The most common New Year’s resolutionsinvolve getting healthy, so we combed the surrounding areas in search of the best options for delicious dining options to help you with your health-conscious resolve. These local purveyors are sourcing dishes that get your new year kick-started.

PHOTOS BY WYATT KOSTYGAN.

Cafe Evergreen

CAFE EVERGREEN'S RAW GOLDEN BEET STUFFED WITH CASHEW CHEESE TOPPED WITH POMODORO AVACADO AND SPROUTED MUNG BEANS PAIRED WITH RAW KALE TABOULI.

Chef Ted Weinbergerat Cafe Evergreen in Nokomis can often be seen delivering food to the tables when the restaurant fills to capacity with happy, loyal customers—which is every day at this point. Chef Ted will present one of his creations with a smile that tells you he’s proud of your choice and he’s never too busy to answer questions. Cafe Evergreen offers healthy versions of almost everything—including wine! Drinking a glass of the Florida Blueberry Wine is the equivalent eating two pounds of raw blueberries; it also pairs beautifully with the Kelp Noodle Stir Fry or the Butternut Squash Ravioli.

CHEF PAUL MATTISON IN THE GARDEN HE KEEPS BEHIND PHILLIPPI SHORES ELEMENTARY.

Lucky Frog

ED CHILES OVERLOOKING BRADENTON BEACH IN FRONT OF THE BEACH HOUSE.

Lucky Frog in Bradenton features an open kitchen and interesting menu of German and Mediterranean options. German cuisine may not be the traditional ‘eat healthy’ choice, but Uwe and Simone Kaufer are determined to change that perception with organically grown, low-fat meals that make up in flavor what they lack in calories. Breakfast and lunch menus offer Homemade Roasted Granola, refreshing Tabbouleh Salads, Gluten- Free Quiche. The dinner menu is a wonderland of German treats prepared to maximize flavor and minimize fat. We recommend the Queen’s Heart, which includes sauerbraten (German pot roast) served with spaetzle, red cabbage and salad, or the Golden Water, which features sauteed shrimp served over tabbouleh salad. 

Simon's Coffee House

Long a Sarasota favorite choice for tasty and healthy food, this restaurant offers a proliferation of raw, gluten-free and vegan options. Under the guidance of Chef Mike Donnerstag, this family-owned-and-operated, whole foods, organic restaurant fills daily specials boards with delightful healthy creations. We love the vegetable-laden Raw Lasagna and the Portobello Cap Veggie Burger with roasted portobello, basil pesto, provolone, lettuce, tomato and onion. Start your day and year right with a visit to Simon’s for a ‘Power Porridge’ like the Body Builder, which is slow-cooked to order with banana slices, whey protein powder and walnuts. Simon’s is closed during dinner but the takeout deli case is chock-full of satisfying and nutritious meals. Simon’s also offers locally made Kombucha, interactive cooking classes, homemade bottled dressings and incredible raw and vegan desserts that should have sweets lovers—and their waistbands—rejoicing. 

CHEF PAUL AND THE SCHOOL GARDEN

Chef Paul Mattison has big dreams here, including providing students such as his daughter, Gigi, access to and appreciation for homegrown produce to supplement their own nutritional needs.The passion is evident as Chef Paul spends what little free time he has tending to a garden at Phillippi Shores Elementary School that he was able to make an integral part of this school’s lunch program three years ago. The garden now occupies a sunny corner of the school playing field. “The budget for a school lunch is $1, and 31 cents of that is the milk,” he notes. “It’s easy to use the rest of the budget allocated to buy canned or frozen ingredients in bulk and produce repetitive and nutritionally inadequate meals.” Fortunately in Sarasota County, we have citizens like Chef Paul who are supported by officials like Beverly Girard, director of Food and Nutrition Services at Sarasota County Schools. Thanks to the dedication and integrity of her team, Sarasota County is one of the state’s premier school food service operations. 

