Ask Jennifer Fraizer just what the plan was for Smell the Bread, the new café she opened at Beneva and Clark two weeks ago, and her answer is simple: to "do everything the right way." Everything? That means healthy (her menu is dotted with meat substitutes like tempeh), humane (all the meat she does serve is Certified Humane) and, of course, tasty.
Fraizer herself became a vegan in the '80s, out of a desire to eat healthier and as a reaction to the horrors of factory farming, and after years as a chef at Venice's Venetian Golf & River Club, she's striking out on her own and trying hard to live up to those ideals. She orders all her produce from Sarasota's Global Organics, has banned dairy and even signed on to Sarasota County's Green Business partnership program. All the fruits and vegetables in her restaurant come from the U.S. Her coffee beans are roasted in Venice. The to-go box and bag I take my meal home in are biodegradable. The restaurant donates a chunk of its income to a nonprofit each Monday. I could go on. And on.
But is the food any good? Fraizer says her restaurant has already found an audience among vegetarians and vegans — who don't have many local options. While most restaurants have a veggie item or two, around half of Smell the Bread's menu seems meat-free. Fraizer has come up with some interesting substitutes, too: like a "house ricotta" made out of tofu, nutritional yeast and (of course) a "secret blend of spices."
And how about some tempeh in your bánh mì? That's one of the dishes I dig into back at home. While a traditional bánh mì is a baguette loaded with glazed pork and pâté, Fraizer's version uses a New England-style bun (hence its "Boston" nickname) and tops the tempeh with classic spicy-sweet sauce and pickled veggies. Will it stop me from eating pig again? No. But it's awfully tasty, and it's great to find light, meat-free food in this town.
Another lunchtime hit: Smell the Bread's flatbread menu. The restaurant bakes up pita-like discs and wraps them around a wide variety of options, like my order of chicken. I loathe most wraps, but the fresh bread represents a major step up from the traditional flavorless flour tortilla.
The restaurant also offers a handful of custom-made fresh drinks, including a "gingered" lemonade (delicious) and something called The Green Monster: a refreshing mix of pineapple, mango, apple and a nutritional powder known as Macro Greens.
Fraizer says the café has been buzzing so far, packed with folks eager for a change of pace. As a vegan, she'd love to go 100-percent vegetarian, but says the Sarasota market isn't quite ready for it yet. Maybe some day.
This is the 23rd entry in Eat Near, a regular column dedicated to all the lovely food that folks on the Suncoast grow, raise, kill or craft. If you have an idea for someone/thing to feature, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter: @LeveyBaker.