The building that housed the former Riviera Maya Mexican Restaurant had laid dormant,  awaiting a tenant who could revive the space at the corner of Cocoanut Avenue and Tenth St.  and help restore the historic neighborhood to its former glory. The space is getting a new lease on life with a group of friends who were interested in opening an Indian restaurant in Sarasota and selected it as the site for their new venture. Three co-proprietors, local practicing pharmacist Vikram Rao, manager Alex Cardoz and executive chef Sarbjit Singh spearheaded the efforts to transform the historic building into a modern Indian eatery, which opened last October. “We found the right property at the right time,” says Rao, reflecting on the unbeatable downtown location near the beach, airport and other busy parts of the city.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Rao and his team worked to modernize the building’s interior while staying true to its architectural roots. “The exterior of the restaurant doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to Sarasota as part of the former Broadway District,” he adds. From the marquee-style sign that beckons to customers to the clean and cozy dining space, the restaurant blends old Sarasota with a fresh atmosphere that highlights its tasty and healthy menu. 

The team has woven turmeric, a spice from India renowned for its anti-inflammatory and anti-infective benefits, into every facet of the business like a golden thread. Whether guests are cheering on their favorite team from the yellow sofa in the bar area or sipping the signature Turmeric Punch, they experience the overarching theme of the restaurant. “We bring a different perspective of cooking and presentation from a health point of view,” says Rao, “and we pay close attention to what’s on the menu because we don’t want to load it up with things that are tasty but unhealthy.” 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Cardoz and Singh, who have worked together in the restaurant industry for the past 16 years, have driven Turmeric’s efforts to maintain excellent flavors with dishes that are good for guests’ health. The pair met in New Jersey after Cardoz had immigrated to the United States from India, starting out in the culinary world as a server. He had always dreamed of opening a full-service restaurant, and after collaborating with Singh, through whom he met Rao, he fulfilled his dream with Turmeric in Sarasota. At Turmeric, Cardoz puts his presentation and guest service skills to the test while Singh focuses on flavors. According to Cardoz, cooking Indian food gives the chef the extra challenge of achieving consistency in every bite. “Because Indian cuisine has so many spices and ingredients and each component has to be in the perfect state when prepared, it can be difficult to ensure that the flavor of each dish is the same every time the guest eats it,” says Cardoz, noting that chef Singh excels at this culinary juggling act. 

Turmeric’s extensive menu encompasses not only a pinch of many different spices but also features plates from various regions of the country. Most recipes are from the Punjab and Kashmir states of northern India, but others come from western India and the seacoast of Goa. Many of the Goan dishes highlight recipes from Cardoz’s family, bringing his journey through the food industry full circle. Indo-Chinese dishes and classic Indian streetside bites round out the menu. “When people think of Indian food, they imagine a two-hour table wait and a very heavy meal,” Rao adds, “but we want to break that concept by offering Indian quick bites, fast food, roadside dishes and a lunch buffet along with full course dinners.” 

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Standout dishes include Pani Puri Shots, Balti Chicken and Orange Kulfi dessert. The Pani Puri shots, crunchy dough balls with a chickpea filling, delight guests, who must balance popping the tasty morsel into their mouths and chasing it with a shot of mint-coriander water. The Balti chicken, served in a bucket, or balti, in Hindi, comes with basmati rice and is a sharable entree. Tender, flavorful chicken, bell peppers and onions shine against a backdrop of spices. The dessert, an ice cream-like treat, comes served inside a hollowed-out orange. Many of the dishes offered are vegetarian, lactose and gluten-free and can be customized to fit guests’ needs. The varied menu items pair well with the cocktails and mocktails, from the full bar, which offers Indian beers, liquors and wines. Diners love the Blueberry Crush mocktail with fresh blueberry, mint, lime and soda. 

Since opening, Turmeric has experienced a positive response from the community. In addition to casual dining, the restaurant offers catering services to the community and hosts special events in its upstairs banquet space. “If we have a busy night and there’s a two-minute delay for food, our guests tell us that they want us to be successful and are happy that we’re busy,” says Cardoz, “and for me, that’s the greatest achievement.”