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Where to eat, drink in Sarasota

Heading to Sarasota, Florida? Don't miss these restaurants. 

Heading to Sarasota soon? Trying to figure out the best places to eat? Whether you’re looking for ribs and jalapeno cornbread or a big piece of chocolate peanut butter cream pie, we’ve got you covered right here with a list of the tastiest destinations to hit while you’re in town. 

Roadside Rib Shack

2045 Bahia Vista St, Sarasota, FL 34239
This review of Roadside Rib Shack originally appeared May 23, 2016. 

I approached the right corner of the strip mall with extreme caution. Southwest Florida barbecue had burned me before, and I didn’t want to get my hopes too high and have them dashed again. A few years ago, a few readers recommended a place in Ellenton, Fla., that they claimed served some of the best barbecue they’d ever eaten. So I visited. The ribs tasted microwaved and came slathered in a sauce that belonged on waffles. As I chewed the ruined pork, I extrapolated. I was in an area populated mostly by transplanted Yankees. They probably like this slop, I reasoned. And with that, I unfairly stereotyped an entire area.

Fortunately, the restaurant on the right corner of that strip mall proved me wrong. Roadside Rib Shack doesn’t look like a shack. Given its location, it looks more like a nail salon, a laundromat or a Chinese buffet. In fact, a nail salon sits two doors down. The laundromat? Three doors down. The buffet? Four doors down. But the building doesn’t matter when judging barbecue. Only the meat matters. That place in Ellenton looked the part but turned its ribs to mush. Roadside Rib Shack, the king of the shopping center, smokes ribs the way the good lord had in mind when He created pigs and made them so delicious.

RRS sources slabs with thick pillows of meat atop each bone. They are then cooked so that the meat disengages from the bone with a gentle tug. (Remember, if someone tells you they make fall-off-the-bone ribs, just order a salad and save your calories for another day.) RRS serves its ribs without sauce because they don’t need any. They are tender and juicy and the seasoning produces a bark that provides all the necessary flavor enhancement.

RRS does offer several sauces, of course. Their mustard-based sauce would make certain South Carolinians proud. The most interesting of the options was the Sweet Heat. Plenty of sauces combine sugar and pepper, but this one tasted different yet familiar. I couldn’t quite place it until a friend’s taste buds provided the answer. “It’s sort of like sweet and sour sauce,” he said. He was correct. Imagine your favorite Chinese takeout place’s sauce with less sugar,  more tomato and copious amounts of red pepper. It may sound all wrong, but it works on the ribs and on RRS’s excellent pulled pork.

If you choose only one meat, get the ribs. Then order some collard greens. And you’re going to want more of the jalapeño cornbread, so just order that off the top. After you’ve finished, don’t be surprised if you start looking for shacks in every strip mall you pass.

Yoder's Amish Restaurant

3434 Bahia Vista St, Sarasota, FL 34239
This review of Yoder's Amish Restaurant originally appeared March 7, 2016. 

I looked over the sea of blue hair and bonnets, past the hostess stand and into the case where all those slices of pie sat. Then I looked at my watch. I had a plane to catch, but that pie. I cursed myself, but not out loud. The crowd I found myself surrounded by wouldn’t have appreciated any blue language. It was 4 p.m. In almost any other city in America, a restaurant would be deserted. In Sarasota, that’s the start of the dinner rush.

But I had to have just one piece of the pie in that case. Yoder’s Amish Restaurant has been serving the best pie in southwest Florida since 1975, and it’s worth risking a missed flight. So I waited patiently in line between the clusters of retirees and the groups of Amish people who live nearby and ride their oversized tricycles to Yoder’s, which sits at the center of a cluster of Amish stores and across the street from a full hook-up RV park where the snowbirds park their Winnebagos to escape the cold back home.

After what felt like an eternity spent staring at perfect triangles of pie, I reached the stand and was ushered to a table. Here, I faced a second choice. I could have my pie and dash, but the menu in front of me reminded me that Yoder’s makes some of the nation’s best fried chicken. If you read this space regularly, you know it takes special fried chicken to get me excited. Fast food places such as Popeyes and grocery stores such as Publix fry chicken so well that a place must get it almost perfect to surpass those plentiful, low-cost options. Yoder’s is in that select group.

So I ordered a four-piece fried chicken, forgetting that Yoder’s uses a breed of mutant chicken that probably could hold its own in a fight with a turkey. I worried that if I consumed this massive pile of poultry, I’d have no room left for pie. I shouldn’t have fretted. Golden, crispy skin covered thick, juicy meat. Every bite was a pleasure. My stomach, pleased mightily by the chicken, would make room for pie. But which pie?

