Growing Food on Pine Avenue

Eating locally grown produce has taken on a whole new meaning on Pine Avenue in Anna Maria. Landscape designer and native habitat expert, Michael Miller, along with Pine Avenue Restoration developers Ed Chiles and Micheal Coleman, have partnered with Pine Avenue Merchants to design and implement Edible Community Gardens on Pine Avenue, now known as “The Greenest Little Main Street in America”. The concept of food along the historic stretch between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, was posed about a year ago and is now a reality with eight raised beds and more to follow. These gardens contain a unique sheet mulch system developed through the Permaculture movement. Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design that develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems. The mulch system used in the Pine Avenue gardens is a layering of materials in such a way as to create the ideal soil medium for growing all types of vegetables even those that are typically difficult to grow in the summer. The organic vegetables in the Pine Avenue gardens are not only growing but are thriving beyond initial expectations. Anyone who has ever tried to grow vegetable in the heat of a Florida summer knows how literally fruitless it can be. According to Miller, “It is virtually impossible to grow conventional vegetables in the summer outside of a greenhouse. Some traditional vegetables are growing well in these gardens and we have also incorporated other unique vegetables that are grown in the tropics”.

The Merchants Community Gardens Project began as an initiative of the Pine Avenue Merchants Association.  Members felt it would further enhance the “community” aspect of their efforts.  However, with land at a premium a “non-traditional” solution was needed.  This is when Ed Chiles suggested “food boxes”. Chiles, owner of the Sandbar, BeacHhouse and Mar Vista restaurants, is a heritage product advocate who has successfully incorporated many locally grown and harvested products into the menu mix at his three restaurants.  Once the merchants adopted Chiles’ suggestion, Miller sought to make the vision a reality. According to Miller, “The main obstacle we faced was how to give the image of abundance when we can’t get vegetables to grow in the intense heat”.

Resorting to the resource most of us use when we need to find information, Miller googled ‘Summer Vegetables Florida’ and at the top of the page was a link for ECHO which stands for Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization. ECHO is a Christian, non-denominational organization based in North Ft. Myers, Florida that grows tropical vegetables, sends the seeds to other groups in third–world countries, who distribute the seed and teach people there how to grow and propagate the resulting produce.

Miller immediately contacted the community garden intern at ECHO to discuss how they could work together to establish successful Edible Community Gardens on Pine Avenue. He discovered that the vegetables ECHO was growing were not your usual garden variety vegetables. Not only do these unique vegetables thrive in the tropical, summer heat but some, such as, Moringa, Edible Hibiscus and Chinese Spinach, are among the most nutritious plants on earth. After touring the facility, Miller realized that the project was possible and the vegetables ECHO was growing were exactly what they needed for Pine Avenue.

Some of the organic vegetables one will see in these community organic gardens may not be familiar but that is part of the uniqueness of this project and what makes it exciting. Coleman explains, “We are using vegetables that are grown in the tropics. They can take the heat and they are delicious and super nutritious. My wife puts them in green smoothies and salads every day.” Another unique aspect of this project is the accessibility of information at the consumer’s fingertips. Each box has a QR code and an information placard on the box. Scanning the QR code will direct people to a website, www.perfectisland.us/Edibles.html where they can learn about the project, the individual vegetables in that particular garden and even view recipes that they can make using those vegetables.

According to Miller, “The organic vegetables that are growing in the eight established gardens are just the start of something that we think is going to really take off. Not only do we already have commitments from other island businesses for additional gardens but some local residents have requested to learn how they can have one of these gardens in their own yards.” According to Miller the box is not necessary to grow these vegetables. It is more about the sheet mulch contents. Sheet mulch is a layering of items starting with a base of recycled newspaper, cardboard or even old clothes, topped with repetitive layers combining seedless hay, bulk compost, and a variety of composted manure, bone meal, soil acidifier, green sand and chemical free green yard clippings.

Chiles states, “This project directly supports the mission of supporting our local economy and efforts toward becoming more self-sustaining. The Locavore movement is reshaping the way consumers shop for and consume food. They want to know the origin on their food. This movement is rooted in economics and culture.”

