Manager Tito Vitorino and his staff at Amore Restaurant had a solid plan for succeeding at the Grand Tasting in January. The Longboat Key eatery’s dish of choice: Chicken Caprese Meatballs. Insider Perspective: An unexpected, refreshingly simple chicken meatball on a plate, stuffed with mozzarella cheese and smothered in creamy sauce, was the ideal take-a-long savory sample.

Amore Restaurant’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are some tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: Get to the show’s location early enough and take always more than you need to serve attendants. It really creates a bad image of your business if, halfway through the show, you do not have anything to serve.
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served?
A: Any good Pinot Noir will do.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: The exposure of your business is always well-received, no matter what you do or what you serve, and the city residents really appreciate your presence.
 
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: Well, not too many people have had a chicken meatball before. Mostly, people were delighted with the originality and flavor of the dish.  
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: I enjoy interacting with so many other local businesses in town and tasting new wines.

Amore Restaurant | 555 Bay Isles Parkway, Longboat Key | 941-383-1111 | amorelbk.com.

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Bijou Cafe SmallBijou 01Jean Pierre Knaggs The Bijou

At the Grand Tasting in January, chef/restaurateur Jean-Pierre “J.P.” Knaggs of The Bijou Café opted to serve his colorful, flavorful Duck Confit with Creole Tomato Jam on Crispy Polenta Cake. As a Forks & Corks regular, Knaggs knew the way to patrons’ hearts with this dish. Insider Perspective: The tender duck combined with the crispiness of the polenta and the Creole complexity of the jam made this sample a savory standout

The Bijou Café ‘s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: It is a very difficult thing to do, but try to predict the weather. Chilled soup will not go well on a cold, rainy day. Try to keep onsite cooking to a minimum so that there is less to go wrong. If your food is cold, keep it cold. If your food is hot, keep it hot. Have a checklist and triple check it before you leave your restaurant.
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served?
A: A Pinot Noir, such as LOLA, matches beautifully.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: As beautiful as the setting is at The Ringling, it is not an easy place to cater. There are plenty of steps and a slippery tile floor, and there is a long distance from the parking area. It is difficult to promote yourself because the crowd gets so thick that people cannot see the name of the business (but, after a few glasses of wine, they do not really care anyway).
 
Q: What were the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: We always get compliments about our food because we take time to choose a dish that will go well with wines, is easy to eat with one hand, and reflects the cuisine of The Bijou Café.
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: It is usually a beautiful day, and it is such a pleasure to see the fun-loving people of Sarasota enjoying themselves, eating and drinking for a good cause. It is also good to catch up with friends from other restaurants and wineries.

The Bijou Café | 1287 First St., Sarasota | 941-366-8111 | bijoucafe.net.

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Gulf Drive small

Gulf Drive Café offered Grand Tasting patrons some flavor-packed bruschetta with sundried tomato, chevre pesto and tropical ceviche toppings at the January event. Laura Snow, the restaurant’s event manager, helped strategize the impressive presentation. Insider Perspective: Crunchy, grilled bread with tangy toppings—bite-sized and colorfully adorned—gave tasters an authentic glimpse of the café’s coastal menu.

Gulf Drive Café’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: First, make sure you have a big enough van. Make sure to prep plenty of food; it looks terrible if you run out. If you are on the main-traffic, first-floor area, prepare even more. Do not forget to decorate your area.
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served?
A: William Hill Chardonnay.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: This is a great opportunity to gain new customers you may not otherwise reach through traditional advertising or word of mouth.
 
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: Several people said that they came back for seconds and thirds of our bruschetta. With so much food available, that was the ultimate compliment, that they came back for more.
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: Meeting all the people, and also getting the team here at the restaurant excited about the event.

Gulf Drive Café and the Kokonut Hut | 900 Gulf Dr. N., Bradenton Beach | 941-778-1919 | gulfdrivetiki.com.

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Siesta Key Oyster Bar SmallSiesta Key Oyster Bar Beth Keith Cipielewski Owners
Being true to her eatery’s name, Siesta Key Oyster Bar restaurateur Beth Owen-Cipielewski served up a shucked specialty at the Grand Tasting in January: Grilled Oysters Casino. Insider Perspective: At an annual event in Southwest Florida that draws a trove of tourists, this oyster dish was a prime seafood introduction to coastal Sarasota.

Siesta Key Oyster Bar’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: Prep enough food so you have enough until the end. Plan a nice table-scape that represents the style of your restaurant. Bring a dolly to load and unload. Bring something to give to the patrons that will remind them of you later and bring them back to your restaurant. 
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served?
A: Something fun and bubbly is a good start, like Chardonnay-based bubbles or Moscato. Sauvignon Blanc is good for the classic wine drinker. For the beer lover, a stout like Guinness would also be great.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: Make sure you bring enough food. You do not want to run out early. This is a fun event and your opportunity to shine.
 
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: We were flattered by the compliments we received, and we had quite a few people come back for seconds or thirds. We always love hearing that we are their favorite place to come for food, fun, live music and oysters.
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: This is one of our favorite events. We are always excited to showcase one of our specialties, and we really enjoy checking out what the other great restaurants have to offer.
 
Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) | 5238 Ocean Boulevard, Sarasota | 941-346-5443 | skob.com

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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pier 22 21 10 SmallPier 22 Chef Greg Campell Manager
 
Executive Chef Greg Campbell and Pastry Chef Felipe Silva of Pier 22 have a dual strategy for making the annual Forks & Corks Grand Tasting a success. In January, they served their Short Rib En Croute, and the signature dish was an instant hit. Insider Perspective: A perfect little package of short rib, wrapped up in a savory crust with a creamy white sauce on the side.

PIER 22’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: We decide on the dish well in advance. A few days before the Grand Tasting, we prepare the portions and get ready to serve plenty of guests, Silva says.
 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served?
A: The Short Rib En Croute stands out all on its own. But when you pair it with the Earthquake Cabernet Sauvignon, Lodi 2014, from Michael David Winery, something magical happens. We enjoyed having the winegrower/owner, Michael Phillips, by the restaurant for a Forks & Corks winemaker dinner. His wines complemented the hearty, protein-rich dishes from our menu better than we ever could have imagined, Campbell says.
 
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: To plan the menu way ahead of time, Silva says.
 
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: While Pier 22 is known for award-winning seafood dishes, we often like to switch it up for the Grand Tasting. The guests seem to enjoy something savory and different from what they might have come to expect. People cheer for a dish with quality protein, and we are constantly being asked for the recipe, Campbell says.
 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: The event brings together many of the best restaurants from the Sarasota-Manatee area. It is a celebration of great food and great wine, and honestly, great people. As an Originals restaurant, it is always a wonderful day spent outdoors with people from the community, Campbell says.
 
PIER 22 | 1200 First Ave. W., Bradenton | 941-748-8087 | pier22dining.com
 
Photo Credit: dineSarasota.com | www.dinesarasota.com

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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