State Street Owner Chris Voelker and Chef Adam Ruth

With the vibe of a metropolitan hotspot and a menu with an uber-local sensibility, State Street Eating House + Cocktails is keeping downtown Sarasota on the cutting culinary edge.

Chef Adam Ruth, alongside owners Chris and Kirk Voelker, have cultivated a following with dishes such as the Baked Lobster Mac & Cheese; the Guava-Glazed Snapper; the Watermelon Crab Salad with serrano vinaigrette; and the Chickpea Yellow Zucchini Burger with sumac tomato spread. Bar-goers also flock to the counter for classic craft cocktails like the Bramble, Negroni and Mint Julep.

“I honestly believe our insane dedication to fresh, innovative fare is what separates us from most of the pack,” Chris Voelker says. “Our chef has taken the farm-to-fork trend a step further and is now working directly with farmers to grow specific vegetables exclusively for State Street. As an example, he recently selected specific seeds, which he wants grown for our upcoming heirloom tomato salad.”

But the appeal of State Street transcends the food.

“Our friendly yet urban-cool atmosphere adds to the dining experience,” she says. “Guests will often exclaim that our place reminds them of a favorite place in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.”

And what makes State Street an “Original”?

“We serve fresh, high-quality, creative foods in a friendly, casual, urban setting. Our attention to detail and flavor profile exploration even extends to our bar, where we were the first in the area to feature handcrafted cocktails,” Chris Voelker says. “A lot of time is required to ensure the level of consistent excellence we strive for, but the reward is the amazing people we meet and the joy of contributing to their experience.”

State Street Eating House + Cocktails |1533 State St., Sarasota | 941-951-1533 |

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Cassariano Italian Eatery Antonio Pariano Luca Cassani owners

Antonio Pariano and Luca Cassani, two Italian-born restaurateurs, make Venice’s Cassariano a mecca for authentic cuisine that pays homage to their home country.

“We try to incorporate the most local ingredients we can into our menu, because we believe in small and artisan producers,” Pariano says. “We use seasonal, local produce; fresh fish from the Gulf of Mexico; and fresh dairy products made at a farm in the Ocala area.”

These sustainable, Florida-cultivated items find their way into Northern Italy-inspired dishes like the Petto d’Anatra Arrosto con Risotto ai Fichi and the Ravioli di Ricotta e Noci con Gorgonzola e Pere.

Since they opened Cassariano in May 2007, Pariano and Cassani knew they wanted to provide mostly free-range meats, as well as organic fruits and vegetables, to their devout Venice patrons. The naturally-fed veal tenderloin with pan-roasted beluga lentils and juniper berry sauce exemplifies this commitment.

Pariano and Cassani’s membership in the Sarasota-Manatee Originals keeps them connected to the community and helps them support the independent restaurant scene.

“Being part of a group like the Originals, to us, is very important because we can interact with people who are in the same business but have different points of view and different experiences. This allows us to learn and continue to be inspired,”
Pariano says. “We think we are ‘Original’ because we are 100 percent dedicated and committed to doing the right thing, with ethics and passion.”

Cassariano Italian Eatery | 313 W. Venice Ave., Venice | 941-786-1000 |

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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cafe baci 4 63 smallCafé Baci Roberto Mei proprietorCafe Baci

A palate-pleasing pasta, the Eggplant Rollatina at Café Baci earned plenty more fans at Forks & Corks 2016.

This dish is one of restaurateur Roberto Mei’s signatures at the 1991-founded Sarasota restaurant, with its hearty Italian cheese blend and extra-fresh ingredients.

“The Eggplant Rollatina is a baked pasta and, like in many baked pastas, there is a complexity of textures and flavors,” Mei says. “It is remarkably light, and the combination of the three cheeses with the tomato sauce is a perfect marriage of flavors. The visual appeal is another reason people love it.


