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This region is a smorgasbord of brilliant minds, wondrous destinations and delectable delicacies, but how best to enjoy all that Southwest Florida can dish out? We turned to our readers for the third annual Best of SRQ Local competition to concoct the recipe for getting the most out of life in Sarasota-Manatee. We now know to pick innovative thinker Josh Wynne’s brain as we peruse the Cà d’Zan, to seek out Kelly Kirschner’s leadership, to get our hair did at Yellow Strawberry for our next party at inspirational Siesta Key Public Beach and have Michael’s On East cater. Now, you don’t have to enjoy all our voter’s picks at once, but we trust that each on its own adds great flavor to our local way of life. Read on to see what your neighbors’ favorites are. From coffee shops to community leaders, theaters to business leaders, this is the Best of SRQ Local.

[ Savory & Sweet ]

Best Cup of Coffee
  Pastry Art
When it comes to their coffee, Sarasotans are a tough bunch to please and a weak watery brew won’t fly. This year’s competition was a close one, between three very different spots to get your caffeine fix. Coffee lovers were excited for newcomer The Venue, but with its sudden and unexpected closing, second runner-up Morton’s Gourmet Market snuck in the back door, beating out many a bakery and café that specializes in coffee. Farmers’ market favorite Java Dawg, now with a beautiful storefront in a converted gas station from the ‘50s, almost beat out last year’s winner, taking first runner-up. But in the end, grind masters Pastry Art, the Main Street institution that it is, came out on top, with a wide variety of fresh beans and some of the most popular house blends in the area. –AG

Best Breakfast  Word of Mouth
From omelets with blackberries and brie to cheese blintzes to croissant French toast, this year’s winners and finalists all take some pretty great cracks at unique morning offerings. Quaint Fruitville Road newcomer The Breakfast House took second runner-up, slipping past last year’s notable The Serving Spoon, as well as Gillespie Park favorite Station 400, Café Epicure and Simon’s Coffee House. Repeating last year’s performance, The Broken Egg took first runner-up to last year’s winner Word of Mouth, who took it home again this year. Perhaps it’s that Three Amigos Breakfast Burrito of theirs? –AG

Best Ethnic Cuisine
Sarasota has a unique potpourri of international cuisine, but a favorite three restaurants rose to the top again this year—though in slightly different order—offering Indian, Vietnamese and Thai food as good as any found in their respective countries. Indian cuisine masters Chutney’s, a finalist last year, took top honors, scooting past last year’s winner, Main Street’s Vietnamese noodle house Pho Cali, who came in first runner-up, with Thai favorites Bangkok Restaurant in close pursuit as second runner-up. People seemed taken with Chutney’s down-home feel, positive vibe and authentic take on Indian food, with curries and tandoori chicken tikka. –AG

Best New Restaurant
  Owen’s Fish Camp
Despite a stale economy, it was a pretty great year for new restaurants. Winner Owen’s Fish Camp took the space that 516 Burns once occupied and turned it into one of the most talked about restaurants in the area, a creative homage to Florida fish shacks of the past, with oyster po’ boys, fried green tomatoes, fish tacos and a great selection of fresh local fish. First runner-up Square 1 Burgers and Bar brought its unique take on a burger joint to town, with everything from ostrich to buffalo burgers. Saucy Italian joint Salute! took second runner-up with a proper olive oil-heavy menu and some seriously delicious salted meats and cheeses. –AG

Best Bacon Dish  Libby’s Café and Bar
Some thought we might be joking. People laughed. But those who crave bacon knew we were dead serious. And you’ll be impressed to see how many restaurants made the list in what was one of the most voted on categories. Hillview haunt Libby’s Café and Bar took top honors, with its unique take on modern American cuisine: the Three Napkin Burger and turkey club, both with Applewood smoked bacon. Blue Dolphin Café, The Broken Egg, Siesta favorite Sun Garden Café and new Gillespie Park brewpub Mad Crow Brewery and Grill (who snuck in with its fatback bacon and an open-faced BLT that’s to die for) all settled on second runner-up in a four-way tie. Local First Watch franchise, rookie Square 1 Burgers and Bar and Word of Mouth all tied for first runner-up. –AG

