Sandbar 01 smallSandbar Ed Chiles Proprietor
Erik Walker, the culinary director for the Chiles Restaurant Group, introduced guests to a refreshing signature dish from The Sandbar at the Grand Tasting in January: Locally-sourced Mackerel Crudo with House-made Pickled Vegetable Escabeche. Insider Perspective: At an event like the Grand Tasting, with its bevy of hearty samples that leave guests quickly stuffed, The Sandbar’s light mackerel mixed with pickled veggies was a welcome respite for the palate

The Sandbar’s Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?
A: Go big or go home. You never want to run out. Bring your A game. 
Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served at the 2017 event?
A: Of course, a dry Riesling such as the Lola Riesling has enough acidity to enhance the flavors brought forth by the escabeche. Further, the flavor profile of the mackerel (minerals) is complemented by the Riesling, which is traditionally an old-world, mineral-forward wine.
Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?
A: You need to push the envelope to get noticed. Some restaurants bring the same dish every year, and that is fine if that is what works for them. But we always try to outdo ourselves and be better than the last year.
Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?
A: We heard that it was the most creative and the most unique. We also heard that it was delicious but also edgy and forward-thinking. And that is representative of what we are doing with our menus at the restaurants. 
Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?
A: Interacting with the locals and treating them to something new and exciting.
The Sandbar Restaurant | 100 Spring Ave., Anna Maria | 941-778-0444 |

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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PlatedModernKitchenPlated Modern Kitchen

Chef/restaurateur Lesley Harb introduced her new dining concept, Plated Modern Kitchen, to guests at the Grand Tasting in January (patrons had already known and loved her Fast N Fresh eatery). Harb’s Plated dish for the Forks & Corks event: Marinated Grilled Chicken with Mediterranean Salsa Fresca and Greek Farro Salad. Insider Perspective: The refreshing farro salad (with chick peas, onions, and bits of crunchy red and green veggies) flavorfully popped alongside the salsa’s vibrant tomatoes—crisp and colorful.

Plated Modern Kitchen's Forks & Corks Top 5 List:

Q: What are a couple of tips for prepping for the Grand Tasting?

A: Plan, plan and plan. We start about two weeks prior to the event, calculating the number of portions and all of the components that comprise the dishes. We coordinate with our food purveyors to bring in extra products and then start prepping about 48 hours in advance so everything is fresh. 

Q: Do you have a wine pairing suggestion for the dish you served at the 2017 event?

A: Fortuitously, our booth this year was next to that of my favorite winery, Hook & Ladder. The dish paired beautifully with their 2014 Estate Chardonnay.  

Q: What have you learned from past Grand Tastings?

A: We have participated in Forks & Corks for the last six years, so we have learned to prepare for the unexpected. I always have a “crash kit” with tape, scissors, clips, ponchos and snacks (that’s the mom in me). I always plan on a cool start with warmer weather in the afternoon. This year was a little cooler but, once the rain clouds cleared away, it was a spectacular day.

Q: What were some of the best compliments you received about the dish you served?

A: We received a lot of great feedback. With so many of the dishes at the Grand Tasting being a little heavier, we are a nice departure to the lighter side.

Q: What is your favorite thing about the Grand Tasting?

A: Having participated for so many years, I love reconnecting with the winemakers we have gotten to know. It is always great to be able to visit with our fellow Sarasota-Manatee Originals members and sample their delicious food.

Plated Modern Kitchen | 8105 Cooper Creek Boulevard | University Park | 941-315-4500 |

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Amore 16 small

Amore Restaurant—a fine-dining Italian fusion eatery on Longboat Key—is the collective passion of real estate mogul Howard Rooks, managers Tito and Liana Vitorino, and chef Angel Torres.

Together, the team provides patrons with a sophisticated culinary experience, in both the menu offerings and the ambiance.

