An All-Inclusive Resort in the Heart of FL - Sarasota, FL
Where I stayed
The White House
What I did
Anna Maria Island Florida
Harry's Sports Bar
Der Dutchman Restaurant and Bakery
Brohard Paw Park & Beach
Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center
Frenchy's Rockaway Grill
Water Tower Park Disc Golf Course
Capital One Bowl
Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides
Stan's Idle Hour
Jose's Real Cuban
Owen's Fish Camp
Sarasota Flea Market
Apollo Beach New Smyrna Beach
Ca d'Zan Mansion Sarasota
John's Pass Village and Boardwalk Madeira Beach
John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art Sarasota
Ringling Circus Museum Sarasota
Siesta Key Public Beach Sarasota
St. Armands Circle Sarasota
O'Leary's Tiki Bar
Old School Bar and Grill
Cigar City Brewery
Cock & Bull
Tacos El Tio
We arrived in Sarasota a bit earlier than expected and ended up staying a bit longer than anticipated, two weeks quickly became three weeks. Most days began with a run along the Sarasota Bay and over the Ringling Causeway Bridge, followed by a walk downtown with Gordon to grab some Starbucks (thanks for all the gift certificates!). Then we would head back to Rod’s for a late breakfast, shower and housekeeping. Then it was off to lunch before we headed to happy hour. Our nights usually consisted of a late dinner and drinks and/or a movie (Counselor, Blackfish, Enough Said, American Hustle, Bad Grandpa, Wolf of Wall Street) either out or at Rod’s. Although most days carried on in a similar fashion there were definitely some highlights along the way. Kaitlyn’s favorite part of every trip to Sarasota is her time spent on Siesta Key Beach. Siesta Key Beach has been voted America’s number one beach for years becuause of its crystal blue waters and white sand beach. The white sand is so fine that it feels like talcom powder and does not heat up with the sun. We got three beach days in but of course that was not enough for Kaitlyn, she would spend every afternoon there if she could.
FootballSundays were obviously set aside for football, Packers and fantasy. We arrived in Sarasota on a Sunday having left Naples early enough to give us plenty of time before game time. After successfully parking the Scamp on one side of the driveway and then successfully re-parking the Scamp on the other side, we hopped back into the car to head to O’Leary’s Tiki Bar on the Sarasota Bay before going to Old School, Rod’s favorite bar to watch the Packers. Unfortunately it is a Bears bar, with a typical obnoxious Bears fan owner. Fortunately this was mitigated by good bloodys (shrimp, bacon, homemade pickles, olives, celery, lemon and lime), crisp & spicy buffalo wings, icecold Yuenglings and the late comeback over Dallas. I do not think any of us have the clearest memory of that evening.
The following Sunday was Fantasy Championship week and I was in both of my league championship games (came away with one title) so we needed to find a place where we could watch all of the games. We ended up at Harry’s on Siesta Key, Gordon was even allowed. It was sunny and in the 70s so we took full advantage of Harry’s outdoor patio. Gordon made lots of friends and I even made a pal. Avi was in his late 60s/early 70s, born in Iran, had slicked back gray hair and wore an unbuttoned polo shirt displaying his gold chains. Avi was part of a large group that was loud, annoying and friends/family with someone in charge. As Avi and his group slowly invaded our space and backed into us, he almost stepped on Gordon which sparked our conversation. Avi loved dogs, specifically German Shepherds. He told me that when he bought his first house in an unsavory neighborhood he would never lock his doors because he had the best security system in the world, his two German Shepherds. He was never worried about someone getting in when he was gone because he knew his two dogs would not let them leave. To keep them strong he would feed them 3 lbs of dry dog food and a pound of raw steak every day. He also thought Gordon would make an excellent guard dog because of his breed, I think he had his bulldogs mixed up.
