The search for the best burger, a main staple of the American quest, has long been the talk of many foodies. However, fresh seafood can easily trump the burger craze that so many seek. All seafood is not the same and defining fresh seafood is a quest in itself to find out how fresh,  fresh really is. Far too many restaurants seem to define fresh as that frozen slab of fish that eventually makes it onto your plate, rather than a piece of fish that has never been frozen. 

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The origin of the fish is also important. Gulf grouper could be from Mexico, or it could be some farm raised white fish they call grouper. Whether it is shrimp or fish you are ordering, ask a few questions. If the server does not know, then it’s most likely best to skip the seafood, especially if it is farm-raised in a foreign country. Chances are if it comes out of the sea, you won’t get a dose of antibiotics and other not-so-good stuff found in a farm-raised operation. Also, these foreign, farm-raised industries have human rights issues and destroy critical environments. Buying these products endorses that culture!

The seafood most comparable to the good old American cheeseburger is the blackened grouper sandwich. The requirement is a fresh local grouper, that has never been frozen. Preferably the grouper comes into the restaurant whole, meaning you can see the eyes of the fish, not just a slab of a filet. The cooking method is not the spicy, burn-your-stomach seasoning, either. True "blackened" is a sear from the pan that blackens the fish. However, the blackened grouper found in restaurantso often use a high heat seasoning. 

In Manatee County we are fortunate to have some of the best seafood, sourced from local fish houses in the fishing village of Cortez. Just being close to the water does not guarantee fresh fish, however, and the Village of Cortez and the Bell fish house, led by Cortezian Karen Bell, help preserve an important culture and, most of all, fresh seafood.

My ordering process for grouper is typically an interview: How fresh is the fish? When did it come in? Is it whole? Does that mean if I go to the kitchen I can see the eyes of the fish? What part of the gulf did it come from? (Mexican grouper has been known to be served as fresh gulf grouper, so ask the question) Only after satisfying those questions, do I order.

After visiting several local restaurants, two stood on top, serving fresh local grouper—Hurricane Hanks on Holmes Beach and Pier 22in downtown Bradenton. 

Hurricane Hanks serves a great blackened grouper, seared and made from local caught grouper they filet on premise, always a good piece of fish and seasoned just right on a soft brioche bun with tartar sauce.

The blackened grouper sandwich at Hurricane Hanks

However, Pier 22 inches above for several reasons. Chef/manager Greg Campbell takes the prep station to a whole new level by having the fish prepared in an

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Of all the things that Mexico has given our culture, nothing compare to tacos! There's just something about a plate of tacos and an ice cold cerveza that makes the brutal summer heat more bearable. Bradenton has always had a pretty good taco scene, but one recent addition has been a big-time game changer that will have you rethinking everything you thought you knew about our Southern neighbor's best known street food.

Winner: Bird Rock Taco Shack

A lot of people were surprised when former Ezra Cafe executive chef Dave Shiplett announced that he would be shuttering SOMA, his upscale downtown follow-up, in order to start a little taco shack in the Village of the Arts. They shouldn’t have been. Bird Rock Taco Shack fits the somewhat eccentric Shiplett’s personality to a tee, and he’s essentially done the same thing for the taco as he did for diner fare at SOMA: elevate it to an art form.

Seriously, at Bird Rock, Shiplett has literally reinvented the traditional Mexican dish into a form of culinary high art. From simple offerings like the local beet and goat cheese taco to more exotic combinations like his pan seared Mahi Mahi with wasabi, soy and lime, his duck bacon with green tomato, or his Thai pork belly with peanuts and honey lime red slaw, Shiplett has curated a menu that is nothing less than a food connoisseur’s taco dream. 

With prices that range from $2-6 per taco, Taco Tuesday specials, a beer and wine menu, plus his location next to Motorworks Beer Garden—which doesn’t have their own kitchen and to which Bird Rock will deliver—you can see why the colorful taco shack is quickly becoming a local institution. Bird Rock is located in the Village of the Arts at 1004 10th Ave West. It's open Monday through Thursday from noon to 9-ish and weekends noon to 10 p.m.

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“Welcome to Primo!”  Chef-Owner, Maurizio Colucci and his team at Primo Ristorante have been saying that to their loyal customers and friends for 30 years.   A lot of wonderful people have walked through the doors…. Parents, grandparents, kids, grandkids, husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and so many more!

So much has taken place at Primo over the years!  Weddings, Sweet 16 Parties, Graduation Parties, Baptism Parties, Wedding Showers, Confirmations, Bar Mitzvah Parties, you name it, it has happened at Primo.

Maurizio’s 3 sons Liam, Julian and Gabriel have all worked at the restaurant at one time or another.  The photos in this story certainly show the love of family!

