January 11, 2016
By Jack Patterson
I anxiously awaited the beginning of the start of Key Culinary Tour’s afternoon tour. I was so anxious that I arrived 20 minutes early and took in the serenity of St. Armands Circle by sitting in the park in the center of town. I scrolled through email and Facebook on my iPhone, willing the minutes away.
I was hungry.
Hungry for the delightful culinary creations that awaited me and hungry for the fascinating story of this neighborhood that always puts me in a great mood when I’m here.
We were to meet at 2 p.m. by the Neptune Statue. I headed over ten minutes before the hour and sat on a park bench, staring down the god of the sea and his shiny trident while my stomach rumbled.
Finally, our group of 10 people arrived and we were handed neat tote bags with water and special offers from St. Armands merchants.
Our guide introduced herself and explained what awaited. We would be full of terrific food and knowledge in three hours time. Who knew there would be so much history in St. Armands and how connected circus magnate John Ringling is to the district.
From there we headed to Columbia restaurant and we were promptly seated. The general manager gave our group VIP service and gave us an overview of the restaurant’s rich history as well as the history of what we were about to be served.
Never have I had a Cuban sandwich so good; my waistline will illustrate that I’ve had a lot of them! The bread, ham, pork and Swiss combination was perfect. This was complemented by Columbia’s signature 1905 salad — a memorable meal of its own.
Sticking to schedule we headed out to the circle where even more history awaited us. Here we learned about all of the fascinating circus performers commemorated on the circle with the Ring of Fame.
Our group was contentedly satiated. Yet, off we went to one of St. Armands newest restaurants, Shore. Successful restaurateurs understand that a big part of pulling it off is the atmosphere. Shore has plenty of it with its breezy second story setting that affords a charming view of the Circle. The delectable Kung Pao calamari and truffle fries only cemented the experience. Again, the staff treated us like royalty.
From there, we left Shore and learned more about the gradual history of St. Armands, the ecological wonder of Lido Key and all that Mr. Ringling did for not only St. Armands, but Sarasota. No wonder his name is all over town. We also explored Naples Soap Company and most of us engaged in sample sugar scrubs, leaving the store with fine smelling hands.
Up next was the Surf Shack, who knew tacos could be turned into fine cuisine. Most in our group agreed this would be a fun place to return to on our own.
Afterward, our guide gave us an illuminating history of the daiquiri, which was extremely interesting. And it was great prep for our next and final stop, the famed Daiquiri Deck. Again we were treated like important diplomats and quickly served deliciously seasoned Mahi Mahi bites along with a perfect sized seven-ounce frozen daiquiri of our choosing. The tabletop was a kaleidoscope of daiquiri colors that speaks the wide variety of flavors.
It was the fastest three hours. All of us left with very full bellies and minds. It’s a tour I highly recommend.