Vernona Gourmet opens on St. Armands Circle
Sarasota’s famed shopping and dining district has a new destination.
The new Vernona Gourmet on St. Armands Circle is a full-service chophouse serving breakfast, lunch and dinner; late-night lounge with entertainment; deli convenience market; artist lounge and gallery; and tobacco and wine store. Plus, Vernona’s owner has plans to provide home delivery of groceries and meals, curbside takeout and catering services.
“Since we have all this space (10,000 square feet), we’re darn well going to use it,” said Business Manager Rick Allen, when asked about such an ambitious undertaking. “We want to provide a wonderful convenience to the community, a wonderful place for dining and nightlife, plus the convenience of a market.”
Vernona Gourmet, named as an homage to the old El Vernona Hotel–John Ringling Hotel, was inspired by owner Nikoletta Pongo, a Hungarian native with experience in both the hospitality and technology fields. She has acquired Executive Chef Tony Pool, who was with Dean & DeLuca in New York and Capitol Grill, to oversee the cuisine.
The new facility, which was previously Mexico Lindo (and several other Mexican restaurants), has been remodeled into an attractive setting of graceful archways, warm woods and blue lighting with both stone and butcher’s block bars. There is seating for 175 inside with an additional 80 seats outside, following COVID-19 guidelines.
In addition, there is live jazz Thursday through Sunday evenings after 9:30 p.m. A commissary-size kitchen and gourmet market providing pastries and breads, deli meats and soon, prime meats, also are downstairs. The second floor houses the artist gallery (works of art by Ringling College of Art and Design students) where guests may dine and, soon, a tobacco and wine store.
Vernona Gourmet is offering breakfast pancakes, omelets, eggs Benedict as well as a Greek burrito and avocado toast, plus more. For lunch there are soups and salads, hot and cold sandwiches, including a Cuban panini and Vernona burger, some of which are available for dinner. Among dinner selections are starters like tuna tataki and pork belly and entrees ranging from prime rib eye steaks and lamb chops to mustard-crusted salmon and short ribs with polenta. Sweet conclusions to tempt diners are pot de crème and a salted caramel brownie a la mode. There are also children’s menus.
Vernona Gourmet, located at 40 S. Boulevard of the Presidents, is open from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for breakfast and lunch with a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. and 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. for dinner, plus late night dessert menu, cheese and charcuterie boards and cocktails. The market is open all day. For more information, call 941-284-0416 or visit facebook.com/VernonaGourmet.
A popular restaurant that temporarily closed because of the coronavirus pandemic has announced plans to open a new location.
Amore, the downtown Sarasota restaurant offering Italian and Portuguese cuisine that closed in July, is reopening in the former Silver Star spot on Lime Avenue. Amore originally operated on Longboat Key before taking over the sizable location in Burns Court.
“Like a lot of people, we are victims of COVID-19 and went from profitability to liability in the larger restaurant that had 175 seats,” said chef/owner Tito Vitorino. “We decided to scale down and offer patio seating as well as distance seating inside and takeout if desired.”
The Vitorinos have completely transformed the new restaurant into an Old World setting with distressed wood patterned flooring, tile walls and Portuguese art gracing the walls. There are 64 seats inside with Plexiglas partitions between booths, and tables are socially distanced. The outdoor patio accommodates another 24 guests.
At the previous restaurant the menu included about 25 percent Portuguese selections and 75 percent Italian. The new Amore will be 50/50.
“We are serving many of the favorites from Burns Court but adding more Portuguese favorites,” Vitorino said.
In addition to salads and starters, among entrée options are branzino essiccato with sun dried couli sauce, seafood cataplana with seafood or pork and clams, and the special salted Norwegian cod fish (lagareiro). The pork loin with bifana sauce is another favorite, as well as rack of lamb and linguini pescatore. The restaurant is also known for its desserts prepared tableside, including bananas foster and cherries Jubilee. It will offer beer plus a respectable wine list, including Italian, Portuguese and California selections.
Amore, which is opening at 180 N. Lime Ave. in Colonial Village Shopping Center, plans to operate Monday through Saturday from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. For more information, call 941-383-1111 or visit facebook.com/amorerestaurantlbk.
The Lounge at Element to open
Downtown Sarasota restaurant Element: Steak. Seafood. Pasta. will expand its footprint on Main Street by adding a lounge next door.
The Lounge at Element plans to open this month at the former location of Pizza Burgers n Tacos, which briefly rebranded as Plaza Bistro n Tavern. Element and the lounge are owned by Michelle Schlingmann, who worked with former owner Jim Abrams for several years before purchasing the business and rebranding it in June.
Schlingmann said she wants The Lounge at Element to be a classy, throwback environment where customers can get dressed up and enjoy a cocktail or a bite to eat.
“The concept came about with a few regulars that we have here at Element who I began to know,” Schlingmann said. “We were talking about days of past, when people would get dressed up to take flights, and the old glamour of Hollywood.”
The Lounge at Element will feature small plates devised by chef Nils Tarantik and the Element culinary team including cheese and charcuterie, oysters on the half shell and foie gras, with Element’s full menu also available at the bar. It will offer cocktails from Element as well, along with classic drinks such as a Tom Collins and sidecar. Takeout options will also be available.
