Fruit Snackables

Watermelon jerky may sound like a crazy idea, but Lynn Morris, founder of SaraFresh Juice, says it’s no big deal. “It’s just dried fruit,” she says. “Dried fruit has been around for ages.” But, tough like jerky, looking like bacon and tasting more like watermelon taffy than anything else, watermelon jerky seems so much more than just dried fruit. The actual dehydration process is easy, and a home dehydrator can do the trick in a day (a standard oven in eight hours, though with less certainty), but the fun, and what makes jerky jerky, comes earlier, in the slicing and the seasoning. Cut into strips like thick slabs of bacon, too thin and the watermelon jerky comes out more like watermelon chips. It still tastes good, says Morris, but it’s not jerky. And while the watermelon can stand on its own, who says it couldn’t use a little spice? Morris like to top hers with sea salt (harvested locally when possible) and white or black pepper, occasionally opting for something more complex like chipotle lime. “Some people thought it sounded weird,” says Morris, “and some people thought it sounded great.” Por que no los dos? –P.Lederer

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4 Reasons Why We Love Birdrock Taco Shack

After a long history at upscale restaurants, Chef Dave Shiplett finds his voice at his casual new “shack” in Village of the Arts. Here are the reasons this makes our hearts (and tummies) very happy. –A.Imerman

1. Getting His Groove On

We have loved Chef Dave’s creations since we tried his Crispy Calamari Salad oh-so-many-years ago at his upscale West Bradenton restaurant Ezra. At his new laidback restaurant nestled in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts (VOTA), Chef Dave seems to feel at home amongst other free-spirited artists like himself. In The Village, artists (including everything from knife-sharpeners to yoga instructors) reside in and operate their businesses from brightly-colored old Florida cottages. Chef Dave’s SoCal flavors and the restaurant’s surfer vibe are a hip, youthful addition to VOTA’s collection of restaurants.

2. New Taco Traditions

If you are looking for a ground beef taco on the menu, just keep on looking because you won’t find it here. Chef Dave doesn’t play by the rules—he has something more special in store for you, like a Fried Green Tomato Hot Nashville taco or an Edamame Pineapple Bang Bang taco. Or how about a Peking Duck Kung Pao taco with Almond red slaw? Whatever your taste buds may desire, you are destined to find your taco happy place here. Don’t miss the “Huge Stuff We Roll Up” portion of the menu (a.k.a. burritos) or his take on guacamole. The Avocado Smash—Florida avocados topped with red onion, cucumber, carrots and pickled onion—is bursting with fresh flavors.

3. Outside Bliss

With its large shade tree and vibrant outdoor decor (including a colorful railing made from well-worn skateboards), the Birdrock al fresco seating area makes for a nice place to enjoy your tacos. And even better? It’s dog friendly. Bring your pup and grab a table. Insider Tip: The best time for people-watching is during the Village Art Walks on the first Friday of every month. That’s when the neighborhood is really jamming.

4. Sweet Spot

When you eat your meal at a “shack,” wouldn’t you like to get your dessert from a “shed”? Well, Chef Dave has made that dream a reality by building a cute, little wooden shed in his restaurant’s driveway. The shed is now home to an ice cream depot called Atomic Cat Craft Ice Cream. Place your order through the shed’s Dutch door, and, inside a Chinese take-out box, you’ll receive heavenly scoops of small-batch flavors like Salted Caramel Pretzel, Mint or Peach. Insider Tip: Currently only open on Friday and Saturday, so call ahead to check hours.

Shown: Edamame Pineapple Bang Bang Taco.


Primo Pasta

Looking to enter the Sarasota pantheon of great Italian restaurants, Italian Tradition opened in the Rosemary District this summer, promising all the ambiance of a night in il bel paese with the warmth of a home-cooked meal. With a menu straight out of the old country, start the evening with an appetizer of cozze allo zafferano (saffron-seasoned mussels served with fresh cherry tomatoes) or tartare di tonno (raw tuna prepared with EVOO, avocado, lime and fennel leaves) and sample the chef’s daily soup before moving on to the entrée. Veal and beef offerings tempt, as do the sea bass, salmon and sautéed scallops and shrimp, but the pasta—made in-house and from scratch, may be the star of the show. From the chef’s special Foie Gras and mushroom-layered lasagna to parmesan-crusted gnocchi served with a house-made organic cheese sauce and the classic tagliatelle Bolognese, Italian Tradition eschews the simple in the search for exquisite. And with the exception of specialty products imported from Italy, fresh meats and vegetables come from local producers. “My team and I delight in finding the most authentic Italian products, as well as the best local organic produce, to create delicious and memorable meals,” says Tina Narbona, Italian Tradition proprietor alongside husband Carlo. Also accommodating to alternative diets, all fish and meat dishes are gluten-free, as is the gnocchi, and vegetarians will find much to choose from, especially with substitutions available. –P.Lederer


Let’s Get Wicked

After a childhood in southern California and 10 years in Austin, TX, Janice and Michael Dolan know a thing or two about good Tex-Mex. And now the founders of Wicked Cantina, the Bradenton Beach Tex-Mex hotspot, bring their expertise to Sarasota’s North Trail, with the imminent opening of the restaurant’s second location. With fan favorites like the cheese enchiladas—“the quintessential Austin dish”—and fish and shrimp tacos barely scratching the surface of a menu packed with tacos, burritos, quesadillas and enchiladas of all flavors (and delicious surprises like bacon-wrapped jalapeno-stuffed shrimp), foodies hungering for the Southwest are apt to leave satisfied. And Janice will vouch for every item on the menu personally. “Everything on our menu has been cooked in our kitchen a hundred times,” she says, then laughs. “Pounds have been gained—not going to lie—but it’s worth it.” With an extensive breakfast menu as well, early risers can get a hearty start with everything from pancakes and biscuits and gravy to huevos rancheros and migas—eggs scrambled with tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, tortilla chips and cheese, served with refried beans, grilled potatoes and warm tortillas. The Dolans looked far and wide for the right place to open a new Wicked Cantina, says Janice, but something kept drawing them closer to home and to Sarasota. “It’s such a fun and young town,” she says. “We just want to be a neighborhood hangout.” –P.Lederer