Welcome back Snowbirds, First Time Visitors

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Welcome back Snowbirds, First Time Visitors -- and all those who love great eats!

Sometimes things don’t change for years and sometimes you leave for a summer and when you arrive back, too much have changed. Well, it’s my job to keep track of all things yummy, delicious and even food that’s not worth dropping a few bucks down on. Here is a 2014 list of ‘must haves’ and ‘better waits'….…

The Sunday Brunch at The Table Creekside. It has changed slightly, now offering a cold buffet at a set price or ala carte off the menu. Try a variety of eggs benedict combinations and the most decadent brunch Panini with brie and caramelized bacon. Chase it down with a bacon infused Bloody Mary, and sit outside Creekside of course.

Eat Here opened its third restaurant on Siesta Key next to the Sun Garden. Have a few cocktails and snack at Happy Hour, walk down to Siesta Beach for Sunset and back for award winning Gulf Coast seafood stew, French onion soup and a veal meatloaf all arestupendous.

Tsunami Sushi and Hibachi next to Starbucks Downtown has new owners and a whole new vibe of great flavors, service and a $5.00 Happy Hour Sushi Roll menu that can’t be beat. Biggest news just announced on Chef Judi’s Dish, beginning March 1 Tsunami will now offer several Chinese dishes and Korean specialties. If you tired it before, definitely try it again – make sure you ask for Sam or Jeffrey.

OMG have you tried the new menu at Café Americano? We are talking some of the best meatballs in town, a new marinara sauce and a marinated portabella mushroom and eggplant sandwich that sing a swwet tune. Expanding the wine list is just part of the new culinary touch up, and I just got the “dish” that pizzas are coming back on the menu- this place just keeps getting tastier all the time!

Selva Grill has changed a few preparations. Remaining a favorite since first opened on Swift and then expanded on Main Street- the entrees remain consistent and so flavorful.

Now for the big Ceviche news- Jalea (pronounced Hay- lay- ah) has replaced Sangria on Main Street. While the original Sangria was good in the beginning, the second owner sent it on a downhill slide. Now welcome the new team, bringing authentic Peruvian cuisines, mostly from the big city of Lima and some of the memorable original Spanish dishes that we loved years ago. The signature dish- Jalea -is generous to share after a few ceviches and tapas while sipping on a Pisco Sour.

Owen’s Fish Camp may still have an hour wait each night, but you can hang out the renovated and au natural back yard before or after dinner with a cold beer and some guitar music by the fire pit --- like an old fish camp truly was.

Cosimo’s has opened out on Clark Road. For those looking for a good gluten free pizza, and gluten free pasta you found a good spot and all those Cosimo’s favorites are back, including the spicy chicken pasta and that signature quarto fromagio.

Perq has given us the jitters, but in a good way as it opened on Hillview with the most delicious mini pastries and a jolt of high test java brewed in more ways than one Barista can name.

Flavio’s on Siesta Key, which was called Bella Roma, now offers pizza and a lively bar, as well as extremely good organic meatballs and sauce. Something about this little place is the best of both beach town and Neighborhood Italian gem.

Social on First opened with a bag- 2 hour waiting lines and the who’s who of downtown. Unfortunately, they have been very inconsistent, short drinks and entrees missing ingredients promised on the menu. Since they have been open long enough to get it right—they need to step up quick before summer comes and you can’t say I go for the outside venue.

While I wanted to like S’macks on Bee Ridge, there is just no vibe, no welcome feeling and nothing that stands out to make us want to keep going. Too bad there isn’t really any nostalgia from its old namesake and this place is in need of a Danny Meyer Shake Shack makeover. (They did steal his quote for a while though.). Better news is the rumor that Burger 21 might be coming to Sarasota. Really cool burger combinations and a host of good fries to go along side.

I still consistently say that Venice has two of the best Italian restaurants I have tried in Florida.

Made in Italy, which just opened a very snazzy bar next door and Cassariano in its new digs just down the street. Made in Italy is the more casual place, with Sunday Sauce, homemade bread and a damn good foot long pizza. Cassariano is more for a date night but either way some of the BEST food around…

Speaking of Bread—we are waiting for the new Piccollo’s location to open. Still in Gulf Gate, they say it will be opening soon but I can’t wait much longer for the best meatball parmesan sandwich in town.

Taste of Asia moved off Siesta Key and back to the Mainland, this time on 41. For years the building stood as an abandoned Wendy’s and now the tastefully decorated Asian décor meets the delicious flavors of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Vegans, Vegetarians and carnivores can all gather for house favorites, from curries to cauliflower rice and oh that ginger duck with fried rice.

The Pink Palace, also known as the Loew’s Don Cesar (St. Pete Beach) has a new sheik dining room. Loving the interpretation of foie gras two ways, seared diver scallops so sweet and tender and “the reveal” dessert. Well now I can’t reveal all the details on that sweet ending can I? You will have to experience it for yourselves.

Lan on Main street is now Mélange. Chef Lan is one of the most talented and underrated chefs in the area. Too bad the front of the restaurant looks so dingy during the day, if they just set up some plants and tables and chairs it would be more inviting for people to venture for dinner. Trust me, the food is wonderful, especially when Lan is making those braised rabbit tacos—warning though NOT KID FRIENDLY.

Bradenton has star chefs winning praises for their bold new moves. Chef Dave Shiplett- formerly of Ezra and Soma -has now opened Soma Creekside. Creative food has always been Chef Dave’s niche and as long as he keeps that crispy crackling calamari salad we will drive almost anywhere.

Down on St Road 70, near the beach, Derek’s has come alive again after closing his beloved restaurant in Sarasota. Better located now as a rustic expression, Derek’s Rustic is bedazzling us still with those tastes that Emeril taught him years ago in New Orleans.

Does anyone really understand why The Wing House is coming to Main Street? Seriously..why?

Also on the do not go list - Bob’s Boathouse. Don’t take my word, read the complaints.. poor food, dirty tables and not paying their bills on time makes for a ‘no, thank you’.

PF Chang’s opened a beautiful building this past year. While I am a bigger fan of Yummy House on the North Trail (Have your tired their Peking Duck, dim sum or ginger clams yet?), I must say, the spare ribs, dumplings and Chilean sea bass are all good picks in an open and inviting space.

Do you have a favorite spot to share with our seasonal dinners?

Email us and we might just send you out to dinner as a gift.

Culinary Director

As the Culinary Director for ABC 7, I whip up cooking segments on ABC 7 News at Noon, along with recipes, cooking tips, reviews and great food finds on MySuncoast Dining at www.mysuncoast.com