My favorite spots to visit in Sarasota during Orioles spring training

February 11, 2011|By Peter Schmuck

No doubt, the main purpose of your spring excursion to Sarasota, Fla., will be to check out the Orioles' newly renovated spring training facility and newly renovated roster, but there will be some time to fill when you're done watching Nick Markakis do his wind sprints or listening in on one of Luke Scott's impromptu political discussions.

I know this from some limited personal experience, though my fawning co-workers might try to convince you that I spend every single minute of spring training working to bring you the most comprehensive news, analysis and opinion. During my seven weeks in the Sarasota area last year, I made it a point to get acquainted with the restaurants, recreation spots and entertainment venues that might add to your baseball experience.

So, let's get started on this brief tour, which will take you to places where you will likely run into me at some point this spring.

Hungry?

That's a stupid question. If you don't eat, you'll slowly waste away and miss out on the possibility of the Orioles' first winning season since the Clinton administration. That's why it's particularly important to get proper nutrition while you're on the Gulf Coast.

My favorite breakfast spot is The Broken Egg on Siesta Beach. It's the place made famous by basketball guru and Sarasota resident Dick Vitale, whose books and memorabilia are for sale at one of two other Broken Egg locations on the mainland, and it's the only place on Earth that I ever ordered crawfish bisque for breakfast.

My first dinner this week will be at Mediterraneo on Main Street, which is right across the street from the big downtown movieplex. I'm partial to Italian food, so I'll probably stop by Caragiulos on Palm Avenue at some point, too, but my affinity for those spots is influenced by their location in the main downtown restaurant and shopping area.

Of course, you probably will be thinking seafood, so I would suggest a leisurely drive along one of the many scenic keys that provide a barrier between Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. I frequent a very casual spot on Siesta Key called Captain Curt's Crab & Oyster Bar, but there are dozens of places like that to get a bucket of steamed clams along with some of the tonier beachfront establishments. I'm a stone crab guy, so I'll probably get to Moore's Stone Crab on Longboat Key at some point in the next month.

If you're up for some serious late-night gluttony — and, really, who isn't? — you might want to try Munchies 420 Cafe, which was featured last year on the Travel Channel show "Man vs. Food." Even I can't eat that much.

Upscale recommendations: Ophelia's on the Bay on Siesta Key or Euphemia Haye on Longboat Key

Casual fun: Cha Cha Coconuts on St. Armands Circle

Thirsty?

I'm not a big partier anymore, but it's still fun to get out to the beach and enjoy the balmy trade winds with an embarrassing umbrella drink. Where you end up probably will depend on where you're staying or where you're dining, but there are great places both on the mainland bay front and along the various keys.

One of the most popular nightlife areas is St. Armands Circle, which is basically the gateway to Lido and Longboat Keys. It's a great shopping and restaurant area, too, but it can get very crowded on weekends. There also are plenty of night spots along Main Street downtown.

Nobody said you have to stay in Sarasota. Tampa is a little more than an hour away, and there's some serious nightlife there, from the vibrant Cuban community of Ybor City to the huge Channelside sports and restaurant complex downtown.

Me and Roch's secret hangout: Lynches Pub & Grub just off St. Armands Circle.

Cultured pearls

Sarasota is not just a touristy beach town. It's also one of the true cultural centers of Florida, with a fine arts community that rivals many much larger urban areas around the country. The Sarasota Opera is in its 52nd season. The city boasts the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation-designed Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art features one of the largest collections of Rubens canvases in the world.

Pretty heady stuff for a city of barely 60,000 residents, but most nights you'll probably find me at the movies.

Let the games begin

When the Orioles aren't on the field, you might see me on one of the many reasonable golf courses in the area. There are some very upscale courses, too, but they generally do not allow me to play because of liability concerns.

For less than $50, you can get the signature Sarasota public golf experience at the historic Bobby Jones Golf Club, which was personally dedicated by the golf legend in 1927. The 45-hole course is quite popular and takes reservations up to five days in advance.

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