- Main Street in downtown Sarasota / HERALD-TRIBUNE ARCHIVEDowntown Sarasota's top 50 destinations
Our passion for the many great places to eat, drink, shop, play and see a show in downtown Sarasota fueled a heated debate. It’s a clear reminder how downtown Sarasota has grown in the past decade, resulting in a dense accumulation of the best entertainment Sarasota has to offer. Downtown Sarasota is the area for a visit, no matter what you’re looking for.
We narrowed down the long list of worthies to our picks for the best 50 on and around Main Street. If you are as enthusiastic about downtown Sarasota as we are, a few of your favorite destinations probably didn’t make the final cut. Tell us about them in the comments section. —Wade Tatangelo and Brian Ries
- 1310 Main St., 951-7860; artisancheesecompany.com1. ARTISAN CHEESE COMPANY
Besides the extensive selection of cheese from artisan producers across the world, the “cheese gals” at Artisan offer classes, other gourmet foods and a killer mac and cheese on their limited but tasty lunch menu.
- Ringling Blvd. and Bay Front Drive, 365-5318; sarasotagov.org.2. BAY FRONT PARK
Home to a children’s splash park, an awesome playground and a rocky beach that lets parkgoers dip their toes in the water, Island Park is one of those places where you can spend a day enjoying the great outdoors and gawking at boats, all within sight of Sarasota’s downtown core.
- 1287 First St., 366-8111; www.bijoucafe.net3. BIJOU CAFÉ
There’s a reason this venerable downtown restaurant recently garnered the highest ratings in the Zagat guide. For over 25 years, the Bijou has combined excellent service, exquisite cuisine and a genteel setting to create one of the best restaurants in town, let alone downtown.
- 1525 4th St., 388-7539; blueroostersrq.com.4. The Blue Rooster
The traditional sounds and cuisine of the South make for a winning combination at The Blue Rooster, which hosts local and national roots music acts five nights a week.
To go with the menu steeped in Southern comfort foods you’ll find an impressive selection of classic Dixie cocktails.
- 1817 Fruitville Road, 366-68605. BREAKFAST HOUSE
The Breakfast House started a revolution on Fruitville Road that has seen businesses pop up in an area that used to feature nothing but rundown wooden houses. Its success lies in the beauty of the converted historic home and the wonderful presentation of classic and imaginative breakfast fare.
- 401 S. Pineapple Ave., 312-6633; burnscourtcafe.com6. BURNS COURT CAFÉ
It’s a little coffee shop that fits the neighborhood, relying mostly on shaded sidewalk tables where diners can take in the scene while sipping on fantastic coffee, quiche and salads.
- 506 Burns Court, 955-3456; filmsociety.org7. BURNS COURT CINEMAS
This raspberry-colored movie house in historic Burns Square has been one of the top places in the region to watch first-run independent, art and foreign-language films for more than 20 years. In addition to popcorn and such, there’s beer and wine. Enjoy the libations during a screening or while engaging in a pre or post-movie conversation at the cinema’s covered tables outside.
- 1296 N. Palm Ave., 366-5648; cafeepicuresrq.com8. CAFÉ EPICURE
The sister restaurant of Mediterraneo (see No. 25), Café Epicure also offers skillfully prepared, authentic Italian dishes but in a more relaxed atmosphere that includes al fresco dining and a chic martini bar.
- 69 S. Palm Ave., 951-0866; caragiulos.com9. CARAGIULOS
For decades, Caragiulos has been known as a family Italian spot in the midst of downtown’s gallery district, but the restaurant’s true success lies in how its menu changes with the times, offering cuisine that easily surpasses the “family” label.
- 1553 Main St., 906-9575; cestlaviesarasota.com10. C’EST LA VIE
Enjoy a genuine French bistro experience at this bakery and restaurant that will seduce you during breakfast and lunch with such temptresses as the pastries, crepes, baguettes, quiches, and sandwiches such as the alluring croque-monsieur. Craving a really decadent treat? Wrap your mouth around a freshly baked chocolate croissant.
- 1341 Main St., 957-0700; barclasico.com10. CLASICO CAFE & BAR
Part of the craft cocktail boom and a great place for singles to mingle later in the evening, Clasico also puts out a fun, creative menu of sandwiches, salads, tacos and other comfort foods that won’t completely destroy your diet.