Best Outdoor Dining  Marina Jack
There is no better place for outdoor dining than Sarasota. With beautiful views and festive atmospheres, each diner feels as though they are on vacation—whether they truly are or not. Marina Jack moved up this year from second runner-up and is the winner of the Best Outdoor Dining. It is no wonder it climbed up the polls, what with its boat accessibility and what voters unanimously agreed was the best part of dining outside there: gorgeous views of the Bayfront. Tied for first runner-up is Mattison's City Grille, which keeps its atmosphere fresh with live music, and The Old Salty Dog with a location on Siesta Key and another on the bay looking out on Longboat Key. Libby’s Café and Bar and Ophelia's on the Bay tied for second runner-up, wooing customers with its casually romantic setting and magnificent view of the bay, respectively. –MP

Best Dessert 
Euphemia Haye
When it comes to cravings, voters know not just any dessert will satisfy their sweet tooth. With a selection of desserts such as apple walnut crumble pie and flambéed bananas Foster, it comes as no surprise that Euphemia Haye wins this category again this year. The Molten Chocolate Chip Cookie and Hot ‘n’ Crispy Chocolate at Libby's Café and Bar satisfies that chocolate craving and earns the restaurant the first runner-up spot. Yoder's Restaurant is the second runner-up with an amazing selection of homemade pies made from scratch. Yoder’s was featured on Man vs. Food and 101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down. Baking in Sarasota since 1975, the restaurant keeps its voters’ bellies satisfied with pies like the chocolate peanut butter, southern pecan, coconut cream and strawberry rhubarb. –MP

Best Pasta
With mouth-watering dishes such as the Penne Pasolini served with a delicious Gorgonzola cream, Caragiulos takes first place again as the local favorite for pasta. With a delicious menu and a traditional Italian family atmosphere the local eatery keeps its customers coming back for more. Following close behind is Café Epicure as the first runner-up, with its impressive set of pasta dishes including the linguine al frutti di mare, the fruit of the sea. Another local favorite restaurant coming in at second runner-up is Mediterraneo with its modern twist on classic Italian meals. What truly makes all of these decadent pastas so edible appears to be the sauces they are paired with, as the voters never failed to point out each’s excellence. –MP

Best Sushi  Pacific Rim
Sushi, something seemingly so simple (sticky rice, seaweed, some seafood, either raw or cooked, and some fresh veggies, really), sure does illicit some passionate responses by those that search it out. Perennial favorites Pacific Rim took home the top honor again this year, with fresh fish on the daily and some serious sushi masters at the helm. Main Street’s Yume Sushi held its ground as first runner-up, while second runner-up, Gateway’s Vizen, didn’t quite take Yume’s spot, but did knock out upper Main Street’s Utamaro. –AG

Best Burger
One of the more active categories, this year’s Best Burger contest was thrown through a loop by newcomers Square 1 Burgers and Bar, who took everyone by surprise, knocking Shakespeare’s English Pub back a spot to second runner-up, tied with Libby’s Café and Bar, and almost taking out the seemingly unstoppable Patrick’s, who held on to its title. Square 1 Burgers’ variety of meat options—ostrich, buffalo, Kobe beef, portobello, ad infinitum—almost gave Patrick’s black and bleu burger, as well as the rest of the offerings on the 1995 burger menu, a run for their money, though the downtown favorite remained victorious, again. –AG

Best Sandwich
  Anna’s Deli
Now with three locations, Anna's Deli rules again this year and walks away with the win, mesmerizing voters with the Surfer Sandwich, which voters say is best eaten after or during a day at the beach. Other Anna's Deli famous sammys include the Peddler, Villager and Skater sandwiches. The Main Bar Sandwich Shop earned the title of first runner-up with delicious sandwiches like the Big Dipper, egg salad and the Lido. With a large selection of sandwiches they are sure to have one that will please even the pickiest eater. New to the list, Libby's Café and Bar earned the title of second runner-up with sandwiches like the caprese chicken sandwich, served with rotisserie chicken on toasted ciabatta bread and the shortrib grilled cheese served with Libby's own Salt ‘n’ Peppa Fries. –MP

