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Food & wine: where and what to eat and drink right now.

RESTAURANT REVIEW

Answered Prayers

FOR AS LONG AS I HAVE KNOWN my friend and fellow food writer, chef Judi Gallagher, she has told anyone who would listen that what downtown Sarasota really needed was a great New York-style delicatessen. Lately, I haven't heard much out of her, because her face always seems to be buried in a pastrami on rye ($13.99) at Sol Meyer NY Delicatessen on Main Street. I've even heard her whisper, over lunch, "I hope she can't hear me, but this kugel is better than my Nana's recipe."

Similar comments are passed around among the people standing in line on the sidewalk to get a cramped table inside.

The opening weekend was so busy that the restaurant had to close down on Sunday, because the kitchen was out of everything and the staff hadn't slept in days.

Subsequently, management decided to eliminate early-morning breakfast, and now the deli is open from 10:30 a.m. until closing, often around 10 p.m. (Breakfast may return by spring.) The name of the deli is a combination of the first names of the two owners, chef Solomon Shenker and his brother-in-law, Dr. Meyer Rubin Samotin, who lives in Naples, Fla.

Shenker says he grew up on Long Island eating classic deli food, as did his sister, Samantha, who is running the front of the deli. Shenker is a traditionally trained chef and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. He has held positions at country clubs, private restaurants and catering businesses, and most recently was the chef at Sarasota's Hotel Indigo. But he has always yearned to have his own New York-style deli.

The restaurant seats 44 in tight quarters. The size and location of Sol Meyer means you can forget about finding a nearby parking space unless you get really lucky. But walking a few blocks to and from won't hurt, because the food here is calorie-intense, the servings are generous and nobody in the place is talking heart-healthy.

Essentially, it's Jewish soul food.

The corned beef sandwich and the pastrami ones, too, are outrageously stacked, juicy (oh, that gorgeous fat) and can come with cheese and sides of coleslaw (under-seasoned) or potato salad (also needs a flavor boost) and pickles. Of course, you want a Doctor Brown's soda to go with it. The chicken liver pate is laden with schmaltz; the rye bread (nicely seeded) is made by a Sarasota baker to Sol's specs. Sol's wife, who is of Polish heritage, makes the pierogen (five with sour cream on the side, $8.99) and some of the desserts. Cheesecake, high, light and velvety, is $7.99 a slice and big enough to share (although I don't see many people doing that.)

Lunch and dinner includes sandwiches, many not offered at other places locally, such as tongue ($12.99), or a combination of pastrami and corned beef on rye ($14.99) or the King Sol, open-faced latkes and brisket with gravy for $14.99. A classic Reuben is $13.99, and the Dr. Meyer sandwich combines chopped liver and pastrami on rye for $13.99. If you want to eat heavier at lunch or dinner, sample the stuffed cabbage ($16.99), grilled liver and onions ($18.99) or half roasted chicken ($16.99). Maybe you'll just start with a cup of chicken soup ($4.99) and work up to the more serious food.

The menu also offers some unusual dishes, such as Eastern European egg salad ($6.99) made with roasted chopped eggplant, or the egg barley farfel (pasta) with mushrooms and brown gravy at $6.99. The Sol Meyer house chopped salad (a meal at $13.99) combines turkey and roast beef with the usual greens and accents it with hardboiled eggs, Swiss cheese, cucumbers and more. I suppose this could be the "healthy" dish on the menu.

The service at Sol Meyer is high-energy, friendly and brisk, but in case you have to wait a bit for your order or you're standing in line, browse the last page of the menu. It's a dictionary of Yiddish words that could help you be deli smart. Learn the difference between a schlemiel and a mensch or when to kvetch rather than kibbitz and find out why a lot of Sol Meyer customers leave the place feeling downright schmaltzy.

SOL MEYER NY DELICATESSEN

1473 Main St., Sarasota. (941) 955-3354 HOURS: 10:30 a.m. until closing (usually 9 or 10 p.m., but 8 p.m. on Sundays); BEER AND WINE; CREDIT CARDS: all major cards accepted; HANDICAPPED ACCESS; STREET PARKING

THE VERDICT

A long-awaited downtown deli brings authentic New York-style dishes, along with friendly, high-energy service, to Sarasota.