And, there have been so many talented musicians that have performed at this Sarasota treasure along with wonderful stage shows.  Just the other day, Managers Afaf and Minal (they are sisters) shared some wonderful stories and memories.  Ask them the next time you are there, they love to share!

And the food!  Oh, it’s Italian and just about everything in the kitchen is home-made.  My favorites?  No one can beat Primo’s Spaghetti and Meatballs and their Risotto.  Their pizza is made in a wood burning brick-oven style, the first one in Sarasota!  And, don’t forget to ask about their homemade desserts.  Just about every night there are specials that will make your mouth water.

So, if you’ve been to Primo, you know how great a restaurant it is.  If you haven’t been there, well what are you waiting for? Great food, drink, and the nicest staff!  You will be treated like family.  They have been doing it right for 30 years!

On a personal note- I have known Maurizio for many years.  I have invited many friends and family to Primo where we are always treated like family.   When my kids and grandkids visit Florida, it's the first restaurant we go to!  Congratulations to Maurizio, Afaf, Manal and the entire team at Primo for a job well done over the last 30 years.

8076 N. Tamiami Trail
Sarasota, FL 34234
941 359-3690


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Michael’s On East has been awarded its 29th consecutive Four Diamond Rating by AAA. Michael’s On East Co-Proprietors Michael Klauber and Philip Mancini accepted the award during a brief presentation the morning of Thursday, June 28, 2018. Michael’s On East is the only AAA Four Diamond Award restaurant in Sarasota, Fla.

“As we present this 29th consecutive AAA Four Diamond Award, I’m reminded about the significance of this level of award,” said Don Schwartz, Sarasota-Manatee field manager for AAA. “Only two restaurants in the entire state of Florida have maintained the AAA Four Diamond status for 25+ years!” “Locally, we love to see fellow restaurateurs succeed as Sarasota’s dining scene continues to evolve with fabulous, often casual, local eateries. We see our place in the culinary community as more important than ever, offering guests a sophisticated, refined fine dining experience which is increasingly rare,” said Klauber. “We’re grateful to our guests for allowing us the great honor of offering ‘Four Diamond’ service and cuisine for more than 30 years.”

AAA Award 2018 144DPI

The AAA Diamond Rating Process is North America’s premier restaurant rating program, performed each year by professionally-trained evaluators from AAA’s national headquarters. Only 2.2 percent of more than 31,000 restaurants rated qualified for the AAA Four Diamond Award.

AAA defines a Four Diamond restaurant as being geared to individuals in search of a distinctive fine-dining experience. Often orchestrated by an executive chef and an accomplished staff, menus reflect a high degree of creativity and complexity, using imaginative presentations to enhance high quality, market-fresh ingredients. The equally proficient service staff demonstrates a strong desire to meet or exceed guest expectations. A wine steward is typically available to provide menu-specific knowledge on wine selection. The ambiance is highly refined, comfortable and well-coordinated, incorporating quality materials and a variety of upscale design enhancements to give a first-class impression. There are no payments or membership dues associated with the AAA rating system to ensure objective and trusted reviews.Michael’s On East is located at 1212 East Avenue South, Sarasota, 34239. For more information about all offerings from Michael’s On East Restaurant, Wine Cellar and Catering Division, call 941-366-0007 or visit

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 A very special honor for AMOB ?

Since we shared the news on our Facebook page last Tuesday evening, the outpouring of community support in recognition of the National Restaurant Neighbor Award has been wonderfully overwhelming. 

One of the highlights was our nighttime tour of the monuments, especially when we got to experience the Korean War Memorial with my dad who served in Korea. Truly awe-inspiring... and thanks, Dad, for your service.

It was fantastic that we were able to share the stage accepting the award (& the $10,000 prize) with Chris Whittaker & Michael Madden, from our Ellenton store, who helped make Dive Into Reading possible.

Pictured above: Amanda Horne, Anna Maria Oyster Bar; Chris Whittaker, Assistant GM - Anna Maria Oyster Bar Ellenton; Michael Madden, Kitchen Manager - Anna Maria Oyster Bar, Ellenton; John Horne, Anna Maria Oyster Bar; Curtis Wilson, VP & GM National Client Group - American Express Company.

In the meantime, please be sure to read more about the meaning behind this HUGE honor -- we truly could not do it without YOU. And be sure to watch the YouTube video below!  Read the full press release on our blog > 

BUT it doesn't stop here. We need your help: we are actively recruiting YOU to help! Dive Into Reading needs more than 200 volunteers to expand Dive into Reading to 5 locations, reading to rising 2nd and 3rd graders from all 15 Title I schools in Manatee County in June 2018. Learn more on our website, where you can sign up to participate today.

Register Now!


Thanks for allowing us to be your Restaurant Neighbor! We couldn't have done it without a LOT of help.

-- John Horne 

...Elvis has left the building.

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