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Let's Do Lunch: Where to go, what to order and how to relish the midday meal.

Lunch didn't become a fixture of American life until the 1850s, when industrialization anil urbanization began standardizing the daily schedules of workers all around the country. It was a long time coming, but we took to the concept with gusto. Before long, lunch counters and cafes sprang up on nearly every block, with a standard repertoire of sandwiches, salads and soups we've come to love and expect. But as times have changed, lunch has evolved far beyond soup and a turkey sandwich. We spent weeks chowing down in the middle of the day and compiling our best bets for lunch. No matter where you live and work--Anna Maria Island, downtown Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch or Bradenton--you have plenty of lunchtime restaurants to choose from. Craving Indian? A quinoa bowl? A burger? This guide will steer you to the right place, and you can either bolt in and out in a hurry or linger with a good friend. It's lunchtime. Let's eat.

25 great spots for a midday meetup.

DOWNTOWN SARASOTA

FOR YOUR DAILY DOSE OF VEGETABLES

Lila

You don't have to be vegetarian to crave lunch at Lila, where the menu changes often but where you'll always find something tasty, whether it's a Greek salad, grilled tofu, a black bean burrito or a trendy quinoa bowl laced with squash, yams, kale and more. Not sure about an all-vegetable lunch? Add a side of house-made bacon for $4.50. 1576 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 296-1042, lilasrq.com

WHEN YOU'RE NOT COUNTING CALORIES

Made

You'll find one of Sarasota's best burgers here, but the other handhelds are fantastic, too. The Nashville hot chicken sandwich has just enough heat to get you sweating, while the braised collard greens, melted cheese and homemade pickles take the whole package to the next level. Not for the faint of heart. 1990 Main St., #112, Sarasota, (941)953-2900, maderestaurant.com

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS

Mediterraneo

A staple of east Main Street for decades, Mediterraneo is a great spot for a business lunch, with a range of salads, sandwiches and beloved pizzas fired up in the restaurants wood-burning oven. We like the bufalina pizza, made with creamy fresh mozzarella, and the vongole, which is flavored with clams. You'll come out ahead even if you don't land that big account. 1970 Main St., Sarasota, (941)365-4122, mediterraneorest.com

FOR OODLES OF NOODLES

Pho Cali

Pho Cali is packed at midday for a reason. The portions are generous, but not overwhelming, the ingredients are always bright and fresh, and the servers will have you in and out in no time without ever rushing you. You probably already have your own favorite order. We dig 111C, coconut lemongrass tofu with chilies and onions, and 76, a vermicelli bowl with all the fixings. 1578 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 955-2683, phocalisarasota.com

FOOD IS GOOD BUT COCKTAILS ROCK

State Street Eating House Cocktails

The lunch menu here is small, but focused, with top-shelf salads (the house-cured wild salmon salad is a winner), a great burger and an assortment of tempting sides. And everything works as a capable counterpoint to State Streets cocktails, which are just as creative (and delicious) as they are at nighttime. 1533 State St., Sarasota, (941)951-1533, statestreetsrq.com

MID-SARASOTA

WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME

Gecko's Grill & Pub

After your first visit to a Gecko's, you'll feel like a regular, thanks to one of the friendliest and longest-tenured staffs in the area. The fresh potato chips topped with blue cheese, bacon, onions and balsamic are the stuff of local legend, while the huge salads and the bison burger are classics in their own right. 1900 Hillview St., Sarasota, (941)953-2929, geckosgrill. com; Geckos has five other area locations, too.

WHEN YOU WANT TO IMPRESS

Michael's On East

Odds are good that if you stop by Michaels in the middle of the day, you'll recognize someone--whether it's a real estate tycoon, a crusading attorney or a county commissioner. People come here to be seen, and they also come for the excellent fare, everything from healthful grilled fish dishes with calorie counts listed on the menu to decadent burgers and artisanal sandwiches. 1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota, (941)366-0007, bestfood.com

FOR A SALAD SESSION

Bravo Coastal Bar & Kitchen

We enjoy the light bites at Bravo, which has played a big role in Westfield Siesta Key's transition from mall to dining destination in recent years. The restaurant excels at the art of the vegetable. Its chopped salad--the greens accented with tomatoes, grilled corn, cucumber, gouda, almonds, avocado and more--is rave-worthy, and its bibb lettuce wedge salad is a delicious nod to a classic iceberg salad, thanks to its thick hunks of bacon. 3501 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 316-0868, coastalbarandkitchen.com

