Island restaurants savor Gourmet Lawn Party
Joe hendricks | submitted
Niclie Cole hands out plates to people waiting
to taste Island Time sushi.
For the first time in event history, a group of Anna Maria Island and Cortez restaurants participated in the annual Longboat Key Gourmet Lawn Party.
Now in its 31st year, the annual Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key fundraiser took place at the Longboat Key Club on Saturday, Nov. 17, from noon until 2 p.m.
The food-tasting event featured 29 Sarasota and Bradenton area restaurants serving unlimited samples of their signature dishes to an estimated crowd of more than 800 attendees.
Beer and wine samples were included in the $25 admission fee. Those without advance tickets paid $30 at the door.
The event raised more than $50,000 for local children’s charities, including Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Manatee and Sarasota, Children’s First, the Child Protection Center and The Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee and Sarasota. Some of the proceeds will be distributed as scholarships.
Bridge Street Bistro and Island Time owner Bill Herlihy was the motivating force behind the Island participation. His involvement with the Gourmet Lawn Party dates back to the two decades he spent as a restaurant owner and operator in St. Armands Circle and on Longboat Key.
Herlihy and Lazy Lobster owner Michael Garey served as co-chairs of the 2012 restaurant committee and assembled a roster that included Garey’s Doggin’ It hotdog and chili emporium and event stalwarts like Columbia and the Chart House.
Sharing his thoughts on the event newcomers, Garey said, “It’s a big addition. When I called Bill to ask for assistance I had no idea he was going to bring such a presence from Anna Maria and Cortez. It’s now become not just a Longboat Key event, but a barrier island event.”
Herlihy agreed. “This is the first time we’ve had this kind of presence from Anna Maria. I love that they all participated and wanted to get involved in a Longboat Key event. We think it’s a rousing success,” he said.
The Island contingent had a definite Bradenton Beach-Bridge Street flavor and consisted of the Bridge Street Bistro, Island Time Bar & Grill, Banana Cabana, the Bridgetender Inn, the Blue Marlin and Island Creperie.
The Bridge Street Merchants were represented by Island Spa & Boutique and The Fish Hole miniature golf facility.
Village Idiot Pizza and O’Shucks Raw Bar & Grill brought some Cortez pizazz to the proceedings and Blues Pig provided the live music, with “Stone Crab” Steve Arvey sitting in as special guest.
The Anna Maria-Cortez restaurants were grouped together at the southeast corner of the outdoor event, creating an ad-hoc Taste of Anna Maria within the larger square of culinary offerings. A massive white tent located in the center of the layout provided shade and dining space for those who elected to sit and eat.
Sizing up the Blue Marlin offerings, manager Rodney Rich said, “We’re doing stone crab mac & cheese made with smoked gouda and aged cheddar. We’re also doing stone crab rolls finished off with a garlic aioli.”
The Blue Marlin will celebrate its one-year anniversary this week. Rich said he hopes the lawn party exposed more people to the Bridge Street restaurants and brings them out to the Island.
The Bridgetender Inn served crab cakes and black bean soup. Kitchen Manager Marcus Vega said, “I think we’ve got a pretty strong representation out here today. I see a lot of people that are right on my street and I like that.”
Island Creperie served chicken and shrimp with a lobster sauce and chocolate and blackberry crepes.
Banana Cabana owner Chris Smargisso and his son P.J. served fried green tomatoes with a blue cheese buttermilk dressing paired with a tasty side of succotash.
“I think Anna Maria did a great job,” Smargisso said. I’m really proud of everybody.”
Serving three varieties of fresh sushi, the Island Time tent was a popular stop, as was the the Bridge Street Bistro tent, where Liz Cusak and Jordan Ward served up Oysters Bienville stuffed with shrimp, bacon and scallions.
Pizza lovers enjoyed The Village Idiot’s “award winning” five-cheese pesto pizza, cooked onsite in a portable wood-fired oven.
In non-food-related news, four employees of the town of Longboat Key pitched in $50 each to purchase two $100 raffle tickets and claimed the much-anticipated $20,000 cash prize.