Tag Archives: Sarasota

Drum Circle Rum Distillery Tour – Sarasota, FL

31 May

After doing a preliminary write-up a couple weeks back, I was finally able to visit Drum Circle Distilling in SW Florida to see exactly how they are hand-crafting Siesta Key Rum. Their sole operation is housed in a rather non-descript warehouse complex located just north of glamorous downtown Sarasota. But don’t be fooled, there is real magic happening inside these walls.  

Owners Troy Roberts (above) and Tom Clarke were hard at work when I arrived mid-morning last Wednesday. Both men grew up in the Siesta Key area. They not only run the place, they are also the only two employees of this exciting, fledgling enterprise. Troy has long been a connoisseur of fine rums and eventually decided he wanted to try making it — but only if it was world class stuff. No corners have been cut and, much like the old Orson Welles commercials, they will sell no rum before its time.   

If you’re gonna get in the rum business, you gotta be 1 part Jimmy Buffett and 1 part Enrico Fermi. No kidding. Just look at the product development workspace pictured above. I’m guessing that Troy and Tom are glad they paid attention during high school chemistry classes!

The early makings of clear Siesta Key Rum rumble away in the copper plated still seen above. It looks a bit like a giant deep sea diver’s helmet, doesn’t it?

Testing various versions in search of the perfect blend of rum.

I’m guessing this step ladder gets a lot of work.

The sparkling, metallic equipment at Drum Circle is all top notch and made by the Christian Carl Distilleries in Stuttgart, Germany (www.brewing-distilling.com). Sure, Germany is not exactly the epicenter of the world’s rum production, yet Troy explained that the Germans make some of the finest distilling machinery money can buy. Roberts mentioned that gin is perhaps the most common spirit distilled using Carl’s technology.

Competing products are frequently sampled to compare differing flavor profiles. Troy said they don’t ever want to become big like Bacardi, but they want to be consistently better than Bacardi and the other giants in the global marketplace. Based on our initial tasting, they are off to a fine start.

It’s all small batch at Drum Circle Distilling. The little oak barrels shown above are used for the aging of a soon-to-come Siesta Key Gold Rum. These barrels are quite expensive (about $250 each), which will likely mean a slightly higher price point when this product is at last ready for market. The clear rum currently sells for about $21 per bottle (a bargain), while the gold will probably fall in the reasonable $25-$28 per bottle price range. Siesta Key Rum is now offered by some 50 different liquor stores and restaurants in the greater Sarasota/Bradenton area. Slow, steady growth will insure that product quality remains high.   

Not a bad way to make a living, huh? Troy joked that they do most of their drinking before 5 o’clock around here, yet he hasn’t drawn a real pay check in about 3 years now. This is indeed a labor of love.

Is this a rum distillery or NASA?

Troy looks ready to climb aboard his “rocket ship.”

Tom shows how the small run bottling & labeling process is done.

A roll (above) of Drum Circle’s signature sand dollar labels, which are affixed at the top (over the cork) of each bottle of Siesta Key Rum. The corks (imported from Mexico) also have a very distinctive look to them.

This (above) is the “employee break room” at Drum Circle Distilling.  These guys are really livin’ the dream! We are tremendously impressed with the progress they have made and won’t be betting against them as they set out to first conquer Florida, and then the rest of the Southeast USA.

Troy and Tom were terrific hosts during my visit and graciously presented me with a bottle of rum, a Drum Circle Distilling T-shirt, and an oval  SK Rum bumper sticker as I headed back outside into the bright Florida sunshine. It wasn’t even lunch time and I was already thinking about which rum drink I was going to concoct when I arrived home at our beachside condo. It seems these guys were already rubbing off on me. RRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!  

For a couple cocktail recipes, visit the Drum Circle web site at …


And for more info on Siesta Key’s Drum Circle tradition, please go to …


Great Cracker BBQ Discovered in Sarasota

4 Apr


Praise the Lord! After a great deal of searching and some frustration, we have found some authentic Florida Cracker BBQ here in the Sunshine State. And it was all quite by accident, really. Driving along Bahia Vista Road on a late Saturday afternoon, we spotted the wood-paneled roadside stand in a gas station parking lot.  


