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    Restaurant reviews: 10 of 50 best things to eat this summer in Sarasota, Bradenton area

    By Wade Tatangelo, Sarasota Herald-Tribune,


    One of the few summertime perks in Sarasota-Manatee is being able to visit our favorite local restaurants without battling the crowds. At this point in life, I think I prefer the scorching heat and sticky humidity over the winter invasion of snowbirds and tourists. Although come July, who knows — I might be singing a different tune.

    To mark the official start of summer on Thursday, June 20, I've compiled a list of 50 dishes I've enjoyed over the past year or so at local restaurants. I focused mostly on places with a fun and casual setting where you can show up in a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops — which, in my humble opinion, should be the official uniform of Florida until Thanksgiving, when we can all switch to slightly dressier flip-flops.

    A few dishes were so delicious, though, that I had to make an exception for fancier restaurants. On balance, you'll find an array of casual dining classics such as burgers, sandwiches, tacos, pizza, and other tasty items that don't require you to know which fork to use.

    Presented in alphabetical order by the name of the menu item, here's my highly subjective list of the 50 best things to eat this summer at restaurants in Sarasota and Manatee counties. To make the list more manageable, we will be sharing 10 new dishes per week for the next five weeks, bringing us to mid-July — when many of us will be praying for the return of winter, regardless of the baggage cooler months bring, such as snowbirds and tourists.

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    Arroz Con Pollo at Mirna’s Cuban Cuisine

    7980 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-316-9793;

    Located on the North Trail, just across the street from the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, Mirna's Cuban Cuisine is a cozy little cafe where Mirna Gonzalez serves dishes such as this: one of the tastiest Cuban chicken and yellow rice dishes this side of Havana . And at under 15 bucks, it's one of the best deals in Sarasota County.

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    Blackened Ybor Burger at J.R.’s Old Packinghouse Café

    987 S. Packinghouse Road, Sarasota; 941-371-9358;

    Part Cuban sandwich and part cheeseburger, this bad boy features Cuban bread cradling a half-pound chuck patty, draped in melted Swiss cheese, J.R.'s exquisite shredded pork, and grilled onions. It arrives with a side of Thousand Island dressing for dipping, ensuring a delightfully messy yet unforgettable experience with this exclusive innovation — a culinary gem that could only have emerged from Florida.

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    Blue Plate Southern Fried Chicken at Fork & Hen

    2801 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-960-1212;

    Beautifully presented with strategically stacked fried chicken pieces intermixed with thin, house-made pickles and deftly seasoned collard greens, the main attraction sits atop a massive corn cake laced with honey lavender butter, creating a delightful combination of tastes and textures ranging from savory to sweet, and from crunchy to silky.

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    BradenTurkey at Michelle’s Brown Bag Cafe

    630 S. Orange Ave., Sarasota; 941-365-5858;

    When Michelle Connor Ettinger relocated her Brown Bag Cafe from Main Street to downtown Sarasota's Burn Court District earlier this year, she brought all her greatest hits along, including my personal favorite: the BradenTurkey sandwich, featuring turkey, bacon, cheddar, baby greens, tomato, cucumber, and pesto aioli for the win.

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    Buffalo Grouper Bites at Cortez Kitchen

    4528 119th St. W., Cortez; 941-900-1506;

    When Cortez Kitchen reopened at the beginning of this year , one of the first things I ordered was the tender pieces of fresh Gulf grouper that are fried, tossed in hot sauce, and best enjoyed with a dollop of blue cheese and an ice-cold beer.

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    Caramelized Onion & Brie Burger at Shakespeare's Pub

    3550 S. Osprey Ave., Sarasota; 941-364-5938;

    There's nothing more quintessentially Sarasotan in summer than slipping into the dark and cozy confines of Shakespeare's for a pint and their legendary burger . It features a juicy, slightly charred hand-formed patty topped with sweet balsamic caramelized onions, complemented by buttery, nutty brie, all nestled between the pub's toasted rosemary Kaiser buns.

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    Cheesesteak at Gentile's

    7523 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota; 941-926-0441;

    As a Pennsylvania native, I feel it's my duty to recommend a quality cheesesteak, and Gentile's always hits the spot with their 100% ribeye, shaved daily and placed in fresh, soft rolls flown in from Amoroso's Baking Company in Philadelphia. I prefer my cheesesteak topped with grilled onions, sweet and hot peppers, along with provolone. Others swear by covering their steak with Cheez Whiz, which I've come to realize is also a very tasty option.

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    Chicago Deep Dish pizza from Joey D’s

    multiple locations;

    The winner of our March Madness-style Best Pizza Challenge held earlier this year, Joey D's, founded in Bradenton in 1994, is the place to go for all your favorite Chicago comfort foods. Their deep dish pizza features thick, high walls of flavorful crust containing gobs of mozzarella and chunky tomato sauce, made daily and spread generously on top of the cheese. Beneath the cheese and sauce, I prefer my pie stuffed with just a layer of pepperonis, or perhaps pepperonis and green olives.

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    Citrus Grouper at Dry Dock or Dockside Waterfront Grill

    At least once this summer, treat yourself to the Citrus Grouper entrée at Dry Dock Waterfront Grill on Longboat Key or its sister restaurant, Dockside, in Venice . Featuring a filet of fresh Gulf grouper, lightly breaded and sautéed, it's served with the restaurant's citrus cream sauce, which brilliantly recalls liquefied Key lime pie.

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    Classic N.Y. Style Red Pizza at Capo Pazzo Pizzeria + Kitchen

    2053 Reynolds St., Sarasota; 941-487-8677;

    Opened last year in a Sarasota strip mall just south of Gulf Gate, Capo Pazzo has built an ardent following with its New York-style pizzas, featuring high-quality ingredients and a crispy crust with a slight char. Their "Classic N.Y. Style" pizza is a masterpiece, featuring a dynamic tomato sauce covered with shredded mozzarella, augmented by mounds of additional fresh mozzarella.

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    Wade Tatangelo is Ticket Editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and Florida Regional Dining and Entertainment Editor for the USA TODAY Network. Follow him on Twitter , Facebook and Instagram . He can be reached by email at Support local journalism by subscribing .

    This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Restaurant reviews: 10 of 50 best things to eat this summer in Sarasota, Bradenton area

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