Saturday, November 30, 2013

DECEMBER 1, 2013

It has started and will not stop until midnight 12/24.......the CHRISTMAS shopping season began in earnest last week.  Stores opened early and closed late as Thanksgiving gave way to profits for retailers.  The best buys are yet to come.  These next few weeks you will need a cart to carry your paper from the driveway to the kitchen.  So many inserts....have fun!!!!

With all your driving from store to store you MUST drive east on University and view the magnificent Benderson light displays on both sides of the road and inside all of their shopping malls.  I've lived in Chicago and Baltimore among other cities and have never seen anything like this!!!  Can't wait until 2014 when UTC opens and their CHRISTMAS decorations are up and running. 

There are several new dining opportunities along University.  I've written about some in the past few months:  Appolonia, Rev.el.ry, Infuzions, JPAN, Pei Wei,  Michelangelo's as well as old standbys Stonewood, Lucky Pelican and John dough. And now Demetrios is open  on University and Lockwood Ridge in the former Friendly location.  And don't forget Outback, Carrabba's, Carmel Cafe..........

Next weekend is the annual SARASOTA Craft Show Robarts Arena December 6-8 beginning from 10am til 6pm Friday and Saturday and until 4pm Sunday.   More than 115 Juried Artists will be displaying and selling everything from fine jewelery to baskets, painting, clothing, baskets, throw rugs and ceramics.  Admission is $9 adults and $8 seniors.  A weekend pass is available for $12.  You can purchase discount tickets on line by clicking here.

Also next Saturday, 12/7 from 11 am-8pm, you can enjoy the second annual BRADENTON Blues Festival.  This OUTDOOR event takes place along Bradenton's Riverwalk with performances throughout the day by Shemekia Copeland, Johnny Rawls, Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang and many more.  Of course there will be food, drink, and many spectacular art vendors. For directions and information on artist appearance time click here.

It has been too long between trips to TOASTED MANGO,  but this past week I was treated to a wonderful birthday brunch at this unpretentious restaurant located on 430 N. Tamiami Trail 941-388-7728.  Prices are reasonable and the omelets divine.  They also bake their own biscuits and offer sides of fruit, potatoes or tomatoes are for one ridiculously low price.  Toasted Mango has added additional outside seating, but be prepared to wait most days as this cafe has become one of Sarasota's most popular spot for breakfast.  They also have a wide variety of lunch choices and are open daily 7am to 3pm.

iTN SARASOTA, an independent Transportation Network of volunteers giving rides to seniors who can no longer drive is celebrating its volunteers as are  most organizations this month with a luncheon at Plymouth Harbor on Thursday, 12/5.  If you are interested in volunteering a few hours a week with iTN  then click here to learn how you can get involved.  Hats off to all faiths food bank as well as all the other organizations honoring volunteers this week.  SARASOTA depends on its many volunteers to provide you with services beyond the normal.  Ushers at Symphony, Van Wezel, Opera House......ALL volunteers...public library...Mote get the idea.  Thanks to each and every one of you who make living in SARASOTA so great!!!!

At the beginning of the fall television season I recommended American Horror Story, a show that has been a favorite of mine since its debut in 2011.  I am sure most of you don't watch due to its bizarre story and violence as well as horror; however, it has become the all-time watched show on FX and is 75% ahead in audience from last season.

Taped in New Orleans,  Coven, this year's theme about witches, both young and old, features an all-star cast including Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Gabourey Sidlbe (star of Precious), Emma Roberts and Frances Conroy and many more.  It is a hoot to watch and if you are looking for something fresh on TV during the holiday re-run season go to On Demand and check this one out.  Even my violence shy wife is watching and enjoying.

NBC is offering a live stage version of The Sound of Music, Thursday 8-11 as well as their annual Christmas in Rockefeller Center at 8 the night before.

The other night I went to my first SARASOTA ballet.  It was  brilliant, exciting and colorful.  With wonderful upfront seats provided by a friend we were able to see this first class company perform three sequences by Balanchine and Ashton.  I especially enjoyed the last as the corps danced to music of George Gershwin.  While this performance was at the Opera House, the next will be Circus NUTCRACKER December 20-21 at Van Wezel.   A perfect holiday treat or gift. For more information and ticket purchase click here.

