Photo by Peter Acker
It is a breezy day on South Lido, and flounder is the catch of the morning for Gary and Tracy Sovereign and their three sons, aged 7 to 13. The Colorado family has just returned from a fishing expedition aboard the Phatt Cat, captained by Doug Ricciardi. On the water since 8 a.m., and with anglers’ success and rumbling tummies, they are all smiles and ready for a beach-side lunch. They are in good hands, as Captain Doug is also a classically trained and highly experienced chef. Ricciardi left his successful career in fine dining to pursue a dream: In 2006 he started Tearin’ Em Up! Charters. For the first three years he often saw the catch of the day go to waste. Some people didn’t know how to prepare it; others didn’t have the resources to cook while on vacation. So Ricciardi seized an opportunity to combine his loves, cooking and fishing, and to facilitate a hook-to-fork connection for clients through his signature shore lunches.
Captain Doug has shifted from the helm to the grill. He is prepping a much-anticipated lunch composed of the fresh catch, a couple of sides, and a little something sweet. “Dessert comes first. It’s good like that because the grill is nice and hot,” he says as they all toast marshmallows over the grill fire. Today’s dessert is Siesta Key Lime Pie, with the roasted marshmallows, ginger snaps, and a squeeze of fresh lime. As the captain continues to cook, he converses as if hosting a Food Network show, providing culinary education and a great deal of enthusiasm. It’s easy to see that he loves his job.
The freshly filleted flounder—flavored with “love seasoning,” nested on a bed of sweet potatoes and Vidalia onions and topped with ginger root and thyme—has nearly reached en papillotte perfection in its foil wrapping atop the grill. As the captain preps the table, setting out honey-pepper cornbread and grill-cooked beans, the Sovereign family is by the water, taking in the salt air coming off the pass, and enjoying a view they just can’t get in Colorado.
Families are Ricciardi’s favorite clients. According to this father of three girls, the best part about his business is that it gives people a chance to “relax and enjoy time with family—head and heart.” The good food is a bonus. While Ricciardi stays connected to his former career through small-scale catering, he is content in his decision to leave the high-paced, stressful world of fine dining behind. “This is a good way to live, I hope I do it until I die,” he says.
The Sovereigns are now seated, turquoise forks in hand, as Captain Doug unveils their fresh catch, unwrapping it like a present and allowing the delectable smells to waft around them. A quick squeeze of fresh tangerine juice over the fish and a star fruit garnish later, it’s time to dig in. The first bite of a fish caught by his own hands and seven-year-old Joey is beaming from ear to ear. When asked how it is, the young critic gives a solid thumbs-up and goes right back for more.
He is officially—hooked!
Captain Doug Ricciardi
When Sarasota artist Joseph Patrick Arnegger isn’t sipping bourbon ginger cocktails and eating rabbit tacos at Lan, he’s brushing color onto wood.
The 42-year-old painter is a Renaissance man about town—a pen-toting peoplewatcher who doodles at dark bars in the middle of the week. He has noshed at nearly every restaurant and pub with a 941 area code, he says, and his culinary palate inspires his creative palette.
“Sarasota is my kitchen. I eat all over this town,” says Arnegger, who bartends part-time at the Shamrock Pub downtown. “I live in a studio without a kitchen, so I don’t cook at home. I’m kind of a snobby foodie but I also love going to dive bars like the Bahi Hut and the Crescent Club and bringing my sketchbook. I draw what I see.”
And Arnegger sees the world in nostalgic, almost Technicolor gradations of sea foam green, lipstick red, and blanched almond— the kind of hues you’d find on cake mixers and refrigerators at vintage diners. His work hearkens back to the mid-century South, when graphic poster art was king and bright ads featuring swimsuit-clad ladies lured tourists to beach cities.
Three of Arnegger’s canvases currently hang at Black Bird Home Gallery on Main Street, complementing an inventory of chic ottomans, sofas, and chandeliers. The pieces (Stag Party Slalom, High Noon, and Roping a Sweetheart) all have that bygone billboard quality, and range in size from three to 10 feet wide. “I like to paint scenes based on old movie posters. Movies were really important in my childhood and I remember things in faded snapshots,” he confides. “I love the way the sun drenches color on billboards and how you can see the effects of oxidation.”