WHEN YOU'RE GOING FULL FLORIDA

Walt's Fish Market Restaurant & Tiki Bar

The grouper sandwich is a Florida icon, and few in our area do it better than Walt's, which has been selling and cooking fresh-caught seafood for a century. Walt's grouper sandwich is meaty and flaky at the same time--perfect. Don't like grouper? You can also get flounder, snapper, mullet or pretty much anything else that lives in the water. 4144 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941)921-4605, waltsfishmarketrestaurant.com

ANYTHING BUT DIM

Yummy House

Yummy House relocated from the North Trail to a spot across from Sarasota Memorial Hospital earlier this year, and it brought with it its popular dim sum menu. Carts prowl the premises during the lunch rush, dispensing dumplings, salt and pepper squid and eggplant, noodles in XO sauce, barbecue pork buns and a whole mess more. Just park the cart by our table, please. 1737 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941)351-1688, yummyhouseflorida.com

SOUTH SARASOTA

THE PERFECT MEAT-UP

Alpine Steakhouse

A landmark butcher shop, Alpine Steakhouse also serves some of the best sandwiches around. The French dip is a delight, as are the Reuben and a sandwich version of the shop's Food Network-famous turducken--made from a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed inside a turkey. (Don't miss Alpine at the downtown Sarasota Farmers Market every Saturday, too.) 4520 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941)922-3797, alpinesteak.com

PASSAGE TO INDIA

Curry Station

Chef Narendra Singh Saud grew up in Mumbai, India, but the flavors that dominate the lunch buffet at Curry Station come from Uttarakhand, the northern Indian state where his family comes from. The flavors there are more direct and less complex than in other parts of South Asia, and you can taste it in Saud's vegetable curries and soups. The chutneys, raita and other condiments improve everything they touch. 3550 Clark Road, Sarasota, (941) 924-7222, currystation.net

A TASTE OF THE OLD COUNTRY

Napule Restaurant

Alessandra Di Ferdinando and Giuseppe Del Sole opened Napule on the South Trail after cutting their teeth with the popular Venice restaurant Made in Italy. They brought with them their incredible pizzas, plus lunchtime sandwiches built around the finest charcuterie and cheeses the boot has to offer. Try a panuozzo, a sandwich made out of pizza dough, close your eyes and picture yourself on a terrace amid the foothills of Vesuvius. 7129 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 556-9639, napulesarasota.com

WHEN YOU WANT A TANK-SIZE SANDWICH

Piccolo Italian Market & Deli

"Piccolo" is Italian for "small," but there's nothing small about the subs at this Gulf Gate shop. "The Godfather" is heavier than a medicine ball and comes loaded with four types of pork, mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, oil, vinegar and house-made giardiniera. Substantial enough to cover lunch and dinner. 6518 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, (941) 923-2202, piccolomarket.com

A SOUTH-OF-THE-BORDER ADVENTURE

Screaming Goat Taqueria

This Gulf Gate shop has one of the best lunch deals around: three tacos, plus an order of chips and salsa, for $10. It helps that the tacos are great, in large part thanks to the collision of global flavors you'll find at the restaurant's colorful condiment bar, where Latin American salsas sit side by side with kimchi. Great vegetarian options, too. 6606 Superior Ave., Sarasota, (941) 210-3992, screaming-goat.com

LAKEWOOD RANCH/ UNIVERSITY TOWN CENTER

GUILT-FREE FAST FOOD

Fresh Kitchen

Bowls packed with mix-and-match healthful items are all the rage right now. Fresh Kitchen, part of a small Florida chain, has been doing them for years. Start with a base of rice, veggies or quinoa, then customize away with roasted vegetables, tasty sauces and simple proteins. Fast, fresh and guilt-free. 8491 Cooper Creek Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 702-0614, eatfreshkitchen.com

FOR JAPANESE ON A BUDGET

JPan Sushi & Grill

We love almost everything at JPan, but come lunchtime, we usually go for a Bento box, a generous package that includes a main seafood, meat or vegetable item, plus a spring roll, a California roll, dumplings and a salad. Or build your own three-roll maki combo for just $12. You won't find a better lunchtime sushi deal. 229 N. Cattlemen Road, Sarasota, (941) 954-5726; 3 Paradise Plaza, Sarasota, (941) 954-5726; jpanrestaurant.com