They even take major credit cards here! Now that is pretty unusual for stands such as this. But this is not your typical roadside food cart – that’s for darn sure. Jeff Alday has been cooking up first-rate BBQ for about 3 decades now. Let’s just say he knows what he’s doing, OK?


It’s pretty hard to miss Alday’s BBQ stand. They have obviously invested some of the proceeds in signage and their bright red background leaps out and grabs ya – much like the amazing aroma eminating from their smoker.


Jeff kindly offered me a sample of his BBQ pork ribs. I quickly ascertained that they were the best we’ve ever tasted in Florida. They offer up a mild or hot sauce on the side, but who really needs it when BBQ is this tasty?


The prices, as you can see, are very reasonable. The food is excellent!


The half-chicken plate was moist and peppery. My wife commented (after just one taste) that it is far better than most chicken served at traditional BBQ joints. And, you know what, she’s right. Most of the chicken offered up at Q shacks is pretty dry and flavorless. Not so at Alday’s. The baked beans are chock full of pulled pork — almost enough to make yourself a sandwich for later.  


Take a look at the chicken seen above. Juicy, meaty & spiced just right!


So take a drive along Bahia Vista and keep an eye out for all those red signs. Alday’s is open here on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. They also do weddings, banquets, picnics, and fund raisers. Call Jeff Alday at 941 809 2589 or shoot him an email at porkbutt84@aol.com. The email address alone should tell you how serious these folks are about their Q. Tell ’em Dixie Dining sent ya on over.

Sarasota’s Annual Greek Glendi Festival

13 Feb


I dropped by the local Greek festival at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church in Sarasota for lunch today. Honestly, I was surprised at how many people had the same idea on a beautiful Friday afternoon in SW FL. The entry fee was $4 for adults — kids under 12 are admitted free.


I immediately bypassed the arts & crafts exhibits and motored with purpose towards the food tents. The heavenly aroma greeted me long before I laid eyes on the bountiful variety of Grecian grub. After a brief period of deliberation, I decided on the Spanakopita plate, which set me back all of $5. The platter included a massive square of the spinach and phyllo dough treat alongside a generous cup of diced tomatoes, chopped cucumber & green pepper, and kalamata olives doused in a zesty Greek feta dressing.



The dessert choices at the festival were equally plentiful. I decided on the honey drenched, nutty beauty seen below. The delicate pastry exterior was just perfect and the rich filling was a nicely balanced blend of sugar and spice. I took time to really savor the treat, which cost $3. A Greek combo performed on a nearby stage, so I enjoyed a bit of a sideshow while I devoured my dessert.   


Sadly, I can’t go back to the festival this weekend, but I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. For more information on Greek Glendi, visit their web site at www.StBarbaraFestival.org

“Veggie Magic” … indeed!

24 Jan


My first visit to Veggie Magic in Sarasota was a very impressive experience. For starters, the folks who run the place are extremely friendly and genuinely concerned about people eating healthier food. And eating healthy at Veggie Magic doesn’t mean sacrificing on taste.

My lunch started with the King Caesar salad and continued with their Zesty No-Bean Burrito, which is wrapped in a collard green leave (see the picture above). The salad’s mock Caesar dressing was made with pine nuts, miso, flax oil, dates, garlic & lemon juice. The burrito filling was fashioned by an artful combination of sunflower seeds, sun dried tomatoes, chili, cilantro and cumin. It was all quite satisfying.


And they saved the best for last with the amazing Black & White Brownie they served up for dessert. Words cannot be found to describe how deliciously decadent this treat tastes. Imagine, if you will, a moist brownie base of raw cacao ground with sprouted walnuts, raisins and dates topped with a smooth white chocolate filling of cashews, Thai coconut meat, agave nectar, fresh vanilla bean, & cacao butter.  It was without a doubt one of the best desserts I have ever placed in my mouth.

