By the time he was 20, Christian Zebier was serving as maître d'hôtel for a prestigious restaurant in Belgium. After a five-year stint teaching primary school, he realized that his heart lay in hospitality, and that children have terrible table manners. The first business Zebier began, Air du Temps, deployed an elite staff to serve such distinguished parties as the Belgian royal family.
Zebier stuffed his fine-tuned sense of hospitality into a suitcase and brought it to the United States, where he opened Brasserie Belge. He felt that Sarasota's open-minded, well-traveled residents could appreciate the traditional ambiance of a brasserie. The restaurant's attentive staff serves a menu of Belgian cuisine, such as Prince Edward Island mussels delivered fresh every morning and served with one of 12 styles of belgian fries. On the leather couches of the piano lounge, patrons enjoy Belgian beers, specialty martinis, and small plates.
Each morning, Word of Mouth Downtown greets the sun with a breakfast of homespun comfort food. Everything from homemade corned-beef hash with sliced tomatoes and eggs to buttermilk pancakes topped with fruit, nuts, or chocolate chips joins a mountain of freshly baked scones and croissants. "Go for the muffin and order it grilled," recommends Sarasota Magazine. "Sounds odd, tastes delicious."
When lunch rolls around, orders shift away from omelets and coffee to soups, salads, and sandwiches. BLTs appear alongside specialty snacks such as a Cuban-style panini and the 8-ounce WOM burger. The best setting to enjoy these bites if you're a dog owner? On the canine-friendly patio, where dogs can munch on a handful of treats, drink a bowl of ice-cold water, and wear a napkin folded up to look like a little hat.
A towering wine rack spans an entire wall and glimmers with more than 1,000 bottles. Across the room, a lineup of nitrogen-regulated Enomatic machines dispenses samples from 80 wines to be sipped, swirled, and theatrically spit while reclining on a leather sofa, or while sitting at the long wooden bar. Small, shareable plates populate Sarasota Vineyard's menu in the forms of cheeses, roasted olives, and prosciutto-wrapped figs, ideal for pairing with wines or barley pops from a list of 20 beers.
As a café, bakery, and art gallery, Burns Court Café provides pleasant sensory overload for its guests, whether they’re enjoying live jazz music or staring in a daze at the Italian gelato and sorbet selections. Here, French café fare—such as daily quiches and melt-in-your-mouth croque-monsieur (the Frenchy take on grilled ham and cheese)—merges with real Italian coffee and Boar’s Head meats and cheeses. Once monthly, the café features a new exhibition with work from local artists.
The locally inspired seafood at Duval's New World Cafe is freshly caught from the ocean. There's scallops rockafella, with crispy fried oysters and asparagus-mushroom risotto, and there's North Atlantic lobster tail that can be paired with chimichurri, stuffed with crab and shrimp, baked with drawn butter, or twinned with another lobster. And they cook up more than merely ocean-sourced fare: they bake lamb chops with cashew pesto and sizzle ribeyes and filet mignon until they are so hot meteorologists study it.
Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant not only imports ingredients and products, but also recipes. With roots in northern Spain and Catalonia, these dishes come together on a menu of more than 100 hot and cold tapas selections, along with paella and cazuela. Paella, a widely varied rice dish cooked at length in a wide pot over open flame, can contain Serrano ham, scallops, pork, chorizo, and saffron rice the stunning golden hue of an alchemist's magazine advertisements. Though the restaurant spans multiple locations, each one presents guests with some charming element: a poolside patio at the Tampa location, a central tapas bar in Orlando, and a flamenco room in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, no matter the location, events bring about live music and joviality, all supported by an ample list of Spanish and Portuguese wines.