Our final Sunday was a bit of a cluster fudge. The plan was to head to Anna Maria Island to grab some food and drinks at one of Rod and Kaitlyn’s favorite places, Rod & Reel Pier, and then head to Bridge Tender Inn, Bradenton Beach’s very own Packer bar. Rod & Reel Pier is a cool little bar and restaurant at the very end of a pier overlooking the Gulf. Unfortunately after making the hour plus drive we pulled up only to find out it was closed due to a fire. Since the Packer game was a late game we had plenty of time to head to another favorite, Cortez Kitchen, on the docks in historic Cortez Village. The outdoor seating sits just off the shore where ships dock to deliver their fresh seafood. Kaitlyn and I split the buffalo grouper sandwich which I thought was okay (admittedly not a fish person so it was a bit “fishy” for my taste) but Kaitlyn thoroughly enjoyed every bite.
After finishing lunch we had about three hours before kickoff. We decided we would go straight to the Bridge Tender Inn to make sure we got a good seat. We pulled in at about 2:15p to a mostly empty bar and outdoor area so Kaitlyn dropped Rod and me off as she went to find a parking spot. I asked the hostess if we could sit anywhere and she let me know (rudely) that they were full and all of the empty tables had reservations. I was pretty surprised to hear this but not as surprised as the Bears fan next to me who responded to her that when he stopped by yesterday they told him reservations were not accepted and recommended coming early. This was a real bummer, Rod had been excited to take us here since he got to Sarasota and I was excited to watch the game with a crowd of fellow cheeseheads. We slinked back to the car hoping that we would be able to find some seats at a different beach front bar a little ways up the road that had the NFL ticket and a lot of TVs, our hopes were dashed when we pulled up to a packed bar with plenty of people already hovering around waiting for seats. We had about an hour and a half left before kickoff so we Yelped a couple of bars and came up with the Barefoot Tiki Bar which met our three criteria, outdoors, open seats and showing the Packer game. There were not actually any open spots in front of the TVs but the Ravens fans currently occupying some of them said we could have theirs when the Baltimore game ended. After driving three hours already that day we were ready to sit down and order a bloody, nope! The Barefoot Tiki Bar only serves beer and wine, back in the car. After another Yelp search and another 30 min. driving we entered a packed Slim’s Place on Anna Maria Island. Once again there were no seats but with only about an hour before kickoff we were willing to wait and hope one opened up. Bloodys? Nope! Only beer and wine, again. Back in the car. Extremely frustrated at this time we begrudgingly agreed to speed back to Old School. It was a 45 min. drive and we had an hour. Due to the extreme lack of qualified drivers in the state of Florida we made it right at kickoff and luckily Rod’s table was open. From there on out the drinks came fast and strong as the Pack beat the Bears and we celebrated the playoff birth.
The RinglingThe winter headquarters of John Ringling and The Ringling Brothers Circus was Sarasota and because of this the city owes much of its development and success to Mr. Ringling. The Ringling celebrates both his life and the circus. Florida State acts as steward to The Ringling which is made up of the Museum of Art, Circus Museum, Ca’ d’Zan (House of John), historic Asolo Theater (an 18th century Italian theater shipped from Veneto to Florida in 1930), Education center and Bayfront Gardens. We started our tour walking through the oldest rose garden in Florida that Mable Ringling (John’s wife) founded in 1913. The wagon-wheel designed garden contains over 1,200 roses spread across 27,000 sq. ft. and blooms year round. There were roses all shades of red, orange, yellow, purple and white with distinct and different smells. Kaitlyn loved it! From there we strolled around more of the heavy Italian-influenced grounds through gardens, past the old ornate swimming pool, around Roman statues and to the final resting spot of John and Mable in a private enclosure behind Mable’s Secret Garden.
