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.

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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 

 

today.

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.

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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.

 

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

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

Dining out can be an interesting and at times an exciting adventure. The experience of a trying something new such as a recipe, drink, or ethnic specialty adds to this adventure. However trying a brand new restaurant can be quite adventuresome. There are unknown elements and potential risks which add to the excitement and enjoyment. What type of cuisine? How is the food? What about prices? Location? Service? are only a few of these aspects.

Destination Dining: New Restaurants in Sarasota is designed to be a dynamic, ever changing, evolving flow of information on new places to dine in Sarasota and surrounding areas. SRQ Reviews will attempt to provide timely, informative updates, brief notes, comments, and initial impressions on the newest places to dine in Sarasota.

Generally we will keep a restaurant on this list for a 3-6 month period. Once a detailed review has been completed by SRQ Reviews, we will provide a link to the information.Pomona Bistro Sarasota

The list of new restaurants in Sarasota, updated May 10, 2011

  • Sake House, 1987 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, 941-312-6256
  • Bit of Boston,  1939 Tamiami Trail South, Venice,  941-496-4587
  • Bread of Life,  6713 14th Street West,  Bradenton,  941-752-3600
  • Crazy Cravings,  4904 Fruitville Road,  Sarasota,  941-341-9206
  • Il Panificio,  2215 Gulf Gate Drive,  Gulf Gate,   941-921-5570
  • King George Pub,  6525 Superior Avenue,  Gulf Gate, ,  941-925-1966
  • Pita Shack,  5214 Ocean Blvd,  Siesta Key,  941-706-2844,
  • Voocaray,  6566 Gateway Avenue,  Gulf Gate,  941-926-2266
  • Eduardo’s Cantina, 8126 Lakewood Main Street, Lakewood Ranch, 941-907-9449
  • Star Keeper Cafe, 1734 Bamboo Lane, Sarasota, 941-955-9434
  • Scores Taproom and Grill,  3561 53rd Avenue West, Bradenton, 941-755-3553
  • Lucia’s Pizza, Bar and Grill, 1812 South Osprey Avenue, Sarasota 941-954-5400
  • Legacy Sarasota Grille, 6606 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota,  941-924-1918
  • The Loft, 5911 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, 941-312-6994
  • Salute! Ristorante-Enoteca, 23 North Lemon Avenue, Sarasota, 34236,  941-365-1020
  • Dolce Italia, 6606 Superior Avenue, Sarasota (Gulf Gate), FL  34231,  941-921-7007
  • Square 1 Burgers, 1737 South Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Fl 34239,  941-870-1111
  • Martiniville, 5337 Gulf Drive, Anna Marie Island, FL  34217,  941-779-1000
  • Brasserie Belge, 1962 Main Street, Sarasota, FL 34236,  941-706-1944
  • Pomona Bistro and Wine Bar, 481 North Orange Avenue, Sarasota, Florida 34236, 941-706-1677
  • Popi’s Place VI, 3561 53rd Ave. W., Bradenton, FL 34210, 941-761-7674
  • Peruvian Grill, 3482 17th Street and Beneva, Sarasota, FL 34235, 941-366-6585
  • Maemi Peruvian Cuisine, 1535 Main Street, Sarasota, FL, 34236, 941-954-0454
  • Daiquri Deck, St Armands, 325 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota, FL,  34236, 941-388-3325
  • Bearded Clam Waterfront Restaurant and Tiki Bar, Ramada Waterfront Hotel, 7150 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, FL 34243, 941-388–8970
  • Nancy’s Bar-B-Q, 301 South Pineapple Avenue, Sarasota 34236, 941-366-2271
  • Jimmy’s Sand Trap, 3634 Webber Street, Sarasota, FL  34232, 941-927-6600
  • Milonga Argentina Steakhouse, 3005 University Parkway, Sarasota, Fl 34243 941-358-3200
  • Evies Tavern and Grill on University, 5879 Whitfield Avenue, Palm-Aire Plaza, Sarasota, FL  34242
    941-358-9861

This is a “bumper crop” of new entrants on the Sarasota dining scene. We have started to visit a few and will be adding our reviews and comments in the near future. In the meantime, if you know of a new dining spot, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will include it on “The List.”

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

Other Sarasota Restaurant guides compiled by SRQ Reviews:

Sarasota Restaurants Serving Breakfast

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide 

According to The Panini Press, it is a party for dogs and their people being held on Saturday June 19, 2010.
The details are as follows:

Ordering off the Menu

  • Where: The Panini Press, 301 South Pineapple Ave. Sarasota
  • When: Saturday June 19th at 10:00am,
  • What: Coffee and a Proper Biscotti including some “doggie” treats

**The event is being held on the covered patio rain or shine**

Complementing the great coffee and canine camaraderie, Jeffery Andrew of K9 Korral and Sheri Fiset of Happy Dog Pet Salon will be talking about best Doggie Manners and Grooming. This fun and informative event will provide information on how to communicate, train, clean and green you best friend. 