Using acrylic and recycled house paints, Arnegger incorporates new realism and abstraction into his designs. He has exhibited in Washington, New York, and Texas, but Black Bird is now exclusively carrying his masterpieces. “With Stag Party Slalom, for example, an older relative in my family told me a story about a stag party in Key West back in the day where guys were drinking Glenfiddich,” Arnegger says. “That was the inspiration for that particular piece, and I built it out of kitchen drawers from a home on Siesta Key.”
A native of Boston, Arnegger lived in Connecticut and New York before relocating to Florida in 1987. He holds a fine arts degree from Ringling College of Art and Design, and helped launch S/ART/Q, a grassroots collective that has produced roaming art shows since 2008.
“So much of my work is based on our town’s history,” Arnegger says. “Ever since I’ve lived here, I’ve been in love with Sarasota. It fascinates me.”
Black Bird Home Gallery is located at
1540 Main St., Sarasota
Photo by Jenny Acheson
Buttery, globe-shaped pastries on sticks chill in the display cases at the Lollicake Queen, tempting cravers to sample gingerbread and red velvet flavors.
With every nibble of a sugary, moist cake pop, a new addiction is baked. Just ask sisters Erin Zolner and Amy Nichols, who own and operate the Southside Village shop on Hillview Street. They can’t keep a handle on the inventory as patrons swoop up their lime green, canary yellow, and turquoise icing-covered minis. “When we first started the shop, we thought, ‘Will people really buy enough of our lollicakes?’ We weren’t sure. Now we’re just trying to keep up with the insane demand,” says Zolner, who opened the 400-square-foot confectionery on April 20th last year. “We’ve made more than 100,000 lollicakes since we opened.”
It’s an easy sell, Nichols says. Not only are these golf ball-sized sweets on stems totally delectable, but they also come individually packaged in clear cellophane wrappers with graphic tags and silky ribbons. “They’re like beautiful little presents,” says Nichols, who first learned about the cake pop concept on a baking blog, long before Starbucks capitalized on the trend.
The entrepreneurial sisters began creating lollicakes for friends, relatives, and bake-sale booths at elementary schools. Today, with the help of their mother (retired teacher Candace Nichols, who trims and fastens every label in the back production office), they pump out scores of custom treats.
There are 12 to 15 varieties in the two cases daily, from carrot, cinnamon, Key lime, and banana bread to mint chocolate chip, chocolate peanut butter, and cookies and cream. Holidays yield eggnog, cranberry orange, and pumpkin styles, and vegan and gluten-free options are often available. Patrons can purchase a dozen classic rounds for about $27, and specialty pops range from $3 to $8.
“Once people try these, they get hooked. They just keep coming back,” Nichols says. But foot traffic only provides half of the company’s revenue. Catering for birthdays, baby showers, and weddings keep Nichols and Zolner up to their gloves in rich, buttercream-infused batter. “People are always trying to figure out our secret. We’ll never tell.”
Suffice it to say that the creamy icing on the inside of the pop forges that melt-inyour- mouth quality. No artificial ingredients or preservatives are allowed in the mix, only unbleached flour, milk, sugar, Dutch process cocoa, and gourmet chocolate. And don’t try to steal the decorative patterns on these beauties; there’s a trade dress on each one, like a copyright, to protect the Lollicake brand. “Nobody can beat our recipe,” Zolner says.
“It’s the truth.”
If you haven’t indulged yet, the Lollicake ladies invite you to pick your pop and sink your sweet tooth into a bit of bliss.
The Lollicake Queen is located at
1821A Hillview St., Sarasota
Photo by Jenny Acheson
Beyond shopping local, a group of area food lovers has gone a step further and are now swapping local. The Homemade Swappers of Sarasota have organized a modern-day food swap where handmade, homegrown, and hand-foraged edibles are used like currency to trade for others’ handcrafted goods. It’s a trend that’s sweeping the nation as more and more people strive to feed themselves and their families homemade foods prepared with local ingredients. With the added fuel of rocky economic times behind it, the food swap sensation has taken flight.
The Homemade Swappers of Sarasota meet bimonthly at Pinecraft Park, where participants display their goods on covered picnic tables. “Each person has a place to set up their wares, and is provided with a swap sheet to fill out for their items that includes their name, item, ingredients, and suggested uses,” explains Cheryl Kindred, swap coordinator. “Swappers are then given time to browse the offerings and write their trade offers on the swap sheets of items they want.”
Swap commodities range from home-canned jams to fresh baked goods to backyard goodies such as eggs, vegetables, and herbs. “There are always some unique, creative goods,” says Kindred. “At our December swap, we had cultured ginger veggies, limoncello, flavored organic coffee creamer, sugar-and-spice pecans, homemade beef jerky, and white chocolate and apple cider toffee!”