The winter home of John and Mable Ringling named Ca’ d’Zan (House of John in Venetian) was a sprawling 200 ft. long 36,000 sq. ft. Venetian Gothic mansion showcasing the incredible prosperity and wealth of the Roaring Twenties. The house was designed to resemble the palazzos around the Venice canals and the location on the Sarasota Bay was chosen because of its resemblance to the Grand Canal of Venice. The interior was designed and decorated in the style of some of Venice’s greatest palaces. During their numerous trips to Venice, Mable collected photos, postcards, drawings and other items to show the architects who designed Ca’ d’Zan. The house bursts with deep red and gold fabrics, reproductions of great Louis XV and Napoleon III furnishings, artwork from paintings to sculptures to tapestries several centuries old, ornate painting on the ceilings, walls and even the insides of closets and medicine cabinets, colored glass in almost every window, incredible light fixtures made of gold & crystal even an electric organ that cost $50,000 at the time of purchase. The terrace on the Sarasota Bay was made of both imported and domestic marble and the roof is made of antique Spanish tiles that John Salvaged from Barcelona himself and had freighted back to Florida. Construction lasted from 1924-1926 and cost $1.6 million (adjusted to $21 million plus today). Unfortunately Mable was only able to enjoy Ca’ d’Zan for about three years as she passed in 1929. Despite Ringling’s incredible success and accumulation of wealth he died in 1936 with only $311 in his bank accounts and owed creditors hundreds of thousands of dollars. Poor investments combined with the downturn of the US economy proved too much. In his will he left Ca’ d’Zan and land, the Art Museum and his expansive art collection to the state of Florida. He died three days before all of his possessions, including Ca’ d’Zan, were to be put on public auction to repay his debtors thus guaranteeing instead that it would all go to the state. Unfortunately the house and grounds were neglected by the state until the late 1990s when it was turned over to Florida State University who then spent six years and around $15 million to restore it to its original magnificent glory.
The Circus Museum was established in 1948 and is the first museum to chronicle the great history of the American circus. It houses giant banners, circus wagons of all sorts, costumes, the Human Cannon, and The Wisconsin. The Wisconsin was the private railcar of John and Mable Ringling. The Ringlings definitely traveled in style. The Wisconsin had all of the modern luxuries, a complete kitchen, master bedroom, two guestrooms, dining/meeting room, parlor and deck on the back. The museum also houses the world’s largest miniature circus, the 44,000-piece Howard Bros. Circus Model. It depicts the entire circus process; from the train cars arriving at the station to the unloading and setting up to backstage ongoings to the circus itself.
The Museum of Art is where John Ringling’s private art collection is maintained. It was opened in 1931 and is designated as Florida’s official state art museum. There are 21 galleries housing over 10,000 pieces including paintings, drawings, photographs, prints, books, sculpture, tapestries, busts and weaponry from around the world spanning centuries from ancient to contemporary periods. The most famous items in the museum are the collections of 16th-20th century European paintings including a masterful collection of Peter Paul Rubens paintings, I have no idea who he is.
Needless to say The Ringling was absolutely incredible. Everything about it was stunning. I could go on and on about it but I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.
Mattison’s & NYEMattison’s was our most frequented happy hour spot. Mattison’s is an outdoor bar on the corner of the two major cross streets in downtown Sarasota. There was usually a jazz band playing as we sipped countless $5 dirty martinis, blue cheese stuffed olives included. Mattison’s was also where we started our New Year’s Eve celebration after enjoying a burger and dog from The Hob Nob, Sarasota’s oldest drive-in. It was a cool 50s outdoor dinner with checkerboard tiles and eat up bar, serving deliciously greasy burgers, hotdogs, french fries and milkshakes. After dinner and a few...you guessed it...dirty martinis, we went across the street to The Gator Club which used to be the hot brothel of Sarasota. The madame’s pay booth window is still there along with most of the original structural elements, woodwork and staircase. A couple more vodka whatevers and we left downtown well before the midnight Pineapple drop. That night did not end too well for two out of the three of us, which was a real bummer for Kaitlyn since we were getting up at 5:00a the next morning to go to Orlando for the Capital One Bowl.