IF YOU LIKE IT RAW

Lucky Pelican Bistro

Seafood is the calling card at this popular eatery, thanks to its 99-cent raw oysters and a menu stocked with fish tacos, fish and chips, a platter of mussels, shrimp and grits and the like. It's all served up in an open, communal space, where nearby office workers belly up next to longtime Ranch residents. 6239 Lake Osprey Drive, Sarasota, (941) 907-0589, luckypelicanbistro.com

FOR A SUDSY HANG SESSION

Oak & Stone

More bar than restaurant, Oak & Stone is an ideal meeting spot on weekend afternoons, when you're too lazy to cook, but you also don't want to miss the big game. With a big, forever-rotating list of beers on tap, killer pizzas and grub that runs from pork cracklings to poke bowls, you're guaranteed to have a good time. 5405 University Parkway, University Park, (941) 225-4590, oakandstone.com

WHEN YOU'RE CRAVING CURRY

Tandoor Fine Indian Cuisine

Tandoor offers one of the areas best Indian lunch buffets, with a sprawling geography of simmering pots full of saag paneer, biryanis, butter chicken, masala dishes, tandoori chicken and plenty more, plus fluffy rice, toasty naan and all the condiments you need to spice things up. Plan on making several trips to the buffet. 8453 Cooper Creek Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 926-3077, tandoorsarasota.net

MANATEE COUNTY

GETTIN'PIGGY WITH IT

Hickory Hollow

A giant metal pig stands guard outside Hickory Hollow, a fitting mascot for a restaurant that specializes in eastern North Carolina-style barbecue. But the restaurant's secret star is the catfish, rolled in cornmeal and fried until it's ultra-crispy. Don't miss the super sides or the cobbler of the day, either. 4705 U.S. 301, Ellenton, (941) 722-3932, hickoryhollowbbq.com

FOR THE LUNCHTIME DO-IT-YOURSELFERS

Rice Bowl Asian House

This bustling east Bradenton eatery offers DIY rice bowls that let you pick a flavoring (Kung Pao, Szechuan, etc.), a protein (tofu, chicken, shrimp or beef) and a rice (white, brown or fried). The service is lightning-quick, too, which lets you get in and out before you burn up your lunch hour. 7305 52nd Place E., Bradenton, (941)758-7973, ricebowlbradenton.com

BREAKFAST FOR LUNCH? TRY IT!

Sage Biscuit Cafe

Yes, the biscuits here do have a slight sage flavor to them, and yes, they do taste perfect when matched with the restaurant's jalapeno bacon and a fried green tomato as part of one of its exceptional Benedicts. Not in the mood for brunch? Go for the beer-braised beef sandwich, enlivened with horseradish cream. 6656 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, (941)792-3970; 1401 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, (941) 405-4744; sagebiscuitbradenton.com

WHEN YOU JUST GOTTA SMELL THE SALT AIR

Tide Tables

We love Cortez's Star Fish, but that long line can make it a difficult destination at lunch, so we often opt to visit its sister restaurant, Tide Tables, where you can enjoy a meal right on the Intracoastal and get back to work on time. The grouper basket and sandwich are incredible, and the fish tacos are a winner, too. 12507 Cortez Road W., Bradenton, (941)567-6206, tidetablescortez.com

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE VIEW

The Waterfront Restaurant & Craft Bar

If you can sneak away to Anna Maria Island for a few hours, steer your car to this cute hangout on the Gulf, where you'll find a pleasant pick of salads, plus entrees like fried oysters, carnitas tacos and a simple, perfect BLT. Check out the craft cocktail menu, too. Ill S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria, (941) 778-1515, thewaterfrontrestaurant.net

Related Article: FAST FOOD.

A day in the life of a Jimmy John's delivery driver.

BY COOPER LEVEY-BAKER

At Jimmy John's, speed is everything. When you punch in your order online, it pops up within seconds in the restaurant's open kitchen. Once the bread for your sandwich hits the cutting board, the prep staff has 30 seconds to have it wrapped and ready to go, and five minutes to get it into your hands.

I'd always imagined Jimmy John's delivery drivers were like Bo and Luke from The Dukes of Hazzard--scruffy outlaws sliding across car hoods and jumping dry creek beds with the sheriff in hot pursuit, risking it all to get your tuna salad to you three minutes faster than the next guy. When I signed up for a lunch-shift ride-along with Adam Ropp, a beefy, clean-cut 28-year-old, I figured we'd wreck at least four cars and rack up at least three felonies.