While participants check out the homemade edibles, they nibble on potluck dishes and swap item samples. Kids run back and forth from the potluck table to the playground, adding to the fun, family-friendly vibe. “Whole families often come out for the swap,” says Kindred who chose a park location and weekend swaps just for this reason. “Children are welcome and can even bring items to swap too!”
After everyone has a chance to “shop,” the swapping begins. People return to their items, look over their swap sheets as a starting point, and begin searching out who has the homemade yogurt, vanilla extract, granola, and so forth. “Everything is informal and easygoing,” Kindred says. “Food is very personal, so it’s always OK to say ‘no thank you’ to a swap offer. The idea is to go home with items that will be enjoyable and useful to you and your household.”
The Swappers added a new element to their December gathering: handmade crafts. “Being the holiday season, it seemed like a natural fit to include craft swaps too,” says Kindred. The craft offerings were so well received that both food and crafts are now welcome at all future swaps. “You can bring food or crafts or both; a bunch of one thing or a few of a couple things,” Kindred explains. “Your imagination is the only limit!” And of course, it must be handmade.
Want to join in? The next Homemade Food & Craft Swap will be held on Saturday, February 11, from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. RSVP at tinyurl.com/febswap (swaps are limited to 35 swappers). And find the Homemade Swappers of Sarasota on Facebook for more information, an ongoing conversation, and event announcements.
GREAT SWAP RECIPES!
Photo by Jenny Acheson
Anyone who has ever tried to launch a new business in the food industry knows what a daunting challenge it can be. The upfront costs of outfitting a commercial kitchen, along with insurance expenses, licensing fees, and taxes can be staggering. And that’s all before a single cupcake has ever been baked! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to walk right into a fully functional kitchen and start realizing your culinary dreams that much sooner—for a fraction of the cost? Christine Nordstrom thought so too.
Nordstrom, a professional baker and small business owner, has been making life a little sweeter in Sarasota for almost 10 years. A graduate of the prestigious Johnson and Wales University, Nordstrom worked in restaurant kitchens from Rhode Island to California before settling on the Gulf Coast nearly a decade ago. Since then, she has supplied baked goods for a variety of area eateries, including Ophelia’s, the nowdefunct Latitudes, and even Starbucks.
In 2007 Nordstrom opened her own shop, the Wired Whisk Bakehouse, which closed in 2009 due to the downturn in the economy.
Nordstrom wasn’t down for long, however. These days, you can find her spending her time and talent selling her scrumptious, madefrom- scratch sweet treats at local farmers markets and by special order through her new venture, Sift Bakehouse.
With firsthand knowledge of the pitfalls of going solo in the food biz, Nordstrom envisioned a way to lower her own overhead costs while providing an opportunity for others to spread their entrepreneurial wings on a shoestring . . . and RISE was born.
RISE is a fully equipped, licensed commercial kitchen share where foodie startups can rent time and space for everything from conceptualizing ideas to actual food preparation, packaging, and distribution.
Shares are rented for an all-inclusive hourly or monthly fee that fits each client’s individual needs. The space includes everything a budding food-based business could need, including refrigerator and freezer space, counter and cupboard space, sinks, pots, pans, mixers, utensils, and a monster fire-breathing commercial oven. Nordstrom also offers the benefits of her own experience in the form of consulting, brainstorming, and networking. Clients are, however, required to obtain their own state and local licensing, permits, and liability insurance. RISE’s model is based on the numerous commercial shared kitchens currently thriving in larger markets across the country. These communal ventures, like KitchenCru in Portland and La Cocina in San Francisco make it possible to establish a food-based business for a soupçon of the traditional costs. In these depressed economic times, it’s a foolproof recipe for success.
Since opening last summer, RISE has amassed a smorgasbord of clients, including caterers, pastry chefs, cooking instructors, and packaged- food providers, creating such varied culinary delights as cheesecake, barbecue sauce, baby food, and even super foods. Nordstrom also has plans in the works to launch a series of cooking and baking classes at the facility, as well as a retail space for clients to showcase their products.
According to Nordstrom, RISE’s mission is to support local food entrepreneurs in developing, operating, nurturing, and growing a successful business. As she explains it, “You bring the dreams, desire, and drive. We supply the space, knowledge, and an audience. We can help you RISE!”