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A piece of the delicious chocolate cream pie.

A piece of the delicious chocolate cream pie.

Lemon merengue was out. It was Thursday, and Yoder’s makes those on Wednesday. But did I want something baked (blueberry crumb, double crust apple, pumpkin, egg custard) or did I want a piece of cream pie (banana, chocolate, Key Lime, peanut butter, butterscotch)? Given the size of the bird I’d just consumed, I opted for the cream. Chocolate cream sounded good. So did peanut butter cream. What sounded better? Chocolate peanut butter cream.

The reason Yoder’s cream pies are so perfect is the cream isn’t completely loaded down with sugar. It has enough of a base to feel substantial while packing just enough sugar to sate the sweet tooth. As they typically do, chocolate and peanut butter made a happy couple. The crust couldn’t stand up to a fork, so after a bite or two the entire dish jumbled into a kind of magical trifle. Since I had ordered my pie a la mode (of course), the ideal method of consumption involved taking a small spoonful of ice cream and scooping a bite of pie that included crust, chocolate-peanut butter cream and whipped cream. Each bite was more satisfying than the last.

I made that plane, but I’d be willing to miss my flight—or live without electricity—to eat that every day.

S.O.B. Burgers

5866 14th St W, Bradenton, FL 34207
This review of S.O.B. Burgers originally appeared Feb. 6, 2017.

I’m losing my edge in my old age. Upon learning that I’d be visiting S.O.B. Burgers on a recent assignment, I did some research on the website. A younger Andy would have stopped at The Punisher.

What’s the Punisher? It’s a burger that combines two-and-a-half pounds of meat, six slices of bacon, six slices of cheese, grilled jalapeños, mushrooms, caramelized onions, a pound of fries, cheese sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion an egg and a helping of macaroni and cheese. If a diner eats the thing within 30 minutes, he wins a T-shirt and has his picture posted on the wall. If he fails, he owes $50. As a twentysomething, I ate a three-pound burger to win a free T-shirt. (I also had pie after that.) I also once ate 75 wings, walked across the parking lot and ate a large order of Cold Stone ice cream in a chocolate-dipped waffle bowl and then went to the gym and ran five miles on the treadmill. Those days, alas, are long past.

I had to come to grips with my stunt-eating mortality as I stared at the S.O.B. menu. My failure to consume the totality of the Boss Logg at Meat in Lansing, Mich., last spring still burns. Or maybe that’s lingering heartburn from a sandwich that included burger patties, brisket, pulled pork and bacon. Either way, I realized as I gazed upon that menu last week that my days of eating for pure shock value are probably done. I realize this is the mature decision that likely leads to the longest life. That doesn’t make this any easier.

Still, I don’t need to consume the annual beef export of a small nation-state to have a satisfying meal. I can still leave vegans mortified with slightly less shocking portions. S.O.B showed me that. We started with the Bretzel Me Baby, an order of four pillowy soft pretzel sticks designed to be dunked in beer cheese. Hard pretzels are my least favorite member of the empty-calorie snack family, but soft pretzels are my appetizer Kryptonite. Left to my own devices, I’ll spoil my main course by plowing through pretzels. This is especially true when the pretzels are as soft and buttery as the ones at S.O.B. Fortunately, one aspect of the menu kept me from ordering two more sets of sticks and leaving no room for the burger.

Every burger at S.O.B. is available on a pretzel bun.

Every burger at S.O.B. is available on a pretzel bun.

Every burger at S.O.B. is available on a pretzel bun, so I held back knowing that my main course was also suitable for beer cheese dipping. I ordered the Holy Grail, a two-patty burger topped with American cheese, bacon and a scoop of the house macaroni and cheese. I doubled the bacon because I fear no fake news about a shortage.

I didn’t see the actual scoop that took the mac and cheese from the pan to my burger, but I can only assume it was the size of a catcher’s mitt. A massive hunk of the King of All Side Dishes spanned my burger and hung over both sides of the patty stack. Tendrils of bacon wrapped around the beef. That same soft pretzel bread cradled the entire creation. I squeezed down and took a bite…

I didn’t need the Punisher. I have plenty of T-shirts, and I’d rather not eat something that would only inspire regret. All I needed was a reasonably massive burger that still left me wanting just a little more.