I would strongly encourage you to seek them out at 4428 Bee Ridge Road in Sarasota or online at www.veggiemagic.com. Our hats are off to Chef Adriel Zahniser and co-owners Jenna Norwood and Ivana Poplawski. Keep up the great work ladies!

NOTE: Be sure to check out Jenna Norwood’s award-winning documentary on healthy eating & living at www.superchargeme.com

Fall in Love with Sarasota’s Valentino

5 Nov


Another good lunch find in Sarasota today. Funny, I’ve lived here a full year (as of this week) and I am still discovering really good restaurants in unexpected places. Valentino Pizzeria & Trattoria, located at 4045 Clark Road, has actually been open for over two years now. Business remains pretty brisk according to my smiling waitress, Andrea. “We’ve just made it through another off-season,” she proudly proclaimed. And with good reason! This is a tough town to make a go of it — given the sluggish tourist economy, plentiful dining choices, and the “feast or famine” seasonal customer base. The key to making it all work is very simple … good food and friendly service. Both are “abundanza” at Valentino.


The menu is a bit overwhelming. “So many choices, so little time!” Pizza, pasta, sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts — it all sounds so blasted good. I chose to start with one of the tried and true basics. It’s called “Grandma’s Sunday Gravy.” And no, it’s not the stuff you ladle over your Thanksgiving turkey and dressing. Real Italians know that gravy is a term used for tomato sauce or, in some circles, spaghetti sauce. This particular entree is equipped with your choice of pasta (I went linguine), homemade tomato sauce, a big chunky meat ball, a link of fennel-specked Italian sausage, and topped with “pot cheese” (aka ricotta). Not only was it amazing, it also forever put to rest the argument that “tomato sauce is tomato sauce.” They are not all the same, people. This stuff puts the store-bought Ragu junk to shame. It’s so incredibly sweet and fresh with no funky or bitter aftertaste. And best of all, the subtle sweetness comes from the tomatoes, not a heaping helping of sugar or corn syrup. That’s amore!

Even the accompanying bread was warm and flavorful … not the typical cold hardtack served at most run of the mill Italian eateries. It was a very nice touch not overlooked or taken for granted by yours truly. The whole deal only cost about $8, so the experience wasn’t that taxing on my incredible shrinking wallet. Honestly, I can’t wait to go back and begin exploring the remainder of the daunting menu at Valentino. The Dejura Gorgonzola is definitely on my hit list. So is Butchie’s Bolognese and Flo’s Homemade Cheese Ravioli. I might even save room for a little cannoli (they import their’s from New York).

I’m guessing this will become a regular South Sarasota lunch haunt for this “paesano.” Take a first look for yourself at www.valentinopizzeria.com

Cee Dawg Seasonings = Doggone Good

16 Sep

I ran into these folks at the Sarasota Reds annual Wing Fest at Ed Smith Stadium. Nice folks — and they make a very tasty spice blend. They dominated the competition at Wing Fest, so I approached them and asked for a sample bottle of their Chicken Wing Rub. They were kind enough to oblige.

One whiff of the stuff and you can tell there’s lots of garlic in there. That’s a good thing in my book! Here is the intro on their web page —

CeeDawg is the brain-child of a working chemist, with a love for easy, flavorful, and healthy meals. Created in 1999, our products have a strong following in the Mid-Atlantic, and now we are unleashing the flavor on the rest of the world. One try and we think that you too will say “I’ve been bitten by the Dawg”.

A homemade blend of herbs and spices that will give your foods amazing flavor! They’re so easy to use anyone can make great tasting wings, burgers, soups, stews, salads and much more.

CeeDawg rubs are tasty, easy to use, and great on more than just meats! Mix and match our rubs with different meats and sauces, spice up your veggies and pastas. Grill to your heart’s delight, simply oven bake or even crock pot a thing or two!


For more information, sail on over to www.ceedawg.com

Bella Cucina Buffet offers Quality and Value

21 Aug

Bella Cucina Italian Buffet located just off Bee Ridge Road exit of I-75

Great lunch today at Bella Cucina Italian Buffet. In fact, I am somewhat surprised that more people around here don’t rave about this place. The food choices are endless and the quality is consistently good. For just $7.95, you can fill up your boiler with homemade Italian eats and lots of it.  

