The conversations around the food industry for almost two years took on the feel of obituaries. It seemed every week brought more news of neighborhood institutions closing shop or servers being forced into food banks. But even as the industry grappled with its long-term viability and a constant stream of bad news, there arose stories of champions who defied the odds, savvy restaurateurs who looked around at all the despair and understood that, at the end of the day, people still need to eat. And so, with great pomp and circumstance, SRQ salutes the pandemic champs that opened shop when it seemed crazy to do so, expanded even as the market shrank, and have emerged from dark days like bread from the oven.

Atria Café

Nestled into the heart of Lakewood Ranch, Atria Bread + Coffee opened  just over a year ago as a new, hip bakery/cafe, serving up a laid-back and modern vibe with a menu to match. Owned by husband and wife team, Jim and Weyli Angus, Atria recently launched its new menu for the fall season which added intriguing entrees beyond their house-baked breads, pastries, salads and sandwiches. Desiring to offer a more unique, substantial and high-end dining experience, Atria exchanged its salad menu for “plates.” Each plate option comes with its own specially curated natural wine pairing. Amongst the new menu items, the Okonomiyaki is a stand out paying homage to the Japanese-style pancake but with wild moringa, lacto red cabbage, labneh and infused oils. Meanwhile, smoked white beans, blistered tomatoes and shishito peppers come soaking in a bason bay leaf broth with the Crispy Pork Shoulder plate, and the Coffee Jerk Chicken satisfies southern taste buds with purple heirloom grits, stewed tomatoes and thyme with a mushroom espagnole sauce. As for the Eggplant + Beet Cured Salmon, roasted and marinated Chinese eggplant comes paired with fresh salmon and topped with smoked grapes, crispy garlic, shiso furikake and a carotene aioli—the beta-carotene compound that causes the vibrant plant pigment in carrots is made into a bright yellow, vitamin-infused aioli. The recommended pairing for this plate is Mariotti Smarazen, a dry wine that feels much like the lovechild of a wine and a beer. —C.Cuyler 

Atria’s new Effplant + Beet Cured Salmon and Crispy Pork Shoulder dishes are ready to be washed down with a glass of bold natural wine. Atria Cafe, 4120 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch, 941-751-1016,,

El Melvin Cocina Mexicana Late Night Street Tacos

The newest kid on the Main Street block opened with bright red doors. The boisterous, south-of-the-border eatery brings modern Mex-eclectic cuisine and an always vibrant, fiesta atmosphere. And as of October 3 (National Taco Day), co-owners of El Melvin, Matt Hess and Mitch Good have launched a new to-go taqueria inside their restaurant for customers who prefer to be more transient and stick to take-out. If you’re looking to grab cheap street tacos for lunch or late-night, head directly into the restaurant to the blue-painted taco stand, now dubbed Taqueria Azul, for quick, takeaway tacos at $3.5/$4 a pop. Ranging from Queso Birria (spicy beef, cheese and broth dip), Pork Belly Al Pastor (pork and pineapple), Pescado (market fish, cabbage, mango salsa and chipotle crema), Pollo (adobo chicken, avocado and crema), Veggie (mushroom, rajas and cheese) and Garlic Shrimp, all street tacos are handmade with Oaxacan heirloom corn-tortillas, cilantro and raw onion. Housemade tortilla chips and guacamole, Tres Leche cake and burritos will also be available  on-the-go. Taco about a great deal for your next picnic in the park—B.Mattie

Don’t wait till a Tuesday to grab tacos—El Melvin’s new Taqueria Azul does street tacos justice with gourmet ingredients. El Melvin Cocina Mexicana - Taqueria Azul, 1355 Main St., Sarasota, 941-366-1618,, @elmelvinsarasota

Atmosphere Neapolitan Pizzeria

Having recently moved away from being a takeaway Italian food purveyor within the Sarasota Commons Plaza, Atmosphere—now a full service intimate dinner restaurant—is causing quite the stir amongst locals as one of the newest and best hidden gems in town. Co-owned by husband and wife duo, Chef Antonio (former pizzaiolo of Napule) and Jay Mancini, Atmosphere emerges from a nondescript shop located in a north Beneva strip. As authentic as it gets, almost all ingredients get shipped from Italy to make the menu’s many Neapolitan items come to life. There’s a reason the Vesuvio Pizza, topped in the center with a giant dollop of burrata to represent the Mount Vesuvius volcano in the bay of Naples, is one of the most requested and comes with the option to be made into a fried calzone for the enclosed, folded-pizza eaters. And while Chef Antonio’s doughlicious wood-fired pizzas shamelessly steal the show—looking at you Vegetilian—if diners save room for dessert here, they’re gifted with sweet authentic Italian treats such as the Ricotta and Pears Cake (Torta Ricotta e Pere), a small, cold cake composed of ricotta cream and infused with pieces of kaiser pear, sandwiched between two layers of hazelnut biscuit dough—a recipe dating back to the skilled hands of the Italian pastry chef Sal De Riso, who made this dessert almost an emblem of the beautiful Amalfi Coast. —B.Mattie

