey of the various foods and wines being offered (noting the ones we wanted to explore further) and then circle back to those tables we highlighted. We quickly realized our levels of interest far exceeded our capacity to taste and consume. So much for best-laid plans! Here are some of the highlights from our gastronomic trek.

Osso Bucco from Ophelia's

Local Food:

– Lamb Osso Bucco from Ophelia’s on the Bay
– Grilled Flank Steak on Artisan Roll from Michael’s on East
– Bruchetta Pomodoro and Agnolotti from Salute!
– Spicy Korean Pork Belly Happy Buns from The Polo Grill & Bar
– Kobe Beef Sliders from Square 1 Burgers & Bar
– Classic Caesar Salad from Euphemia Haye

Taylor Bay Scallop Crudo from Derek's

– Taylor Bay Scallop Crudo from Derek’s Culinary Casual
– White Bean Cassoulet from Bijou Café

Food photos courtesy of Larry Hoffman.



Wines from around the world:

– Bell Pinot Gris from Bell Wine Cellars
– Whispering Angel Rosé from Chateau D’Esclans
– Sondraia Bolgheri DOC from Poggio al Tesoro
– Noble Riesling from Helfrich
– Carneros Chardonnay from Merryvale Winery
– Champagne Rosé from Nicholas Feuillatte
– Mint Haven Cabernet from Morgenhof Estate
– Chenin Blanc from Post House

The afternoon was truly delightful, combining some of Sarasota’s finest assets: food, wine, people and weather in one amazing place.  Plus, on your way out all of the wines tasted were offered for purchase in a special retail tent at a discounted price. Now how is that for an added bonus? For those who like to plan ahead, next year’s Forks & Corks is scheduled for Jan. 25-28, 2013. Tickets go on sale Nov. 12, 2012.

Congratulations to all the people who made the 2012 Forks & Corks such a great success. Sarasota was proudly represented!

Photo by Peter Acker.


Planning a successful fundraising event can be daunting. There are innumerable tasks, hundreds of details, logistics to consider, inevitable last-minute changes and challenges to master before the event can even take place, let alone be successful.

Planning these types of events since 1991, the Florida Winefest & Auction team makes this type of challenge appear easy. Having raised $7.5 million raised for children’s charities, the Florida Winefest’s Balloon Glow Dinner was their latest example of an elegant, fun-filled fundraising event.


The Balloon Glow Dinner

The first of its kind in the Sarasota area, the Balloon Glow Dinner was held under the stars at the 85-acre Herschberger Ranch on Friday, Feb. 24, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Imagine a wide-open field and pond at sunset. On one side of the pond, there’s a tent-covered area with 20 round tables elegantly set. On the other side of the pond, six hot air balloons intermittently fire their propane burners, providing a colorful glow from the inside of the balloon and the corresponding reflection off the water—truly an interesting backdrop.

The gourmet dinner catered by Chef Paul Mattison was served buffet-style, with four primary food stations and three dessert stations all set up around the back perimeter of the tent. The menu consisted of the following:

  • Panzanella: Fennel-crusted bread salad of olives, anchovies, and capers with a red wine reduction.
  • Ripe Tomatoes and Boccancini: Mozzarella with caramelized onions and fresh basil oil.
  • Strawberry Salad: Romaine lettuce with strawberries, candied walnuts, gorgonzola and chopped red onion served with Sauvignon vinaigrette.
  • Pan Roasted Rack of Baby Lamb: New Zealand rack with a mint, tomato and lemon confiture.
  • Sliced Duck Breast: With mandarin oranges, roasted shallots, candied pecans and ginger demi.
  • Carved Beef Tenderloin
  • Paella: Traditional Spanish saffron rice with shrimp, mussels, fresh fish, chorizo, pork, garlic, onions, peas, artichoke hearts and tomatoes.
  • Plank Broiled Salmon: With basil, lemon and a Vernaccia cream sauce.
  • Shrimp
  • Chicken in Chianti: Slow-roasted chicken thighs with onions, tomatoes, celery, carrots, pine nuts, sultanas, demi-glace and sage.
  • Grilled Quail: With dried cranberry sauce.
  • Risotto: Fugi con Tortifo.
  • Smore’s: Fire pits, Graham crackers, marshmallows, chocolate and loads of fun.
  • Warm Apple Crisp: Deep-dish apple cobbler topped with vanilla bean gelato
  • Bananas Foster Flambé Crepe: Fresh-cut bananas, caramelized brown sugar, cinnamon and crème fraiche flambeed in a crepe with imported dark rum and banana liquor, topped with fresh, sweetened whipped cream.

