WORDS BY MJ WEBER
PHOTO BY PETER ACKER
With Norah Jones Holiday playing softly in the background, the perfectly rehearsed lunchtime routine played out like a graceful ballet: Each independent 4-year-old at Church of the Palms set her or his place in anticipation of what homemade meal would be unveiled.
And in an age of rushing, texting, and busyness galore, there was simplicity, love, and thoughtfulness in Miss Ali’s classroom as each child paused to be thankful. Thankful for the sun, for their families, for sharks (of course), and for their food. Food that was prepared fresh, mere hours before, by Sous-Chef Will in the kitchen of Simply Gourmet Catering. Carrying out a passion that was passed down to him from his grandmother, whom he revered as “the best Eastern European cook I’ve ever known,” Chef Larry declares that “perfect food is our passion.” Simply Gourmet Catering specializes in corporate events and special occasions, drawing on Chef Larry’s 25-plus years of culinary creativity and with wife Jamie’s professional, easygoing presence and expertise guiding the way. In between mouthwatering details of savory sauces, Chef Larry explains, “We think of each event as a show … my wife is the producer, I’m the director and the food—the props.”
As Chef Larry chats about the visually stimulating pairing of red and gold and a stunning crudités platter with a feta cheese he likes from Greece, Sous-Chef Will thickens a roux that will complete the festive-looking lunch he is preparing for the preschool just up the road. With obvious respect for the youngest patrons in our community, Chef Larry enthusiastically shows me the nutritious lunch menu he had created, which sustains more than 80 children daily.
With such offerings as Chicken ala King, Meatball Stroganoff, and Vegetable Sauté Pasta, he explains how kids enjoy learning about and trying new foods, especially in a group setting. Then, focusing on his evening menu, he passionately covers topics from the aromatic goodness of his goat-cheese pillows with raw shallots thrown in for a pleasant surprise crunch, to his inventive “tequila spray” offered right before guests pop Caribbean shrimp in their mouths. His love of food knows no bounds.
In addition, they specialize in Green Weddings, promoting that you can “celebrate your dream day without leaving a major footprint on our environment.” Vowing to keep the simplicity of flavor and committed to always evolving and constantly trying to improve, Chef Larry explains how he is always coming up with food formulas. Catch him dishing out his secrets the second Tuesday of the month with Chef Judi on ABC. Be it garlic crostini complemented with a martini or, for the younger set, chicken fried rice with Asian spice, Simply Gourmet has set the stage for its motto: “When you love what you do, it shows.”
Simply Gourmet: 4783 Swift Rd, Sarasota; 941-929-0066; simplygourmetcaterers.com
LÉLU COFFEE LOUNGE
WORDS BY SARA MOONE
PHOTOS BY KATHRYN BRASS-PIPER
Snuggled up next to Gilligan’s Island Bar on the main drag of Siesta Key, LéLu Coffee Lounge looks and feels like a longtime island fixture. Surfboards dangle from the ceiling and local art lines the walls. Just down the way you can rent kayaks or paddleboards, in case you’re ready to tackle the great outdoors now that you’ve had your coffee (or your second Bloody Mary).
The door opens at the eye-rubbing hour of 7:30 a.m., while happy hour at the martini bar lasts until 9 p.m., so no matter when you want your buzz, at LéLu it’s always the right time. It seems an ideal island hangout like LéLu would have been standing there when the island rose out of the bay. However, just under six years ago owner Jennifer Smith was slinging shots—strictly espresso at the time— from a single-window kitchenette behind the Rhino Room. (Spoiler alert: Smith eventually flipped the former bar and turned it into the official home of LéLu.)
Smith always had a taste for coffee. Growing up in Tallahassee, she drank it at her grandparents’ breakfast table. A penchant for the earth-brown bean followed her through college studies in dietetics as she bent over class notes at her favorite café.
While she pursued a successful career selling medical supplies, one fateful visit to Sarasota changed everything. “As soon as I got to Siesta Key, I thought, ‘This is it,’” Smith says.
“When I left here just after a week of visiting, I felt like I was leaving home.” She adored the beach and the island community. Ever the coffee devotee, Smith also felt the sea breeze could use a hint of dark roast.
“I went home and I resigned,” Smith says. Six weeks later she was living in Sarasota, and after months and months of tending bar, she felt ready to share her love of coffee with the sleepy islanders. She sourced quality used equipment from the same Tallahassee coffeehouse where she once studied every day, and she stocked a fridge with bagels, cream cheese and Salsalito turkey for her sole menu item. It’s still featured on the much-expanded current menu, which features wholesome “samiches,” “smashed” omelets and all the local ingredients Smith can haul back from the Siesta Key farmers’ market.
Ask any small business owner and they’ll readily allow that eating, sleeping, and breathing your enterprise is key to keeping it afloat. So it makes more than sense when Smith admits that, yes—she is LéLu. The café has Smith’s prints all over it, from the carrot cake made from her mom’s secret recipe to Smith’s own longboard hanging on the wall. LéLu Coffee Lounge has inherited Smith’s laidback attitude, her sunny disposition, and her tenacity most of all.
Lelu Coffee Lounge: 5251 Ocean Blvd, Sarasota; 941-346-5358; lelucoffee.com
SPROUT MOBILE FARM MARKET
WORDS BY ABBY WEINGARTEN
PHOTO BY PETER ACKER
Healthy produce is now feeding some of Sarasota County’s hungriest residents.
This year, All Faiths Food Bank’s newly launched mobile farm market called Sprout plans to deliver 64,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables to those in need. It is a blessing to the undernourished, as well as a testament to the local organization’s commitment to nutrition-based good will.
“We are committed to providing healthy food and nutrition education to the families we serve,” says Sandra Frank, executive director of All Faiths, which distributed 6.2 million pounds of food (equating to 5.2 million meals) through 195 pantries, soup kitchens, churches, community centers, and programs last year. All Faiths is a member of Feeding America and the heart of the hunger relief system in DeSoto and Sarasota counties.
And its pioneering Sprout is growing fast. The first of its kind in the area, the custom-made, climate-controlled market is equipped with refrigeration, food storage, display shelves, and a remote-operated awning that provides shade in parking lots.
Clients, who would otherwise have limited access to garden-fresh groceries, can use vouchers to choose free fruits and vegetables for their families. In essence, when members of the public cannot get to the produce, Sprout brings the produce right to them.
A tasting table lets clients sample a dish prepared with the day’s featured produce, and a free recipe that incorporates the ingredients teaches them to make the dish at home. The market also provides guidelines on how to create nutritious meals and choose healthier lifestyles.
This is often a revelation for people who are struggling financially and have been relegated to buying the most inexpensive items on the supermarket shelves. The cheapest food is often the furthest thing from healthy. Several private and corporate donors have contributed to making the Sprout project a reality, including the Venice Yacht Club Charitable Foundation and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation.
Because of this generosity, “the concept of a mobile farm market was born, and after months and months of collaboration and hard work, we are thrilled to introduce Sprout as we celebrate 25 years of feeding our neighbors,” Frank says.
To achieve its many community goals, All Faiths also regularly works with partners such as Publix Super Markets, Walmart, Sam’s Club, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and United Natural Foods.
All Faiths reduces waste by reclaiming food that would have instead been funneled into landfills. The food is repurposed and used in sustainable initiatives like BackPack Kids, Cooking Matters, Growing Healthy Kids, and Hunger 101.
Sprout is a mobile extension of All Faiths’ tireless work, and as the market moves into each community its hungry residents can begin to move forward.
All Faiths Food Bank: 8171 Blaikie Ct., Sarasota; 941- 379-6333; allfaithsfoodbank.org