Capital One BowlWe decided we would make the trip to Orlando to watch the Badgers take on the Gamecocks of South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. Neither of us has ever been to a bowl game and being in Florida already it was going to be the most inexpensive bowl trip we would probably ever be able to do. Orlando was about a two hour drive, we arrived at our buddy Thompson’s place around 8:30a. Unfortunately Thompson thought I was joking when I told him we were leaving Sarasota at 6:00a so that we could get to the Alumni pre-party and tailgate like real Badgers. After trying to call him to no avail we decided to head to the stadium and find him later. We found some cheap and secure parking only a couple of blocks from the stadium (Thompson had the parking pass for the stadium) and headed to the party. The Alumni pre-party was a good time, Ron Dayne was there, the band played, Kaitlyn got her face airbrushed and there was all you could eat BBQ and brats and unlimited beer. Our seats were great, right on the 49 yard line, thanks again TBSS and GTards for providing me the means to buy the tickets. The game itself, well I think you know how that turned out.
Discing & Libby’sAnother one of the great happy hours we enjoyed was at Libby’s Cafe & Bar, which I read about in Sarasota’s local newspaper and had been voted Sarasota’s best happy hour. It was in one of the nicer neighborhoods in Sarasota and was definintely a bit fancier than we had anticipated but luckily they had two tables outside designated for bar patrons. The happy hour specials were great; $6 specialty cocktails, $5 Grey Goose, $3.75 martinis, ½ priced drafts and ½ priced selected menu items. My first drink was a Hanger 1 with fresh mint, ginger, Agave and ginger beer and was delicious. After that I ordered a couple of Moscow Mules with fresh mint to accompany the happy hour dinner. We ordered the Pigs in a Pretzel Blanket, an all beef hotdog wrapped in a from scratch golden pretzel served with traditional mustard, the Flyin’ Hawaiian Flat Bread, with sweet and spicy pineapple, yellow tomato sauce, white cheddar, grilled shaved ham, red onion and cilantro, and the Double Dragon Flash Fry, which was wild pink shrimp and Rhode Island calamari flash fried and covered in spicy Thai chili glaze, peanuts, radish sprouts and soy caramel. All three were better than they sound and they sound delicious even as I type them now. It is pretty easy to see why Libby’s has been either nominated and/or won Sarasota’s best happy hour since opening in 2008 and it was an especially nice way to forget a horid round of disc golf earlier that day at Water Tower Park.
Lasagna PartyOne night we spent at Michael’s (Rod rents a room from Michael every year) friends’, Justin and Kelly’s, house for a lasagna party. Their house was gorgeous, very contemporary but also very comfortable. As gorgeous as the house was the first thing we noticed were their two dogs, a giant schnauzer and a great dane. They were huge, both of their heads reached the top of my stomach. They were two of the sweetest dogs I have ever met, all they wanted was your attention and they would just follow you around gently pushing against your side. After the absolutely delicious lasagna meal we enjoyed a fire in the back yard with a few cocktails. Interestingly one of their friends who was there had lived in Appleton for a couple of years. She had worked for Kimberly Clark during her college summers. Kaitlyn, Rod and I left after a couple post dinner drinks before things got crazy.
Flea MarketSaturday mornings Rod likes to peruse the local flea market so we decided we would accompany him. The flea market was in a large dirt lot with a shabby barbed wire fence surrounding it. It was sunny, in the mid 80s and there was absolutely no shade. There was about as much worth buying as there was shade. Most of the booths were filled with old DVDs and VHS tapes, an assortmant of knifes, old golf clubs, tattered toys, pots & pans and other useless tchotchkes and knicknacks. The booth’s owners and clientele were far more interesting than any of the items for sale. However, we did spend a good amount of time searching through the piles of DVDs for National Lampoon’s Vacation since Kaitlyn had never watched it. After our unsuccessful search we decided it was time for lunch. Rod informed us that he gets a taco from the taco truck every week. This is the part of the flea market that truly interested me. Tacos el Tio serves traditional corn tortilla tacos out of the side of an old food truck with picnic tables set up under a tarp. I order one carnitas, one barbacoa beef, one bistek and one cueritos (pork stomach). The cueritos was interesting, it looked like shredded pan fried calamari rings and had the texture of mushy onions but a bit tougher to bite through. The other three were all good but the barbacoa beef was definitely the best. It was extremely tender and juicy, the juices ran out of the tortilla and through my fingers. It had just the right amount of both fattiness and sweetness. I could have eaten ten of them. The flea market may have proven a bust for buying anything good but the tacos made it a worth while late morning.