Best Family Restaurant
  Troyer’s Dutch Heritage and Yoder’s Restaurant
Some restaurants are for Friday night dates and others are for bringing family together around a single table. For Best Family Restaurant, five restaurants fought it out, from downtown to Hillview and east to the Pinecraft Amish and Mennonite community. Yoder’s Restaurant and Troyer’s Dutch Heritage tied for top honors with their respective takes on traditional Dutch-Amish cuisine, large portions and, of course, their pies. Sweet heavens, their pies. Hillview favorites Libby’s Café and Bar and Gecko’s Grill and Pub tied for first runner-up, with great small plates, appetizers and tons of comfort food for any age diner to enjoy. Family-owned family favorite Caragiulos took second runner-up with some of the finest in Italian cuisine and pizzas that children can customize themselves. –AG

Best Oyster  Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar
A new category, the Best Oyster race took off like it was shot out of a cannon. Gulfgate’s Monk’s Steamer Bar and St. Armands’ Crab and Fin fought it out for second runner-up, resulting in a tie. Siesta Village favorite Siesta Key Oyster Bar fell just short of taking the title home, with its hand-battered fried, baked, raw and steamed oysters, settling on first runner-up. In the end, Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar came out on top with, among other things, its exceptional take on oysters Rockefeller. –AG

Best Caterer
  Michael’s On East
A good caterer can turn a great event into a magnificent one. It’s not only about the food, but also the staff and their ability to blend in with the occasion. Parties and events are hard enough to plan, but a good caterer can relieve part of the stress. Michael's On East came out on top with its food presentation and friendly staff. Following as the first runner-up is Morton's Gourmet Market, which offers fresh seafood, produce and anything that your special occasion might need when it comes to great dining. The second runner-up is Nellie's Deli, which provides customers with floral arrangements, candle holders, twinkle lights and wedding coordination and a combination of organized planning, creative staging and delicious food on top of all of that. –MP

Best Wine Menu  Michael’s On East
Fans of the vino are a pretty particular crowd, some looking for a long list and wide variety, while others just want someone reliable to recommend a pairing for their dinner. Michael’s On East, with its exceptionally sprawling selection, not to mention the Wine Cellar, took home Best Wine Menu. Just around the corner, Libby’s Café and Bar, with a friendly and knowledgeable staff of winos and daily wine specials, took first runner-up. And a three-way tie between Mozaic, Café Gabbiano and The Bijou Café finished out the lineup. –AG

Best Steak
  Libby’s Café and Bar
Sarasota carnivores, a ravenous bunch if ever there was one, have a handful of top-notch meateries to choose from when looking for a filet, strip or T-bone. The master meat minds over at Michael’s On East came away with second runner-up, for their porcini-rubbed Phil’s Carved Prime New York Strip, some top-quality filets and bone-in ribeyes. Downtown’s The Bijou Café took home first runner-up for its petit filet, filet mignon and steak au poivre. And Libby’s Café and Bar took home top honors with its center-cut filet, prime top sirloin and bone-in ribeye filet, not to mention the special LCB Steak Sauce. ­–AG

Best Seafood 
Owen’s Fish Camp and Barnacle Bill’s
Burns Court rookie Owen’s Fish Camp came out swinging this year, tying for top honors. The Old Florida fish shack, tucked among the banyans next to Burns Court Cinemas, captured everyone’s attention with shrimp and grits, lobster rolls and the fried soft-shell crab BLT with basil mayo. Barnacle Bill’s, last year’s winner, held its ground alongside the rookie. Family favorite Libby’s Café and Bar kept its spot as first runner-up, while Phillippi Creek Village Restaurant and Oyster Bar settled into second runner-up, tied with Crab and Fin. –AG

Best Happy Hour 
Libby’s Café and Bar
Cheap drinks and small plates after work have Sarasotans searching out their favorite happy hour locales daily. With wine and cocktail specials, delicious small plates and some creative minds behind the bar, Libby’s Café and Bar took home top honors for Best Happy Hour. Mattison’s City Grille slipped in behind at first runner-up with delicious appetizers and some serious cocktails, while family-friendly Gecko’s Grill and Pub grabbed second runner-up with tasty eats and ice cold drinks on the cheap. –AG

Best Slice of Pizza
  Il Panificio
Pizza is one of those foods about which people seem to always possess a strong opinion, and this year’s race definitely showed that. Thin crust masters Il Panificio stole the title from last year’s winner Rico’s Pizzeria and Pasta House, which settled into the first runner-up slot. And in a very close race Cosimo’s Brick Oven/Cosimo’s Too! tangled with Hoboken-style pie-master Solorzano Brothers Pizzeria, eventually resulting in a tie for second runner-up. –AG

