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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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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BlueMarlinSeafood Adam Ellis owner

In a blue 1920s cottage on historic Bridge Street is one of Bradenton Beach’s most locally-focused, sustainable eateries: Blue Marlin.

Restaurateurs Adam and Marianne Ellis keep the menu filled with catches from Cortez and the surrounding communities, and the locale’s nautical décor is reminiscent of coastal New England. Everything from Tampa littleneck clams and Cortez shrimp to area grouper, hogfish, cobia and snapper appear in chowders, entrées and spreads.

“We buy our fish every day in Cortez so that we can provide the freshest fish and offer daily specials,” says Adam Ellis, who has worked in the restaurant industry for two decades and also has commercial fishing experience

He has been deeply invested in the Bradenton Beach/Anna Maria culinary scene for years, having previously worked at Sign of the Mermaid and the Beach Bistro.

Adam Ellis opened Blue Marlin in 2011 to “recreate a Sunday dock party after fishing,” he says, and to be able to cook and clean the fresh-off-the-boat catches du jour. He cherry picks his seafood directly from AP Bell Fish & Co.

Some of his signature dishes include the Grouper Fulford (with lemon butter and garlic Parmesan breadcrumbs) and the Cortez Boil (a low-country boil with Tampa Bay clams and Gulf shrimp, poached in seafood broth with sweet corn, chorizo and red potatoes).

For Adam Ellis, being an “Original” is all about supporting and serving local products.

“We stand out because of the freshness of the seafood,” he says, “and our commitment to the fishing community.”

Blue Marlin | 121 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach | 941-896-9737 |

Author:  Abby Weingarten

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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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