Restaurants, like the Chiles Group, along with food distributors, suppliers and even the big box stores are recognizing this demand and restructuring their business models and brand messaging to meet their customer’s desires. Coleman states, “Since this project supports our mission of being green and sustainable in practical, measurable and repeatable ways, it makes economic and environmental sense.” He continues, “When you grow food locally you cut down on the cost of transporting it and the effect that long-haul transportation has on our economy and environment. At the same time, you reduce trips off island and mitigate local traffic. This is the local, personal component of what is becoming a worldwide ‘transition’ movement whereby local communities take hold of their own economic, ecological and cultural destinies. This movement supports the small business, local farmer or fisherman, in short, friends and neighbors who, in turn, put that ‘captured revenue’ back into that same community. Going local helps keep the money here recirculating it through our local economy.”

What little maintenance is required for the gardens is shared between the merchants and the Pine Avenue Restoration partnership. Each garden container is sponsored by one of the small business owners who have set up shop on Pine Avenue. The first boxes were quickly sponsored by Shinyfish Emporium, Poppo’s Taqueria, Emerson’s Humor and Art, The Flip Flop Shop, Anna Maria Olive Oil Outpost, The Spice Merchants, Anna Maria Island Accommodations and Stir It Up Yogurt Shack. They pay for the products and make sure the gardens are maintained. According to several of the merchants, they have been amazed at how abundantly the plants have grown in such a short time.

According to Miller, Chiles and Coleman, the long range goal of this project is to have these Edible Community Gardens not only on Pine Avenue but all over the island and beyond. Miller explains, “This is not about having a substitute source of produce as much as it is about lifestyle enhancement. This is about the joy of creating an abundant garden right in one’s own backyard or community.”

Recently, Miller harvested enough Malabar Spinach from his own garden and made an Indian Raita (yogurt salad) to feed 40 people at a pot luck picnic for the local chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. When one speaks to Mike Miller, it is obvious it brings him great joy to be able to walk outside to his garden and see a vegetable that was in a one gallon bucket two months ago that is now 3-4 feet tall.

Getting abundance where it was never available is quite an accomplishment and one that should have Locavores picking up their forks and digging in.

30 Years of Fireworks, Family Fun and Great Food!

The Monday, July 4 fireworks event at The Sandbar marks the 30th year the restaurant has hosted the Annual Sandbar Fireworks Extravaganza. Owner, Ed Chiles, says, “We are so honored and humbled that we have been able to bring joy to so many people and generations of families for so many years.”

This year’s momentous event will take place under the covered, open-air Sandbar Event Pavilion (separate from the restaurant) offering prime seating for the fireworks show which will begin shortly after dusk. VIP Party tickets are available now! Party packages include delicious food – appetizers, entrees, side dishes and desserts, open bar, party favors, valet parking and prime seating, private area to view the fireworks!

The menu will feature delectable appetizers and delicious dinner items featuring fresh-from-the-gulf seafood, Florida heritage foods and farm-to-fork items from the restaurants own farm, Gamble Creek not to mention decedent desserts and beer, wine and specialty cocktails!

Tickets are $140 for adults and $50 for kids. Reservations for the VIP Party are required and seating is limited. Seating in the restaurant is available on a first come, first served basis. For more information or to purchase a party package ticket, contact Patti McKee, Special Events Director at (941) 778-8709 or pmckee@chilesgroup.com.

“Collectively, the Chiles Group has proudly been hosting fireworks shows for 51 years, and we are thrilled to welcome our customers and the community to celebrate on this, our 30th year,” said McKee. “We hope those planning to come out purchase their tickets early, as we are sure to sell out!”

Fireworks shows are weather permitting. There are no refunds for inclement weather.  For more information contact (941) 778-8705 or visit www.islanddining.com

Regarding the Beach House fireworks, with the best interest of our community’s environmental protection in mind, we have decided once again to cancel our July 3rd fireworks display to protect the rare and endangered shorebirds on the beach nearby.

Chiles Restaurant Group Scholarship

We are happy to announce the establishment of the Chiles Restaurant Group Scholarship, which is available through the Manatee County Community Foundation to qualified employees or children of employees . At the Chiles Group we understand the importance of empowering a community to excel in personal growth and development.  What better way to empower a community than through the support of the continuing education?

A community is more than just a group of people who live in the same place.  A community is a group of individuals, each with his or her own vision about where to go in life.  We appreciate the value of that individuality when it comes to education; therefore, this scholarship will support a wide spectrum of educational pursuits.