Christmas Dinner & Brohard Dog Park & BeachAs many of you know I do not enjoy Christmas. So only having to celebrate it once this year, instead of the usual five or six times, was a big plus for me. However, it was a bit sad not being able to see all my friends and family. Kaitlyn and I decided we would make dinner for the three of us on Christmas Eve to celebrate. We wanted to do something somewhat traditional so we had ham with redeye gravy, cheesy potatoes, stuffed portabelo mushrooms, ham & pickle dip and shrimp cocktail. I had only baked a couple hams in my life so I was a bit worried how it would turn out. I prepared a simple basting sauce of Dr. Pepper, yellow mustard, horseradish, brown sugar and orange juice, stuck the ham in the oven and basted every 30 min. for three hours, hoping for the best. I then used the drippings and leftover basting sauce combined with some coffee and baking soda to make a quick gravy. Both turned out really good if I do say so myself. It was sweet and salty with just the right amount of fat (I was worried about my trimming) and chewiness. Kaitlyn’s cheesy potatoes were on point, as always, and even kicked up a notch with crushed goldfish crackers as the topping. The ham and pickle dip was a new dish that Kaitlyn made because of her love of the traditional ham and pickle roll up. I would say the dip with a Ritz is much better than the rollup. We bought desserts from a local shop; pistachio mousse in a chocolate ball, fruit tart, chocolate volcano cake and pear cake, none of which I particularly like (Kaitlyn thought the pistachio one was great). Christmas dinner was a huge success. It was a day spent cooking, eating, drinking and being merry. Best of all it was it was the most relaxing Christmas I can remember.
On Christmas Day the three of us took Gordon to Brohard Paw Park & Beach. As the name describes it is a dog park with direct access to a leash free dog beach. The park was a nice area with fire hydrants, sunning decks, doggy showers, drinking fountains and plenty of grass. A path at the back of the park led to a white sand beach that stretched a couple hundred yards that was packed with families and their furry friends. There were a ton of different sizes and types of dogs, some lounging in the sun, some chasing balls into the crashing waves, some racing up and down the shores, others forming random wrestling circles, a few digging holes and a couple just staring out into the great blue wonder. Gordon has become a real beach dog, he loved walking on the wet cool sand and having the waves hit him, as long as they did not lift him off his feet, he did not like that experience. We took a few laps from end to end, sniffed a few ******es, peed on a ball and then headed back to our towels for some R&R. We spent the entire afternoon at the beach before heading back to homebase with an exhausted beast snoring in the backseat.
TampaThe first day trip was to Apollo Beach and Tampa Bay. Big Bend Power Station at Apollo Beach is a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. The power plant collects saltwater from the Tampa Bay, uses it to create steam power, and then discharges the clean warm water back into the bay. When the water in Tampa Bay reaches 68 degrees the manatees seek warm refuge at the discharge spot at Apollo Beach. There is a large viewing deck/walk where you can watch nearly 100 manatees swim, play, sunbathe and just hangout. When we arrived we were shocked how many manatees were actually there. This blew Blue Springs out of the water, $40/night to camp at Blue Springs and see five or six manatees in the distance compared to donations only to see 100 manatees right under our noses. There were groups playing with each other, mothers nursing babies, manatees being bathed (small schools of fish covering their bodies and mouthing them clean) and others floating on their backs soaking in the sun. Further down the deck there is a walkway about one mile long that looks out to the bay. We walked down to the end and watched rays jump out of the water, which neither Kaitlyn or I knew they did. They would shoot out completely spread out (about 3ft wide) and belly flop back into the water. It was pretty cool to see.
