The right way for Vinny and Christina D’Amato  means the level of creativity and intimacy should aspire to the promises typical of highbrow establishments. It means a printed menu should function more as a suggestion than a set of rules etched in stone. It means that diners should never feel invisible within the bustle of a full house. And when it comes to dollars and cents, it means, “If you’re not happy, you don’t pay,” says Vinny. As improbable and daring as it sounds, these values are expressed to near-perfection by the married pair. 

Christina plays hostess,server and bartender; Vinny cooks out back in a fully outfitted food truck and runs much of the food himself. “This is not your typical restaurant experience,” says Christina, and on a hot, busy night, diners can see the signs of effort and inspiration on Vinny’s face as he drops a dish off and talks a bit about its preparation.

When diners order an arugula salad from the printed menu, for example, Vinny walks them through an overview of alterations made. And with a résume that would make Gordon Ramsey soften his tone, Vinny has the pedigree and imagination to reinvent his menu every two weeks. Tonight, the salad features crispy prosciutto placed on a bed of arugula with sourdough crostinis as the foundation. Mixed in are heirloom tomatoes, Turkish figs and aged cheddar (improvised replacements for champagne grapes and parmesan frittas). To avoid a lengthy and technical sonnet on the dressing, Vinny opts to simply call it “red vinaigrette with a twist.” The salad is bold and broad, covering everything from sweet to savory, dry to moist, and soft to crunchy. Yet the balance of flavors is seamless—even the peppery kick of the arugula kicks in after a few chews. “The trick is to try and get all the flavors in one bite,” he says, a worthy pursuit for the coordinated diner resulting in a veritable drum solo on the taste buds.

Those daring enough to join Vinny on one of his unscripted culinary tangents will also be kindly rewarded by some completely off-menu items such as the spontaneously named Pork ‘n’ Pineapple. A wedge of seared pineapple serves as the base for 14-hour roasted pulled pork, an ample slice of seared pork loin, sliced cabbage and a bell pepper slaw. It presents like a food pyramid—albeit one in which every tier is desirable—and evokes island cuisines like Hawaiian and Caribbean while offering a house BBQ sauce on the side for an infusion of ‘Merica. Despite Eatery 84 only being open since June, the pork and pineapple somehow feels distinctly Sarasotan, though not as much as the jerk-seasoned swordfish plate.

The swordfish preparation, a spur of the moment deviation from the Filet of Pork menu item, features the latter’s sweet potato puree base and gala apple salad. For tonight, Vinny opted for a watercress garnish, a citrusy vinaigrette and blackened cubes of succulent swordfish topped with a pickled sweet onion salad. A pattern has formed by this course, one that suggests Vinny is a master of blending seemingly disparate ingredients into something fresh and matchless. The tender, blackened swordfish cubes contain all of the singe and spice of a perfectly grilled steak, but the initial flavors are offset by the fun twists in the sweet crunch of the apples, the creamy smear of sweet potato and the tangy pickled onion. Ultimately, the dish feels hearty and filling like steak and potatoes but without the guilt.

Which is not to say that Vinny is averse to a good old-fashioned belly-stuffer. The Eatery Burger will satisfy gourmet chefs and bodybuilders alike with nine ounces of Angus beef, house-cured black pepper bacon, onion confit, aged Vermont cheddar, tomato slices and shredded lettuce stacked high between lightly toasted buns. For those with room to spare in their arteries, the burger can be topped with a fried egg. And no burger is complete without a starchy side, so Vinny hand cuts and blanches his potatoes daily before they are lightly fried and tossed with garlic and rosemary. The final twist? A house-made key-lime ketchup that will have diners licking their fingers clean.

When Eatery 84 took over the humble Tea House in Fruitville’s bohemian corridor, it was with the loftiest of intentions. Vinny and Christina D’Amato wanted to create a food-first, boutique eating experience with a far-reaching vision. Their vision champions the eating experience over a padded bank account and allows Vinny to flex his culinary muscle. “If I could serve 40 people a night the right way, I’d be happy,” he says. And as Eatery 84 quickly approaches reservation-only status, diners hungry for something audaciously fun might have to get in line.