Scholarships for training include upgrading of current skills, such as those related to nursing, computer competency, mechanical, electrical, and food services, as well as others on an “as approved” basis.  Academic training includes Community College programs, Technical or Vocational schools, and College undergraduate and graduate studies.

Qualifying individuals must meet all of the Selection Criteria:

  1. Current employee or child of current employee of the Chiles Restaurant Group with at least 12 months of service.
  2. Acceptance into an accredited 2 or 4 year educational institution or technical/vocational school.
  3. Resident of Manatee County
  4. Citizen of the U.S.

Other criteria for consideration will include demonstrated leadership, volunteer activities, scholastic record, career objectives, as well as financial need.

We would like to thank the Manatee County Community Foundation for making this scholarship fund possible.  This charitable organization, established in 1988, provides opportunities for individuals to create low-cost permanent funds in support of a wide variety of needs, from education, arts, and culture, to those of environment, health care, and human services.

For more information on the Chiles Restaurant Group Scholarship Fund may be obtained by downloading an application or contacting the Manatee Community Foundation at (941)747-7765. Download an application.

Lionfish Now Available!

Lionfish: King of the Menu at Beach House

It’s a venomous predator known to ravage local Florida reefs and destroy surrounding ecosystems, but, thanks to restaurants like the Beach House, a (delicious) solution to the Lionfish problem threatening the Gulf has been found. And, it involves serving the fish alongside roasted vegetable cous cous.

Though the Lionfish is known for its frightening appearance – thanks to its bright vertical stripes, expansive fan-like fins and 18 venomous spines (used in defense) – diners should not be fooled. They are much more delicious than they are dangerous, posing no threat to the humans who eat them.

And, in serving Lionfish in his restaurant, owner Ed Chiles is also contributing to the solution and getting these predators, who are known to wipe out entire populations of sea creatures, out of the wild.

It is thought that the non-native fish was first introduced to the Gulf (and surrounding bodies of water) in the 1980’s by those realizing it made for a terrible aquarium tenant, eating all other reef fish it came into contact with and stinging its owners during aquarium cleanings. And, since then it has surely made its presence known.

That’s because Lionfish produces upwards of 30,000 eggs at one time. And, with no known predators, the fish has been spreading along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf and Caribbean, jeopardizing the populations of many other fish it comes into contact with, specifically the snapper.

Because the Lionfish lurks towards the bottom of the ocean, it’s tricky to catch and is most often caught in lobster traps or by spear only. This means catching it can be far less lucrative for fisherman than it is for other species, which exacerbates the problem.

Once caught, however, the Lionfish is a treat. It’s light and delicate, and is another healthy and tasty fish on the Beach House menu.

In serving the Lionfish (pan seared with roasted vegetable cous cous, Basil and Red Curry infused Olive Oil at the Beach House) Chiles, who is currently the only local restaurateur offering the pervasive and evasive fish, is also working to increase demand, which will aid in the continued removal of the species from the Gulf and further alleviation of the problems it causes

And, as Chef Will explains, diners should not fear the venom found in the Lion fish’s spikes. The fish’s meat is separated from where the venom is stored (in its spine) and cooking renders the venom harmless, meaning the Lion fish poses no threat to those who order it.

Still not sold on the spikey seafood delicacy? Beach House is now offering samples on a limited basis and serving it as an entrée while it is still available. In trying it out, not only will you be introduced to a new unique dish, but you’ll be helping to preserve the nearby gulf. So, you are officially out of excuses to not give Lion fish a taste during your next visit!

Hungry for more? The Chiles Restaurant Group is constantly looking to source the best fresh seafood available while also educating our guests on local sustainable seafood items. For information about other products and projects, including grey striped mullet, Mount Cook Salmon, Open Blue Cobia, locally-grown middleneck clams, sunray clams and more, check out our blog.

Honoring those Affected by September 11th

It is almost hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the terrorist attacks happened at the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. The memories are so fresh; it feels like it was just yesterday. But time moves on. Children who lost their fathers or mothers on that terrible day are now 10 years older. Girls and boys who were in elementary school at the time are now seniors in high school and preparing to go on to college. The Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund is here to help those children go to college and pursue their dreams. The fund is for the children, spouses and domestic partners of people who were lost or permanently disabled on that tragic day – the firefighters who gave their lives, the men and women whose lives were innocently taken while working in the towers and the selfless first responders.  The Families of Freedom Scholarship fund was created to make sure that the children and spouses of our country’s heroes will be able to receive post-secondary school assistance.