We spent the majority of the late morning and early afternoon observing at Apollo Beach before we headed to Tampa Bay to check out Cigar City Brewery. I was really excited about Cigar City because their IPA, Jai Alai, is one of my favorite beers and outside of Florida any Cigar City beers are incredibly hard to find. I had also heard good things about all of their other beers so I was looking forward to trying as many as possible. We decided to skip the brewery tour and head straight to the tasting room. I decided to get a sampler and chose the Guava Grove, Blueberry Pancake Brown, Jose Marti American Porter and Humidor Series Smoked English Stout. I was particularly pumped to try the Guava Grove Saison. My new beer obsession has been sours but they are not the most prevalent beer style so when I find one I get a bit giddy. As the name suggests there is a strong sweet tropical smell that is backed with tingling tartness. The flavor is a delicate balance of guava sweetness and tangy sourness with just a little bit of rotting funk from the wild yeasts. It finishes very dry and leaves the slightest sour boozy sting. I was a big fan, unfortunately they were sold of out of their bombers and they do not do growlers of it, BUMMER!!!! The Blueberry Pancake Brown was interesting but not for me, it had a strong maple syrup taste accented by the blueberries making it far too sweet. The Jose Martin and English Stout were both above average for their styles, I would definitely buy them in a sixer. Of course I had to try a Jai Alai on tap too. The first thing that hits you with a Jai Alai is the citrusy floral smell. Notes of orange & grapefruit burst from the glass as pine & caramel hints come through at the very end. The floral hops begin the bitter kick that is followed by the sweet citrus and malty flavors. This is one of the most balanced IPAs I have ever tried and finishes incredibly smooth with a slightly sweet finish. The freshness out of the tap only adds to the deliciousness. I will definitely be packing the Scamp with as many sixers as I can fit under the seats before we leave Florida.
We ended our trip back in Sarasota for a pizza and beer at Cock and Bull Pizza. To our surprise Cock and Bull offers over 900 beers. In addition to the incredible amount of beer, they serve from scratch pizzas. We order a veggie with sausage. The pizza came out loaded with fresh tomatoes, onions, green peppers and mushrooms. The sausage was a bit lacking, it was spread like ground beef instead of large chunks which was a bit disappointing but the freshness of the veggies made up for it. For dessert I ordered a Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast Stout which I highly recommend if you can find it and like dark rich coffee stouts with hints of bittersweet chocolate and roasted malts.
St. PetersburgAnother day trip lead Kaitlyn and I to St. Petersburg to check out the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center. Dale Chihuly is a one eyed (not that that matters, just a fun fact) American artist who specializes in glass sculpture, specifically large scale pieces. His work is on permanent display in the Kohl Center (he earned his MS at UW) and has always been a favorite of Kaitlyn and me. We were both amped to check it out in a larger scale. I am no art critic so I will spare you from my artistic observations and let the photos do the talking. I will say that the pieces were amazingly gorgeous. Each installation is perfectly staged making each piece a beautiful visual experience. Our only complaint is that the exhibit is pretty small, although the space is 10,000 square feet, there are only about five small rooms with a few pieces. Although small, it was still amazing to see.
After the Chihuly exhibit we headed towards John’s Pass on a recommendation. Unfortunately this was a major fail. We put an hour in the meter thinking we may have to come back to put more time in but quickly realized that we did not even need an hour. We were expecting a cool boardwalk with little shops and restaurants. What we got was a Wisconsin Dell’s-esque boardwalk with a bunch of cliche beachwear shops and overpriced Old Time Candy and Ice Cream Shoppes. We almost bought an $8 ice cream cone, glad Kaitlyn asked before ordering as there were no prices posted. After only 30 min. or so we were ready to leave so we hopped in the car and never looked back.