Young Israeli pianist David Greilasmmer will be playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No.17 as well as conducting the SARASOTA Orchestra's second Masterworks series...SETTING NEW COURSES...this weekend, 12/6-12/8.  David is music director of the Geneva Chamber Orchestra and according to the New York Times..."has it in him to challenge, inform and delight audiences...the playing is exquisite.."Click here now to purchase tickets for Masterworks or any of the other remaining series.

JIM'S RANT....the holiday season should bring out the best in people, but as I witnessed this weekend, not really.  No one obeys the stop signs at major shopping centers, and no one stopped the gentleman I witnessed Saturday sampling soup at Whole Foods in his own cup.  He finally walked away..probably onto his next tasting.

Thanks to all of you who read and respond to some of my suggestions.  Just this week, two friends called to rave about INFUZIONS after their "wonderful" meals on Friday and  Sunday.  They read it here first!!!  Now is the time to go before word of mouth makes them one of our more popular restaurants.  Call942-359-3658 for reservations.   As always, a big hug to Tracy for making me look good.....Until next week.....JIM
Sights of the season at Benderson Shopping Center


Saturday, November 23, 2013


One of Norman Rockwell's most famous paintings helped spur a bond effort for the Second World War in the amount of $132 Million.  Can you imagine what  that number would be  in 2013?  As you celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday give thanks for all your blessings.  As bad as things look at times,  we are in a far better place in the good old USA.

With Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah falling on the same day,  it's only fitting I bring you this YouTube video provided by Editor Tracy.  Click here to, watch, and enjoy! Remember to light your first Hanukkah candle on Wednesday evening.

New owners have turned MADISON AVENUE Cafe & Deli into one of the better casual eateries on St. Armands Circle.  Located next door to Chase Bank with indoor and outside seating they make a strong alternative to Starbucks or Blue Dolphin for a quick breakfast served with some of the best coffee this side of Starbucks.

Lunch is also available, and dinner Tuesday-Saturday will feature some of the best delicatessen this side of Too Jays.  You can enjoy matzo ball soup, brisket, corned beef, half roasted chicken, stuffed cabbage, potato latkes and more.  Also serving beer and wine.  Dinner reservations are a must at either 388-3354 or Chef Sol at 893-7599.

There are so many worthwhile events on a daily basis, it is impossible to attend them all.  A few weeks ago, we were among the sold-out AJC 2013 Civic Achievement Award Dinner honoring Teri A. Hansen, President/CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.  Teri has served in her current position since 2002, and through her leadership and outstanding staff, Gulf Coast recently surpassed $160 million in grants invested in the community.

Current AJC Regional President, Anne Varig  has followed in the tradition established by long time companion, Nate Benderson, in leading an organization that promulgates their core values of equality and religious freedom, civil rights and women's issues regardless of race or religion.  She is capably assisted by Executive Director, Brian Lipton. 

This year marks the 40th anniversary of First SARASOTA Singing Christmas Tree.  If you have never seen this performance you will be swept away by the singing and staging on the largest church stage in Sarasota.  Performed by volunteer members, they will delight and entertain for 90 minutes.  Beginning Friday December 6, there are only 9 performances through December 15.  You can buy tickets in person 1670 Main St., call 1-888-684-5272 or click here to purchase tickets on line.

While shopping this weekend and working up an appetite for something different, I strongly recommend InfuZions in the Parkway Shopping Center on Lockwood Ridge and University Parkway.  Combining the best of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine , this is fusion dining at its best.  Located in the former location of a so-so Chinese restaurant in a shopping center that needs a kick start after the loss of Sweet Bay a few years ago, InfuZions  is the creation of Thailand/Gulf Gate owners as well as a few former Pho Cali employees.  Currently serving from a menu offering vegan, gluten-free and food allergies alternatives, it will soon be growing its own organic vegetables that will compliment the fresh organic produce already being purchased on the open market.