As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, the Chiles Group has made a donation to the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund to help the children who were affected by this unfortunate tragedy to have the opportunities that they deserve.  The fund was established within a week of the September 11th attacks and has since distributed over $62 million in college education assistance to an entire generation of financially needy dependents which has included over 1690 students.

We are honored to give towards this worthy cause and to help children who were overcome by 9/11 circumstances. The fund is managed by Scholarship America, the nation’s largest non-profit, private sector scholarship and educational support organization. On the 10th anniversary of a very solemn day in our country’s history, the Chiles Group is proud to do something to honor those who were affected on September 11th.

For more information about the scholarship or if you would like to make a contribution to the fund, please visit the Families of Freedom website at www.familiesoffreedom.org.

Ed’s Corner – Dec. 2011

It’s so hard to believe another year has almost come and gone. 2011 has been successful for our company in many ways and we feel very blessed. We are just finishing the first phase of two very important construction projects. At the Sandbar, our new state of the art deck kitchen and new bathrooms will allow us to better serve you and hopefully make your experiences at the restaurant even more pleasurable.  Next year, beginning in late August, we will completely redo the main kitchen and rebuild the Sandbar dining room and bar areas.
The Mar Vista project has added new handicapped compliant bathrooms and an expanded kitchen. This project will also be in two phases with our new “tree house” dining room project starting in late August of 2012 and finishing in time for the holiday season. Imagine sitting in the new Mar Vista Treehouse dining room looking over the tops of the buttonwood trees at beautiful Sarasota Bay all while enjoying fresh seafood and a glass of wonderful wine in a relaxing atmosphere. Special thanks to Mark Anderson, who heads our construction projects as well as Gene Aubry our long time architect and Barron Schimberg who is the head architect of record on the Sandbar project. We also want to thank Brent Whitehead and his entire construction crew who have done such a wonderful job with these projects and for making it possible for us to remain open to continue to serve you during the renovations. I also want to thank our staff for their patience and efforts to continue to provide top quality customer service during the construction. Last of all and most importantly I want to thank all of our customers who have “excused our dust” and continued to join us for courteous, friendly service and great food in an unmatched setting.
I would like to touch base on a few new menu items I think you might find delicious. So far, the Stone Crab season has been pretty good. Captain Anthony Manali has worked hard to keep all three restaurants supplied with this Florida delicacy.  Served cold with our mustard sauce, these are a must do. This year we introduced a brand new item to our guests – Grey Stripped Mullet. Our chefs got creative preparing and cooking it a variety of ways which were all verywell received by our guests. If you didn’t get a chance to try the Mullet this year we plan on having it again next fall, when it is in season, which is when the fillets are at their peak with lots of fat, read that omega 3 oils, prior to spawning.
We have formed a company withlocal wine expert, Seth Cripe, to promote great quality local products! Seth has been in Napa Valley for the last 17 year many of which were spent working with the Wagner family making their premier Caymus wines. Seth is now bottling the second vintage of his highly regarded Lola Pinot Noir. Many of you enjoyed the 2008 vintage which we featured at all three restaurants. We like the wine so much that we joined Seth in the company. We look forward to helping him build this brand. We are delighted to tell you that his second wine, Lola Chardonnay, is now in all three restaurants as well. If you are tired of the over oaked heavy chardonnays, I think you will be impressed with the Lola Chardonnay. It is sourced from Sonoma Coast grapes and aged in 90% stainless steel and 10% oak, giving it a great crisp taste and a clean finish without being too heavy on the oak.  We are excited about this new addition to the Lola brand as well as adding a wonderful new wine to our wine list. We will be featuring the chardonnay by the glass in all of the restaurants too so please have a taste the next time you are in.
Seth also has the first company in the United States to produce Bottarga. Bottarga is the Italian method of curing local grey stripped Mullet roe. For the last 40 years, our largest fishing export has been selling our local Cortez sandy bottom Mullet roe to the Asian market where it is sent half way around the world, cured and sold for hundreds of dollars a pound. Seth is producing bottarga here from fresh, not frozen Mullet, which allows for a far superior product. Bottarga is now being used in some of the finest restaurants in the country and is quickly catching on as a gourmet item. It is delicately shaved into pasta or onto a crunchy piece of bread. It has a round, fat anchovy like taste. We are developing recipes to incorporate it into our menus so stay tuned and if you want to purchase some to try, go to www.cortezbottarga.com  The other item we are excited about is Mote Caviar. This Siberian sturgeon caviar is osetra and the quality and pricing are outstanding. The holidays are a perfect time to treat your family and friends to this wonderful gift from the sea. To purchase some go to www.mote.org.
We have a few more fresh, local offerings we are excited about, like Curt Hemmel’s fresh local middle-neck clams grown in Terra Ceia and some locally grown produce like the heirloom tomato’s we are getting from Eric Geraldson and the team at Gamble Creek Farms. We are even looking at planting a roof top garden on top of the new entrance and bar renovations which we will complete at the end of 2012 at the Sandbar. We strive to bring you the freshest seafood, produce and seasonal products that we can find and that has never been more evident than now that we are partnering with local farm to fork and field to table growers and suppliers like Seth, Curt and Eric.
We are continuing to lend our support to many charitable organizations and this year, the Beachhouse sponsored its first Brawn on the Beach, Amateur Strongman contest this year, in conjunction with City Gym and sponsored by many of our local businesses. The Brawn on the Beach showcased the strongmen of our area lifting up the in need women and children of Hope Family Services.
We were fortunate to be able to award three more Chiles Group scholarships this year to hard working staff members who are striving to reach their goals.
Thanks to the generosity of many the 18th Annual Lawton Chiles Christmas for Kids Party will serve more than 140 kids this year and help make this holiday a special one for them and their families.
Have you seen Pine Avenue Lately? The Pine Avenue Restoration project completed its seventh and eighth buildings and started construction on the ninth. These are all mixed use commercial and residential units providing affordable luxury vacation rentals on top and retail space on the bottom. View the beautiful additions to Pine Avenue at www.annamariarental.net.  We have several new boutiques such as the Shiny Fish Emporium and the Candy Stop who have joined the other great shops on Pine Avenue, “The Greenest Little Main Street in America”. We continue to get great feedback on the wonderful new shopping opportunities just around the corner from the Sandbar so if you haven’t had the chance to stroll down Pine Avenue to see the new shops and the exciting new improvements at the landing to the Anna Maria Historic City Pier please do so soon, I think you will be impressed.
While you are on Pine Avenue don’t miss Mom’s art gallery. The Studio at Gulf and Pine is currently featuring one of the largest private collections of Robert Butler’s work. Butler is well known and renowned as one of the original Highwaymen. His Florida landscapes are in high demand by collectors. Robert Harper has his private collection on view and there are many originals and prints for sale at great prices.
With so much going on, we think it is important to take time to reflect on the past year and the many blessings we have received. As we look towards 2012, I, on behalf of the entire management staff and all of our wonderful employees would like to wish you and yours the happiest of holidays and a safe and prosperous 2012.

