BlueIslandBistro Alan Laskowski chef owner

Alan Laskowski, the chef/owner of Blu Island Bistro, is a lifelong culinary pro whose breakfast/lunch eatery is a beloved gathering space for Venice’s locals.

Since 2011, diners have returned to the spot for the signature buttermilk pancakes (a 22-year-old recipe), the breakfast BLTs (with fried green tomato and pecan-smoked bacon), the banana French toast and the Reuben sandwiches.

“Blu is a unique restaurant that captures the community feeling of Venice yet offers a big-city menu with a Philadelphia influence,” Laskowski says. “We aim to create an environment that is welcoming to all customers by trying to make everyone feel special.”

Laskowski has always been committed to this philosophy. He cultivated it while working in a bakery at age 14, washing dishes at night, and serving as a busboy at New Jersey’s Chalfonte Hotel. He later graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and went on to manage and ultimately own an award-winning restaurant in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Today, Laskowski elevates his cuisine by featuring local ingredients on his menu.

“It’s all about seasonal items and location. For example, my produce purveyor shops at Tampa markets every morning and delivers to me shortly after,” he says. “He scans for the best-looking, highest-quality, in-season items. There is never a lack of finding creative uses with seasonal items. Using locally sourced ingredients in season is cost-effective for not only me but for my customers.”

And what makes Laskowski an “Original”?

“Working for myself enables me and my team to be creative and unique,” he says. “That’s a big part of what makes me an ‘Original.’”

Blu Island Bistro | 625 Tamiami Trail S., Venice | 941-485-8200|

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Waterfront AWsmallWaterfront Restaurant Jason Suzor proprietorWaterfront

The Waterfront Restaurant took the classic shrimp and grits dish to an elevated level at Forks & Corks 2016. It was an inventive twist, both aesthetically and flavor-wise, and it left patrons craving more.

“One thing that makes our shrimp and grits special is the presentation. We skewer the shrimp and sausage we grill, right into the grits cake, and it stands up nice and tall,” says executive chef Justin Hibberts. “Most of the time, you have a creamy bowl of grits, and pork and shrimp, with the pan jus. We take the pan jus and expand it into a cream sauce. We cool the grits into little cakes, coat them with batter and fry them, and then pour the creamy sauce over the grits. The dish went over very well in January.”


Ingredients for the sauce:
2 large red bell peppers, fire-roasted and diced small
12 ounces Chardonnay
3 lemons, juiced
16 ounces chicken stock
1 quart heavy cream
2 cups grated Parmesan

In a saucepan, add the peppers, wine, lemon juice and chicken stock. Reduce to al sec, add the cream and then reduce by half. Whisk in the Parmesan as the cream is cooling, until it is melted and viscous.

Ingredients for the grits cake:
1 cup milk
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/3 cups grits
2 ounces butter
8 tablespoons hot sauce
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine the stock and milk in a sauce pot, bring it to a simmer and whisk the grits into the stock (for 5 minutes until the grits bloom). Turn off the heat, and whisk in the butter and hot sauce. Pour the grits into a greased 9-inch-by-7-inch pan, and refrigerate to cool and set. Cut the grits into 2-inch squares and dredge with Drake’s Crispy Fry Mix. Go from the dry mix to the egg wash and back to the dry mix. Drop the cakes into a 350-degree deep fryer until they are golden brown (about 5 minutes). Char-grill some cooked shrimp and Andouille sausage slices on skewers. Present a skewer with a grits cake, drizzle with the sauce and serve.

The Waterfront Restaurant | 111 S. Bay Blvd., Anna Maria | 941-778-1515 |

Author: Abby Weingarten

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pier 22 21 10 SmallPier 22 Chef Greg Campell ManagerPIER 22 Updated 2016

PIER 22’s Short Rib En Croute is one of Chef Greg Campbell’s specialties, made with a confidential recipe that made a grand impression at Forks & Corks 2016.

This dish was inspired by the deliciously obvious combination of the basic ingredients,” says Campbell, who serves as the general manager and executive chef at the waterfront Bradenton restaurant.

