Dine Around – An Eater’s Guide to St. Armands Circle
A beautiful Sarasota day. Sunshine, a light gulf breeze, and a blue sky dotted with clouds that look more surreal than real. It’s why a lot of people over the years have flocked to our area. Sometimes first as visitors, then maybe snowbirds, and finally for a lot of them, residents.
Sarasota has so many unique neighborhoods to live, shop, and dine in. That’s part of what makes it so attractive. Let’s take a look at one of those spots, St. Armands Circle. We’re going to focus on the dining/food part. I’ll leave the questions of where to live and where to shop to those who more about that than I do.
If you’ve been here for any amount of time, then you know that at certain times of the year St. Armands can be a challenge. I know that’s putting it mildly. There’s only one way on or off that little island from the Sarasota mainland. In season it’s brutal. Time will tell if the new Gulfstream roundabout will make things better or worse. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
But, for the sake of this piece, let’s just say that you’ve made the trek over the John Ringling Bridge in search of dining delights. The good news is you park once, and let your feet take you from there.
Remember our piece on the progressive dinner? (If you didn’t read that, you can check it out here). Well, St. Armands Circle would be an absolutely perfect place for you to put your own walking progressive dinner together. So many options to choose from. That would be a fun activity. Let me know if you’re doing it!
St. Armands is a hub and spoke layout. People have their favorite spots, so maybe they don’t check out those other spokes as much as they should. Truth be told, I’m guilty of the same thing. I usually end up parking in the same section each time. Maybe it’s because it’s the first block of businesses you get to. That makes sense, right? That new garage sure is a nice addition!
OK, time to talk about some of the restaurant, food, and dining options that await you on “The Circle”. We’re going to break these out by type for simplicity’s sake.
CAUSAL CIRCLE DINING
These are places where you can walk in, just as you are, and feel right at home.
Cha Cha Coconuts (417 St Armands Cir, (941) 388-3300). Casual, great outdoor space, fun if you’ve got younger ones. They also serve a really good burger.
Madison Avenue Cafe & Deli (28 N Blvd. of the Presidents, (941) 388-3354). The name really says it all. It’s a deli. Don’t think NYC Katz’s here. They do have a nice selection of sandwiches and salads to eat there or take with you. They feature Boar’s Head products. The Grinder sandwich is fantastic!
The Daiquiri Deck (325 John Ringling Blvd. (941) 388-3325). Yes, the same Daiquiri from Siesta Key and Venice. They’ve got a menu of casual island fare. But they also have lobster fondue on the menu! That’s a lot of variation. Of course, they offer a giant selection of some of the best frozen drinks in town, which might come in handy on a hot shopping day.
A LITTLE MORE UPSCALE, BUT STILL CASUAL
Not super fancy, but a step up. You may want to change out of that swimsuit.
The Columbia Restaurant (411 St Armands Cir., (941) 388-3987). This is the busiest restaurant on the circle. And with good reason. The food and the service are always top notch. Obviously, you’ll need to have a 1905 Salad (I don’t think you need me to tell you that). You can make a reservation using OpenTable which really helps out during season or anytime you just don’t want to chance a long wait.
Tommy Bahama Café (300 John Ringling Blvd., (941) 388-2888). This is what you would expect from the Tommy Bahama brand. It’s screams “you’re on vacation!” They’ve got an “adult” happy hour from 3pm-5pm each day. They feature a fantastic selection of handmade cocktails and a good size wine list. There’s something for everyone on the menu.
Shore Diner (465 John Ringling Blvd., (941) 296-0301). The restaurant is right upstairs from the Shore clothing store. It’s a lively, sometimes boisterous dining room. They have an open-air backroom for those beautiful Florida summer evenings. The Diner Meatloaf is a nice upscale version of a usually simple dish. And they have a great burger. Handmade cocktails are also a thing here.
Speaks Clam Bar (29 N Blvd. of the Presidents, (941) 232-7633). Yes, they have a raw bar. And it has some great choices. There are lots and lots of seafood options. Everything from clam chowder and lobster rolls to lobster and clam steamer pots. It’s a fun place to have a meal. They actually serve two types of lobster bisque; the regular bisque and the “meaty”. I think you have to go meaty every time!
These places are made for that special night out. Great food and outstanding service.
Crab & Fin (420 St Armands Cir., (941) 388-3964). Serving some of the best seafood in Sarasota. White tablecloth dining inside, and a little more causal outdoors. They’ve got a little piano music to keep you entertained outside while you enjoy something from the raw bar. It’s one of the largest assortments of oysters, clams, and mussels in town. They have a Grand Oyster Tasting!
Café L’Europe (431 St Armands Cir., (941) 388-4415). Started back in 1973. You know it must be good if they can weather the restaurant business all those years. They feature a nice “Dinner for 2” that comes with a bottle of wine. A number of Sarasota’s best chefs have been through the kitchen at Café L’Europe.
A trip to St. Armands would not be complete without something a little sweet.
Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (372A St Armands Cir., (941) 388-5226). We all know what Ben & Jerry’s is. Delicious ice cream with some of the craziest flavor combinations imaginable. It’s worth a trip inside just to check out some of the ice cream names. Netflix & Chilll’d, Chip Happens, and Americone Dream, just to name a few.
Kilwin’s (312 John Ringling Blvd., (941) 388-3200). “Sweet in every Sense since 1947.” Founded in Petosky, Michigan, this is a little bit more of a traditional ice cream and fudge shop experience. Sure, they have some crazy flavors too, but it’s way tamer than Ben & Jerry’s. Plus, you can watch them make their fantastic fudge right there in the store!
Big Olaf Creamery (561 N Washington Dr., (941) 388-4108). Here is our local, homegrown ice cream brand. Big Olaf has stores around Sarasota. They’ve been around since 1982. Not as long as Kilwin’s, but still impressive. Great traditional ice cream and fudge. It’s a little off the beaten path on St. Armands Circle, but it’s worth the effort.
Here are a few links to help you navigate a St. Armands Circle eating adventure
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