By Liza Morrow
The Gathering Place in Bradenton Beach has found its rhythm - pop in for breakfast, lunch or dinner and owners Jeanne Kambitsis at the front door or her husband, Syris poking his head out the kitchen door, will greet you with a smile and call you by name. If it’s your first time, they’ll introduce themselves and ask for your name because they know you’ll be back. And you will be back. The Gathering Place, barely a year old, is one of the most welcoming restaurants to appear on the Island in years and the food is terrific.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served daily in the bright, open space. The menu is stacked with indulgences like lasagna, liver and onions, country fried steak and French toast. But, as befitting to a bikini wearing beach town, the menu tries to nod to the health conscious with items like broiled grouper and the “lite” plate with chicken breast or hamburger, egg, tomatoes, peaches and cottage cheese. Although I am not too sure how truly light that would be. What the Gathering Place does best also are the most comforting foods. And, truthfully, low fat does not appear on the menu. Delicious choices like biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and spanakopita (spinach pie) have somewhat of an amnesiac effect. Once you’re deep into one, you tend to forgive and forget yourself for the indulgence.
There are also a few of Spiro’s specials, like shrimp with creamy Alfredo sauce, baby back ribs and grouper stuffed with crabmeat. But the heart and soul of the restaurant can be found in specials like the old fashioned stuffed peppers - as old fashioned as the restaurant, and just as satisfying. The Gathering Place is best seen as an ideal neighborhood restaurant, a cheerful place for connoisseurs of home style cooking to eat in regularly without feeling stripped of cash. A place where they remember your name.
Spiro’s Stuffed Peppers
• 12 green bell peppers with tops, seeds and membranes discarded
• 5 pounds Black Angus ground beef
• 1 c. Uncle Ben’s uncooked long grain white rice
• Sprinkle each of nutmeg, salt and white pepper
• 1 tsp. cumin
• 6 c. tomato sauce (reserve 1 cup)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
Place rice and broth or water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook 15 minutes.
In a skillet over medium heat, sauté the beef until evenly browned and drain. Add the cumin, nutmeg, salt and white pepper.
Arrange peppers in a baking dish with the hollowed sides facing upward. Slice the bottoms of the peppers if necessary so that they will stand upright.
In a bowl, mix the browned beef, cooked rice and the tomato sauce. Spoon an equal amount of the mixture into each hollowed pepper.
Mix the remaining tomato sauce with 2 cups of water and pour around the bottom of the pan with the stuffed peppers.
Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, basting with sauce every 15 minutes, until the peppers are tender and turning slightly brown.