Always committed to using sustainable protein (including hormone-free, grass-fed beef), Campbell brought the highest-quality ingredients into this dish.

How can you go wrong with beef, mashed potatoes, bread, cheese and gravy?” Campbell says.

He began with a boneless short rib, which he braised for four hours until the beef shredded easily with a fork. He added arrowroot slurry to thicken the liquid from the braising pan. Then he steamed and mashed potatoes with a mixture of milk, butter and roasted garlic.

“I also made a béchamel using butter, flour and milk, and then finished with a nice Fontina cheese,” Campbell explains.

He cut puff pastry dough into small squares, placed the mashed potatoes in the middle of the squares and topped them with the short rib. He twisted the corners of the dough to seal in the ingredients and cooked them in a 350-degree oven. Campbell then served the cooked squares with pot gravy and Fontina béchamel—a savory winner.

PIER 22 | 1200 First Ave. W., Bradenton | 941-748-8087 |

Author: Abby Weingarten

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Birdrock Taco Shack Dave Shiplett chef owner

Chef Dave Shiplett embarked on a new culinary venture in January that brought extra zing to the dining scene in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts.

Bird Rock Taco Shack—a locale featuring tostadas, one-of-a-kind combination tacos, lobster nachos and bean burritos—showcases Shiplett’s eclectic West Coast-influenced cooking style. And the prices are just as enticing as the flavors (tacos, for example, are only one for $3 or three for $8).

“We have beef short rib tacos with Baja sauce; edamame tacos with red curry and tangerine balsamic; and mahi mahi tacos with cucumber wasabi sauce,” Shiplett says. “And we do plantain chips and hand-smashed guacamole.”

Bradenton foodies know Shiplett for his earlier restaurant, Soma Creekside, which showcased “southern style with a California attitude.” Past Soma regulars are now flocking to Bird Rock for a taste of the California Culinary Academy alum’s recognizable cuisine. Shiplett’s years in San Francisco and San Diego, combined with his love for his hometown of Bradenton, have shaped the chef’s waterside recipe repertoire.

The idea behind Bird Rock is “SoCal Baja cuisine in a hip, casual, 100-year-old surf shack,” in Shiplett’s words. It is funky, brightly hued and popping with spice.

“I enjoy pleasing people and feeding people. It keeps me happy,” Shiplett says. “And I love spending all my time in an art village, which is the most creative environment I have ever worked in.”

As for being an “Original”?

It’s all about, as Shiplett says, “marching to your own drummer,” and Bird Rock definitely has its own beat.

Bird Rock Taco Shack | 1004 10th Ave. W., Bradenton | 941-545-9966

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Roesslers AW smallRoesslers Klaus Roessler co owner chefRoesslers 1 small

A menu staple for nearly four decades at Roessler’s Restaurant, the vichyssoise soup made its way onto the list of Forks & Corks 2016 sample dishes and was an instant favorite. New taste buds were pleased and fans were made.

“Our version of vichyssoise soup has been on our menu since 1978,” says restaurateur Klaus Roessler. “It is a classic chilled potato-leek cream soup. Like most recipes, I hope the readers enjoy making this at home.”


4 potatoes (peeled, sliced and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices; either Idaho russet or Yukon gold)
½ cup parsley
1 cup celery, diced
2 cup leeks, thinly sliced
6 bay leaves
1 teaspoon white pepper
4 cups chicken broth
Salt, to taste
Heavy cream, to taste
Half-and-half, to taste
Combine the ingredients and cover them with chicken stock (a quality store-bought stock will be fine to substitute for homemade). Cook the mixture on medium heat until the potatoes are tender and break easily with a fork. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator and chill it completely (this can be done the day before). Remove the bay leaves. Blend the mixture in small batches (it should be fairly thick and there will be broth leftover). Blend the mixture again with equal parts half-and-half and heavy cream (approximately 3 parts potato mixture, 1 part cream mixture). Blend the mixture until it is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add more broth and/or more cream to create the desired thickness. Serve cold.

Roessler’s Restaurant |2033 Vamo Way, Sarasota | 941-966-5688 |

Author: Abby Weingarten

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