If you are a fan of Pho Cali or Lehan you will not be disappointed with the variety or flavors.  I found the food better, fresher and more favorable than either  restaurant.  Also featured at the bar are Bubble "Boba" Tea drinks.   Open for lunch and dinner daily,  they are already doing a brisk business thanks to word of mouth.  In fact, neighbor Malcolm Stearn gave me the heads up on InfuZions.  For reservations call  941-359-3658.
Next door to Infuzions  is the shuttered Sweet Bay.  A building permit has been posted, and though the posting does not indicate the business, I can state with good authority, a MOVIE THEATRE will be the tenant.  Whether it be reincarnation of Parkway Cinemas or a first run Cinema their opening will go a long way to reviving the shopping center.  At the very least, it will mean increased business for all current shopping center merchants. 

George Miles writes "We saw PURLIE yesterday at WBTT "Was the best show I have seen at West Coast....don't miss it..." PURLIE has showtimes scheduled Tuesday - Sunday until December 15.  For tickets click here or call 941-3676-1505.  Playing Captain Cotchippe is David Abolafia, a local talent, who is also doing a comedy turn at McCurdy's Comedy Club Sunday December l at 7pm. 

JIM'S past years, I  have looked forward to black Friday and going out among the crazies just to be there!!!  So much fun, goodwill and excitement....NO Friday has reinvented itself to Thursday..stores opening early on Thanksgiving to take advantage of eager Xmas shoppers....most of us know the best buys are at the last minute anyway..The shops at Ellenton are having midnight madness as usual, but even there many of the stores are opening early......
As always, thank you to Tracy,and especially this week for her timely and funny YouTube video. And those of you who are thinking about SHOW BOAT better get tickets NOW!! It is selling fast!!!!
Scene from this year's Chalk Festival. 
Especially timely on 150th anniversary of
Gettysburg Address



Saturday, November 16, 2013


Season of Sculpture, one of SARASOTA'S most popular exhibits, is here!  You can take advantage of this exhibit for free through Memorial Day.  Spaced along Bay Shore Drive are 18 of the most magnificent sculptures by famous and non-famous sculptors.  One of the many wonders of Sarasota. To learn more about the exhibit and artists click here.

These are exciting times for the University Parkway corridor.  By now, most of you should have read the growing list of retailers and restaurants scheduled to arrive next year.  This week comes an addition to the corridor that will create more traffic, but at the same time  be a very valuable asset to the retail choices in the market.  FLOOR & DECOR, a large national chain in twelve states with thirty locations offering a huge selection of tile, wood and stone is opening it's 62,000 square foot Sarasota store Thursday in former Albertsons at 8145 Lockwood Ridge Road. 

Floor and Decor carries the broadest selection of marble, travertine, granite, ceramic, tile, and laminate flooring available to both individual consumers as well as contractors. In addition, they sell a full array of tools and related accessories necessary to complete any hard surface flooring surface.  A do-it-yourself consumer friendly store.  Open early until 11 during the week and 9 on weekends.

There are two charitable events this weekend that need your support.    Please take the time to attend both or if you cannot attend you can always make a contribution of money or time!!!

On Saturday, Tree of Life Community Project Kickoff is being held from 1-3pm at Art Center Sarasota, 701 N. Tamiami Trail.  Immediately following  Downtown Farmer's Market there will be music, Bar-B-Q, discounts from several local businesses, and a new live plant to take home for the holidays.    Proceeds go to those who need support and encouragement in their quest for a second chance. For more information please click here.

Art Center Manatee is holding their 2nd Annual is holding their 2nd Annual Holiday Pottery Sale Saturday and Sunday from 9am til 3pm at 209 9th ST. W Bradenton.  Shop early for the holidays as talented potters offer great deals and selection for the discerning shopper. For more information click here.

The SARASOTA Medieval Fair continues today and next weekend at Ringling Woods behind Sarasota Fairgrounds.  Featuring nationally renowned acts along with rides, games, music, holiday shopping and food.  There is a Medieval Village where you can even get a haircut.  Face painting for kids and horse rides as well. 