The Sandbar Features Suncoast Art Tour Artist

This 2-day Tour is an ambitious show featuring more than 1,000 pieces of art by 17 artists working in Bradenton and Sarasota today. The self-guided Tour will be held on March 9 and 10, 2012, and will sprawl across Sarasota from University Parkway to Clark Road. Highlights will include 5 well-known artists in their studios plus a Gallery Exhibit of 12 more artists in the Ringling College of Art + Design Student Center exhibition space.

One of the featured artists, Bob Brown, will have one of his abstract pieces displayed in the Sandbar Restaurant.  Brown is also a resident artist at The Studio at Gulf and Pine on Anna Maria Island.  Other Anna Maria Island artists Phil Karp and Glorida Hall Cropper will also exhibit at the Ringling College show. Anna Maria Island has many art and cultural organizations devoted to marketing the arts. These groups include the Anna Maria Island Art League, the Island Artists Guild Gallery of Anna Maria and Cultural Connections, which holds an annual ArtsHop event every November in addition to the numerous galleries and art related businesses on the island.

Tickets are $20 advance and $25 at the door and can be purchased on the Society’s website www.FineArtsSarasota.com.

Dad’s Eat Free on Father’s Day!

Join us on Father’s Day, June 19th for our 4th Annual Celebration of Dad’s. All Dad’s will receive a free lunch or dinner entrée at any of our three waterfront restaurants.

Download your coupon and bring it to one of our three restaurants.