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Bar Tab: Cottage on Siesta Key

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(Dec 9, 2010) (Sarasota Herald-Tribune photo by Dan Wagner)

The Cottage is located a 153 Avenida Messina on Siesta Key. HERALD-TRIBUNE ARCHIVES.

Every year around this time Ocean Boulevard on Siesta Key becomes a heaving river of tourists. These visitors are often burdened by that crippling combination of too much sun and too much booze and possess far too little wherewithal to drive, walk or stumble anywhere except along the main drag. So they clog the traffic lanes, the sidewalks and all the restaurants, bars and ice cream shops of Ocean Boulevard. That’s why, from now until about May, if you want to enjoy somewhere in Siesta Village without being crammed next to a couple vacationing from some cold and dreary place like Kalamazoo, it’s best to explore the side streets.

Nestled behind The Hub, The Cottage has been called, by no less of an authority than this publication, one of the best-kept secrets in Siesta Village. Perhaps not as clandestine as when it opened three years ago, with a menu developed by Chef Darwin Santa Maria before he went on to establish Darwin’s on 4th in Sarasota, The Cottage still maintains its stealthy charm and alluring food. Escape to the foliage-filled, fenced-in back patio and you can really hide from the bustle of Ocean Boulevard and all those people from Kalamazoo.

Cottage margarita CROP

Watermelon Jalapeno Margarita at The Cottage. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

But there’s another great reason to visit The Cottage. The daily “happy hour” lasts six hours. That’s right. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Seated at the bar on a recent Saturday afternoon, soaking up the cozy, wood-everything, fish camp interior, I study the happy hour menu. While my amazing wife Kristin plays it safe with a $2 pint of Bud Light (for the same price she could’ve also had a Yuengling or Miller Lite draft), I opt for the Watermelon Jalapeno Margarita ($7).

“Do you like stuff that’s hot?” asks our bartender, Tiffany Harris, as if giving fair warning.

“I’ll give it a try,” I say; not quite sure of my choice.

Tiffany grabs a pint glass and muddles the melon laced with agave nectar and drops in a freshly sliced jalapeno. Oh yeah, she also pours a very welcome amount of tequila. I cautiously sip, and then gulp and then declare the drink delicious. Because, really, it’s a fine balancing act of salty and sweet and spicy and did I mention there’s also a robust amount of tequila?

I think everyone at the bar heard me rave about the Watermelon Jalapeno Margarita because the next thing I know it’s the only drink Tiffany is making. The $5 mojito, which I enjoyed during a previous visit to The Cottage, is another popular happy hour selection. But on this Saturday, thanks to me, Watermelon Jalapeno Margaritas line the bar.

“I think you started a trend,” Kristin says.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, this makes me proud, and, for reasons equally perplexing, I’m suddenly very hungry. I flip over our drink menu to find - yes! - a “culinary lunch menu.” Each dish costs $8 and they all sound like they would pair excellently with a Watermelon Jalapeno Margarita. Smoked salmon sliders, black mussels, vegetable salad, pork belly lollipop, short rib sandwich, truffle cheese burger, tuna tartar taco and tempura shrimp platter are the options. These are tough choices. We need expert advice.

Cottage food

Short Rib Sandwich, Tuna Tartar Taco and $2 draft beer at The Cottage. STAFF PHOTO / WADE TATANGELO

Kristin chats with Tiffany. A choice is made. It’s going to be the surf and turf combo of the rib sandwich and tuna tacos. Both dishes arrive in less time than it takes me to finish a Watermelon Jalapeno Margarita. The braised short ribs are outrageously tender and glazed with vegetable barbecue sauce. There’s also white radish, carrots and fresh cilantro in the mix. Served in a hoagie roll, this rib sandwich is unlike any I’ve had before. I finish my half of the sandwich in the time it takes Kristin to chew a single morsel. My amazing wife takes one more bite and gives me the rest, perhaps pitying me, and I’m eternally grateful.

Meanwhile, we have a trio of crispy wonton tacos filled with sushi-grade tuna topped with lime, avocado, cilantro and cucumber in front of us. Mouth full of fish, I say, to my wife, and anyone else within several bar stools, that I could easily eat a dozen of these tacos. Kristin smiles and carefully pulls her taco in closer so her caveman of a husband doesn’t steal the rest of her food.

It’s sunny outside and a cool(ish) breeze accompanies patrons as they push through the doors. If memory serves, some of our favorite local musicians are performing at various venues along Ocean Boulevard, playing some of our favorite songs and maybe even a request or two for those people from Kalamazoo. Full of first-rate food and, in my case, tequila, we are ready to venture out into the river of tourists.

Cottage on the Key
153 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key, 312-9300, cottagesiestakey.com

Cottage on the Key
153 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key, 312-9300, cottagesiestakey.com

Wade_Tatangelo_by_Mike_Lang_HT_06212013 Wade Tatangelo created what would eventually be called Bar Tab while working as a correspondent for the Herald-Tribune in 2003. He would continue writing about bars for Maxim, Tampa Bay Times, Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, OC (Calif.) Weekly and The Fort Collins (Colo.) Coloradoan. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune as a staff writer in 2013 and has happily returned to writing our weekly column Bar Tab. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: October 30, 2013
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