We had one more stop on our list, Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill in Clearwater. We drove through the opposite side of St. Pete which was an interesting drive. The Morean Arts Center was in an upscale part of town that had a great mix of new and old construction and you could tell money was put into the restoration and maintenance of the area. The other side of St. Pete was completely different. It was almost as if time had stood still since the 70s. The old run down beach “resorts” from the 70s were still operational and peppered throughout trailer parks, endless strip malls and an usually high number of martial arts studios. There were newer nicer resorts as well and maybe it was just the route we took but from what I could tell the upkeep of this area was severely lacking. We made it to Frenchy’s just as the sun was coming fully out (it was overcast earlier in the day) and got a table on the patio right on the beach. We ordered a pitcher of Yuengling & calamari appetizer. The reggae, pop and classic rock cover band played in the background as we sat and soaked up the sun, sand and waves.
EvergladesOur last day trip was to the Everglades. We drove through the Everglades on our way from Naples to Sarasota but only briefly stopped at the visitor’s center to check out the walkway that overlooks about a dozen or so gators. This day we were headed to Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides to take an airboat ride through the 200-acre private preserve. Corey Billie’s is owned and operated by Corey Billie, a native Seminole who grew up in the Glades. It was a gorgeous 75 degree sunny day, perfect for a 35 mph ride over the scenic waterways. We cruised through marshlands, under mangrove tunnels and alongside alligators, well actually only three of them. One of them we got right next to, its head was only about 6 inches from the side of the boat, completely uninterested in us. It was pretty intense being that close to a 10 ft gator, especially after the captain had just told us that the gators do climb on the front of the boats if they are hungry. The next one we saw was a bit bigger and bathing on a floating marsh until it saw the boat. Once it made us, it slithered into the water and exhibited aggressive behavior so we kept our distance and did not stay long. The last one we saw was a small 4 footer that was a bit more skittish, bopping in and out of the water to see if we were still there. After about 45 min. on the water our captain did a couple of doughnuts and took us back in. You can hold a baby alligator at the end of the trip but we waited 15 min. and they will still not ready for our group so we decided neither of us wanted to hold it that bad. It was kind of a bummer that we only saw three gators but overall it was a good time, the boat ride itself was worth it.
Next we headed to our second ever chickee bar, Stan’s Idle Hour. Calling Stan’s a bar is an understatement, Stan’s is more of a compound. There is a formal restaurant, a large chickee bar, a stage (bands play Tuesday through Sunday, Stan’s is closed on Mondays), a dock with about 15 slips, multiple portable bars set up on the premise and a few small buildings for storage, a Stan’s gift shop and whatever else. The usual clientele are a mix of bikers, boaters, beach bums, neighbors and tourists. Stan’s usually pops off on Sundays and is so popular that once the parking lot fills up, local neighbors can get $10 a spot. Stan’s also holds the yearly Mullet Festival, a three day festival that draws over 5,000 people who come to gobble down fried & smoked mullet and crown the Buzzard Lope Queen. We shared a cheeseburger (I am a bit fished out, so yes we ordered beef at a fish place) and some clam chowder. Kaitlyn finally got her Pina Colada and I ordered a Miami Vice, half Stan’s original recipe Pina Colada and half Rum Runner. The drinks were definitely superior to the burger, in hindsight I should have just sucked it up and got fish but the clam chowder was nice and creamy without being too thick and was loaded with clam chunks. We got to see some kids feed their leftovers to the catfish, called it a day and headed back to Sarasota for a late dinner.
FoodWe ate about 90% of our meals out so there are far too many places we went for me to write about. Although there was only one meal that was a major disappointment there were definitely a few that stood out.