Turns out delivering sandwiches for Jimmy John's isn't quite so dangerous. The downtown Sarasota location employs around 11 delivery workers during its lunch rush Monday through Friday, which spreads the work around so that no one has to run afoul of the law. Delivery employees can ride a bike or drive a car or scooter. Driving is less strenuous, but drivers must pay for their own gas, which cuts into profits. Like much service work in Sarasota, the money is seasonal. In the summer, Ropp delivers between 12 and 15 orders in a single lunch shift and makes $40-$50 in tips; in season, he'll make 20 deliveries and earn as much as $80.

Around 11:30 a.m., Ropp's first order is up. He grabs the items, stuffs them into a white Jimmy John's bag, staples the receipt to the outside and hops into his black SUV. Ropp knows many customers' orders by heart and has memorized most of the streets in the restaurant's delivery zone. His first order takes him to Hawthorne.

It's hot out, but skies are clear. You'd think drivers would prefer delivering when it's sunny, but Ropp says precipitation has its advantages. "I like it when it rains," he says, "because people tip better when you go in a little wet."

Ropp hops out of his car and walks into a small office in a strip mall. "Maria?" the receptionist asks. Ropp nods. "She's already paid, so it's good," he says, handing over Maria's sandwich. Ropp bounds back outside. "That's it?" I ask. "That's it," he says.

Of course, that's not really it, because Ropp has to drive back to Jimmy John's and do it all again. And then again. And again.

Ropp has been working for Jimmy John's since he was 17. It provides a steady paycheck with minimal hours and quirks that keep him on his toes. He's delivered sandwiches to Resurrection House, Planned Parenthood and the jail ("The guards, not the inmates, of course"). While delivering for a Jimmy John's in Tampa, he brought sustenance to college kids--some half-naked, some smoking weed--and even once made a drop-off at a rave.

These days, after a shift at Jimmy John's, he goes to classes to become an emergency medical technician. He wants to work as a firefighter.

Back in the kitchen after his first delivery, Ropp ties on a white apron and pitches in bagging up orders. The phone keeps ringing. The printer keeps spitting out orders. "Adam!" a manager calls. "Delivery on Main Street!"

Ropp checks the address. He knows just where to go. "All right," he says. In five seconds, he's out the door.

Sad Desk Lunch, Be Gone!

TAKE YOUR MIDDAY MEAL FROM BAD TO RAD WITH THESE SIMPLE UPGRADES.

We get it--having to eat lunch at your desk, especially in this glorious November weather, can be a real bummer. After all, there's nothing particularly exciting about a plain old tuna sandwich or uninspiring leftovers. But if you plan accordingly, and stock your desk with a few key pantry items--specifically a rainbow of condiments--you may just find yourself looking forward to lunch hour. Here are some of our favorite ways, many of them local, to spice up your desktop meal.--MEGAN MCDONALD

Caption: Al fresco lunch at State Street Eating House.

Caption: Greek salad from Lila.

Caption: Clockwise from top: prepping for the lunch crowd at Lila, a juicy burger at Made, and streetside dining at Mediterraneo.

Caption: Pho Cali's vermicelli bowl.

Caption: Jimmy John's delivery driver Adam Ropp.

Caption: Michael's seared Scottish salmon toast.

Caption: Bravo's shaved vegetable salad.

Caption: Enjoying pasta at Napule Retaurant

Caption: A Bento Box

Caption: Hickory Hollow's pulled pork.

Caption: Drizzle olive oil on salads or soups, or use it to dunk a slice of crusty bread.

Caption: A Holy Grail condiment, hot sauce brightens up any dish, from eggs to salads to soup.

Buttery and rich-tasting, Marcona almonds are excellent salad toppers but also equally delicious eaten alone.

Caption: Forget boring old table salt--make your lunch taste even better with flaky sea salt. Sarasota's own Sea Salt Florida makes a great version.

Caption: A black pepper grinder and a jar of red pepper flakes--because every meal can use a little heat.

Caption: La Croix: Let's be honest, who doesn't love this fizzy flavored water? (Boxes are easily stackable under your desk, too.)

Caption: Not only are metal Utensils better for the Environment--single-use plastics are a major cause of pollution--they make any desk lunch feel a little fancier, and they're easy to wash at the office and store in your desk drawer.

Caption: Like metal utensils, A linen napkin and your meal and, because they're reusable, are also good for the environment.
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Author:Levey-Baker, Cooper
Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Article Type:Travel narrative
Date:Nov 1, 2018
Words:2999
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