Jim and Sharon Butler enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail.

As one would expect from the Florida Winefest & Auction, an ample selection of boutique wines ranging from sparkling, white, rosé, and red in various varietals were available as an aperitif and an accompaniment to the meal. Music for the evening was provided by John Rinell.

This year’s Balloon Glow Dinner served as a preview for next year’s event: Planning is already underway for 2013 Florida Winefest and Hot Air Balloon Festival to be held at the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch. Plans include participation from 15 to 20 balloonists, rides and much more to come—another first of its kind in Sarasota!

Florida Winefest & Auction’s 22nd annual event will be held in Sarasota, April 12 through April 15, 2012. For more information on all the events and ticket purchases, go to the Florida Winefest & Auction website.

Under the tent at the Balloon Glow Dinner. All photos by Candice McElyea.


SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Derek Barnes

Derek’s Culinary Casual sets the standard for fine dining in Sarasota. With extensive training and experience in the culinary arts, a creative flair and an innovative style, Derek has been pleasing Sarasota diners at his own restaurant for 6 years running. Perennially a favorite amongst critics and customers, Derek’s talent for creating unique, delectable dishes has earned him a semifinalist nomination for the prestigious James Beard Best Chef South award, Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon award, the “Most Innovative Chef” title in the Best of SRQ Magazine, and inclusion in the exclusive Zagat America’s Top Restaurants listing.

This year, Derek has created a special menu for a “Culinary Casual Celebration” for 2012!

Derek’s Culinary Casual
Welcomes You to New Year’s Eve 2012 


house made pasta,TaylorBayscallops, caviar, preserved lemon butter

SONOMA-CUTRER, Chardonnay, 2009, Sonoma
14. additional with wine pairing


grilled corn bisque, blue crab, parmesan & truffle oil whipped potato, tatsoi greens

FRANCOIS MONTAND, Sparkling Wine, NV, France
10. additional with wine pairing


ginger & citrus scented cranberries, walnut streusel, sauternes & vanilla bean vinaigrette

SCHLOSS VOLLRADS, Riesling, 2010, Germany
12. additional with wine pairing


chorizo mashed potatoes, black olive roasted green beans, crispy onion,
smoked shallot sauce

AMALAYA, Malbec, 2009, Argentina
10. additional with wine pairing


crispy roasted ½ mallard duck, house made potato gnocchi,
wild mushroom & foie gras ragout

LOLA, Pinot Noir, 2008, Russian River
15. additional with wine pairing


crispy barramundi, shrimp, calamari & mussels with toasted rice, white beans,
aji pancha broth, red onion & cilantro condiment

LAS BRISAS, Sauvignon Blanc – Verdejo   Blend, Spain
9. additional with wine pairing


parsnip, sweet pea, mint, preserved lemon, vanilla bean butter

HONIG, Sauvignon Blanc, 2009, Napa Valley
11. additional with wine pairing


Michigan cherry curd, pistachio crumble

WARRE’S WARRIOR, Special Reserve Port
9. additional with wine pairing


lavender & honey poached pear, goat cheese ice cream,
black pepper caramel sauce

DOMAINE de BEAUMALRIC, Muscat de Beaumes de Venice, France
10. additional with wine pairing


candied pecans, dried apples, guava pâté

PEDRO XIMÉNEZ, Solera 1927
12. additional with wine pairing


Please note space is limited and reservations are a must. To make reservations, please contact Derek’s Culinary Casual at 941-366-6565.

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Perhaps no holiday is more focused on food, football, family, and fun than Thanksgiving. Serving as the official “Kick-Off” to the holiday season, Thanksgiving family traditions run deep. Whether it is a family football game, a trip to the beach, a visit to grandma’s house, or just a planned viewing of the NFL games, all the planned activities revolve around the Thanksgiving meal.

