Sarasota and other Florida eats.

Florida spring training kind of sucks, in my professional opinion, because the sites are so far apart and several are wastelands for decent food. I found a handful of decent spots in my week there this year, along with a lot of mediocrity, but I’ll just focus on the good here, including the fact that Sarasota of all places has a decent little food and coffee scene happening.

Baker & Wife is a farm-to-table type of place in Sarasota, recommended to me by a friend who lives nearby, and I was impressed by both the vegetable dishes and, as you’d expect from the name, the dessert. I went with two starters rather than a main, a salad of roasted yellow beets with goat cheese, pesto, and pine nuts, along with crab cakes with a spicy green papaya slaw; of all of that, the only aspect I didn’t care for was the slaw, which tasted too much of fish sauce. The beets were really spectacular, although I am a fan of roasted beets in any form, but I think they pair so well with goat cheese, any kind of nuts, and the salty, bright punch of the pesto. Dessert, I had the “baker’s bannoffie pie,” and I’ll let the menu describe it: “pecan and graham cracker crust, house made banana & vanilla bean pudding, chocolate chips, caramel, cream.” It was that good and then some. It all worked so well together.

Perq is a new third-wave coffee bar in Sarasota, using beans from various artisan roasters around the country, and offering numerous cold-brew and single-origin espresso options along with the usual. It’s a sizable cafe too, unlike a lot of third-wave spots, and they appear to rotate through various roasters – they had a number of I knew from my travels and when I chatted up one of the baristas, he mentioned several other great roasters they’ve used, like heart, Sightglass, Four barrel, Counter Culture, and more.

I had half a decent meal at Selva, a Peruvian restaurant downtown, where the ceviche was very good and the entree I had was not. The ceviche isn’t truly traditional; they have numerous combinations that include various fruits, acids, and types of fish, and the tuna/watermelon ceviche I got had larger pieces of fish than I’m used to seeing in ceviche. It came with a spicy lime sauce for dipping or pouring to taste, and I would recommend using that if you end up here. But the main course was kind of a mess – a duck breast that was cooked very inconsistently, and served with a risotto that was anything but.

There’s also a tiny Buddy Brew location right near Selva, at the entrance to the parking garage downtown not far from Tamiami Trail. I would go to Perq before this, but Buddy Brew is solid.

Elsewhere in the state, I discovered the brand new Foxtail Coffee in Orlando’s Winter Park neighborhood thanks to a scout’s recommendation, and both times I went there was a line out the door. They had four coffees available from different countries; I tried their espresso one day and an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe pour-over the next, the latter of which came with a roasting demonstration from Iain, one of the owners and a baseball fan as well. It’s right near the old location of the Ravenous Pig, which has moved into the old Cask & Larder space but which I can report is still some of the best food to be had in the Orlando area.

Near the Jupiter complex is a very unassuming little coffee shop and roaster called Oceana, which does a lot of single origins as well but roasts most of them darker than I tend to like. Their pour-over options are the way to go – I had an Ethiopian the first day I was there, and I’ll be honest in that I was so in need of the caffeine I don’t remember much beyond the sheer pleasure of feeling it hit my bloodstream. Pass on the espresso as their extraction rate is way too high and the result is watery.

Merritt Island’s Cuban Island Cafe is worth a stop if you’re in that area, which I’d never visited before; I went for my standard choice, lechon asado, which in this case came with some amazing black beans, one maduro, one tostone, and well over a half-pound of pork.

I’ll also mention Harry’s Pizzeria in Miami, which appeared on a list of the best pizzerias in the U.S. a few years ago that I’ve kept on hand for my travels, hitting more than half of the 48 places they listed. The pizza itself was just average, but I had an escarole salad to start that was tremendous – lemon, anchovies, parmiggiano, and bread crumbs. It hit a little of everything, adding salty, sour, and umami notes to the slight bitterness of the raw greens. They have a few non-pizza options that might be worth trying if I ever go back to have that salad again.

Sarasota eats (and links).

