At the Sarasota Farmers Market, on the corner of Main Street and Lemon Avenue
7 a.m.-1 p.m. each Saturday
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.
It's a typical Saturday morning for me and the family, which means we're headed in one direction: downtown, to the Sarasota Farmers Market. Yeah, sure, there's a ton of stuff at the market that has nothing to do with farmers, and plenty of food vendors who sell goods shipped in from God knows where, but I love Worden Farm, My Mother's Garden and Peter Burkard — and like I need an excuse for an iced Americano and an espresso chip muffin from Pastry Art.
But if I'm feeling hungry enough for a full-on meal, I make just one stop: Maggie's Seafood, which sets up shop on the east side of Lemon Avenue, just south of where it connects with Main. Maggie's has sold saltwater goodies to the market masses for years now, and each week they set up shop at three markets — Venice, Englewood and Phillippi — in addition to Saturday's downtown gathering. But while you can purchase the company's Gulf-caught shrimp or its Florida fish at any of those markets, it's only at the downtown one that you'll spot the Maggie's trailer or hear the crackle of fresh fish on the flattop or catch the savory scent of sizzling sea flesh. And that's where I post up, ready to eat.
In the window: chef Doug Vogel, who put in work at Canvas Café and the legendary Alley Cat and now teaches cooking classes at Publix. He maneuvers around the tight environs of the Maggie's truck with ease, plopping fish and crab cakes down on the flattop and sprinkling them with kosher salt and Old Bay, all the while taking orders and shooting the breeze with those waiting for lunch.
My default order at Maggie's is the truck's fish BLT ($7). The protein varies, depending on what's fresh; today it's grouper, which is A-OK. But we're really hungry, so let's also try the shrimp gazpacho ($4-$7), fish tacos ($4-$7) and a crab cake sandwich ($7.). Basically the whole menu, with the exception of the lobster roll, which, at $14.50, is too expensive for the confines of this column.
The gazpacho comes first. It's a nice cool treat on a sweltering, early-summer a.m. Maybe a little thinner than I like, but it owns a nice, subtle spice, and the cold shrimp dunked in it are cooked well, nowhere near rubbery.
I took some heat a couple weeks back for dissing Cali Tacos' Guy Fieri-approved fish tacos, and I admit, thanks to local spots like Eat Here and Derek's, my standards are high. And when I talk about letting the fish shine, Maggie's offers a perfect example. The fish isn't breaded, isn't deep-fried, and while it comes out laden with lettuce and a creamy sauce and purple slaw, and then is spritzed with lime juice and doused with Tapatío, I still get a nice mouthful of meat from a sea-based life form. Charming.
The grouper BLT remains a highlight: the flesh savory, the bacon thick, the mayo lathered, the lettuce crunchy, the bun herbed. Ditto for the crab cake sandwich, which conveys a strong crab flavor with a minimum of filling.
You can wander the market with your Maggie's eats, or snag one of the four black wrought-iron tables set up on the sidewalk behind the truck. Power lines snake from the truck to a green lamppost; a propane tank rests on the hitch. Workers at Worden, right next door, are emptying green plastic bins of vegetables, while seersucker shorts and pants with unicycles and bicycles on them sit on display in Brooks Brothers' wide, clear windows. Some enjoy the sound of the guy playing the didgeridoo on the corner a few feet away, some didgeridon't.
Maggie's customers walk away with plastic bags stuffed with fresh seafood, while ladies stroll by with yappy little dogs strapped to their chests in baby carriers. Hey, welcome to the farmers' market.