- 1525 4th St., 343-2165; darwinson4th.com11. DARWIN'S ON 4TH
A place that does so many things right, Darwin’s is a gastro brewpub specializing in Andean-influenced beers that also excels at cocktails. And then there’s the food. From bar bites to sophisticated main courses, chef/owner Darwin Santa Maria delivers with consistently interesting, crowd-pleasing creations that reflect his roots in Peruvian cuisine.
- 1241 N. Palm Ave., 351-9000; floridastudiotheatre.org13. FLORIDA STUDIO THEATRE
This esteemed performing arts company, home to a diverse mix of professionally produced plays and musicals, features two main stage theaters, two cabarets and is home to the FST Improv Troupe.
- 1490 Main St., 366-5969; thegatorclub.com14. GATOR CLUB
This century-old saloon that used to double as a bordello remains a prime destination for drinking, dancing and socializing; with rock shows downstairs by local bands as well sensual upstairs performances by the gals and guys of Sarasota’s Black Diamond Burlesque.
- 1703 Main St., 366-5570; panificiousa.com15. IL PANIFICIO
The service may be spotty, but there is no doubt that this pizza joint serves some of the best pies in town, thanks to a thin crust that tastes even better by the slice, when it gets a second go in the blazing oven to add a crunch to the flavorful dough.
- 239 S. Links Ave., 706-4740; indigenoussarasota.com15. INDIGENOUS
Chef Stephen Phelps has received serious accolades of late, especially from the prestigious James Beard Foundation, for his devotion to local ingredients, sustainable seafood and clever cuisine, not to mention the idyllic setting in the heart of the Towles Court Art District.
- 1413 Main St., 388-7869; ivorysarasota.com17. IVORY LOUNGE
Southwest Florida’s most fashionable nightspot for dancing to sets by local and national DJs, or to just sit back and enjoy the VIP cabanas and bottle service, Ivory Lounge is currently undergoing remodeling but will return with a grand opening weekend bash starting July 25.
- 1111 Ritz Carlton Drive, 309-2266; jackdusty.com.18. JACK DUSTY
Feel like drinking in style? Step up to the bar at Jack Dusty and watch the fiery spectacle of the $21 Smoking Jacket, then sip this killer cocktail in a gorgeous, waterfront setting that gets especially giddy after office hours. Next? Order the homemade pork rinds that come with a mug of Pabst Blue Ribbon, all for $5. The $22 steak sandwich is good, too.
- 1289 N. Palm Ave., 552-9688, louiesmodern.com19. LOUIES MODERN
As contemporary looking as the name suggests and located at the bottom of the state-of-the-art Palm Avenue Garage complex, Louies Modern serves trendy, hand-crafted cocktails to match its cosmopolitan menu, anchored by house-made pastas, steaks and seafood.
- 1990 Main St., 953-2900; maderestaurant.com20. MADE RESTAURANT
All-American dishes and drinks are elevated with fresh ingredients and smart revisions at Made, with favorites ranging from duck wings to a cheese steak served with cheesy tots. The bartenders excel at numerous craft cocktails and routinely make an extra special Manhattan.
- 1944 Main St., 955-8733; themainbar.com21. MAIN BAR SANDWICH SHOP
Since 1958, this is where downtown denizens have come for lunch, and for good reason. From the Famous Italian to other popular items such as the Aztec, Black Russian and Reuben, plus numerous club combinations, you can’t go wrong with a sandwich from this place.
- 811 S. Palm Ave., 366-5731; selby.org22. MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS
A horticultural oasis at the edge of downtown, Selby Gardens has a little something for everyone, including eight greenhouses featuring more than 20,000 plants, outdoor gardens facing Sarasota Bay and the new Children’s Rainforest to add a little excitement for its youngest visitors.
- 543 S. Pineapple Ave., 444-7196; mattomatto.com23. MATTO MATTO
Located in a wedge of building where Pineapple and Orange Avenues meet, Matto Matto serves excellent pizza and pasta and an extensive wine list to a small dining room and one of the best outdoor courtyards in the area.