The décor will be modern but with a ’50s and ’60s vibe, featuring black-and-white floors, white furniture and black carpet, along with original hand-painted artwork. The lounge will seat about 32 inside, Schlingmann said, with outdoor seating for around 22 as well. It will also be available for private events.
The Lounge at Element is located at 1409 Main St., next door to Element: Steak. Seafood. Pasta. at 1413 Main St. For more information, call 941-724-8585 or visit theloungeatelement.com.
Skinny Dip opens in Gulf Gate
The Skinny Dip frozen yogurt bar has opened in Sarasota’s Gulf Gate Village. Husband and wife Alex Beltram and Sorelly Henao, who recently moved from California, have transformed a former retail space into a colorful setting with a beachy vibe. There are 14 seats where customers may eat in while others may prefer takeout.
“We have always loved frozen yogurt, and it can be a healthy option if desired,” said Henao. “The Skinny 8 choice has only eight calories per ounce, and the fresh fruit is a nutritious topping.”
The Skinny Dip, which was founded in Virginia in 2008, offers the frozen yogurt in cups by the ounce with traditional flavors. Fresh fruit enhancements change according to the season, and there are numerous toppings ranging from nuts, fruity pebbles and candy to crushed Oreos, cereal and coconut flakes, to name a few. There are also vegan and non-dairy options.
The Skinny Dip, at 6616 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday until 9:30 p.m. For more information, call 942-923-6680 or visit facebook.com/sarasotaskinnydip.
New owners for Ciao Gelato
The popular Ciao Gelato on Venice Avenue has been purchased by Patrizia and Giovanni Rindi, native Italians who previously owned a similar gelato shop on Siesta Key. The Venice dessert shop was previously owned by Darea and R.J. Nafziger for 10 years. According to their Facebook page, the two are retiring and have met amazing customers, developing great relationships. They are happy to pass on the experience to the new owners. “We are confident that they will continue to serve (customers) ‘simply the best,’” they wrote.
The new owners are retaining the menu selections that include the coveted Italian gelatos and sorbets with over 16 flavors, including a special flavor each day. There are dairy-free, vegan and gluten-free options. There also are coffees (cappuccinos and espressos), milk shakes, floats and assorted Italian pastries.
Ciao Gelato, which has limited outdoor seating, is located at 307 W. Venice Ave., Venice. The shop is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday until 10 p.m.. For more information, call 941-445-5840 or visit facebook.com/gelatociao.
New owners for Nutritious You
After 20 years as a cardiac/vascular technician and inspired by nutritious eating, Carey Palmer along with husband Mario purchased Nutritious You Café, the plant-based eatery and deli on Siesta Key. The restaurant specializes in vegetarian and vegan food made from nutrient-dense, organic ingredients. No animal products are used.
“This has been a labor of love,” said Carey Palmer, who recently received her plant-based nutrition certification from Cornell University. “We are trying to spearhead awareness of healthier alternatives for people with cardio and vascular diseases as well as those who are interested in eating as healthy as possible.”
The new owners have renovated the cozy café into a country French setting with photos and a large mural of fruits, a sage green color scheme and seating for about 30 inside and out. “We also do a lot of grab and go as well as using delivery services and curbside takeout,” added Palmer.
The Nutrition You menu features plant-based (vegan) and gluten-free options ranging from fresh pressed juices and smoothies to veggie entrees (bowls, salads, hand-helds) and unique desserts. Among popular choices are juices like mean green, heart beet, apple crisp and creamsicle; bowls such as traditional acai, cranberry or pumpkin spice; a beyond burger with a plant-based patty, pretzel or gluten-free bun, veggies and pea fries; a flat bread made of dehydrated veggies with vegan ricotta cheese and raw vegetables; air-fried cauliflower bites with a buffalo sauce, and desserts such as a raw monster cookie or Siesta sea turtles (dates with pecans and vegan caramel sea salt).
Nutritious You, located at 6583 Midnight Pass Road, in the Southbridge Mall, is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information, call 941-203-5203 or visit nutritiousyou.com.
China Taste opening
China Taste, a new takeout eatery offering traditional Chinese selections, is opening in The Shoppes at Casey Key, Osprey. Queena Chen, who owned a Chinese restaurant in Orlando for 17 years, is proprietor of the new restaurant, which will use outside companies for deliveries. China Taste has only a few tables for inside dining, specializing in takeout.
Chen says the most popular selections are crab rangoon or fried dumplings for appetizers as well as noodle soups. Favored entrees range from General Tso chicken and steak teriyaki to Singapore Chow Mei Fun and egg foo young. The vast menu also lists a variety of dishes like egg and spring rolls and a pu pu platter for starters and chow mein, fried rice and combo platters that include rice, noodles, veggies and proteins like seafood, beef, pork and chicken. A wide variety of luncheon specials are priced at $6.59.
China Taste is at 1314 South Tamiami Trail, Osprey. For more information, call 941-918-0888 or visit chinatasteosprey188.com.
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