Caviar at a Seafood Fest

Take a (Bizarre) Bite out of Sarasota

Discover some of the local delicacies and interesting dishes served in the destination.

In my family, we call them taste sensations. Food that is different and unique and usually newly delicious. It could be as simple as tater tots dipped in a ketchup-mustard mix. The complexity is not what makes a taste sensation, but the novelty. To get a head start on discovering some new taste sensations in Sarasota, check out these novel goodies.

Alligator

When in Wisconsin, try a curd. In Wyoming, bite into some buffalo. In Florida, you gotta try the gator. Alligator pops up in various forms, including gator jerky (my kids’ favorite) at the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. This unique item makes an excellent souvenir for friends back home. Local jaunts such as O’Leary’s Tiki Bar and Grill in downtown Sarasota and Snook Haven in Venice feature alligator on their menus as fried bites or in a stew. Take a chomp as you watch the waters for their sneaky cousins.

Mullet

Nope, I’m not referring to the “business in the front, party in the back” hairstyle, but to the odd fish that share its name. Mullet swarm together in a perpetual game of follow-the-leader, breaking unexpectedly to enthusiastically leap feet out of the water. If you’re near water in Sarasota and a fish jumps out with a sweet vertical, often repeatedly, odds are it’s a mullet. This abundant fish is tricky to catch due to its vegetarian lifestyle. When caught by net or gigging pole, it makes an excellent smoked fish dip. Most seafood festivals feature smoked mullet. To give it a try on a non-festival day, pop into Walt’s Fish Market where it’s featured in various forms on their abundant menu.

Sturgeon Roe Caviar

Most people know of caviar, but it’s often overlooked what it really is  - fish eggs, aka roe. Sarasota features one particular type of caviar that maintains an extremely high level of sustainability – surgeon roe. Utilizing aquaculture, Mote Marine designed the harvest of the caviar with the utmost concern for water use, fish sustainability, and environmentalism. The good stuff can be found at Morton’s Gourmet Market.

Kumquat

Saying the name “kumquat” is just as fun and novel as enjoying one. The tiny citrus fruit, perfect for popping into your mouth, is the popcorn of the fruit world. No need to peel, just pick and pop.  Abundant during the season – from November through March – at local farmer’s markets, it’s the perfect snack for boating, beaching, or TV binge watching.

Lionfish

Seeing ‘lionfish’ on the menu may excite some diners, and may intimidate others. Whichever fits you, I beseech you to dive in and eat it. As much as you can. Not only because it’s delicious – very mild, white, and definitely not poisonous once the spines are removed – but also because they are destroying the waters. This invasive species from the Indian and Pacific Oceans is taking a toll on our reefs and their fish. With no natural enemies, it multiplies quickly with an appetite to match. Corals and fish populations are declining due to their presence. The only solution thus far is to spearfish and devour them. The silver lining is that chefs have discovered mouthwatering methods for preparing these former dentist-office tank residents. Any opportunity – be it at Whole Foods, a local fish market, a restaurant, a lionfish derby (yes, we have these), or a successful spearfishing trip – is well worth taking.

Grouper Cheeks

Grouper, that tasty white fish, maintains a fairly well-known status. Popular as a sandwich, the name appears on a plethora of menus. But the most delectable part of the grouper is more uncommon -  I’m referring to the cheeks. Grouper cheeks are exactly what they sound like – tiny little morsels of amazingness from the face of the grouper. Pop into a local seafood shop, such as Big Water Fish Market on Siesta Key, or keep your eyes peeled for restaurants such as Indigenous that will feature them on their menus when fishermen are willing to part with this secret scrumptious sustenance.

Linger Lodge Restaurant

Voted “One of the Top Five Weirdest Restaurants in the Country" the Linger Lodge, located on the Braden River, serves as both taxidermy museum and restaurant. Myriad local animals appear on the walls and ceilings throughout the Linger Lodge for an up-close look of these native critters. Dine while overlooking the Braden River for a unique waterfront view while noshing on gator chowder, gumbo, and frog legs. Top it off with the utmost Southern hospitality and you’ve got the deep South at its finest.

Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse

“East of the Highway” not only serves as a direction in Sarasota, but a reference to a lifestyle. When someone moves “East of 75,” he/she now lives in the country. If a business is out there, expect abundant land and laid back attitudes. Stottlemyer’s Smokehouse maintains this perception. Located, obviously, east of highway 75 off Fruitville Road, the dining establishment features rustic open-air arrangements, live downhome music, the kindest staff, and laidback Southern fair in absolute abundance. For the full experience, the famous fried chicken gizzards are a must. Ask a friend to share their goodies from the Pig Meat Shack, another to pass over the liver dinner. Grab a side of cornbread, fried green tomatoes, okra, collard greens, and a cold brew and enjoy that sweet Southern country life.

Try Anything

Vacation is the time to try anything. If you try it and don’t like it, c’est la vie. Take a selfie and laugh about it with your not-on-vacation friends back home (you’re still arousing jealousy from those stuck in cubibles). But most likely than not, you’ll find yourself with a new favorite food as well as a better understanding of the area. My dad always searches out the most unusual and local foods when he travels; it allows him to taste the area and he gets quite a kick out of learning how and why something is popular in that place. There’s a lot of history and culture to be learned. So give those weird foods a try and learn firsthand what makes Sarasota taste so good.

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