Bijou WEB

The Bijou Café in Sarasota has some incredible accolades to its name. Since 1990, it has been the recipient of the esteemed Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its outstanding wine selection. In 2014, the eatery received the highest Zagat rating in Sarasota County.  But it comes from much humbler beginnings.

Chef/Owner, Jean-Pierre “JP” Knaggs was born in South Africa (which he describes as a “multi-cultural Mecca of cuisine”) to a French mother. He was drawn to cuisine at an early age and worked his way up from the bottom, training in several prestigious restaurants before spending time as a private chef aboard a luxury yacht. He credits this hands-on experience with his success.

“I discovered very early in my career that if you put in a little more effort than the guy next to on the line you would be successful. It’s that simple,” he says. “Pay attention to the chef, work hard and play later.”

But like most chefs, JP’s dream was to one day have his own restaurant. In 1986, he discovered a small then-defunct space called Bijou Café: he knew it was meant for him, and with the help of friends and family he made his dream a reality. Though it’s been known in the past as a fine-dining tablecloth venue, it has evolved into the casual family-style bistro that JP always secretly treasured.

Though classic dishes like the rack of lamb and roast duckling are perennial favorites, the Pommes Gratin Dauphinoise (a dish unique to the Bijou) is without a doubt the most beloved and storied dish on the menu.

“The pommes have a special place on the menu,” JP explains. “In 1980 while working on the yacht, I was sent to L’Ousteau de Beaumaniere in Provence to learn the recipe for the potato dish to satisfy my boss’s craving for them. I adapted the recipe for our restaurant and it has become a legend ever since.”

The Bijou Café: 1287 1st Street at Pineapple Avenue | Sarasota |941-366-8111 |

Author:  Kate Wight

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HalfShell WEBAfter decades of working for restaurant chains, Dino Mirando jumped at the chance to spearhead a Sarasota concept in early 2012 called Half Shell Seafood House. It would be the first time he truly ventured out on his own.

"I worked for Outback for 21-plus years and ran up to 13 restaurants at a time for them," Mirando says. "It taught me a lot but I wanted to be able to take my experience and energy and focus it on developing something I had more control over."

Mirando spent 15 years in Mississippi becoming a connoisseur of bayou cuisine, which became the ideal prelude to launching the independently owned Half Shell on University Parkway.

"My vision for the restaurant became a polished, casual, New Orleans-style seafood house with all items made in-house using the freshest ingredients possible," he says, adding that all of the eatery's seafood seasonings are homemade.

Popular dishes include the Rockefeller oysters with cream cheese and fresh spinach, the Orleans version with buttery barbecue sauce, and the baked Bienville oysters with Italian breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese topping. For non-oyster fans, there are hand-cut steaks, fried green tomato crab cakes and yellow fin tuna. Drinks like the Cajun Oyster Martini—a bloody Mary-style cocktail poured on top of an oyster—are memorable signatures.

The restaurant's décor—with its chandeliers, sleek bronze bar, wood floors and vibrantly hued painted murals—feels like a romp in the Big Easy.

"I love to hear from guests that they feel like they are eating in one of the best restaurants in New Orleans without having to travel that far," Mirando says.

Dino says, "What I like best about the Originals is the sharing of experiences and expertise of many local restaurant owners. It's a great diverse group that works together and supports each other – it's great!"

Half Shell Seafood House: 5231 University Parkway, Suite 109, Sarasota, 941-952-9400

Author: Abby Weingarten

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Lesley Harb's love of food and hospitality has deep southern roots. Harb grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, but often spent time with her paternal grandparents in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Some of her favorite memories of that time were watching her grandmother spend the better part of every day in the kitchen, in large part becauase her grandma was happiest making sure her family was well-fed.


"There is something innately satisfying that comes from creating a meal and having the people you love devour it," Harb says. "To this day, I get a kick out of seeing the bowls come back to the kitchen as clean as a whistle."

You would think with these influences that Harb would go into business serving slow-cooked, deep-fried, Southern favorites. Instead, she and her husband Mike took a different route when they opened the first Fast N Fresh in March of 2009.

"Our vision has always been the same—fresh food fast. These days everyone is on the go. We wanted our place to be a place where people could create their own meal, exactly how they want it."

What sets them apart though is not just their fresh local products and quick service – it's the ease of customization, thanks to their customer-designed salads.