- 1923 Ringling Blvd., 925-3869; mccurdyscomedy.com24. MCCURDY’S COMEDY THEATRE
Les and Pam McCurdy’s new facility features a showroom specifically designed for the art of stand-up comedy. There’s also The Green Room, where patrons can enjoy a drink before or after the show from a full bar with a food menu, which is also available in the showroom. Rachel Feinstein, a finalist on “Last Comic Standing,” performs today/Thursday through Sunday at McCurdy’s.
- 1970 Main St., 365-4122; sarasota-italian.com25. MEDITERRANEO
Sit in the lounge and you can watch your pizza cook in the blazing wood oven behind the bar, or sit in the elegant dining room to enjoy modernized Italian classics at this East Main standard.
- 1568 Main St., 953-7111; lanrestaurant.com26. MELANGE
Don’t let the nondescript façade fool you. Inside you’ll find a sexy interior and even sexier dishes and drinks. Chef Lan Bradeen and mixologist Brad Coburn have collaborated to create a daringly eclectic and exciting late-night culinary and cocktail experience.
- 1377 Main St., Sarasota. 951-6272; mozaicsarasota.com27. MOZAIC
Chef/owner Dylan Elhajoui cooks some of the most meticulous fine dining cuisine in the area, much of it touched by influences from around the globe, as well as some daring desserts.
- 1668 Main St., 366-7600; mozzarellafella.com28. MOZZARELLA FELLA
Thanks to mozzarella made fresh every day, great bread and other fresh ingredients, Mozzarella Fella’s sandwiches are simple but astounding.
- 5 Bayfront Drive, 953-7505; olearystikibar.com29. O’LEARY’S TIKI BAR & GRILLill
Downtown’s sole tiki bar, located along Sarasota Bay, is a fine option for a cold beer along the water. In addition to the impressive views of Sarasota Bay, there’s live music and food options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- 516 Burns Lane, 951-6936; owensfishcamp.com30. OWEN’S FISH CAMP
Still packed during season (and sometimes out of season), Owen’s serves straightforward fish-camp fare in a setting that evokes old Florida, complete with decor that almost steps over the line between quaint and kitsch.
- 1568 Main St., 953-7111; pangealounge.com31. PANGEA LOUNGE
If you can find the entrance to Pangea Lounge, you’ll discover one of the best cocktail spots in town, thanks to owner/bartender Brad Coburn’s uncompromising aesthetic and his award-winning recipes.
- 1488 Main St., 366-289832. PARKER’S BOOKS
Parker’s Books is what a bookstore should feel like, with ancient wooden shelves crowded with everything from collectible science fiction pulps to leatherbound classics, pricey first editions to used romance novels, and everything between.
- 1512 Main St., 955-7545; pastryartonmain.com33. PASTRY ART
Downtown’s best coffee shop also happens to be the best place to see and be seen, where you can enjoy a Main Bar sandwich while chatting with local politicians and casual acquaintances at the large sidewalk dining area, especially on Saturdays.
- 2050 Adams Lane; scgov.net34. PAYNE PARK
Thanks to a renovation over the past five years, Payne Park has become one of the best places to bring a kid, whether they want to play on the massive circus-themed playground, do some tricks at the skatepark, or toss a ball on the wide-open rolling landscape between the walking and jogging path.
- 1516 Main St., 388-7704: penzeys.com35. PENZEYS SPICES
Cooking at home will never be the same once you’ve been greeted by the heavenly smells of the top-quality spices, herbs and seasonings collected at Penzeys. There are sample jars for sniffing and the staff is always helpful in guiding you to, say, that salt-free, sweet-but-not-hot curry powder you’ve been craving.
- 1578 Main St., 955-2683; phocalisarasota.com36. PHO CALI
This unassuming Vietnamese restaurant is often the busiest spot on Main Street, thanks to fresh ingredients and tasty but affordable cuisine.
- 481 N. Orange Ave., 706-1677; pomonabistroandwine.com37. POMONA BISTRO
A secret treat hidden in the gorgeous Citrus Square building north of Fruitville, Pomona’s Ryan Boeve and Arthur Lopes present elegant, French-inspired cuisine you can enjoy inside or on the wide courtyard next door.