Links first: Today’s chat transcript. My podcast with the drunks at Drunk Jays Fans. Some intriguing-looking jalapeno cornbread with a recipe, although it includes sugar, which makes it corn cake, doesn’t it? Jerry Crasnick wrote a good piece on Adenhart that gets a little more at Adenhart as a person than as a prospect. (Seriously, stop talking about his baseball future. It’s trivial.)

Speaking of Adenhart and the chat, did anyone get what I was saying here?

J.B. (Dunmore, PA): As a father, today’s news really upset me. Three lives lost and another in the driver that is pretty much over. This may sound harsh but I really hope that young man spends a good chunk of his life behind bars.

Keith Law: They should release the other driver and give him a pass to the Angels’ clubhouse for Friday’s game. And then lock the doors.

I was suggesting that the killer (let’s not mince words – that’s what he is) would be locked in the clubhouse with Adenhart’s teammates. It doesn’t read that way to me now.

On to more mundane matters: I was in Sarasota for the last three days and ate a lot of needlessly heavy food. My go-to place from years past, an Amish restaurant called Yoder’s, wasn’t quite up to my memories of it. They’re best known for their pies, and while they do have a great variety, I had three flavors in three days and didn’t love any of them. The strawberry-rhubarb pie was packed but with about 90% rhubarb; if I wanted rhubarb pie, I would have ordered it, since that’s another option. The peach pie and blackberry pie were both filled with gooey cornstarchy liquid and not enough fruit. Their pie crusts are very good, though – tender, not really flaky, very soft and buttery.

The food is mostly comfort food. Their fried chicken is above-average, pressure-fried (the Colonel’s method!) to produce a crisp crust and fully-cooked meat in a shorter time than traditional skillet-frying, which takes about 45 minutes. Unfortunately, the meat I got was lukewarm and I had to send the thigh back. (The drumstick wasn’t much warmer, but you can’t put a fried drumstick in front of me and get it back unless you use the jaws of life.) Their roast turkey is solid-average – it peels apart like it’s been smoked but doesn’t have the slightly rubbery texture that I always associate with smoked turkey – while their smoked pulled pork was moist but kind of flavorless. The stuffing was mushy, and the green beans were grayish-green from overcooking. I did have one meal at another Amish restaurant down the street, called Mom’s, with pretty similar results.

Tropical Thai in northern Sarasota was just bad. The chicken in the chicken with green curry was barely cooked and way too soft – almost like a great steak, except that that texture is great in steak and lousy in poultry – and the sauce had clearly been thickened with some kind of starch, while the vegetables in it were also undercooked.

And one more dud before I get to the two recommendations: Dutch Valley is a diner that claims to be known for its Belgian waffles (spelled “Belgium waffles” on the sign outside, which I now know was a warning). Putting pancake batter on a Belgian waffle iron does not produce a Belgian waffle – it produces a thick, dense, doughy cake-like waffle that, if cooled to room temperature, might make a suitable mattress for a hamster.

Word of Mouth was a better bet for breakfast, at least a solid 50, although I found the food to be a little hit or miss. On the plus side, their scone of the day today was pineapple-coconut (right out of the oven) and it was incredible – slightly dry, like a good scone should be; sweet but not overly so; with bits of actual coconut inside and a crumbly texture. Their home fries are nicely browned and cooked with onions, although today’s onions were more black than brown. The Tex-Mex omelet with chorizo had absolutely no salt in the egg portion, and when I ordered eggs over medium the other day I got something about five seconds past over easy. They serve Harney & Sons teas and the service is very good, but they play awful music (John Mayer on Tuesday, Hootie & the Blowfish today). There are two locations, and I went to the on Cattlemen near Bee Ridge. It’s a solid 50.

Mi Pueblo is a local mini-chain of Mexican places serving mostly the usual fare of burritos, enchiladas, and tacos. Their tacos al carbon with steak were outstanding. The steak was soft – how often have you had steak in a taco or fajita and needed a hacksaw to chew it? Mi Pueblo’s was at the other end of the spectrum. The rice was fresh and gently seasoned, not sticky with tomato paste or sauce. The one I went to, at the corner of McIntosh and Bee Ridge, is tiny and there was a wait when I arrived on a Wednesday night after 7, so the locals seem to have caught on. Based on one dish I’d hazard a grade of 55.