enRich Rich Knowles chef ownerLD enRich Bistro S2EnRich

Rich Knowles, the chef/owner of enRich Bistro in Bradenton, is fast becoming known for one grab-and-go dish that is a surefire hit at festivals like Forks & Corks: his savory Thai pork tacos.

“It combines the Asian flavors I love and the best braised pork, in my opinion,” Knowles says. “People remember it. They ask for it. So, now, it’s kind of becoming our thing. You want your dish to stand out at big events, and this one definitely does.”

Handheld, vibrantly colored, and imbued with a mix of crunchy and creamy textures, the tacos cover every flavor base and always incur stellar feedback.

THAI PORK TACOS WITH SESAME-GINGER SLAW AND RED CURRY AIOLI

Ingredients:
For the slow-braised pork:
1 3-4 pound pork butt
1/3 cup salt
2 tablespoons ground cumin
½ gallon mojo sauce
5 bay leaves
3 tablespoons garlic powder
For the Thai slaw dressing:
2/3 cup teriyaki sauce
1 cup Mae Ploy sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1 teaspoon fish sauce
¼ cup Mirin
1 lime, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons Yuzu extract
½ cup mayonnaise
Romaine lettuce
Napa red cabbage
Red onion
Bell pepper

Method:

For the pork, add water if needed and braise, covered, for 4 to 6 hours at 275 degrees. For the slaw, chiffonade the vegetables and toss with the combined liquid ingredients. Place the pork and slaw in a warm flour tortilla, and drizzle with the slaw sauce.

enRich Bistro: 5629 Manatee Ave. W | Bradenton | 941-792-0990 | enrichbistro.com.

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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The Lobster Pot Medeiros Family OwnersIt’s not difficult to find a seafood restaurant in the Gulf Coast area: you could toss out a fishing line and hit a dozen places that serve up delicious fresh Florida catch. But in order to find the best of our local seafood showcased alongside authentic New England seafood, you must visit The Lobster Pot restaurant in Siesta Key.

The Lobster Pot celebrated its fifteenth anniversary this month, but its story begins long before then. Glen Medeiros’ parents owned and operated a restaurant also called The Lobster Pot in Provincetown, Massachusetts. They started their business in 1939 and ran it until they retired in 1979. Medeiros, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in New Haven, Connecticut in 1968, was determined to keep the family tradition alive.

“My passion was to open a restaurant like my parents, and now my two sons and I manage the restaurant with my wife up front as a hostess,” Medeiros says. “I also have my two daughters-in-law working for us now. We are a proud third-generation family owning and operating our business.”

Medeiros’ vision was always to own a seafood restaurant, but to give the genre its own distinct twist by serving well-loved family recipes as well as more modern takes on seafood using the freshest local product available. They purchase fresh fish daily from local fisherman, and their lobsters are delivered live straight from Bar Harbor and Boothbay in Maine.

Doing fresh takes on classic dishes has served them well: the signature baked stuffed Lobster Duchess, The Seafood Portugal, and the Salmon Rockefeller have all been award-winning dishes at “The Taste of Sarasota” competition.

However, the real secret ingredient behind the success and longevity at The Lobster Pot is clearly family.

“I collaborate with the chefs and family to work as a team. They all have had culinary experience to create fresh wholesome daily specials.”

This collaborative effort is on display in the front of the house too, as the whole family dedicates themselves to their goal of providing excellent customer service.

“The best compliment we have ever received is we are extraordinary in food quality and service,” Medeiros says. “When we hear compliments from our guests we know we're doing something right.”

The Lobster Pot: 5157 Ocean Boulevard | Siesta Key Village | 941-349-2323 | www.sarasotalobsterpot.com

Author: Kate Wight

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CafeVenice WEBSince she was a little girl, Kay Kropac knew what it took to turn a restaurant into a "second home."

Her mother owned and operated the historic Hellriegel's Inn in Painesville, Ohio for 48 years, where Kropac grew up learning how to make patrons feel like extended family members.

This mentality stayed with Kropac when she relocated to Southwest Florida to work as a server for Café Venice. When the owner decided to sell, she bought the venture in December 2006.

"I don't think there was ever another option for me other than this business," Kropac says. "My family and home has grown to include Cafe Venice, my staff and my regulars."

It is a combination of Kropac's warmth and Café Venice's décor that makes the eatery seem like a residence. The Tuscan motif, the 100-plus bottles of vino, the beer and wine bar, and the live acoustic concerts make Café Venice a cozy hotspot for downtown Venetians.

"My vision for the restaurant was creating a friendly place where anyone could come to get great food, good wine and service," Kropac says. "I love knowing all our guests' names and favorite drinks."

Executive chef Joel Sardinha whips up signature items like the Grilled Romaine Salad with feta, yellow onions and balsamic reduction; the Crab Cake Sandwich with homemade remoulade; and the Chicken BLT Sandwich with sweet chili mayonnaise on a ciabatta roll.

Kay says, "I am proud to be a part of The Originals. My favorite thing about the group is that they cater to the independent restaurant owner and support each other."

Kropac will never forget when a guest once told her: "It's not only the quality of food that keeps me coming back; it's the environment you have created. You make everyone feel like family."

For Kropac, her regulars are her relatives.

Café Venice Restaurant and Wine Bar: 116 West Venice Avenue | Venice | 941-484-1855 | www.cafeveniceontheisland.com

Author: Abby Weingarten

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Jean Pierre Knaggs The BijouThe 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 | www.bijoucafe.net

Author: Kate Wight

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Half Shell Seafood House Dino Mirando OwnerAfter 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 #109 | Sarasota | 941-952-9400 | www.halfshelloysterhouse.com

Author: Abby Weingarten

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