[ Proud to Serve ]

Best Service at a Restaurant Libby’s Café and Bar
Botched orders, cold food and, especially, bad service is all it takes to ruin a dining experience. Thankfully, we do not have that problem locally, as many voters gloated about the excellent service that they have experienced dining here over the years. That is why it comes to no surprise that the excellent service exemplified by Libby’s Café and Bar was voted the winner of this category for yet another year, as they left voters raving about the restaurant’s friendly and accommodating staff. The Bijou Café secured the spot of first runner-up with its courteous service that made diners feel as if no request was too big. The staff’s extensive knowledge of the menu and quick response to customers is why Michael’s On East made the list once again this year, this time as second runner-up. –MP

Best Law Firm
  Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen and Ginsburg
While most locals can navigate a coastal waterway with little trouble, coursing the court system can be dicey. Fortunately, a number of high-powered but socially-conscious legal leaders also dot our coast. But whose legal opinions are held in the highest regard? The bulk of our readers turn to Icard, Merrill, Cullis, Timm, Furen and Ginsburg, P.A. Attorneys at Law, one of the most prominent and successful firms in the region for more than a half century. Attorneys like F. Thomas Hopkins were noted by name, as readers espoused the reliability of the litigators there. Williams, Parker, Harrison, Dietz and Getzen earned the first runner-up position, while Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, LLP and Norton, Hammersley, Lopez and Skokos, P.A. divided our jury and tied for second runner-up. –JO

Best Hair Salon
  Yellow Strawberry
We love our hairstylists like we love our dear Auntie Beba—and once we find our favorite, we’re as loyal as a Labrador retriever. After hovering just out of range last year, Yellow Strawberry jumped to the winning slot for 2011’s list. The salon’s two area locations, new launch of a make-up division and own eco-friendly product line stole your carefully coiffed hearts. D. Cole Hair Design was both last and this year’s first runner-up. The Towles Court favorite offers character and class and still holds strong on the list for the third year running. Nicole Salon on Palm was the newbie to this year’s line-up and second runner-up. You couldn’t stop raving about the salon’s perky attitude and eagerness to please. –SW

Best Massage
  Massage Envy and The Met Day Spa and Salon
When talking about massages we are lucky enough to have no shortage of amazing spas, which offer some of the most relaxing massages in the area. The Met Day Spa and Salon held the title of winner for the third year in a row, but this time with Massage Envy right by its side. Both offer a wide variety of massages like soothing hot stone therapy at The Met and trigger point therapy at Massage Envy, which appeal to all types of achy bodies. Massage Heights, who shares the title of first runner-up with Back in Balance, continues to see a growth in clientele with an introductory one-hour massage and low-  priced membership just like winner Massage Envy. Body and Spirit Day Spa melts away the stress of locals with their most popular massage, the deep tissue. They also tie for second-runner up with The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Ionie and L. Spa which won over the voters with its L. Signature massage. –MP

Best Community Leader
  Kelly Kirschner
How much do our readers believe in Kelly Kirschner’s leadership? This year, voters not only honored him for his work on the City Commission but for his work in steering the community in the right direction. Becoming the first person ever to win two categories in this competition, the young politico shows he has a bright future in this community even after he “retires” from politics this summer. Of course, our readers recognized a wide range of other leaders, casting ballots for Sarasota attorney Dan Bailey, Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, Ringling College of Art and Design President Dr. Larry Thompson, Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce President Steve Queior, Sarasota County Openly Plans for Excellence Executive Director Tim Dutton and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota. –JO

Best Business Leader
  Michael Saunders
As the business community looks for guidance through a rocky economic recovery, many turn to the longtime leadership of real estate mogul Michael Saunders. The queen of commerce secured top spot in our reader poll in this category. Voters hope her ability to survive the hardest times of a hard-hit industry will create a template for success throughout the region. They also have hopes in Truitt Consulting owner Pam Truitt and Kerkering Barberio accountant Rob Lane, two Chamber of Commerce personalities who tied for first runner-up this year. –JO