If you are looking to spend a few hours in a world that only exists in our imagination then Medieval Fair is for you.  With art shows ,wine fests, and Chalk Festival,  this little gem of an attraction did not get its fair share of attendance or attention last weekend.  For something different, I recommend a look see.

Have you noticed the return of slot machines in a different form?  Sprouting around Sarasota in the former locations of the shuttered slots are Jacks...Bingo and more. I walked into the Lockwood Ridge location and saw several people hovered over bingo machines with plates of food by their side.  The location manager claims several thousand visit on the weekends.

The day I was there, the lot was busy but far from full.  For $3 admission you receive breakfast, lunch and dinner along with snacks.  There is a full bar as well.  Each game costs $7, but there are other opportunities to gamble. Why the state does not allow gambling is a mystery since the money generated from these places would go a long way to improve roads, decaying infrastructure, etc.

Half Shell Seafood House is thriving in it's new location on University Blvd. in the Kohl's shopping center.   Moving to the totally renovated Red Elephant location they offer oysters and mussells,  and have expanded their menu to include fresh fish, pasta and a good old-fashioned hamburger.  I was not a fan of the former location, but did enjoy my meal in their new digs.  The decor is charming with a New Orleans look, their new menu is still a work in progress as is their service.   To make a reservation call 941-952-9400.

Mandela...a long walk to freedom had its area premier at CINE-WORLD, and opens here on 11/29. It is a powerful, well done movie that delves into the life and mystique of Nelson Mandela, who after 27 years a prisoner for his only crime of dark skin is finally granted freedom and in due time  becomes President of South Africa .  It is a powerful film filled with wonderful performances; especially Mandella played by Idrus Elba, who plays Luther in BBC's crime series.  It should be mentioned as Academy Award possibility next year.

I want to thank APOLLONIA owners,  brothers Eddie and Ben for assisting our neighborhood party of over 50 for cocktails and dinner last week.  The service was excellent and every meal came hot and as ordered.  If you are thinking of a holiday party and are looking for something new and unusual this year, I highly recommend APOLLONIA.

JIM'S RANT is directed at our magnificent Opera Company.  Not the singers or musicians, but management.  Their ticket return policy is for the birds!!!  If a season ticket holder passes away and a refund is justified  a death certificate is required as proof.  Once received, instead of a check or offer of credit towards next season, a refund is sent to the deceased's credit card used in the transaction; even though the card has  probably been cancelled.  I would hope in respect for the grieving family a more compassionate way of refund be considered.

Tracy did her usual fine editing job this week....until next week's Thanksgiving edition with breaking news only revealed here,  I leave you with a photo many of us witnessed on television in 1963.....JIM
A very young John John saluting his father's casket.  Hard to believe it's been 50 years!!!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

NOVEMBER 10, 2013

Tomorrow is VETERANS DAY.......The one Federal holiday to fall on its original date happens to be on a Monday this year, allowing for a three day weekend for many.  There will be no mail,  and banks are closed, but department stores are open with pre-holiday sales!!!  ABOVE ALL, this is a day of celebration to honor America's veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Keeping the Veteran theme, this year's SARASOTA Chalk Festival's honors our veteran's.  The chalk drawings on display beginning 11/13-11/18 will capture that theme.  Taking place in historic Burns Court district, the festivities escalate on the 15th with music, food and chalk drawings all over the place.  For more information and a schedule of activities click here.

While visiting the Chalk Festival if you walk to corner of Pineapple and Orange you will discover yet another new restaurant. I heartily recommend MATTO MATTO an Italian cafe and wine bar.  Owned by Alessandro and Alana Settimi  by way of Toronto/Rome you will be treated to some of the best thin pizza in Sarasota, as well as a menu rich in original pasta dishes, antipasta, panini, salads,  and a salmon dish  served on spinich which is one of the best I've ever had.  Save room for dessert, as we were treated to owner Alessandros mother's tiramisu...a mix of rich decadence. 