Atmosphere Neapolitan Pizzeria makes Italy proud with decadent desserts like Torta Ricotta e Pere and Rum Baba, as well as brick-oven personal ‘zas like the Sausage and Rapini bianche pizza and the Vesuvio rosse pizza. Atmosphere Neapolitan Pizzeria, 935 N Beneva Rd., Sarasota, 941-203-8542,, @atmosphereneapolitanpizzeria

Ka Papa 

Sarasota’s newest 100% plant-based, full-service restaurant opened in Southside Village earlier this year by mom and daughter duo, Bella and Kim Fraederich—bringing moody lighting, international design features and a globally inspired, locally sourced menu of creative vegan dishes. For a smaller plate to get the party started, share the Shiitake ‘Escargots,’ served in white wine with warm lime-garlic and NOOCH (nutritional yeast fortified with vitamin B12 as a substitute for butter). Then lean in with one of its most popular dishes, the Maryland Style ‘Crab’ Cakes—substituting crab with tasty, local and organic Lion’s Mane, sourced from Petrichor Mushrooms, and served with a side of fresh pineapple salsa. Meanwhile, the combo of flavors in the Plum-Miso Glazed Eggplant please vegans and non with a bed of tamari-shirataki noodles filled with a punch of healthy fiber, roasted sesame seeds and a fresh citrus radish salad. —B.Mattie

Ka Papa’s shiitake take on “escargot” and its Plum-Miso Glazed Eggplant spark dinner table conversation amongst vegan, and non-vegan, diners. Ka Papa Cuisine, 1830 S Osprey Ave. Suite 104, Sarasota, 941-600-8590,, @kapapacuisine


Building off the success of their Gulf Gate flagship, Gulf Gate Food + Beer, Mike Whalen and Casey Daniels powered through the pandemic by opening not one, but two additional Food + Beer restaurants—one off Fruitville and one in Bradenton. The “1800-ASK-MAHI,” available at all three locations, comes with the diner’s choice of blackened or grilled mahi, house tartar sauce, peach mustard slaw and pickled onions. Named in parody of Sarasota’s infamous 1-800-ASK-GARY founder, the sandwich encapsulates the entire ethos of their menu. Meanwhile, The Diplomat burger comes out of the kitchen stacked with stuffed fontina cheese, black pepper cognac cream, caramelized onions, herb aioli and fried shallots, with a choice, made easy, to add a fried egg on top. More inspired and fresh than the menu’s sense of humor suggests, the fish and beef both achieve gourmet bar food status and pair perfectly with an ice-cold local lager, or three, while watching a Bucs game with your buds. —A.Fabian

Try Food + Beer’s 1-800-MAHI sandwich, grilled or blackened, and paired with a local sour blue beer.  Food + Beer, 5446 Fruitville Rd., Sarasota; 4808 14th St. W, Bradenton; 6528 Superior Ave., Sarasota,

Brine Seafood & Raw Bar

The newly-opened eatery brings Gulf Gate upscale casual vibes and underwater specialities of the cooked and raw varieties. Brine opened early 2021 by brothers Mike and Gary Mazan (former chef at Shore St. Armands) to connect the Florida Suncoast with seafood from the North to Mid Atlantic and Chesapeake Bay region. Its menu highlights seafood classics from up and down the salty seaboard—including an a la carte raw bar featuring East and West coast oysters and other briney delights, all sourced from reputable U.S. watermen. Dive into raw oysters on the ½ shell (available from east and west coasts), as well as ceviche tossed fresh with pink shrimp, mango, jalapeno, lime, cilantro and avocado. Meanwhile, Drunken Clams, Jumbo Lump Maryland-style Crab Cakes with key-lime mustard, Rhode Island Calamari, and the Charred Octopus with a cannellini salad of fresh arugula and romesco sauce have seafood lovers stampeding in for some brine-filled bites for lunch and dinner. B.Mattie

Pescatarians unite—head to Brine Seafood & Raw Bar for half-shell oysters, shrimp ceviche, charred octopus and crab cakes.  Brine Seafood and Raw Bar, 2250 Gulf Gate Dr., Sarasota, 941-952-3039,, @brinesarasotaoysterbar

