Suncoast Beaches, FL - Bradenton, Longboat Key, Sarasota, Lido Key, Siesta Key & Venice - Vacation Travel Guide

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Suncoast Beaches Area Features

Discovering Florida Foods

  By: Jacquelyn Eurice

The Florida Suncoast has a flavor all its own. Fresh local seafood combines with Florida’s famous citrus for exquisite cuisine.  Breweries and distilleries feature adult beverages that reflect the area’s heritage and complement favorite regional dishes. But one of the most enticing things about the restaurants in and around Sarasota is the atmosphere. Whether you’re dining at an acclaimed waterfront restaurant known for its fine wines and romantic touches or you’re grabbing a bite in a small hut beside the beach—you’ll  feel like you’re on vacation wherever you go. The thatched roofs and palm trees of many local tiki-type eateries definitely take your cares away as you indulge on some of the region’s best food. As Gulf breezes convey tantalizing aromas from the kitchen that will soon be on a plate before you, sit back and sip a mango mojito. Your toes can even remain in the sand as you do so. Here are some drinks and dishes you must try while visiting the area:

Stone Crab

Harvested for the Florida delicacy that is their claws, the stone crab is a sustainable seafood that visitors should try. The torso doesn’t have much meat, but the large claws (that are big enough to break through oyster shells) are very enjoyable served chilled with some cocktail sauce, drawn butter, or mustard sauce—a Floridian staple. October through March is stone crab season and it’s during this time that the crustacean’s claws are on menus around the state. The crabs can even be returned to the wild if their claws are properly removed so they can regenerate.

Rum

What goes well with swaying palm trees and seafood? Rum! Arguably some of the best rums on the market share the Siesta Key label. The Siesta Key products manufactured by Drum Circle Distilling, a small distillery in Sarasota, include silver and gold rums, toasted coconut rum, and spiced rums. These are so good and smooth, they can be enjoyed without a mixer. Stop by the distillery, take a tour and try some for yourself! You’ll see why critics rave about Siesta Key rums and think of them as some of the best in the world.

Grouper

Whether it’s blackened, grilled, broiled or fried, grouper adorns the menus of just about every restaurant in the area that serves seafood. The firm meat has mild flavors that break off into large delicious flakes. Grouper is a versatile fish to cook with and many chefs have a recipe that is unique to them. As a member of the bass family, grouper is a smart and appealing choice for an entrée since it is also a sustainable fish—so long as you avoid the threatened snowy grouper. The nation’s go-to source for learning about sustainable seafood, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, recommends choosing fish caught by a hand line. For tips on purchasing sustainable fish, visit www.seafoodwatch.org.

Spiny Lobster

The Caribbean spiny lobster, also commonly called the Florida spiny lobster, makes its home in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico and subtropical Atlantic Ocean. This crustacean differs from its North Atlantic cousin in a very visible way—it doesn’t have the large claws that the others do. It is aptly named for the forward-facing spines on its carapace (the hard shell that covers the main body cavity). The tail is the most delicious and coveted part of the lobster, though it is possible to get very small amounts of tasty meat out of the body and legs. One unusual thing about the Florida spiny lobster is that it is technically caught in two seasons. The main season runs from mid-August to March. The other, called the sport season, lasts for just 2 days in late July, and has become an introductory tradition that precedes the regular season.

Local Shrimp

The Florida waters are home to five different species of shrimp, but the most famous is the gulf pink shrimp. Found on the state’s western coast, these crustaceans are coveted by travelers and locals alike for their sweet and tender qualities. Shrimp boats harvest the shrimp predominately between January and June, but the shrimp freeze well for off-season enjoyment. When raw, shrimp from the northern part of the gulf, called hoppers, look very similar to their brown shrimp relatives. The pink color appears more prominently when cooked. However, the shrimp that are caught in the gulf’s southern waters, the Key West pink shrimp, also reflect the bright pink color when raw. The pink appears due to the presence of astaxanthin, a molecule in the carotene family. Fun fact: Flamingos are pink because they eat (among other things) shrimp that contain this molecule. When cooked, gulf pink shrimp create a beautiful plate presentation and add tasteful flavor to just about any dish.

Citrus

You can’t dine anywhere in Florida without noticing the aromas and flavors from citrus groves. In fact, 90% of America’s orange juice comes from the Sunshine State alone. More than 550,000 acres are devoted to grapefruit, orange, tangerine, lemon, lime and countless hybrid citrus trees. Local restaurants skillfully incorporate the fruits into refreshing plates and use the juices for sauces and marinades. A good bartender can create any number of concoctions with citrus juices. Try a classic cocktail like a Paloma, which is made with tequila, grapefruit and lime juices, salt and seltzer. This would pair nicely with grilled shrimp—especially while dining on the water!

Alligator

Some may think that alligator is for the more adventurous eater, yet a number of chefs in the Sarasota area have it as a mainstay on their menus due to its popularity. The low-fat and low-cholesterol meat is taken from the tail, torso, jowls and feet (commonly referred to as “wings”). The tail has three tubular sections of muscle that are individually called the tenderloin. This is probably the most popular cut to cook with and can be fried, grilled, sautéed, made into sausage and more—just like chicken. The fibrous “wings” are the only cut that is considered red meat and are best stewed until tender. The most important tip in preparing alligator is to not overcook it. The dense meat can become rubbery and unsavory if it is cooked too long. Many people are pleasantly surprised when they first try alligator because they most often find it absolutely delicious.

Breweries

Before 2013, local craft beer was hard to find. Sarasota Brewery Company was making delicious, award-winning beers, but they were the only place in town. In the past few years, six, new different breweries have opened in the area. You’ll find everything from kolsches to porters at any one of these local places.Visit SunnyDayGuide.com/Sarasota to read more about the individual breweries that have given rise to the popularity of craft beer in the region.

Venture out of your comfort zone and try something new—you’ll be glad you did. That’s the best way to uncover some of these delicious foods and beverages from the Florida Suncoast and discover some amazing flavors.

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