2 large eggplant ends cut off, peeled and sliced into 12 ¼-inch-thick pieces
1½ pounds ricotta cheese
1 cup tightly packed spinach (boiled, drained and chopped)
½ cup grated Parmigiana cheese
½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
¼ teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Flour for dredging
1 cup corn oil
6 whole eggs
12 ounces tomato sauce
Liberally salt the 12 eggplant slices and put them in a colander with a weight on them to drain. Mix the ricotta, 2 eggs, nutmeg, oregano, mozzarella, spinach, salt and pepper. Put the remaining eggs in a bowl, add salt and pepper, and beat. Heat the oil. Dry the eggplant with paper towels, dredge them in flour, dip them in the egg and fry them in the oil. Pat the excess oil with a paper towel. Fill the center of the eggplant with the ricotta mixture (approximately 2 to 3 tablespoons) and roll tight. The rolls should not be more than 1 inch around. Layer the eggplant rolls in a baking dish, lightly cover with the tomato sauce, sprinkle on the Parmigiana cheese, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Café Baci | 4001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota | 941-921-4848 |

Author: Abby Weingarten

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Tsunami Samuel Ray Owner

Sam Ray was just trying to pay the rent during his junior year of college when he started serving at his favorite Japanese restaurant in town. Three weeks later, he was promoted to manager. But, as much as Ray loved his new job, the eatery was on the brink of closing.

“I had some ideas and a little bit of tip money, so I met with the owner and invested everything I had (personally and financially) into saving the restaurant in exchange for a small percentage of the business,” says Ray, who now co-owns Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi Grill in downtown Sarasota.

After some minor remodeling, menu changes and staff training, the restaurant’s sales increased by 200 percent in six months.

“I realized this was something I was truly passionate about and I definitely wanted more,” Ray says.

So did his customers. They began flocking to the restaurant for signature dishes like the King Lobster Roll, the Lobster Yakisoba and the Salmon Hibachi.

“Our chef has refined his technique in his 20 years of being in the kitchen. From our 32-ounce rib-eye that is grilled to perfection to the sushi-grade filet of salmon baked with a honey glaze, patrons have the opportunity to experience some less mainstream Japanese cuisine,” Ray says.

In Ray’s opinion, what makes Tsunami an “Original” restaurant is that the staff “strives to make every meal a celebration of the senses,” he says. “Our team works to ensure that every aspect of your visit is designed specifically to your individual tastes.”

Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi Grill100 Central Avenue #1022 | Sarasota | 941-366-1033 |

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Duvals Josh Halbrucker Operating Partner Nils Tarantik Chef

The signature Fresh Catch at Duval’s is about as Gulf Coast as it gets.

At the revamped downtown Sarasota eatery, more than 40 varieties of fish from area waters are served annually, and patrons feel the satisfaction of knowing the origins of their seafood.

“When you dine here, you can be confident that there is always an outstanding piece of fresh fish available that was filleted in-house that day,” says Duval’s co-owner Josh Halbrucker, who has worked in the restaurant industry since age 15. “My favorite is the hognose snapper. The chef will typically do a very simple preparation of fresh, seasonal, sautéed vegetables and a light white wine butter sauce to complement the delicious, delicate sweetness of the hognose.”

This concept is precisely what makes Duval’s an “Original.” Halbrucker’s business partner, Nils Tarantik, is also the executive chef and “magic maker” in the kitchen. Together, they created the coastal chic concept that Main Street craved.

“Nils uses only the finest and freshest ingredients that he sources from local fisherman and farmers,” Halbrucker says. “We are the only restaurant in Sarasota that focuses on fresh local seafood.”

Lunch regulars return for the N’Awlins Style Po’ Boy with flash-fried seafood, napa cabbage, rajun- cajun remoulade and roma tomatoes on a fresh-baked baguette. Dinner is all about the fish filets. And the new full bar offers nautical cocktails to match the catches.

“As we tell our guests at the restaurant, ‘The only knife that touches the fish before yours is the chef’s,’” Halbrucker says. “Producing stunning, sophisticated seafood while working with high-quality shellfish and fresh fish is my passion.”

Duval’s: 1435 Main Street | Sarasota | 941-312-4001 |

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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