The Rosemary Restaurant Rises

THE SECTION KNOWN AS Citrus Square in what is called the Rosemary District in downtown Sarasota was completed in 2009 as an experiment in new urbanist philosophy and involves living of a specific kind: modern condominiums perched above retail and commercial spaces. It's been moderately successful, with small businesses coming and going.

But essential to the concept are restaurants that bring traffic to the area. Chic and tiny Pomona is one anchor on the street. Another eatery, originally called Savory Street International Cafe, was at the other end of the block and was conceived as a bakery, breakfast and lunch place. It evolved to include dinner and eventually de-emphasized the take-out bakery aspect. Last year it closed, creating a big hole on the corner of Citrus Square that the ownership of the development scurried to fill.

Welcome to The Rosemary, which connects the eatery with its address. It's managed and owned by George Armstrong, who formerly managed the restaurant at the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art. At The Rosemary, the bakery case has been removed and the place looks a bit more formal and comfortable. It's more open now, and certainly inviting as a place to stop in for a breakfast meeting, a lunch with friends or a casual dinner. It's poised to serve the neighborhood well.

The menu is mostly American bistro, which means lunches of soups, burgers (the accompanying fries are especially tasty), chicken salad ($12.95), smoked salmon flatbread ($10), fish cakes ($10) and Caesar salad ($7 or $10 for a meal size). The spinach salad ($11.90) features smoky bacon and baked Portobello mushrooms. A huge and lovely-looking vegan salad is $10.90.

Dinner items (served from 5 p.m.-9 p.m.) include meatloaf ($18), pan-seared filet mignon with truffle-essence demiglace ($30), osso bucco, sea scallops, roast chicken, blackened grouper and some pizzas in the $15 range. Sliced brisket, shrimp fettucine and a 12-ounce ribeye ($30) mean there's a lot of variety at Rosemary as well as meals at price points ranging from budget-friendly to pretty expensive.

The breakfast menu (served from 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m.) conjures up local favorites with waffles, French toast ($8.95), egg-meat-cheese tacos, several kinds of quiche (about $10) and omelets and eggs anyway you want them. I like that The Rosemary signature breakfasts are served with roasted potatoes, cheese grits or fruit. The cheese grits are a really good idea.

Citrus Square needs thriving restaurants and desirable retail. The upscale and refined fine-dining Pomona, which has been at Citrus Square for five years, is doing well. And now, the more relaxed Rosemary, which has both indoor and outdoor seating, has an excellent opportunity to thrive and bring people to the area to eat, shop and perhaps to live.

THE ROSEMARY

411 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota

(941) 955-7600

HOURS: Wednesday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Tuesday and Sunday, 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Closed Monday.

BEER AND WINE

CREDIT CARDS: all major cards accepted

STREET PARKING; HANDICAPPED ACCESSIBLE

FOODOLOGIST

SWEET SUCCESS

Alma Johnson and her Italian queen bees produce pure Sarasota honey.

WHAT'S THE BUZZ? After a diagnosis of cervical cancer at age 30, Alma Johnson took up organic gardening to help her body heal--and ended up hand-pollinating her vegetables because of a lack of bees in the area. "At 7 a.m., before I went to work, I was outside using a Q-tip or paintbrush to pollinate my squash," she recalls. She decided to get some honeybees and fell in love with beekeeping. "It was wonderful," she says. "I was hooked." That's how Sarasota Honey Co. was born.

HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE. Johnson raises Italian queen bees, which she affectionately calls "Versace bees." They're a gentle type of honeybee that thrives in urban environments. She has hives from Anna Maria Island to Sapphire Shores to downtown Sarasota. The difference in the color and taste of the honey from each hive is significant; and to maintain the integrity of the flavors, it's never blended, unlike at many commercial operations. Johnson and her team go from hive to hive ("We're like pool cleaners," she jokes) collecting honey, which is bottled and labeled at Haven Industries, which is part of Community Haven, one of Sarasota Honey Co.'s partners.