- 1345 Main St., 362-4427; selvagrill.com38. SELVA GRILL
Downtown’s long-standing temple to modern Peruvian cuisine, Selva serves a variety of updated South American classics and an extensive array of ceviches.
- 2257 Ringling Blvd., 952-1730; shamrocksarasota.com39. SHAMROCK PUB
The eastern entrance to downtown (as far as we’re concerned) and the district’s king of craft beers, Shamrock Pub is an intimate room with an outstanding beer selection, run with care and cleverness by owner Derek Anderson. The place also throws many cool events like its current Summer Chef Jam, which features bottomless pints of Florida craft beers and food from a new local chef each week for just $20.
- 1412 State St., 706-2075; theshortgiraffe.com40. SHORT GIRAFFE
If you’re looking for a sweet bite, Short Giraffe is your go-to spot. Sample candied bacon, cupcakes and plenty of other tiny treats.
- 1219 First St., 444-7072; socialonfirst.com41. SOCIAL EATERY & BAR
A posh setting of polished concrete floors, a retractable roof and a bunch of fancy furniture are why you will want to visit Social. The Redhead Beer Cocktail, Grapefruit Old Fashioned and a beef-pasta-cheese combination called The Volcano are among the items that will make you return.
- 1734 Bamboo Lane, 955-9434, starkeepercafe.com42. STARKEEPER CAFÉ
Occupying a picturesque old Florida home hidden on an alley between Ringling Avenue and Main Street, Star Keeper features simple home-cooking served in cozy rooms and a beautiful backyard decorated with an old boat and antique appliances.
- 1533 State St., 951-1533; statestreetsrq.com43. STATE STREET EATING HOUSE + COCKTAILS
Chef/proprietor Christian Hershman’s restaurant and bar shuns modernity. Rather, it’s a fantastic sanctuary of timeless, expertly prepared foods and cocktails goosed with just the right amount of panache.
- 400 N. Lemon Ave., 906-1400; station400.com44. STATION 400
This breakfast and lunch spot serves great food, but the real draw comes with the setting, thanks to an historic train depot transplanted from Indiana and a massive courtyard shaded by trees, featuring wrought-iron furniture that has serious character.
- 1507 Main St., 953-6777; beerlives.com45. TAVERN ON THE MAIN
Craft beer is the main attraction here but it’s also the kind of place where you can shoot pool and enjoy a $2 Budweiser while watching the big game on the big screen. Darts, karaoke and trivia are also part of the recreation roster.
- 1529 Main St., 363-006446. TOY LAB
From the beautifully detailed stuffed animals and lifelike dolls to educational playthings and Legos, this independent toy store with an affable staff provides a wonderful alternative to the big box experience.
- 777 N. Tamiami Trail, 955-7676; vanwezel.org47. VAN WEZEL PERFORMING ARTS HALL
Broadway productions, star comedians and a mix of popular musicians – “American Idol Live” will fill the theater Thursday – are among the acts regularly performing at the iconic purple structure. The Sunset Terrace – a recent addition – is one of the best spots in downtown for having a drink while admiring Sarasota Bay.
- 404 S. Washington Blvd., 592-7376 or 726-6667; facebook.com/VCVRecords48. VATICAN CITY VINYL RECORDS
On the eastern border of downtown you’ll find this record store teeming with vinyl editions of everything from rock and country to funk and hip-hop, with both vintage and new pressings for sale. And what the owners of this Unholy Home of Rock 'N Roll Records don’t have available, they can most likely order for you.
- 660 S. Washington Blvd., 952-055549. WAFFLE STOP
Yes, Elvis ate here in 1956, a fact you won’t be able to miss if you drive by the place, but this little diner’s real charm is the more than half-century of history it has behind it, serving everyone from The King to local cops, tourists to neighborhood Joes.
- 539 S. Orange Ave., 955-7859; sarasotawex.com50. WOMEN’S EXCHANGE
The Woman's Exchange, which has been around since the 1960s, is the rare consignment store that on any given day might feature such fantastic finds as Baccarat crystal, Tiffany silver and Gucci handbags.
Downtown Sarasota Top 50
/ Wednesday, July 16, 2014