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Local Food Faves

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  • FOOD TEMP
    What are your faves?
    FAVES

     We all have our favorite places to eat, thanks to a great setting, personable staff or an extensive menu, but often there’s just one thing that keeps us coming back for more. These are the kinds of foods that engender culinary flashbacks, that pop up in your mind like a particularly catchy tune days, weeks or months after you last sampled them.

    There might be other things on the menu that you look forward to, but these are the foods you actually crave.

    Here are a few of our faves to get you started, but what we really want to know are the foods that you crave, the standout items that keep you up at night and make you go out of your way to satisfy that culinary itch. Let everyone know on Ticket's Facebook page or on Twitter (be sure to include a photo, if you have one), or in the comments section below and we’ll put them online and print them in Food & Wine.

    Spread the love like a jar of Southern Basket jam.

  • Salty Dog fave
    The Old Salty Dog's eponymous deep-fried hot dog.
    SALTY DOG

    A Florida beach-style bar informed by British pub traditions, Old Salty Dog opened on Siesta Key in 1985 and added a second location on City Island about five years later (5023 Ocean Blvd., Sarasota, 349-0158; 1601 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, 388-4311; theoldsaltydog.com). While only the City Island restaurant offers waterfront views and the chance to be entertained by frolicking dolphins, both locations serve the legendary Salty Dog.
    Like a corn dog but totally tastier, the quarter-pound hot dog is dipped in batter, fried to a gorgeous golden brown and served on a classic white bun with sides of freshly-cut white onions and relish ($7.99; includes fries). Go with this option to fully appreciate the beer batter that makes this dog so delicious.
    Craving a big dose of decadence? Order the Loaded Salty Dog ($13.59; includes fries) that comes with all the toppings just like host Adam Richman munched on during an episode of his Travel Channel show “Man v. Food.” All the toppings, by the way, means your dog comes smothered in American, Swiss and cheddar cheese, sauerkraut, grilled onions and grilled mushrooms with three strips of crispy bacon placed on top.
    – Wade Tatangelo

  • Star keeper donuts
    An array of Star Keeper Cafe's fresh donuts.
    FRESH DONUTS

    Ask around downtown Sarasota and you’ll find more people who haven’t heard of (or even seen) Star Keeper Cafe (1734 Bamboo Lane, Sarasota, 955-9434, starkeepercafe.com) than those who have, even though the restaurant is located in the heart of it all. Tucked into a quaint old wooden home surrounded by tall office buildings and condo blocks, Star Keeper is an island of charm and ease where you can find great home-cooked food in a beautiful setting.
    Owner Cindy Snyder serves a breakfast spread loaded with healthy items like spinach and roasted veggies, salads accented by sauteed apples and walnuts, comfort foods like big slabs of meatloaf or simple roast chicken, creative soups like basil tomato and parmesan ice cream and a large array of delicious sandwiches. But Star Keeper’s signature dessert – freshly made donuts – is what you’ll find yourself craving after your first visit.
    There are a number of varieties ranging from standard cinnamon sugar to one topped by a schmear of tart goat cheese and mounds of stewed fresh berries, but the best is the basic glazed. When it hits the table its too hot to hold onto, glistening with melted sugar that trails down the sides and pools underneath the gooey pastry. When hot, the donut collapses into a symphony of sugar, oil and yeast in your mouth. Go with a group – the basic flavors cost a mere $3.50 for four.
    – Brian Ries

  • Main Bar Aztec 1
    The Main Bar's Aztec sandwich.
    AZTEC

    Main Bar Sandwich Shop (1944 Main St., Sarasota; 955-8733; themainbar.com) has been a beloved lunch spot since former circus performers Antonio (Charlie) Borza and his wife Thea opened the place in 1958. The menu features a lengthy list of sandwiches starting with the Famous Italian and including other superb versions of such timeless standards as the Black Russian and Reuben as well as several fun twists on the club. But for something a little different with a pleasantly potent kick, sink your teeth into The Aztec ($8.25).
    Served on a Kaiser roll covered with poppy seeds, The Aztec is filled with perfectly pink, thinly sliced roast beef, provolone cheese, tomato slices, shredded lettuce and red onions. Oh yeah, and the jalapeno dressing, which makes the sandwich such a standout. Just spicy enough to enhance the roast beef and linger nicely after each bite, it gets mixed up with the lettuce, making each dropped shred worthy of being devoured with a fork or, if necessary, by hand.
    – Wade Tatangelo

  • Fav Stromboli 1
    The stromboli at Fav's Italian Cucina.
    STROMBOLI

    Walk into Fav's Italian Cucina (419 Old Main St., Bradenton; 708-3287; favsitaliancucina.com) any day of the week and it’s practically guaranteed you will see at least one of the owners in the kitchen where they have created some of the best Italian comfort food in the area for the past 14 years. Siblings Michael Favasuli and Maria Favasuli-Wagner’s homemade dough forms the foundation of Fav’s greatest dishes. These include their pizza, pasta, sandwiches and distinctive stromboli made from a recipe they brought to Bradenton from their native Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
    Filled with sausage, ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella, American cheese and a dab of mustard, the stromboli is smartly seasoned and baked in a brick oven until the exterior is crisp and the inside is molten and bursting with flavor. This terrific Italian turnover is served as bite-sized slices with homemade chilled pizza sauce. That’s right, chilled, which makes it contrast wonderfully with the straight-out-of-the-oven stromboli.
    – Wade Tatangelo