Project Coffee

Clean, earthy and minimalistic—the perfect words to describe not just Project Coffee’s atmosphere but its menu, crafted by co-owners Ian Steger and Emily Arthur. Offering a full menu of 100% vegan beverages and foods, this cafe is spicing up Downtown Sarasota with its hipster vibes. Tucked within Project Coffee’s menu is one of the most perfect starts to any morning— Avocado Toast. A crunchy slice of perfectly toasted bread; a layer of smooth, buttery avocado spread; and an optional soft pillow of vegan, plant-based egg; topped with a delicate garnish of sliced radish and microgreens and a drizzle of sriracha or chimichurri. And if you haven’t heard yet, the cafe recently launched a few new colorful breakfast and lunch menu items for the season—including the Tropical Chia Bowl (dragonfruit chia pudding, nut and seed granola, mango, raspberries and blueberries, topped with pomegranate seeds, coconut flakes, finished with almond butter and edible flowers); a Dreamy Tahini Salad (kale, avocado, thick-cut tomato and cucumber, tossed in a housemade sweet lemon tahini dressing and finished with pepitas and nutritional yeast), a Sticky Plantain Salad (caramelized plantain slices on top of tossed arugula, red cabbage and avocado, finished with mango jalapeño chutney and cilantro), and finally, the Peaches & Cream Waffle (fresh-cut glazed peaches, a coconut drizzle, cashew butter, maple syrup, vegan whip, and finished with cinnamon and mint). Look out for Project Coffee’s second location, opening soon in the Rosemary District. —C. Cuyler

The Avocado Toast never disappoints at Project Coffee. 538 S Pineapple Ave., Sarasota,, @projectcoffeeco. Second location in the Rosemary District to open its doors soon.

Bootsy’s Pot Pies

Chicken pot pie. A tried-and-true American favorite. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be uninspired. Bootsy’s Pot Pies And Other Good Stuff is dishing up this classic comfort food with an exciting twist. Life’s too short to eat an ordinary pot pie when you can dine on a work of mouth-watering creativity in a pie shell. Owner and chef, Frank Imbarlina, is using his over 30 years of restaurant experience to marry the artistic flavors of the culinary world with the simplicity and convenience of a pot pie. For instance, Bootsy’s Wild Shrimp Creole pie starts off like any unassuming pot pie, with a melody of fresh, hand-cut sweet corn, yellow onion, bell peppers and peas. Then, an unconventional yet balanced symphony of wild-caught shrimp, scallions, mushrooms and sweet potato join in on the party pie. All of this is added to a creamy creole sauce, created from house-made shrimp stock and baked into a flaky, golden brown crust.  —C.Cuyler 

Releasing the heat from a freshly-baked Chicken Pot Pie.  Bootsy’s Pot Pies, 6592 Superior Ave., Sarasota, 941-330-6355,, @bootsyssrq


Opening February of 2020, just a few short weeks before the pandemic well full-bore, husband and wife owners Tom and Hoa Donatelli of Gulf Gate’s RomanSQ tenaciously brought to the table a light, airy and more digestible dough, with ingredients prepared from scratch and made into traditional Roman-style pizza. To be ordered in either full or half trays, invite some friends and neighbors over to get down on some of the 25 different kinds of pizzas the Donatellis have curated. The Salsiccia Pizza comes topped with pancetta, egg, pecorino and fresh cracked pepper, while the Salsiccia Funghi takes a slightly different route with mild Italian sausage, roasted sweet peppers, mozzarella, tomato sauce and fresh mushrooms. And antipasti lovers can rejoice, gathering the table happily by ordering a variety of specialty Italian antipasti by the pound—including Prosciutto Crudo di Parma Black Label, Roasted Sweet Red Peppers, Italian Roasted Pork (Porchetta), Tempesta Artisan Finocchina Salami, Fontina Val D’Asota DOP, Calabrese Hot Salami and Belletoile.—B.Mattie

Order a tray of  Salsiccia Funghi pizza for the next Sunday football watch party. RomanSQ, 6670 Superior Ave., Sarasota, 941-237-8742,, @romansq_artisanpizza

C & D’s Sandwich Shop 

The dream was long in the making, so when COVID-19 hit, Samantha Koch said “YOLO” and relentlessly opened C & D’s Sandwich Shop anyway. Serving up specialties from her. Northeast roots like cheesesteaks and chop cheeseburgers, the food truck on MLK Way also added some unique options like salmon and rice bowls, or garlic parmesan fries. The Jerk Chicken Cheesesteak stands out as a savory and spicy griddle-cooked mess served between a soft hoagie roll. Get it with onions and bell peppers for some extra bite, though the jerk sauce provides plenty of flavor on its own. The food truck also offers freshly-made, fruit-infused lemonades sweet enough to make Willy Wonka jealous.A.Fabian

The Jerk Chicken Cheesesteak with garlic parmesan fries at C&D’s Sandwich Shop, 1938 MLK Way, Sarasota,