The Road Trips Foodie
Snowbirds (that’s what year-round Floridians call northerners who flock to their sunny coasts in cold weather) want to take a break from cooking as well as the blizzards up north. Therefore, restaurants in southwest Florida can get mighty busy during peak season.
Dinner reservations are always advised, even if you want to eat before 6 p.m. The state is a haven for retirees who love the smaller, less expensive dinners on the “early bird menu” (and there’s no reason you can’t join ‘em).
There’s great food in your Road Trips Foodie‘s favorite winter (or spring break) getaway: Venice (it’s about 20 minutes south of Sarasota along U.S. 41). I have to start with my favorite place for breakfast: Horse and Chaise Inn, 317 Ponce de Leon Avenue, Venice, Florida — that’s their Sunday morning eggs benedict, at left, above). Of course, you have to stay over night to indulge in the morning repast, but, heck, the best place in town to stay!
Cassariano Italian Eatery
Cassariano Italian Eatery (305 West Venice Avenue, Venice, Florida; 941:485-0507) is a relatively new and welcome addition to the fine dining scene downtown. Partners Luca Cassani (front-of-the-house) and Antonio Pariano (who serves as chef) both come from northern Italy, and the menu reflects their origins. They divide their menu Italian-style, with both primi piatti (first courses featuring pasta) and secondi piatti (second courses highlighting meat, fish or chicken). I almost always order the insalata caprese (pictured). My favorite is their lobster ravioli, but I can sometimes be tempted by one of the veal scaloppini offerings.
Café Venice Restaurant and Wine Bar (116 West Venice Avenue, Venice, Florida; 941:484-1855), not surprisingly, is known for its wine list as well as its food. This is a white-linen-tablecloth place with a menu not only classically Continental but unexpectedly Polynesian. My husband and I have dined here for years. He usually gravitates toward the pork tenderloin, while the crab cakes are my favorite entrée. Their spicy Thai seafood soup is not to be missed. New on the menu are a series of tapas — small portions to encourage ordering several to share.
The Back Eddy
OK, so the name is a pun. Not only is the chef/owner named Ed Glennon (his wife, Allyson, runs the front-of-the-house), but a “back eddy” is water that twists back on itself, such as a whirlpool. The Back Eddy (239 West Miami Avenue, Venice Florida; 941: 244-2643) has a menu that changes frequently, but features the classics — marinated grilled lamb chops with fig preserves and balsamic glaze (pictured), pistachio-crusted grilled duck breast with fresh pear and Madeira wine sauce, almond-crusted tilapia with white wine lemon butter sauce. If I’m not particularly hungry, I’ve been known to order an appetizer as my entree (I’m partial to the crispy pan fried sweet potato pancakes with smoked salmon, chives lemon cream and pear coulis.)
The following restaurants are “off the island” — a term that needs a definition. A chunk of Venice was carved off from the mainland in the late 1960s, when the Intracoastal Waterway was extended along this portion of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Venice became two parts: island and mainland, with three bridges connecting the two. The town (as laid out in the 1920s) is on “the island”, while the newer development (think: condo complexes and shopping centers) are “off the island”.
Because your Road Trips Foodie has made a couple of trips to Thailand, she’s always on the lookout for authentic Thai restaurants.. Thai Bistro (537 East Venice Avenue, Venice, Florida; 941:484-0056) isn’t fancy but their Pad Thai is terrific. Actually, that classic dish is one that’s made differently by every cook, much like Italian minestrone. It’s all I’ve ever ordered. Definitely yummy.
Curry Creek Café
Curry Creek Café (920 South Tamiami Trail, Nokomis, Florida; 941-485-6560) is a small, family-run restaurant with an eclectic menu reflecting the preferences of the chef (an American) and his wife (Indonesian). Try their comfort food: meat loaf, filet mignon, mixed grill, or choose from among the Indonesian specialties (the eggplant and shrimp — pictured — is to die for — it’s rated “three chilies” for hot on the menu). (Nokomis is just north of Venice.)
The Frosted Mug
No trip to Venice would be complete without a lunch at the Frosted Mug (1856 Tamiami Trail South, Venice Florida; 941:497-1611). No reservations necessary (or accepted) at this eat-in, carry-out diner that opened in 1957, when Tamiami Trail (also known as U.S. 41) was just a two-lane country road. As you may have guessed, the default beverage is root beer served in a frosted mug. I usually get a hamburger, but my husband is partial to their hot dogs.