“I’m primarily a real estate investor and broker, so I’ve hired experienced people who know the business. Tito and Liana are doing a masterful job. They graciously greet the guests, and they are wonderful examples of how important experience is in successfully operating a restaurant,” Rooks says. “Angel was previously a chef at the Colony and the Sarasota Bay Club. In addition to his incredible culinary talents, his personality and sensitivity in dealing with all his staff have contributed to his becoming a talented and very effective leader.”

Torres serves such beloved dishes as Crab Stuffed Flounder with garlic aioli, Roasted Beet Napoleon with goat cheese and candied walnuts, Pork Tenderloin with apples and figs in bourbon-mustard sauce, and Delmonico Steak with tomato chimichurri sauce and saffron risotto. When the Longboat Key residents and tourists are in town for high season, Amore becomes a family-like gathering spot.

“We have built such a loyal customer base. We love getting to know our guests and hearing their generous comments concerning the food, the beautiful facility, the top entertainment provided nightly in the lounge and the reasonably priced menu,” Rooks says.

Being an “Original,” for Rooks, is about running an independent restaurant with invested, like-minded people.

“I am blessed to have such a talented and caring staff,” he says. “They all work together with pride and respect for the importance of teamwork.”

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

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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SeafoodShack Gerard Jesse chef

The Seafood Shack, with Gerard Jesse as executive chef, has become a paragon of sustainable fare in Cortez.

Fresh catches from local waters are incorporated into the menu, and Jesse (who is originally from Germany, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and previously worked in Louisiana) adds a New Orleans flair to the flavor profile.

Dishes such as Shrimp and Grits with cold-smoked Gulf shrimp and Florida-based Greenway Farm Stone Ground Organic Grits, as well as Ratatouille with Bradenton’s Geraldson Community Farm vegetables are among the regional favorites.

“My style and passion are reflected best in dishes in which I get to take full advantage of our fresh, local bounty while making humble, simple ingredients shine,” Jesse says. “We serve the highest quality of fresh, local seafood and beef available. We are not only a humble business but also a huge advocate of supporting local fishermen.”

Prior to joining the Seafood Shack, Jesse was the culinary supervisor at The Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch, the sous chef at Jack Dusty, and the executive sous chef at Michael’s On East. He also cooked at the James Beard House in New York City in 2013.

Today, his involvement in the Sarasota-Manatee Originals helps him promote his mission of serving locally-based fare.

One of the biggest challenges of being an independent restaurant has to do with marketing, specifically creating an ongoing awareness of your destination without a lot of money,” Jesse says. “Quite frankly, this is why a partnership with the Originals is so very important.”

The Seafood Shack Marina, Bar & Grill | 4110 127th St. W., Cortez | 941-794-1235|

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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Local Dish Season 2Gulf Drive Logo

The Crab Cakes with Creole Marmalade at Forks & Corks 2016 gave tasters a glimpse into the waterside menu offerings at Bradenton Beach’s Gulf Drive Café.

Head chef Luiz Amorim says of the dish served at the January event: “What makes it special is really the apricot sauce. The crab cake is phenomenal on its own, but the addition of the sweet-and-spicy marmalade takes it to the next level.”

The crab cake itself is comprised of lump Maryland crabmeat, diced green and red peppers, onions, mayonnaise, celery and eggs. The ingredients are then mixed together with breadcrumbs, formed into patties, and sautéed in extra virgin olive oil until they are lightly browned. The Creole marmalade is a combination of apricot marmalade, horseradish, a touch of hot sauce, and coconut and condensed milks. 

This is just one of many scrumptious specialties at Gulf Drive Café, which is the pride of restaurateurs George and Wendy Kokolis. The locale is also home to the Kokonut Hut Raw Bar and Grill.

Guests come for breakfast, lunch and dinner items like the Belgian waffles, the cheese blintzes with orange cream, the Boston clam chowder and the locally caught Gulf grouper. There are also raw oysters and peel-and-eat shrimp at the Kokonut Hut. The eatery, with its Gulf of Mexico views, has a tiki bar, chickee huts, live evening concerts and a true Old Florida-style vibe.

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

Author: Abby Weingarten


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