Best Manatee
County Commissioner  Carol Whitmore, Joe McClash and?Larry Bustle
For too long, those residents living south of University Parkway have ignored that life exists north of the Sarasota-Manatee County line. No longer! With an expanding port and a fast-healing economy, Manatee County leaders are for the first time being recognized on this list of top officials. But who stands out? Our readers like the Honorable Carol Whitmore, the recently re-elected County Commissioner elected this year as chairwoman of the board. But they also appreciate the stalwart voice of Joe McClash, resident environmentalist. And pro-business Commissioner Larry Bustle also got his share of attention. Indeed, these three Commissioners all tie for first in the inaugural popularity contest. Commissioners Donna Hayes and Robin DiSabatino tied for first runner-up. –JO

Best Sarasota County Commissioner 
Jon Thaxton
Dare we still call this a contest? Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton for the third straight year was named by SRQ readers as the best member of his body. Is it his long record defending the wetlands? His leadership on acquiring public land? His incredible height? Whatever the cause, voters have made their preference known time and again. Any potential challengers in elections next year may want to keep this in mind. Recently re-elected Commissioners Joe Barbetta and Nora Patterson came in first and second runners-up, respectively. But hey, there is always next year. If Jon gets sick… –JO

Best Sarasota City Commissioner
  Kelly Kirschner
Defending champion Kelly Kirschner has taken the top honor again in the race for this much-watched contest. Makes one wonder what might have happened this year had he sought re-election. Without a single sign on the side of the road, the youngest City Commissioner can count on SRQ readers to support his future endeavors. Joining him on the podium? Suzanne Atwell comes in first runner-up, with readers applauding her support of business. Senior Commissioner, and soon-to-be retiree, Fredd Atkins secured second runner-up in this reader poll. –JO

Best Bradenton City Councilmember  Marianne Barnebey and Harold Byrd, Jr.
That other thriving metropolis on the Suncoast is among the only cities in the region to consistently re-elect its municipal officials. But which Bradenton leaders stand out in the eyes of our readers? This very close contest produced two winners this year: Marianne Barnebey and Harold Byrd, Jr. Both boast about the brilliant Riverwalk’s potential to revitalize downtown and preach the need to do the City’s business with transparency and responsibility. As Bradenton launches into the consciousness of our dedicated readers, it is clear these officials are ones to watch. –JO

Best Community Accomplishment
It is amazing the difference a little asphalt can make on a community’s outlook. While roadwork may not be the universe’s sexiest topic, our readers were certainly gratified to see a number of improvements happening, most notably with the addition of a roundabout and parking garage in downtown Sarasota. Indeed, the top community accomplishment(s) of the year, according to SRQ readers, was downtown Sarasota’s new roundabout(s)—one already spinning drivers around Five Points and another planned for the Pineapple Avenue and Ringling Boulevard intersection. A close first runner-up was the new Palm Avenue parking garage. But our readers also love a ball game as the Baltimore Orioles’ Spring Training (their second season is underway now) was the second-runner up for this honor. That doesn’t even count the substantial number of votes lauding the Ed Smith Stadium renovation. Other notables include the Urfer Family Park and more than a few votes for the area simply surviving the past couple years of economic hardship. –JO

Biggest Community Blunder
  Paid Parking
While many were satisfied with improvements to the roads downtown, many a voter was upset about certain moves downtown as well. A decision by Sarasota City Commissioners to implement paid parking this summer met stiff criticism from our readership, making paid parking the “winning” blunder of the year. And proving that one person’s community treasure is another’s trash, many readers weren’t buying the spin on roundabouts. While the circular traffic structure at Five Points was dubbed by many a reader as our top accomplishment, the circle also got dubbed runner-up in the screw-up category. And showing that our readers know how to hold a grudge, the decision to keep the Unconditional Surrender statue on the Sarasota Bayfront made our list once again as second runner-up in the contest where nobody wants a place on the podium. Other reader-noted blunders included spending money on Ed Smith Stadium’s renovation, building the Palm Avenue parking garage and moving forward with a mooring field in Sarasota Bay. One particularly self-deprecating voter simply wrote “me” on their ballot. –JO

[ Outside the Box ]

