Culinary Travel, South Florida — By Susan McKee on February 24, 2011 at 11:45 am
Filed under: Food & Beverage, Restaurants, top-feature

Where to Eat: Venice, Florida

OK, I’ll admit it. My husband and I are snowbirds — that’s what year-round Floridians call us northerners who flock to their sunny coasts in the winter. Because most of us want to take a break from cooking as well as the blizzards up north, restaurants in southwest Florida can get mighty busy during peak season. Reservations are always advised, even if you want to eat before 6 p.m. The state is a haven for retirees who love the smaller, less expensive dinners on the “early bird menu”.

That said, there’s great food in my favorite cold weather getaway, Venice (it’s about 20 minutes south of Sarasota along U.S. 41).

Yes, as you may have guessed from the name of the town, there’s a large Italian-American population in Venice. The annual festival sponsored by the Italian American Club of Venice (held in late February) is an eagerly anticipated event, but the club also serves pasta dinners at its clubhouse (1375 Ringling Drive, Venice, Florida – map) every Friday evening except during the festival..

Cassariano Italian Eatery

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Cassariano Italian Eatery (305 West Venice Avenue, Venice, Florida; 941:485-0507 – map) is a relatively new and welcome addition to the fine dining scene downtown. Partners Luca Cassani (front-of-the-house) and Antonio Pariano (who serves as chef) both come from northern Italy, and the menu reflects their origins. They divide their menu Italian-style, with both primi piatti (first courses featuring pasta) and secondi piatti (second courses highlighting meat, fish or chicken). I almost always order the Insalata Caprese (pictured above, right).  My favorite is their lobster ravioli, but I can sometimes be tempted by one of the veal scaloppini offerings.

Café Venice

Café Venice Restaurant and Wine Bar (116 West Venice Avenue, Venice, Florida; 941:484-1855 – map), not surprisingly, is known for its wine list as well as its food. This is a white-linen-tablecloth place with a menu not only classically Continental but unexpectedly Polynesian. My husband and I have dined here for years. He usually gravitates toward the pork tenderloin, while the crab cakes are my favorite entrée. Their spicy Thai seafood soup is not to be missed. New on the menu are a series of tapas — small portions to encourage ordering several to share.

The Back Eddy

OK, so the name is a pun. Not only is the chef/owner named Ed Glennon (his wife, Allyson, runs the front-of-the-house), but a “back eddy” is water that twists back on itself, such as a whirlpool. The Back Eddy (239  West Miami Avenue, Venice Florida; 941: 244-2643 – map) has a menu that changes frequently, but features the classics –  marinated grilled lamb chops with fig preserves and balsamic glaze (pictured, at right), pistachio crusted grilled duck breast with fresh pear and Madeira wine sauce, almond crusted tilapia with white wine lemon butter sauce. If I’m not particularly hungry, I’ve been known to order an appetizer as my entree (I’m partial to the Crispy pan fried sweet potato pancakes with smoked salmon, chives lemon cream and pear coulis.)

The following restaurants are “off the island” — a term that needs a definition. A chunk of Venice was carved off from the mainland in the late 1960s, when the Intercoastal Waterway was extended along this portion of the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Venice became two parts: island and mainland, with three bridges connecting the two. The town (as laid out in the 1920s) is on “the island”, while the newer development (think: condo complexes and shopping centers) are “off the island”.

Thai Bistro

Because I’ve made a couple of trips to Thailand, I’m always on the lookout for authentic Thai restaurants when I travel. Thai Bistro (537 East Venice Avenue, Venice, Florida; 941:484-0056 – map) isn’t fancy but their Pad Thai is terrific. Actually, that classic dish (made differently by each cook) is all I’ve ever ordered. Definitely yummy.

Curry Creek Café

Curry Creek Café (920 South Tamiami Trail, Nokomis, Florida; 941-485-6560 – map) is a small, family-run restaurant with an eclectic menu reflecting the preferences of the chef (an American) and his wife (Indonesian). My husband likes their comfort food: meat loaf, filet mignon, mixed grill. I order from the Indonesian specialties (the eggplant and shrimp is to die for — it’s rated “three chilies” for hot). (Nokomis is just north of Venice.)

The Frosted Mug

No trip to Venice would be complete without a lunch at the Frosted Mug (1856 Tamiami Trail South, Venice Florida; 941:497-1611 – map). No reservations necessary (or accepted) at this eat-in, carry-out diner that opened in 1957, when Tamiami Trail (also known as U.S. 41) was just a two-lane country road. As you may have guessed, the default beverage is root beer served in a frosted mug. I usually get a hamburger, but my husband is partial to their hot dogs.

(Photos by Susan McKee)

Related places:
  1. A
    Italian American Club-Venice
  2. B
    Cassariano Italian Eatery
  3. C
    Cafe Venice
  4. D
    Back Eddy
  5. E
    Thai Bistro
  6. F
    Curry Creek Cafe
  7. G
    Frosted Mug
Tags: Food & Beverage, Restaurants, top-feature

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