  • IMG_0848
    Some of Southern Basket's jam creations.
    STRAWBERRY RHUBARB JAM

    This time of year, Florida’s prime growing season has fled with the coming of summer temperatures, leaving farmers’ markets with limited local produce options. Thanks to places like Southern Basket (Sarasota Farmers Market, 35 S. Lemon Ave., Sarasota, 925-7451), however, there are still plenty of reasons to visit downtown’s Sarasota Farmers Market on Saturday morning. The stand sells excellent breads and fabulous homemade olive tapenade, as well as a few other canned and prepared foods, but the jams are the draw.
    Made with organic sugar – and not a lot of it – the small glass jars here do not contain the sickeningly sweet pastes you find in the grocery stores. Instead, the fruit reigns supreme, shining brightly whether you slather the jam on freshly toasted bread, eat it straight from the jar or pair it with peanut butter. Flavors like triple berry, strawberry rhubarb or triple citrus marmalade highlight local produce when possible and the $7 price seems low when you consider how much pleasure you’ll find in each jar.
    – Brian Ries

  • SweetBerries Concrete 1
    Tip it over and it won't shed a drop (at least when freshly made).
    CARAMEL CRUNCH CONCRETE

    The signature sandwiches, wraps, soups and salads are all fine reasons to visit Sweetberries Frozen Custard & Eatery (4500 Manatee Ave. W. Bradenton, 750-6771; 2881 Clark Road, Sarasota; 929-7322; sweetberries.com). But the family-friendly restaurant with a walk-up window remains most famous for its frozen custard, especially the “concretes.” One taste and driving past SweetBerries without stopping will forever become a struggle – trust me, I drive by the Bradenton location several times a week.
    The concretes begin as a bowl of vanilla, chocolate, or the flavor of the day. Next, it’s augmented with your choice of “mix-ins.” These range from fresh fruit and nuts to candy and cake batter. Stirred together, it’s so thick the server flips the concrete upside down before handing it over to you. I still get a little nervous each time one of the teenagers behind the counter does this but I’ve never seen even a drop spill.
    The numerous mix-ins can make the decision process tough so do yourself a favor and go straight to the Caramel Crunch ($4.15). It’s a heavenly blend of vanilla custard, caramel and big chunks of Heath bar. Because, let’s be honest, who really wants fruit in their custard when you can have chocolate-covered toffee?
    – Wade Tatangelo

  • opa octopus
    Opa! Opa!'s grilled octopus is tender thanks to a long boil before it hits the grill.
    GRILLED OCTOPUS

    Octopus is tricky. Cooked improperly, it can be rubbery, even downright un-chewable, with the diner left gnashing and gnashing and gnashing. Not so at Opa! Opa! (6525 Superior Ave., Sarasota, 927-1672) in Gulf Gate.
    The restaurant is situated along Superior Avenue in Gulf Gate, with one big open room dominated by an enormous photograph of Santorini that blankets one entire wall. A picturesque reproduction of a Greek town center runs horizontally above the opening in the back that allows customers a clear view of what's going on back in the kitchen.
    The Grilled Octopus comes out simple as can be, just one long, thick tentacle, lined with big, gaping suction cups. To dodge the chewy trap, the restaurant first boils the heck out of the sea creature then grills it intensely. The octopus carries a thick, charred crust on it, which gives you both that nice black flavor and also some serious crunch before you dig into the white flesh beneath. Inside, the meat is soft and juicy, its flavor enlivened by a jolt of lemon and some fresh olive oil sitting in the plate. Just plain outstanding.
    – Cooper Levey-Baker

  • FWOUT22-B
    This is where you can find Korean kimchi mashed with Yukon Gold potatoes.
    KIMCHI MASH

    Siesta Village’s The Cottage (153 Avenida Messina, Siesta Key, 312-9300, cottagesiestakey.com) has a lot to offer, from an open wood main room surrounding a cozy bar to two different outdoor areas, including a hidden back courtyard that can take you away from it all into a leafy private nook (unless there’s a guy singing cover tunes back there). Even better, the kitchen turns out some surprisingly tasty food that combines typical tropical fare with a Latin American flair. Best of the bunch is the restaurant’s Korean short ribs. Cooked long and slow until the tender meat is infused with sweet, Asian-y flavors, the real star of the plate is The Cottage’s kimchi mash. The restaurant makes its own spicy, crunchy pickled cabbage which they blend with buttery mashed Yukon Gold potatoes. The result is crunchy and creamy, rich and bright, end exceptionally tasty.
    – Brian Ries

  • taste of asia chef
    Chef Lum displays his technique at one of Taste of Asia's regular cooking classes.
    CHICKEN RICE SOUP

    Taste of Asia (4413 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, 923-2742, tasteofasiasrq.com) has developed a rabid following, even though the restaurant is in its third location in just five years. Partly that’s due to the excellent Thai, Vietnamese and Lao cuisine cooked up by owner and chef Lam Lum, which results in incredible pad Thai, an extensive vegan menu and plenty of other tasty treats. But the best thing on the menu may be the simplest: Chicken Rice Soup. It all starts with an intensely flavorful broth accented by discrete amounts of bright cilantro and refreshing scallions. In the broth sits a mound of pillowy soft rice that has absorbed all of the seasoning around it, as well as a scattering of sliced chicken that is tender and imbued with the flavor of the soup.
    Whether you’re looking for a bowl of comfort to replace your mother’s chicken noodle, or you just want a beautiful way to start a meal at Taste of Asia, the chicken rice soup will move you to return again and agian.
    – Brian Ries

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