It’s a party! You and your dog are invited!  

Reservations are suggested: 941-955-9505

doggie dining in Sarasota

Doggie Dining Treats

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

The 5th annual Savor Sarasota Restaurant week kicks off on Tuesday June 1, 2010 and continues through Monday June 14, 2010.

With one of the highest concentrations of Zagat rated restaurants in the state of Florida, Sarasota’s restaurants provide a wide assortment of cuisine and a casual to fine dining experience from which to choose. This elevation of the culinary arts joins Sarasota’s cultural attractions to provide a wonderfully splendid destination dining experience.

The Savor Sarasota restaurant week is the perfect opportunity for the uninitiated Sarasota diner to sample a number of restaurant offerings and start a list of favorites. Speaking of favorites, Savor Sarasota is also the perfect venue for the experienced Sarasota diner to revisit an old favorite or try something totally new.

All of the participating restaurants offer a multi-course lunch for $15 per person or $25 per person for dinner. SRQ Reviews reviewed the following participants:

Bijou Café
Blu Smoke Island Grill
Caragiulo’s Italian Restaurant
Ceviche
Derek’s Culinary Casual
Libby’s Café and Bar
MoZaic
Ophelia’s on the Bay
Pattigeorge’s Restaurant

Whether you are a “seasoned local” or a 1st time visitor to Sarasota, the Savor Sarasota Restaurant week has something for you. Your dining destination awaits you.

Bon Appétit!

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

SRQ Reviews Network - Dining Guide

A Historic Commitment to the Arts: A Brief Chronology

Even though Sarasota has a long history of exploration, settlement and development, today’s current city form began to take shape in the early 1920’s. Originally, part of Manatee County, Sarasota was organized as a town in 1902 and reorganized as a city in 1913. However, it was not until 1921 when Sarasota County was formed and the City of Sarasota became the county seat.

During the 1920’s the initial seeds for Sarasota’s cultural roots were sown with the 1925 building of the A.B. Edwards Theater. The grand styled art deco venue provided a variety of top talent headliners for a number of decades but it eventually fell into ill repair, lost its luster and was closed in the early 1970’s.With the purchase of the theater in 1979, a series of minor renovations and a major $20 million restoration project in 2007-08, the A.B. Edwards building was restored to its glorious beginnings and today is known as the Sarasota Opera House.

In 1936, one of Sarasota’s most prominent developers, leaders, and citizens, John Ringling bequeathed his entire estate to the state of Florida. With this bequest, came the extensive art collections which became the foundation for The John and Mable Museum of Art, one of Sarasota’s grandest locales.

Debuting in 1949 as the Florida West Coast Symphony, todays Sarasota Orchestra is the oldest continuing orchestra in the state of Florida. With a commitment to symphonic and chamber music, youth education, and the Sarasota Music Festival, the Sarasota Orchestra is delivering classical music in a new and exciting way.

In the early 1950’s the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art purchased the 18th century Italian Asolo Theater and moved it to the Ringling Estate in Sarasota. Today The Historic Asolo Theater now functions as a performing arts center providing a wide array of dance, film, theater, music and lecture performances.

In the late 1960’s the city of Sarasota was the benefactor of another bequest, this time from philanthropists Lewis and Eugenia Van Wezel. Built directly on Sarasota’s Bayfront, the Frank Lloyd Wright inspired Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall has been providing a wide spectrum of world-class entertainment for over 40 years.

In the late 1980’s/early 1990’s a “new” Asolo Theater was built on the Sarasota Campus of Florida State University adjacent to the Ringling Museum grounds.. Subsequently renamed the Asolo Repertory Theater in 2006, the Asolo is home to both theatrical performances and the Sarasota Ballet Company which was formed in 1990.

In addition to the “Big Five” Art Organizations, Sarasota is alive with community theater, art galleries, comedy clubs, music venues, special events and festivals.

 

Culinary Arts: The most popular art of all!

With the largest concentration of Zagat rated restaurants in the state of Florida, Sarasota offers a wide assortment of cuisine and style from which to choose. In fact, SRQ Reviews, Sarasota’s online restaurant guide and directory lists over 500 sorted by cuisine, style, and location.

Upscale, reasonably priced, casual dining, fresh locally grown ingredients, organic/vegan menus, small plates, and wine/espresso cafes are just a few of the recent culinary trends we see being incorporated into the Sarasota dining scene.

The art of fine dining is a part of Sarasota; so too is the casual dining spot.

Sarasota: Your Destination Awaits You

Beautiful white sandy beaches, turquoise blue colored water, tropical breezes, a truly defined downtown city feel with great restaurants, and warm friendly people; Sarasota: the cultural epicenter of Florida awaits you.