Best Landscape Architect
  Michael A. Gilkey, Jr.
Architecture is such a big deal in Sarasota that readers demanded our poll include a subcategory just for the landscape architects that beautify our green spaces in Southwest Florida. In this contest, Michael A. Gilkey, Jr. snagged the blue (or is it green?) ribbon thanks to a commitment to beautify and an ability to please customers. David W. Young of DWY Landscape Architects earned the first runner-up spot in this competition, in which Casey Collins at IBI Group mowed past other competitors to secure second runner-up. –JO

Best Builder
  Josh Wynne Construction
And who should build the future of this sunny coast? Our readers would like that job awarded to Josh Wynne Construction, the winner in this category for the second year in a row. Readers love the builder’s environmental sensibility, but also noted the exceptional quality of Wynne’s work. But readers did not overlook the custom homes from Voigt Brothers Construction, who nabbed the first runner-up spot this year for a commitment to elegance. Meanwhile, John Cannon Homes, MyGreenBuildings and Classic Homes by Clayton all tied for second runner-up in this competition among heavy-lifters. –JO

Best Architecture Firm  DSDG, Inc.
Here in the birthplace of the Sarasota School of Architecture, locals take their architecture seriously, and when they can they take it to DSDG, Inc., the Mark Sultana-led firm which decorated our shoreline with a new Sarasota Yacht Club and our downtown with the gorgeous Ringling Square. The firm takes this honor for a second year in a row, and snags the win two years after Sultana was noted by our readers as an up-and-coming architect. But our voters still love the enduring beauty of Seibert Architects’ designs, awarding that firm runner-up status, and appreciate the works of Jonathan Parks Architect, which slipped to second runner-up this year, remaining a fixture in our listings. –JO

Best Historic Preservation
  The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art
In a community of transplants, it can be easy to lose the rich history of the region, but our readers are thankful for the reminders of the days when John Ringling and Paul Rudolph were building this paradise. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, for the preservation of the Cà d’Zan, the Museum as well as the rest of the grounds, was the favorite in the category. Not far behind was beautiful first runner-up Historic Spanish Point, but not forgotten was monumental Sarasota High School, taking second runner-up. –JO

[ Shop ‘Til You Drop ]

Best Antiques
  Sarasota Architectural Salvage
Part economy, part D.I.Y. revolution and part just plain old appreciation for things of the past—the antique industry isn’t one to ignore. Our area has plenty of choices, and your first place pick is Sarasota Architectural Salvage. The treasured local institution in its airy warehouse setting piques our imagination and offers truly unique antiques with a story to tell, plus its Saturday morning Downtown Sarasota Farmers’ Market spot always draws us in. Tying for first runner-up was the Woman’s Exchange’s 12,000 square feet of fantastic finds and the quaint, intimate setting of Blue Moon Antiques. Crissy Galleries came in at second runner-up. The dealer’s elegant and commanding presence is another institution in Sarasota’s antiques market. –SW

Best Place to Find a Gift  Elysian Fields and Artisans’ World Marketplace
Apparently you’re very passionate about where you purchase your presents, because for this category there was no shortage of finalists. With a two-way tie for the win and a three-way tie for second runner-up, we know your gift receivers are in good hands. The win in this category was shared between Artisans’ World Marketplace, with its fair trade, handmade goods from underprivileged artisans around the globe, and Elysian Fields, touting a spiritual slant on gift ideas and a large portion of its store devoted to books. First runner-up went to Simply Spoiled and its luscious selection of beauty products for both men and women, from high-end shaving kits to mineral makeup. At second runner-up, Everything But The Girl’s locally handcrafted and vintage goods with a quirky slant met Garden Argosy’s whimsical selection of gifts and home décor met the vast variety at Main Street Traders, which includes items like catchy kitchen tools and top-quality linens. –SW

Best Bradenton Boutique
  Hearts Desire, Natural Discoveries and?Rusty Crickett’s Coastal City Cottage
Meander across the Manatee County line and stumble upon charming boutiques with their own unique flavor. Your top pick for Best Bradenton Boutique was clearly a tough one. In this category, there was a three-way tie for the winning spot. Hearts Desire, a charming shop located in Village of the Arts, earned a space with its unique items such as origami reversible blouses, handmade jewelry by the store’s owner, Vicki Rollo, and photographic giclées. Joining in the winners’ circle was Natural Discoveries on Lakewood Main Street. The clothing store features a whole wardrobe for women with a relaxed outlook and mature tastes. The third shop tying for first was Rusty Crickett’s Coastal City Cottage. The eclectic boutique housed in a 1920s Victorian home in downtown Bradenton carries the gamut from prom dresses to quirky gift items like the “Belly Bar” massage bar for expectant mothers. –SW

