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Off the beaten path: Five unique dining spots to beat the heat this summer

The dog days of summer are here, and in Florida, just getting out of the house to grab a bite to eat can feel like a chore. But don't let the sweltering heat and swampy humidity keep you from enjoying the wealth of dining options Sarasota County has to offer. We've put together a list of our favorite off-the-beaten-path local restaurants to help lure you out of the air conditioning and enjoy your summer.

1. Bob's Train

Bob's Train - an interior view
Bob's Train - an interior view

One of Sarasota County's best-kept secrets, Bob's Train offers a truly unique dining experiences. Tucked away in the corner of an unassuming parking lot off Fruitville Road, Bob's Train is quite literally housed in four restored Pullman train cars, each filled to the brim with Ringling Circus memorabilia. The restaurant serves up classic American burgers and other lunch fare with a side of local history.

Consistent with its quirky atmosphere, the restaurant keeps odd hours -- 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Sunday brunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for weekday lunch and 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner Wednesday through Saturday.

This three-ring dining experience is a must for history buffs and fans of the unconventional. Bob's Train can be found at 2211 Fruitville Road.

2. New Pass Grill and Bait Shop

New Pass Grill and Bait Shop
New Pass Grill and Bait Shop

Truly a Sarasota County staple, this tried-and-true combination waterfront eatery and bait shop has been in business since 1929. The award-winning mainstay dishes out some of the best home-style, no-frills burgers in town -- perfect to enjoy on a summer afternoon.

The rustic atmosphere rings true with authentic, old-Florida charm -- fishing equipment and other tchotchkes line the aged wood walls, and fisherman can be seen cleaning their day's catch on the docks. So grab a cold beer, chow down on a juicy burger and reel in the nostalgia in the waterfront breeze.

New Pass recently opened a second, equally tasty location on St. Armands Circle, but if you've got the time, head for the original, located at 1505 Ken Thompson Parkway.

3. Mouthhole BBQ

What better way to enjoy a summer day than with a plate full of smoky barbeque? Since opening earlier this year, Ray Mabalot's pop-up, small-batch barbecue food truck has caused quite a stir in the local foodie world. Mabalot's personally prepared and smoked chicken, ribs and brisket -- not to mention his traditional sides and desserts, courtesy of his wife, Nicole -- put a fine-food touch on a summertime classic.

In keeping with traditional West-Coast food-truck traditions, Mouthole sticks to a mobile schedule, never setting up shop in one place for too long. When the truck pulls up, though, you'd better be one of the first in line -- Mabalot's barbecue draws large crowds and sells out quickly. To keep up to date with his schedule, head to or

4. Linger Lodge

Another Old Florida classic, Linger Lodge will take you literally off the beaten path and into tranquil oak woods, where you'll be surrounded by picturesque waters, Spanish moss and if you're up for it -- gators.

Inside, the restaurant is decked out in taxidermy of all types, securing its spot as one of America's weirdest restaurants. The gator is a must-try on the menu; it's prepared several ways, but the alligator chowder is a local favorite. Grab a meal, enjoy the scenery, and if you're in the mood, set up for the night at the grounds' available campsites.

Linger Lodge is located at 7205 85th St. Ct. E, Bradenton.

5. J.R.'s Old Packinghouse Café

It's not just a catchy name; before its conversion into a restaurant and live-music hot spot, J.R.'s used to be a functioning packing house for locally grown celery in the 1920s.

Today, this haunt boasts the sort of down-home dive-bar spirit that makes it a favorite among local blues, folk and bluegrass musicians, who perform six nights a week.

Its menu includes an eclectic mix of Southern, Cajun, seafood, Cuban, Caribbean and other foods to keep you fat and happy during the show.

Located at 987 S. Packinghouse Drive.

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