Lovin' Spoon Full
2241 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.
Springtime: the season for new life, perhaps even in the restaurant biz. Want proof? I'm sitting at Lovin' Spoon Full, a small new café just east of downtown proper, stuck in the corner spot of the small strip mall that houses a bail bondsman, a shoe repair shop, a dry cleaner and, of course, Sarasota's best hangout, The Shamrock.
For years the location housed Levoie's, a salad-and-sandwich joint that, when a friend and I visited in 2007, had clearly seen better days. Levoie's closed up last fall, and I started hearing good things about its replacement.
Inside, Lovin' Spoon Full is sprightly cheerful, with a handful of booths stacked against the wall, opposite a long counter and one sunny booth right up front where I'm camped out. The tables are mostly full, and the door swings open frequently with to-go grabbers picking up lunch for the office.
The menu is typical soup-salad-sandwich stuff, but the restaurant's execution separates it from the pack. For starter's, Spoon Full's gazpacho ($2.50) is the bomb, so thick that it will stand up straight when you pluck a spoonful from the small cup. The restaurant blends acidic and sweet tomatoes with cucumbers and onions diced so fine you can barely see them — but you can definitely taste them. A hint of spice leaves a little sting in your mouth, and your breath will be redolent of cucumbers for hours to come. Not a bad thing!
Sandwiches are also great. I've complained about this before, but it can be surprisingly hard to find a decent, inexpensive sandwich in downtown Sarasota. Spoon Full's avocado BLT ($7.50) comes on either bread or in a wrap (if you're insane), and it tastes exactly how I want it to. Piled high with crisp bacon, ripe tomatoes and soft wedges of grassy-green 'cado, then slathered with mayo, the sandwich is straight-up excellent. Even the bread, your basic thick slabs of multi-grain, are toasted to just the right degree of brownness. I am absolutely adding this to my downtown sandwich repertoire.
On the side, Spoon Full offers chips (the bagged variety), potato salad, cole slaw, pasta salad or black bean salad. The latter is bean-forward, the salad laced with corn kernels, diced red onion, bits of tomato and short tubes of scallion. Healthy, sure, but mighty good, too.
I'm a big fan of salads that have more meat than greens on them, so I'm eager to try Spoon Full's taco salad ($8.50), which comes in a bowl big enough to use with a standing mixer, its ocean-like depth stuffed with lettuce and kale overlaid with tortilla chips, beef chili, needle-sized strands of cheddar cheese, white onions and tomatoes. A bright dollop of sour cream sits atop the whole thing, studded with scallions. Although it may not really qualify as a salad, it's great, the rich cooked protein in the chili blending well with the raw stuff. Spoon Full offers scaled-down versions of all its salads for $6.50. I confess if I order the taco salad again, I'll opt for that smaller size.
For dessert, there's just a brownie, delivered on a doilied plate. Tasty enough, but it's served cold, and probably isn't worth the calorie usage. The restaurant also serves breakfast and offers a variety of biscuits and pastries to boot.
So, new life. Tourist traffic is departing, the beaches are ours again, the weather's poised perfectly between hot and cool. Ain't springtime grand?