It looks like a train wreck, but it tasted really good

I loaded up my platter today with plump meatballs topped with red sauce, mild Italian sausage with mixed roasted veggies, and some really tasty marinated roast pork. Not sure what they call it (Italian Roast Pork?) — but I call it deadly. And I mean that in a good way. As you can see from the above picture, I also couldn’t resist grabbing a slice of pepperoni pizza and a small cup of Italian Wedding Soup.

The Italian Wedding Soup is top notch … loaded with little meat balls

Ameretto Rice Pudding is a good way to finish lunch on a sweet note

Bella Cucina is clean and easy to get to. They also play a nice selection of Italian-American pop standards (Dino, Frank, etc.) while you dine. If you’re visiting Sarasota or just passing through, make time for a brief pit stop at Bella Cucina. I strongly recommend it and consider it one of the best All You Can Eat Italian Lunch Buffets this side of Palermo. You’ll leave stuffed and begging for a small salad (if anything at all) for dinner that night. www.italianbuffet.com

Troyer’s Dutch Heritage

20 Aug

Some of you may remember my somewhat negative blog about Yoder’s Amish restaurant in Sarasota. I felt bad about trashing them, but my first experience just wasn’t a good one. But Yoder’s isn’t the only Amish eatery in our area. Troyer’s Dutch Heritage is located in the same general neighborhood and I was determined to give them a fair shake.

Troyer’s is a pretty massive place — an Amish compound of cuisine!

Troyer’s offers a lunch buffet for $8.89 each Monday – Thursday. I figured this would be a good way to get a reasonably quick and affordable overview of their food offerings. The entree choices today were BBQ chicken, roast beef, Sloppy Joe mix, and broasted chicken. I stuck with the chicken (both varieties) and found them each to be enjoyable if not outstanding. The chicken breast was a touch dry (this often happens when kept warm in a chafing dish) and the crust was flavorful but not very crispy. The BBQ bird was shredded white meat with very little fat or gristle. I was impressed by that. The sauce was sweet rather than spicy. I’m guessing they don’t make their own BBQ sauce here. The green beans were OK, although I think they could have used a little more smoked pork flavor. Hey, I’m just a good old boy at heart!  

I also loaded up my platter with some chicken salad and ham salad. You don’t see ham salad that often in restaurants thee days. It was really popular back in the ’50s and ’60s. It was just OK at Troyer’s — probably because it had too much mayo and not enough lean ham. The chicken salad tasted better, but lacked the firm texture I enjoy (in other words, it was a tad mushy for my finicky palate).

The salad bar was really nice — and included some rather unusual choices. Perhaps the most bizarre were the pickled beet and mustard soaked hard boiled eggs. And I do mean HARD! These babies were overcooked and tough … like super ball tough! It took some elbow grease to carve into the center yolks and to say the eggs were chewy would be an understatement. I would suggest they take them off the salad bar and save them for next year’s Easter egg hunt.

The cole slaw was outstanding — no complaints at all. My salad was made with romaine lettuce and the honey mustard dressing was nice (not too sweet). The salad bar condiments were highlighted by the “Amish Peanut Butter” and Troyer’s homemade Apple Butter. Their peanut butter is actually a strange mix of peanut butter, melted marshmallows, and Karo syrup. Tasted sort of like a PB and honey blend. Interesting, yes – but I still prefer good old Skippy or Peter Pan. The Apple Butter was more like a spicy apple sauce — not the same smooth and creamy Apple Butter I remember growing up with in Virginia. 

In a nutshell, Troyer’s is bigger, better, cleaner, newer, and more reasonably priced than Yoder’s. That’s the good news for Troyer’s. Would I return for another meal? Probably not. Although I will surely stop back in for dessert, which sadly was not included in the buffet price. The fresh Peach Pie looked promising and the baked goods (especially the sticky buns and the molasses cookies) were calling my name as I stepped back out into the FL sunshine. www.troyercorp.com