Chef Paul moves through the garden with comfortable familiarity, checking on the progress of kohlrabi, cauliflowers, peppers, kale and watermelon as he discusses the importance of providing fresh ingredients for use in the school kitchen. He is impressed by the team at Phillippi Shores Elementary. “They make everything from scratch here. Even when they cook macaroni and cheese, they create a cheese sauce.” A brief tour of the large and exceptionally clean kitchen reveals a friendly staff of men and women wearing aprons and peeling sweet potatoes for use in that day’s lunch. Chef Paul is involved with Chefs Move to Schools, a national program that pairs chefs with students for the purpose of creating recipes for use in the National School Lunch Program. The program has the chefs and kids following budget, nutrition and portion guidelines. The chefs brainstorm with the students about what they would like to eat and then collaborate with them on recipes, which are then taste-tested and kid-approved before being presented. There is an old African proverb that says “It takes a village to raise a child.” At Phillippi Shores Elementary, Chef Paul sits on a picnic bench in the school garden and talks about the village that came together to feed these children. “We received assistance from Asplundh Tree Service, Crofut Trucking, Lowe’s Home Improvement and my own team at Mattison’s.” Chef Paul is quick to spread praise and recognition for the people involved in this effort but it’s easy to see that this garden would not exist without his leadership. Gigi is headed to Pine View School this year and her father already has plans to expand that school’s existing garden using his experience at Phillippi Shores Elementary as a model. 

A MULLET FOR ALL SEASONS

Ed Chiles beckons a server to his table in the sleekly redesigned dining roomat The Beach House Restaurant on Bradenton Beach and asks him to bring us some crusty bread spread with mullet roe. The silver blue decor, large windows, stunning Gulf-front views and wood-paneled ceilings are reminiscent of a luxury ocean liner and Chiles is the esteemed and ebullient captain of this ship. As we wait for the server to return, he sits back and crosses his legs with an air of relaxed confidence, then begins to tell us the story of our local sunken treasure—the grey striped mullet—that he hails as the ultimate sustainable seafood. This region is blessed with this natural resource in abundance and it is akin, in Chiles’ eyes, to grey striped gold.

Chiles, a local boy done good, grew up summering on Anna Maria Island, the first time in utero, he chuckles. Nearby, Cortez Fishing Village is the oldest continual fishing village in Southwest Florida and also the No. 1 producer of the area’s No. 1 export, grey mullet roe. Chiles shakes his head in bemusement. “Everyone prizes our mullet but us,” he laments. “We’re exporting to Taiwan, Sardinia, North Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They’re curing and drying it on rooftops in Taiwan, where it loses weight and then is sold back to us at a considerable markup. We’re operating in a commodity-based market rather than a value-added one.” This isn’t the only part of the country underutilizing its resources; over 90 percent of seafood in the United States is imported, according to Chiles. That’s a staggering percentage to consider, especially as we face a literal gulf full of missed opportunity. Chiles enumerates the virtues of grey striped mullet: it’s full of good, healthy fat; it’s mercury-free; it grows fast. This area’s mullet heritage is a rich tradition passed from the Indian natives to the Cuban fisherman to the Cortez settlers, and the only way to honor this history is to keep mullet here. Cure it, pickle it, turn it into fish oil or organic fish meal and use every resource available to fully utilize this gift. 

The server returns bearing crusty bread, baked in-house and smeared with mullet roe. We’ve just finished an appetizer of clams (another locally-produced gem) steamed in chicken stock, white wine, thyme and garlic butter and studded with slices of smoky chipotle sausage. Chiles settles a piece of the bread into the leftover broth and proffers it to us with a gleam in his eye bordering on zealotry. The first bite of this comforting delicacy elicits appreciative moans of delight and Chiles grins in approval. He pushes forward a plate of lightly pan-fried mullet with corn and jalapeño hush puppies. The hush puppies are sublime with a slather of homemade Pine Avenue Honey Butter but the mullet is clearly the star of this show. The white fleshy fish is full of flavor and does not require even a hint of the accompanying tartar sauce. This is the kind of thing at which The Beach House and sister restaurants Mar Vista and Sandbar excel: showcasing locally grown sustainable produce and protein in the best possible light. From local wild boar to watermelon radishes to mullet, The Beach House is that rare and wonderful find, a waterfront restaurant that does not rely merely on the beauty of its natural surroundings, but also its bounty.