Although the traditional home-cooked/home-made Thanksgiving Day meal is still the predominant manner of celebration by most, hectic schedules and lifestyles necessitate dining alternatives. For many, going out for a Thanksgiving dinner works best. After all, there is little prep and no clean-up involved! Sarasota is blessed with many fine restaurants; here are a few for your Thanksgiving Day Dining options:

Two Chefs Casual:  2:00-8:00pm. By reservation only 941-355-5151.  4 courses, $30 includes coffee, glass of house wine, beer, or soft drink.  Children under 12 years old $12 for 2 courses plus soft drink.

Patricks 1481:  3 course meal.  5 options prices ranging from $18.00 to $28.00.  For reservations 941-955-1481

Ophelia’s:  Regular menu plus traditional Thanksgiving meal $24.  For reservations 941-349-2212

Bijou Cafe:  Regular menu and specials. Traditional dinner plate $24.95.  Noon – 8:00pm.  Reservations 941-366-8111

Libby’s Cafe and Bar:  11:00 am to close (last seating at 9:00 pm)  Thanksgiving Special Dinner Plate is $30/adult and $13/child, 12 and under  — including a Turkey Brown Bag To Go.  Beverages, taxes and gratuity are additional.   Ala Carte limited menu items range from $3 to $36. For reservations call  941-487-7300

Cafe Baci:  Noon to 8:00pm  941-921-4848, 3 courses $27

Michael’s On East: From 2:00-8:00pm Traditional and special holiday menu available; For reservations, please call 941-366-0007

Polo Grill and Bar: A gourmet Thanksgiving buffet, available from noon to 5 pm. For just $32.95++ for adults, $14.95++ for children 12 and under, and free for children 4 and under; For reservations call 941-782-0899 ext. 2; 10670 Boardwalk Loop, Lakewood Ranch

The Sandbar: Traditional turkey dinner and regular menu; 11:30am to 9:00 pm; 100 Spring Avenue • Anna Maria, FL 34216  941-778-0444

The Broken Egg: open for Thanksgiving brunch at each of their three locations from 7:30 am to 2:30 pm

 6115 Exchange Way, Lakewood Ranch  941-388-6898

4031 Clark Road, Sarasota   941-922-2869

140/144 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key  941-346-2750

So whatever your choice, traditional home-made or dining out, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy!

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

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

With an artistic eye and a historical perspective of performance art, Denise Kowal founded and sponsored the first Avenida de Colores Burns Square Chalk Festival in November of 2007. With a small beginning and a large vision, the Sarasota Chalk Festival has quickly become one of the most successful Festivals in Sarasota and certainly one of the most anticipated. Last year’s attendance was estimated to be 45,000 attendees over the period with many more anticipated for the 2011 event.

A 3D work in progress

The dates for the 2011 Festival are November 1-7. Currently underway, one can easily stroll the streets of Burns Square and watch the street art take an amazing form. On Sunday November 6th, the Sarasota Opera will be performing select scenes from Madama Butterfly at 11am, 3pm, and 8pm at the Chalk Festival. I have been watching the stage construction on the side street and it is truly something not to be missed.

One of the drivers for The Sarasota Chalk Festival’s popularity is its base simplicity. Pavement, pastel chalk, artists, talent, and time, all combine to form a multi-day interactive experience for the artists, sponsors, and spectators. By scheduling a number of visits over a few days, one can stroll the streets and watch the individual creations evolve and take on a presence which just has to be seen.

3D Street Art

In addition to performing street art, The Sarasota Chalk Festival offers a range of events spanning the entire week. Planning to come to the are and looking for a place to have a meal? There are a number of restaurants in the immediate vicinity which you might want to try:

Dining Al Fresco at Bond

Bond: Bistro style lunch

Burns Court Cafe: Casual Parisian style breakfast and lunch and happy hour

Fresh Start Cafe: Breakfast

Gallileo: Italian

Nancy’s BBQ: Casual lunch and dinner

Owen’s Fish Camp: Casual seafood dinner

Retropolitan: Casual Gastropub with happy hour

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

To see the Sarasota Chalk Festival 2011 Works in Progress Photo Album just click here:

Click on the link above to view the photos

Next Page »