-Southside Deli - after walking around The Ringling for hours we were all pretty hungry. The NY Kosher, hot pastrami, slaw, yellow mustard, melted swiss and sweet pickles on rye, at the Southside Deli did not let me down. The mound of peppery pastrami laid perfectly below the creamy slaw and worked nicely with the pungent swiss.
- Drunken Poet - one night after catching a nice buzz from a few martinis at Mattison’s we slowly walked down to get some sushi at Drunken Poet. We all shared a Sexy Man roll (tuna, avocado, tempura eel & sexy sauce), a Spider Roll and some Pad Thai. Kaitlyn and I also split an order of Unagi and a bottle of Sake. I cannot say I have the clearest memory of how the meal tasted but I know that we all agreed that it was REALLY good, there were no leftovers and my notebook says, “thumbs up!”
- Owen’s Fish Camp - the two-story Sarasota cottage built in 1923 sits beneath a gigantic Banyan tree in the frontyard with a backyard built for entertaining with couches, bar stools and a chair swing on the porch, a firepit in the middle of the yard and a small three piece bluegrass band playing. We all shared a shrimp and avocado cocktail jar which was basically a shrimp ceviche with avocado and was amazing. For my main meal I ordered the mini lobster rolls, New England clam chowder with bacon and cheesy grits. The lobster chunks were huge and tender with only a bit of cream as to not mask any of the flavor, the clam chowder also had huge chunks and the saltiness of the bacon cut the sweetness of the rich cream and the cheesy grits were some of the best I have ever ordered. This was also one of Kaitlyn’s favorite meals so far, she ordered the catch of the day with brown butter hollandaise. The fried blackberry pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream was also fantastic.
-Der Dutchman Restaurant and Bakery - this was a huge barn style restaurant, bakery and gift shop that serves traditional home-style Amish cooking and features a large buffet. All of the items are from scratch and were delicious but the standout was the broasted chicken. It was crisp and peppery and the meat was extremely moist. We left with a black raspberry danish from the bakery which rivaled any danish I had ever eaten.
- Mediterraneo - at this contemporary Italian ristorante I enjoyed a wood fired olive oil and rosemary focaccia flatbread, gnocchi with pancetta in a four cheese cream sauce and a profiterole for dessert. The flatbread was perfectly crispy and chewy at the same time, the gnocchi were a great consistency and the profiterole was warm, light and fluffy with a rich vanilla ice cream in the middle. I should not have special ordered the pancetta though, it dominated the gnocchi.
- Jose’s Real Cuban - I had wanted to eat here since the first day in Sarasota and we put it off until the last but I am definitely glad we ended up going. Jose’s is what would be considered a dive (it was actually on Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives) but serves up some incredible food. Jose came to Florida from Cuba in 1959 and opened up the restaurant in 2007 using traditional recipes he learned from his parents. The results are mouth watering authentic Cuban dishes. The house specialty, Lechon Asado (slow roasted pork), was incredibly tender, dripping in its own melted fats and juices. The cuban sandwich used the Lechon Asado and was huge. The fried plantains were crispy and sweet and the Cuban coffee was robust and potent.
- Pangea - our last night we sought out this speakeasy that Kaitlyn had found on Yelp. There were no signs outside, not even the name printed anywhere. The front was a sandwich shop with no indications that there was a bar and lounge behind the curtains behind the counter. Kaitlyn went in first to see if there were in the right spot, the “cashier” led us to the back. Behind the curtain was a dimly but well lit lounge with couch like benches along the walls and blue backlit bar in the back. They are known for their specialty cocktails, infused liquors and array of bitters. The vibe was very laid back but lively and the drinks were “fabulous” (per Michael), it was the best Old Fashioned I have had at a bar outside of Wisconsin.
The three weeks we spent in Sarasota went by fast but we fit a lot in. We had a great time and cannot thank Rod enough for everything he did with and for us. It felt like an all-inclusive vacation, he really spoiled us. It was sad to leave but it was exciting to be getting back on the road and continuing the adventure.