Does anyone know what the Florida state bird is? This is a question I would ask students in my hospitality classes at Lincoln Land Community College. The answer is of course the “Early Bird”, and there would still be plenty of moans. They often told stories of grandparents visiting and going out to eat at four in the afternoon.
Carol and I recently traveled to Florida – our first big trip in a year and a half – and can attest to the fact that the âearly birdâ is still strong. It’s not just for the elderly anymore; many families and others are profiting and saving.
One lesson we teach our future restaurateurs is the importance of putting âseats within seatsâ. Offering a special âearly birdâ menu with reduced prices is one way to fill what would normally be empty seats, resulting in more income for a restaurant and more income for its staff.
For the past 25 years, we have traveled to Sarasota, Florida. The Sarasota area has superb museums, culture, theater, white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, manatee and dolphin watching, shops and restaurants of all types. Not only did John Ringling produce a circus, but Sarasota was also his winter home and that of the circus. He built a world-class museum there. While he recruited circus acts in Europe, he also bought works by Rubens, Botticelli and other masters. Ringling elephants carried timber for the John Ringling Causeway that connects the mainland to Lido Key.
After:Travel: Florida is a golfing paradise
St. Armand’s Circle is an island shopping and dining paradise located on the Gulf of Mexico, just west of Sarasota on Florida’s beautiful Gulf Coast. Just a short drive from two bridges and a scenic Sarasota causeway, St. Armand’s is home to over 100 upscale boutiques, shops and restaurants – a great place to stroll and decide where you want to dine. One of Carols’ favorite stores is Foxy Lady, and I’m looking for sales at the Met. Tommy Bahama has both a boutique and a restaurant. A stop at the newly renovated Alvin Island is a must for beach wear, keepsakes, and postcards to send everyone home.
Our mornings often start with breakfast at the Blue Dolphin Cafe. They have two locations: one in St. Armand’s and a larger one on Longboat Key. They are famous for their banana-granola pancakes and their spinach and feta omelets. A bowl of water is always outside for thirsty dogs. They are open for breakfast and lunch.
Columbia Restaurant, also in St. Armand’s, has been an institution for 50 years. They make an average Cuban sandwich, a 1905 table-prepared salad, a paella and a personal weakness, their warm Cuban bread. Wash it all down with a pitcher of sangria.
Two other of our favorites in St. Armand are Crab and Fin and CafÃ© L’Europe. They both offer indoor and outdoor seating with impeccable food and white tablecloth service. Augie Mrozowski from Springfield was Executive Chef for many years at CafÃ© L’Europe, and they still serve his delicious crab cakes.
There are several ice cream parlors in St Armand’s. Kilwin’s is the most popular. Toddlers will love watching the candy of the day being prepared, from cashew brittle to caramel apples. Around the corner and rarely with a long line is the Big Olaf Creamery.
A traditional lunch spot for us is The Old Salty Dog. It is the ultimate beach snack shack. We go to the one on Lido Key just before the bridge towards Longboat. Keep an eye on your fries as a flying bird might catch one. Famous of course for hot dogs, try their sliced ââclams or grilled grouper sandwiches and a cold beer. You can smell the sea and watch the Longboat Key Pass Bridge periodically open for boats heading for the Gulf of Mexico. The original owners were English and wanted to create a pub atmosphere. Today you can still order fish ‘n’ chips.
If you’re in the nautical mood, the Dry Dock Waterfront Grill is a great spot on the Bay side of Longboat Key. Feast on stone crab claws or peeled and eaten shrimp while watching boaters return to the marina. We observed manatees there.
It might not be anyone’s idea of ââbeach food, but try one of Sarasota’s Amish restaurants. Yoder’s offers addicting fried chicken and corn fritters in a no-frills dinner setting. The selection of pies is one of the wonders of the world. If you eat your whole piece of chocolate banana peanut butter pie, you might never fit in your swimsuit again.
After:Dining at Disney Springs
Our days often end with sitting outside by the beach and sipping a glass of wine as the sun sets. Watching the sunset is a popular daily event. You will observe tourists and even locals strolling along the beach to take in this glorious view. For more information on Sarasota, visit VisitSarasota.com. Carol reminds everyone that sunscreen is a must!
âBeach rules: soak up the sun. Surf the waves. Breathe the salty air. Feel the breeze. Build sandcastles. Rest, relax, think. Collect seashells. Bare feet compulsory. – unknown
Jay Kitterman is a consultant for the Culinary Institute at Lincoln Land Community College.
Want to know more?
Lincoln Land Community College offers Associate Degree programs in Culinary Arts and Hotel Management, Certificates in Culinary Arts and Bakery / Pastry, and non-credit community courses through the Culinary Institute.
Questions? Send an email to [email protected]