Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Café L'Europe: Continental Flair on St Armand's Circle

Celebrating almost 40 years as one of St. Armand's more elegant and relaxing restaurants, Café L'Europe continues to be a charming and popular culinary destination. Established in 1973 in John Ringling's original real estate office, which was the oldest building on Saint Armand's Circle, Café L'Europe has been one of Sarasota's longtime favourite dining secrets and is the perfect lunchtime treat. Located on prime St. Armand real estate, Café L'Europe is one of the best seats on the 'Circle', aside from one of my longtime sentimental favourites, the quintessentially-popular Crab and Fin.

The outdoor patio in front of Café  L'Europe overlooking the 'Circle'

Inside of Café L'Europe, the original brick walls enhanced with featured artwork from the Café Collection, fresh flowers, stained glass and Spanish terra cotta tiles provide a warm, relaxing old-world ambiance. More popular during Sarasota's sunny afternoons and long languid evenings is the awning-covered outdoor patio, shielded by an manicured stand of potted palms, which provides the ideal location for dining al fresco and enjoying the voyeuristic delights of people-watching.

The luncheon menu at Café L'Europe

Café L'Europe has built its reputation on continental cuisine, striking a balance between tradition and innovation, but also features some popular menu items that have been served since the restaurant first opened, with some of the dishes still prepared table-side, adding an old world elegance and dated drama to the delight of many of the restaurant's venerable silver-haired regulars.

A glass of their chilled Mezzacorona 2009 Pinot Grigio

The cuisine is multi-continental, spanning everything from Asian to classical French, with popular highlights including Bourbon Pecan Salad, Brandied Duckling, Potato-Crusted Grouper and Pan-Seared Sea Scallops with Sweet Potato Hash. There’s a lovely wine list and wonderful desserts as well. As we perused the menu, we enjoyed a glass of Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio 2009 and a Laurel Glen Red Zinfandel 2009 from California, while considering our luncheon options as one of the staff carefully spooned an aromatic mixture of fragrant herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt and fresh cracked black pepper) on our side plate and gently poured a generous pool of extra virgin olive oil. A basket of fresh bread promptly arrived to help us sop up the golden dividends of his effort. 

Olive Oil with Café L'Europe special herb mixture and fresh bread

We chose the Lobster & Shrimp Salad with crème fraîche, poached asparagus and hearts of palm with a citrus mayonnaise served on Bibb lettuce as well as the Lido-Style Corned Beef Sandwich made with thinly sliced brisket and slices of swiss cheese nestled between two potato latke pancakes and served with horseradish sauce. The calibre of cuisine being put out by the kitchen, and the polite, professional and attentive wait staff, proves why this restaurant has been around for more than three decades, and promises to be around for many more years.

Lobster & Shrimp Salad with crème fraîche, poached asparagus and hearts of palm 
with a citrus mayonnaise on Bibb lettuce

Lido-Style Corned Beef Sandwich made with thinly sliced brisket and swiss cheese 
sandwiched between 2 potato pancakes with horseradish sauce

Sadly, the original proprietor Titus Letschert, passed away last year, but his wife Betsie Coolidge carries on the L'Europe tradition. Some of the area’s top restaurateurs learned from Letschert: Harry Christensen, of Harry’s Continental Kitchens, J.P. Knaggs, of Bijou Café, and Bob Fracalossy, of the Lazy Lobster, along with Arpke, Garey and Herlihy, were just a few local culinary stars who worked at Café L’Europe before opening their own restaurants. 

The enticing After-Dinner Drinks and Desserts menu

Café L'Europe even has a special 'Doggie Dining Menu' for pampered pooches, with canine culinary treats such as Gustav's Steak Tartare for $5, Cruiser's Filet Mignon of Beef for $18, Chloe's Grilled Chicken with steamed baby carrots for $7, Biscuits de Jour baked daily for the little princesses for a modest $2.50 for a package of 4, and for doggie dolce there's Dogsters Ice Cream Treats in Nutty Peanut Butter or Minté Fresh. Fresh water is provided gratis, however Acqua Panna bottled water is also available, served by Café L'Europe's smartly attired black-vested waiters — Sacre bleu!

A pampered pooch - and deservedly so!

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