Best Sarasota Boutique  Artisans’ World Marketplace
You don’t need to hit Manhattan to find boutiques worth shopping. In Sarasota, local owners are eager to please and offer selections worth noting. Artisans’ World Marketplace took the win in this category. You’re a fan of its shelves full of fair trade merchandise, the sale of which offers a better life for those less fortunate around the planet. L. Boutique—the flagship store of the “L. Empire,” which includes L. Kids and newest edition, L. Spa—came up first runner-up. From evening gowns to relaxed designer denim, the women’s retailer is your go-to spot to shop. Second runner-up was tied between Jflo Boutique ‘n’ Salon’s Miami-esque men’s and women’s fashions and accessories and Simply Spoiled’s super indulgent beauty products and well-curated selection of Vera Bradley goods. –SW

Best Venice Boutique  Paper Pad
There’s plenty to visit Venice for these days. Enjoy dinner at Sharky’s on the Pier, catch a show at Venice Theatre and stroll downtown’s collection of shops, all well worth a thorough browse. With your votes for Best Venice Boutique, Paper Pad rolled in at first place with its stationery (from designer names including Kate Spade and Crane), leather goods and thoughtful gifts. First runner-up was shared between St. Marco Boutique and Fraser’s Island Gift Nook. St. Marco features women’s clothing focusing heavily on Canadian designers and Natto’s lightweight art-to-wear leather jackets. And we suspect you love Fraser’s for its Vera Bradley collection (the only authorized dealer in Venice), Trapp candles and its new Top It Off shimmies—crafty shrugs that can be worn three ways. –SW

Best Consignment Store  Woman’s Exchange
We all love a good bargain, especially if that bargain is on a one-of-a-kind find from decades past. The feeling of securing a Pucci print or pair of vintage Fryes can feel like Christmas. For Sarasota’s consignments, you passionately battled it out for your favorite place to shop. Winner of the category, Woman’s Exchange, won you over with its energetic atmosphere, featuring finds like Tiffany silver and handmade Persian rugs. Laura Jean’s, with two locations in the area, got your first runner-up nod with an on-trend selection and its vast range of sizes in both shoes and clothing. Tying for second runner-up was Designing Women Boutique and Designer Consigner. As with Woman’s Exchange, Designing Women provides charitable contributions to the arts. The boutique offers high-end designer fashions and home goods, plus frequent trunk shows and its Salon Series events, which keep you up to date on today’s latest trends and ideas. Designer Consigner’s quirky shop in the heart of Pinecraft offers a healthy selection of wedding gowns among its vintage finds. –SW

[ Kick Back & Relax ]

Best Visitor Attraction  Beaches
With the sun glistening in a clear blue sky as waves lap upon white sand shores, who wouldn’t want to visit the local beaches? Triumphing as the Best Visitor Attraction are our local beaches. Of all beaches, Siesta Key Beach drew the most attention of the locales. Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium has been bumped up to first runner-up this year, winning over voter’s hearts with the unique opportunities offered to learn about marine life that most people would otherwise never get to experience. The new narrated training session with sharks allows visitors to learn more about the animals and their ability to be trained and adapt to new environments. If you are looking for more of a hands-on experience, the aquarium offers just that with the morning rounds, where visitors get to accommodate aquarists and help feed the animals. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art came in as the second runner-up with its exquisite architecture and world-class art exhibits. –MP

Best Place to Be Inspired  Beaches
The soothing combination of the sand, sun and water is why the beaches triumph and take the first spot for Best Place to be Inspired. Voters particularly like to reflect at Siesta Key Beach, last year’s winner. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, which is celebrating 35 years, secured the title of first runner-up this year. With its array of exotic flowers and peaceful paths it comes as no surprise that this is a local hot spot for inspiration and relaxation. The second runner-up is none other than The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. The world-class museum and the view of the bay is enough to get the creative juices flowing. Of the many things to do and see at the museum voters found the Cà d'Zan Mansion to be most inspirational, with its representational architecture that embraces the culture of Sarasota. –MP

