Big Al and the Heavyweights play Louisiana blues as I sample Bourbon Waffle cocktails and sweet potato pie. This is a recent Friday night at Sarasota’s Blue Rooster — one of the central restaurants in the fairly new dining/shopping/bar-hopping district known as North of Fruitville (NOF).
Off the main downtown Sarasota drag, across Fruitville Road, NOF has only had its moniker since November, but the area has clearly been undergoing a renaissance for about three years. The fare and entertainment options are now as diverse as the landscape, roping in thirty-something young professionals and retirees.
“Within the next five years, we’re going to be the destination,” says Darwin Santa Maria, who launched Darwin’s On 4th in December 2011 and coined the NOF term with Blue Rooster co-owner Bill Cornelius. “I’d like to see this area become the next Denver.”
Eclectic buildings — from a reassembled 19th-century train depot to bohemian bungalows and brand-new structures with trendy lofts — create the fresh NOF ambiance between Orange and Lemon Avenues. The architectural backdrop makes popping from place to place a leisurely pursuit.
In the Citrus Square plaza on North Orange Avenue are Pomona Bistro & Wine Bar with its Spanish wines and maple mascarpone cheesecake; and the Savory Street International Café & Bakery — a breakfast, lunch and dinner spot with artisan breads, free Wi-Fi on the outdoor patio, and mimosas and sangria.
A two-minute walk south leads to a three-building cluster along Lemon Avenue and Fourth Street, which boasts the two-story Darwin’s for Peruvian ceviche and a brewery, featuring ales like brewmaster Jared Barnes’ lauded Summadayze IPA; Station 400 for Nutella waffles and mimosas with honeydew juice; and the Blue Rooster with its nightly bands and southern-style libations. These are the five core NOF hotspots for now, but surrounding areas that are also technically “north of Fruitville” include Gillespie Park and the Rosemary District (those are taproom tales for other times).
“It’s getting vibrant and active here. People come to Darwin’s at 7 p.m. and leave the Blue Rooster at midnight,” says Cornelius, who opened the Blue Rooster in January with partner Devin Rutkowski. “I really think this is exactly what Sarasota needed.”