Romantic restaurants for the rest of us
Romance isn't the same for everyone. Sometimes, you just want a simple escape, a casual spot, or less-refined food to help you celebrate your love. This list might help.
153 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key, 312-9300, cottagesiestakey.comCottage on the Key
Tucked behind The Hub in Siesta Village, The Cottage is a hidden gem with an even bigger secret out back. The front of the place is a nice but typical Siesta hangout, with a front deck and interior dining area arrayed around a central bar, but step through the back door and you enter a cozy oasis away from the bustle of the Village. Small tables, little nooks and plenty of foliage make it a great place to get close to your sweetheart while you enjoy the seafood-centric menu of The Cottage.
Sean Murphy’s mini-chain now has three locations, all with a lively and casual vibe that belies the excellence of the food. There are dishes for the pickiest of eaters, and sharing is encouraged. Downtown, you can gaze out over Main Street and head upstairs to the lounge. The Siesta and Anna Maria locations are more just as friendly and vibrant.
1600 Harbor Drive South, Venice, 488-1456, sharkysonthepier.comSharky's On The Pier
In a town that prides itself on its beaches, our area has a surprisingly limited number of dining spots that can take advantage of rolling waves and sandy shores. Sharky's has that in spades, placed high above the beach in Venice, the sand mere feet away. The food is typical tourist fare, but you'll forget all about that with the sunset in the distance.
987 S. Packinghouse Dr., Sarasota, 371-9358, oldpackinghouse.comJR's Old Packinghouse Cafe
Yes, OPC is romantic. The neighborhood vibe, comfortable atmosphere and casual food is just the thing for folks who want to relax and have a good time without the pressure of fine dining. The food is great, the soulful warmth of the place is contagious, the live music is usually fun and -- when you’re done drinking, dining, and dancing -- you can head across the street to the Cock and Bull for a few pints.
465 John Ringling Blvd., St. Armands, 296-0301Shore Diner
Shore doesn't have the intimate setting that some of the finer restaurants cultivate -- although its food and drinks are on par or better -- but that's part of its charm. Here you'll be part of a scene, eating your Valentine's Day dinner with a bunch of other couples doing the same thing. Gaze at the stars through the retractable roof in the back dining room, enjoy the view from the beautiful front patio area and soak in the romance that will emanate from St. Armands Circle.
1960 Hillview St., Sarasota, 364-4777, gatewaytoindiasrq.comGateway To India
This Indian restaurant on Hillview is decked out rich fabrics, elaborate lighting and plenty of gilt-edged wood that turns the dining room into a completely different world from most area restaurants. Different country, more to the point. Gateway has the best Indian cuisine in town. and the slow service will just provide you with an extended platform for thoughtful conversation and soul-gazing.
1813 Fruitville Road, Sarasota, 343-2280, cantaranarestaurant.comCanta Rana
Canta Rana could easily have gone on our list of more traditional romantic restaurants, but there's something distinctly casual about the place thanks to its location in the thriving bungalow business scene north of Fruitville. Inside the converted house are small, intimate dining rooms, while out back is a courtyard framed by twinkling lights and a picket fence. The restaurant's Peruvian cuisine is focused on seafood, which we all know is a serious aphrodisiac, right?
12306 46th Ave. W., Cortez, 794-1243, starfishcompany.comStar Fish Company
Sometimes, a couple just wants an unfussy venue that will let them relax. That's Star Fish Company. On the docks in the Cortez Fishing Village, you can sit right on the water and eat freshly caught grouper any way you'd like it with a cold beer close to hand.
200 Gulf Dr. N., Anna Maria, 779-2222, beachhouse.groupersandwich.comThe Beachhouse
Another beachfront gem, The Beachhouse is prime sunset-watching territory on Anna Maria, its massive outdoor deck placed right on the edge of the beach, close enough to dig your toes in the sand as you enjoy your Valentine's Day meal. Give in and eat like a tourist with peel-and-eat shrimp and sauteed grouper, enjoy a few frozen cocktails, then stroll off your excesses with a hand-in-hand post-dinner walk down the beach.
Alternative Romantic Dining
/ Wednesday, February 6, 2013