GIVING BACK. Before starting Sarasota Honey Co., Johnson was a disabilities advocate and the manager of the state's Family Network on Disabilities TILES Project. So she decided to figure out a way to marry her love of working with "her kids," as she calls them, and her newfound love of beekeeping. Today, the company employs young adults with disabilities, and a portion of proceeds from its sales benefits local disability programs.--MEGAN MCDONALD

You can find Sarasota Honey Co. honey at retailers, including Sweetgrass Farms, the Sarasota Jungle Gardens gift shop, Simon's Coffee House and the Creekside Trader Gift Shop. For more info, visit sarasotahoney.com.

You can sign up to host a hive through Sarasota Honey Co. Johnson and her team will set up a hive--which they manage--that can help pollinate urban gardens.

EAT BEAT

CONTRIBUTING FOOD EDITOR JUDI GALLAGHER'S FIVE TOP TASTES THIS MONTH.

1 JACK DUSTY'S sticky toffee pudding ($11) is a fun take on a traditional classic--warm bread pudding with dates that's been soaked in toffee sauce. It's sweet and indulgent, especially with a scoop of housemade vanilla ice cream. Enjoy it outside, at one of the patio fire tables, with a bourbon.

2 FRESH KITCHEN just opened on University Parkway, and we love the fast-casual concept: Pick two bases, two veggies, two proteins and a sauce, and you wind up with a delicious, fresh bowl of food. We're particularly partial to the chia seed tuna poke ($11.45).

3 We love the authentic Cuban food at local dive J.R.'S PACKINGHOUSE. The ropa vieja ($10.95) is the real deal, with stewed flank steak dish and all the traditional Cuban spices. It's served with black beans, garlic toast and yellow rice (and pray they're making guava empanadas for dessert).

4 THE RUSSIAN HOUSE now offers full-service dining, and it's added a new, upscale favorite to its menu, too: blintzes with red caviar ($10.99). Tender, freshly made crepes are topped with red caviar and a sprig of fresh dill, making for a dish that's both traditional and light.

5 While you do have to cook it yourself, the prime flat brisket from FRESH MARKET is beyond fork tender--there's beautiful marbling, and if you slow braise it, you'll have enough for an open-faced sandwich the next day.

Read our Eat Beat blog at sarasotamagazine.com.

Dinner and a Movie

Foodie film fans have been eagerly awaiting this month's opening of CINEBISTRO in the space formerly occupied by Saks Fifth Avenue at Westfield Siesta Key (aka Westfield Southgate). CineBistro is billed as a place to watch a movie while enjoying upscale cuisine. Takes the anxiety out of date-night planning, doesn't it? Sarasota is not unique in having a CineBistro; there are already such wine-dine-watch palaces in Tampa and Miami and in 21 locations throughout the country.

The centerpiece of the 35,000-square-foot Southgate space includes a modernist bar and dining area (with mood lighting) where you can enjoy a casually elegant dining experience or just sip a cocktail or glass of wine from the full bar. Guests don't have to buy a movie ticket to experience the lobby restaurant.

The menu is American bistro, with offerings such as New York strip steak ($26), seared salmon, shrimp mac 'n' cheese ($17), braised short ribs ($22) or kimchi fried rice ($9). Appetizers like tacos, Korean chicken wings or various flatbreads range from $10 to $13. A burger is about $13, and a mahi sandwich is $15. There's an executive chef on site.

Inside the seven screening rooms, there's seat-side service where you order from the menu and a server brings your meal to a small table at your comfy leather seat. Sort of like an airplane experience, only lots nicer, and with better food. You order and are served before the movie starts. But you can enjoy popcorn and other traditional movie snacks from the concession area throughout the film.--MARSHA FOTTLER
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Article Details
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Author:Folder, Marsha
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Feb 1, 2016
Words:2153
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