"Face it, we are all a little picky," Harb explains. "And that's okay. What sets us apart is that you can come to one of our restaurants and never have the same meal twice. You can double up on the protein if you've just come from the gym, choose a gluten-free dressing for your salad if you're gluten-intolerant, or indulge in a splurge dressing, on the side of course. It's all about choices."

Fast N Fresh isn't just about awesome, unique salads though: they also have a menu with well-loved sandwiches like the Turkey Bacon Ranch wrap, and the Wasabi Roast Beef sandwich.

The original Fast N Fresh at University Town Center has recently had a makeover. The chrome and wood décor with cheerful green accents is as fresh and modern as their restaurant concept. This same sense of style carries over to their Lakewood Ranch location and will undoubtedly translate to their new downtown Sarasota location, which is slated to open in December of 2014.

Fast n Fresh has been, from the beginning, an original. Still, to this day, people come in to our restaurants and are blown away by the fact that they can be the chef and design a salad how they want it. Whether they like 'just a little' dressing or want us to mix two of the dressings together, we will happily do that. In addition, we have our produce delivered daily. We use local produce, when seasonally available, and slice, dice and chop almost all of our toppings. Meats are grilled in-house and we make half of our dressing as well. We are honored to be part of such a collaborative group of restaurateurs.

Fast N Fresh: 8105 Cooper Creek Blvd, University Park, 941.315-4500

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Join us with chef John Horne, of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, as we take a field trip to the locally owned and operated Siesta Key Rum distillery. Then head back in the kitchen at the USF Sarasota-Manatee Culinary Innovation Lab as chef Horne prepares a spiced rum cake with rum syrup.

Drum Circle Distilling produces and bottles small batch craft Siesta Key Rum at their local Sarasota distillery. The company was founded by local Troy Roberts in 2007, and now distributes rum to retailers across the country. Siesta Key Rum in hand-crafted with high-quality ingredients that are locally sourced in Florida. 

Molasses made from Florida grown sugarcane is poured into the mash tanks for clarification. The purified molasses is then moved to the fermentation tanks. Water and a specialty yeast are added to the fermentation tanks, which transforms the sugars of the molasses. The rum is then separated from the mixture by the copper pot still. In the still, the fermented molasses is heated at high temperatures to allow the alcohol to evaporate into the still system. The system releases the finished rum into barrels to age before it is bottled by hand on-site at the distillery. The reaction of the copper still and natural ingredients produce the smooth, chemical-free taste that has won numerous international awards. 

The Siesta Key Rum product line includes a Gold, Silver and Spiced rum, and a limited edition Distiller's Reserve. A toasted coconut spiced rum is scheduled for release later this year. In collaboration with local craft beer brewers, Siesta Key Rum also produces a Beer Barrel Finish spiced rum. This rum is aged in barrels previously used to produce craft brews to give the rum a unique flavor. The Drum Circle Distilling tasting room and gift shop are open to the public for sampling and tours.


IN THE KITCHEN is a Trademark of Observer Media Group, Inc. 

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Join us with chef Tommy Klauber, of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, as we take a field trip to harvest fresh local clams with family owned Two Docks Shellfish. Then head back in the kitchen at USF Culinary Innovation Lab as chef Klauber prepares a lemongrass clam pan roast with green curry.

Two Docks Shellfish operates an aquaculture farm just north of Sarasota. The company was founded by Aaron Welch Jr. and his son, Aaron Welch III. The Welchs raise seed clams that they plant in bags at the bottom of Terra Ceia Bay. Two Docks Shellfish leases a large plot of the bay floor including the six inches of water column above the bottom.

After about a year in the bay, the bags are ready to harvest. Throughout the year the clams will burrow the bags down into the sediment where they feed. Aaron III takes routine dives to monitor the clams' growth and check for signs of predators. New bags are planted at regular intervals to ensure weekly harvests of fully grown little neck, middle neck and top neck clams.

Upon harvest, the bags are rigged to long lines and pulled up from the bay bottom using a winch. Each bag is emptied into a basket and then dredged back through the water to purge the clams of sediment. Once the clams are clean they are processed through a tumbler to sort out empty shells and the occasional crab.

The suitable clams are sorted and bagged by size, and each bag is tagged with tracking information to identify the source location information.Two Docks Shellfish harvests fresh clams weekly and delivers their locally sourced, sustainable seafood to area restaurants and retail outlets, including chef Klauber's Polo Grill and Bar in Lakewood Ranch.


IN THE KITCHEN is a Trademark of Observer Media Group, Inc.

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