There is ample outside seating as was the case of former owner Citrus.  You will be much better served at MATTO MATTO.  Open at 11 for lunch and most nights until 9:30 or later, this is a perfect addition to the very popular Burns Restaurants Owens Fish Camp and Nancy's BBQ. Live music is available on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays,  but could be extended for the Festival.

It seems like we eat out most nights, but the fact is, we eat home a lot.  By now, you know our favorites, but all of you have your own favorites and discoveries all over Sarasota.  Stephanie Hochfelder writes...."Cafe Posh is a cute little place 33 S. Palm.  A Victorian Retail front window & a small cafe in the back.  Allen & I love their scones.  Among our favorites are lemon chocolate chip with lemon frosting and clotted cream. They also have very good sandwiches along with coffee, tea, water, etc.  Everything is made fresh daily on premises."

Dick Gross loves Sarasota Ale House. on Kenny Drive near Bee Ridge and I-75.  "I ordered the osso buco.  The portion was large and delicious.  My friend had their ribs and he said they were excellent.  My wife had a hamburger, ordered medium-rare, and it was cooked perfectly."  Others have also suggested this little gem which my  guess is crowded with locals form that area and has not been discovered by tourists because of its location.

The theatre season really takes flight this week with two openings.  Both are Tony winners from years ago, but have stood up over the years.  

SHOW BOAT, winner of the 1994 Tony for best musical, opens the ASOLO REP season with a four week engagement.  This is classic musical theatre from an era when a Broadway musical was known for its score as much as for story....Ol Man River....Can't Help Lovin Dat Man...and Make Believe are some of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein 11 most popular songs.  SHOW BOAT is in previews Tuesday-Thursday and opens its run Friday through December 29.

A few miles South, FST, brings the 2005 Tony Winner, MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT to life in the Gompertz Theatre to help kick-off their winter season.   Literally ripped off from a classic film with similar name, this outrageous parody is funny, campy and full of music from a long ago era.  This is a BIG musical and will fill the new Gompertz stage.  To my knowledge, this production is the biggest in FST history with a cast of 16 and several set changes.  Opening night is Wednesday and runs through January 11, 2014!!! (cannot believe we are only a few months away from the New Year).

CINE-WORLD is history, but two movies will stick with me for a long time.  Opening this weekend in selected cities is The Armstrong Lie, a documentary started in 2009 as a celebration of Armstrong's return to competitive cycling but  quickly turning to a condemnation  of a fallen hero.  Accused of doping and  after many denials Armstrong earlier this year admitted years of doping to Oprah and others.  He comes off as arrogant, deceitful and you will not have one ounce of pity for him.  Though two hours long, if you are a fan of cycling and know of Armstrong, the time is well spent.

The other movie, August: Osage County, will certainly be nominated for several Academy Awards for picture and actors.  Meryl Streep is never better.  But there are so many wonderful performances from Julia Roberts to Chris Cooper to Juliette Lewis to Abigail Breslin it is hard to single out anyone.  The Weston family gathers for a family crisis and bare their souls over two hours of some of the best ensemble acting you will ever see.  This one comes out on Christmas.  Do not miss it!!!

UTC UPDATE....Justine Griffin reported this week in one of her many excellent SARASOTA Herald Tribune articles that at long last APPLE has committed a store for the University Town Center Mall set to open October 2014.  In Friday's paper she listed several more stores, including Gucci, Tiffany, Armani and Kate Spade, with more to come.  Her list is not "official", but as close as it gets!! To read the entire article click here.  If you have not kept up with Justine, in her short time at the paper she has covered all the major retail store openings as well as breaking business news as good or better than anyone before her.

JIM'S RANT is for those of us who do not stop at some point tomorrow and give thanks for the valiant men and women who  served and continue to serve our country.  Whether in peace or war they risk their lives to preserve our freedom.  At least, the Armed Services, gets it right.  Can't say the same about Washington!!!
Thanks to Tracy and all of you who continue to read this blog.  Readership has grown to almost 600!!!!

Honoring our Armed Forces at Bay Shore Park