It’s Always A Fun & Filling Day At The Ringling
No, your eyes do not deceive you. That my friends is a massive line. Blocks long in fact. I guess it only stands to reason that any event that could sell out 1500 tickets in some absurd amount of time like 3.375 minutes would have a line that looks like that!
These are all seemingly normal looking people. Who, if under different circumstances saw a line like that would say, “I’m not standing in that…”. But, these are not normal circumstances. This is but a glimpse of the food mania that ensues when the words Forks & Corks Grand Tasting are uttered!
Yes, it’s been a year. Now it’s that time. Food, wine, sun, music and all that goes with the annual Sarasota-Manatee Originals Forks & Corks Grand Tasting. This is without question, Sarasota’s premier culinary event. And, they have lapped the competition. It’s a feast of some of Sarasota’s best food accompanied by some of the best wines from around the world.
I know it’s hard to get a ticket to this. So, that’s why each year we bring you little recap of what’s happening inside the courtyard of the Ringling Museum. Enough chatter, let’s get to this.
Pacific Rim would certainly be in the running in any semi-respectable watermelon carving contest. Each year they always manage to put together a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. Sushi seems to lend itself pretty well to this kind of thing. Take a look at what Jpan trots out.
Yep, a full on sushi bar! Now you’re beginning to see why there’s a gigantic line.
There are a whole bunch of folks attending. So, you’ve got to do a few clever things to stand out from the crowd. Here is a textbook example of two different way to help bring in a crowd.
Getting this thing right is certainly not easy. Bringing a food service operation outside and into a place that is normally not equipped to be a popup restaurant for 1500 presents a unique set of challenges. Yet, with all of the potential pitfalls, our Sarasota chefs always bring their “A” game.
Cedar Planked Salmon being served by Cedar Reef Fish Camp.
The chef’s at Michael’s on East assembling their super popular Flank Steak Sandwiches with Horseradish Cream Sauce.
And, the Anna Marie Oyster Bar crew working on some Grilled Oysters.
Of course there are lots of great wines. World class wines in fact.
And even some adult refreshments for the non-wine crowd.
Appropriately, there was music by local favorites, Kettle of Fish to keep the hungry crowd bopping along.
But, the real stars of the afternoon were our fantastic Sarasota restaurants and their creative and delicious culinary creations. I think this may be the perfect time to dive right in to some of our favorite dishes from the day.
#10 – 15 South Ristorante | Orecchiette Puttanesca
“Pasta in the shape of an ear”. That’s part of the description of this simple yet flavorful dish. Tomato sauce artfully blended with olives, capers, garlic and anchovies make this Italian favorite a standout.
15 South Ristorante | 15 S. Boulevard of Presidents | 941-388-1555| Website
#9 – Cafe L’Europe | Maine Lobster & Shrimp Salad
OK, hold a minute. You’re probably saying, “this dish made the best of last year”. And, you would certainly be correct. This is a classic Florida seafood salad, done in an elegant way. The folks at Cafe L’Europe are probably saying, “why mess with a good thing”. And, I agree. I’m usually not a fan of just tossing out the same offering year after year. But, in this case (and some others) I think it’s A-OK. The lines at this booth and Michael’s on East (Flank Steak Sandwiches with Horseradish Sauce, a crowd favorite) are evidence of a well executed “give the people what they LOVE” strategy.
Cafe L’Europe | 431 St. Armands Circle | 941-388-4415 | Website
#8 – Mi Pueblo | Carne Asada Tacos
Simple, great flavor and portable. All of the necessary components for a successful food festival dish. These tasty little treats had just the right amount of heat and a nice punch of cilantro to finish things off.
Mi Pueblo| 4436 Bee Ridge Rd.| 941-359-9303 | Website
#7 | Pier 22 | Short Rib
These little puff pastries were bursting at the seams with deliciousness (oh, yes, that is a “real” word now). Short rib was a perfect stuffing for this handheld treat. A duo of sauces complete the picture.
Pier 22 | 1200 1st Ave. W – Bradenton | 941-748-8087| Website
#6 | Fast N’ Fresh | Chicken Satay with Spicy Thai Kale Salad
They cooked these chicken skewers on a curved metal wok-like surface. It was right out in front for all the see. A nice touch. The flavors and the colors were bright and fresh (hey, that’s in the name!). A perfect combo of ingredients.
Fast N Fresh | 8105 Cooper Creek Blvd. | 941-462-2650 | Website
#5 | Drunken Poet Cafe | Pad Thai
Pad Thai is a family favorite of ours. But, serving it to over 1000 people can be a challenge. That challenge was met and exceeded here. Super delicious, great flavor and texture. Oh, FYI – Drunken Poet’s new downtown space is now open!
Drunken Poet Cafe | 1572 Main St. | 941-955-8404 | Website
#4 | Soma Creek | Monchego with Granny Smith Apple & Truffle Honey
I’m not sure if this is a dessert or an appetizer. And, frankly I could care less. This little flavor bomb rocked! All of the pieces of this dish were put together in a simple and perfect way. When I first saw this my initial reaction was a little like, “OK, sure”. But, when I tasted it I said, “WOW”! Nice job.
Soma Creek Side | 1401 Manatee Ave. W | 941-567-4001 | Website
#3 | Siesta Key Oyster Bar (SKOB) | Sesame Crusted Wahoo over Root Vegetables
This is a pretty complicated dish to pull off in an outdoor cooking (and plating) environment. Well, as you can see the folks at SKOB did just that. Perfectly cooked fish and veggies with a nice hit of citrus at the end. Way to go!
Siesta Key Oyster Bar | 5238 Ocean Blvd. | 941-346-5443| Website
#2 | The Sandbar | SandBar Sausage Sandwich
Hammer sausage (?), ricotta, onions and peppers on Ted’s bread. What is this? And, more importantly who thought this up? Who cares! This sandwich had flavor just bursting from every pore. It was a great first bite and great last bite. I wanted another for sure. But, in reality it was the exactly right portion size. Pretty rich and decadent.
The Sandbar | 100 Spring Ave. – Anna Maria | 941-778-0444 | Website
#1 | Fin’s at Sharky’s | Smoked Duck Breast with Soba Noodles
This is not your typical food fest food. And, it certainly didn’t taste like it either. The duck was mildly smoked, the vegetables were still snappy and the noodles gave it just the right amount of texture difference to make this dish a standout.
Fin’s at Sharky’s | 1600 Harbor Dr. S – Venice | 941-999-3467 | Website
What else is there to say? I can’t think of a thing. And, that is rare for me. Another well executed Forks & Corks Grand Tasting. Hats off to all of the chefs, servers, helpers and Ringling staff. And, of course a BIG pat of the back to the Sarasota-Manatee Originals for another job well done. By this time next year I should be just about ready to eat!