Best Beach
  Siesta Key Beach
One of the best parts of living in the Sarasota-Manatee area is the privilege of the gorgeous beaches. White sand, blue water and the faint sound of waves crashing on the shore describes the perfect Florida day. Yet with the abundance of locations to choose from, the voters were able to pick through their favorites. Coming in first is Siesta Key Beach, known for its white sand and joyful atmosphere. Right behind it is Lido Beach with its convenient location, right by St. Armands Circle, where residents and tourists alike gather to watch the sunset after a long day of shopping. Anna Maria Island beaches and Turtle Beach split the votes for second runner-up, where voters enjoyed a nice morning walk followed by breakfast on the Gulf. –MP

[ Have a Ball ]

Best Arts Leader
  Virginia Hoffman and Iain Webb
Sarasota is one of the most successful arts communities in the nation, but how does it keep that position? Our readers say advocates and fine arts leaders like sculptor Virginia Hoffman and Sarasota Ballet Director Iain Webb help us stay on top. The two artists tied for top honors this award season, noted by readers not simply for the beauty of their craft, but for the nurturing they provide to rising artists in this region. Also in the running this year were Key Chorale Artistic Director Joseph Caulkins, Ringling College of Art and Design President Dr. Larry Thompson and Sarasota Orchestra Conductor Leif Bjaland, who all earned standing ovations and tied for first runner-up. –JO

Best Festival 
Sarasota Film Festival
Sarasota’s shiny shores have no shortage of diverse festivals with more popping up all the time—from the Siesta Key Crystal Classic’s sand sculpting wonder to world-class performing art at the Ringling International Arts Festival. Your choices rang loud and clear through this year’s Best of SRQ Local voting. Your favorite festival, taking the winning slot, was the Sarasota Film Festival (SFF). With 2011 being its lucky 13th year, the festival continues to earn recognition both in the national and international film industry as well as in our hearts locally. Thoughtful cinema, a conversation series with big-name stars such as Kevin Kline and enticing parties, including Cinema Tropicale, keep you coming back for more. First runner-up was the Sarasota Chalk Festival, with its annual Halloween weekend of chalk art all along the streets of Burns Square downtown. The Sarasota Blues Fest got your votes for second runner-up. The Sarasota staple in its 21st year in 2011 features a day full of performers from blues legends to up-and-coming artists. –SW

Best Performing or Fine Arts Group  Asolo Repertory Theatre
Sarasota is the place it is largely because of the exceptional artistic institutions and organizations imbedded in the very fabric of our cultural landscape. With a tremendously successful run of Bonnie and Clyde opening a packed repertory season, the Asolo Repertory Theatre took home Best Performing or Fine Arts Group. The Sarasota Ballet of Florida tied with Florida Studio Theatre (FST) for first runner-up, with FST producing a plethora of exceptional plays like David Mamet’s Race as well as an adaptation of The 39 Steps and more. The Sarasota Orchestra tied with the Sarasota Opera for second runner-up. –AG

Best Innovative Thinker
  Josh Wynne
We know Southwest Florida is a gem today, but how can a brighter future be achieved? Our readers look to these innovative minds to figure that out. Josh Wynne, whose namesake company was also lauded by readers, gets a personal honor and the biggest shout-out from our readers for his efforts to make a greener home market in Sarasota and Manatee. Sarasota Mayor Kelly Kirschner, our first runner-up, also wins platitudes in that area, especially after pushing for a major side agreement with Florida Power and Light that guarantees a future steeped in alternative power. Designer Chris Gallagher, the second runner-up in this contest, also gets applause for helping draft a more gorgeous and use-driven future for the region both through his work at Jonathan Parks Architect and his personal endeavors. –JO

Beat Gala or Party  Palm Ball
In this town, we know how to party. Your favorite event to let loose? The Palm Ball by the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast. You clearly have a soft spot for mingling around Bay Preserve at this elegant, intimate event that supports a healthy environment. As first runner-up, Planned Parenthood’s Safe Sex: Halloween Bash continues to gain a cult following with each year’s over-the-top celebration. Catering by Michael’s On East, an open bar, costume contest and the organization’s famous “shag bags” are just the beginning of what’s in store at each year’s event. Taking second runner-up, the Sarasota Film Festival’s plethora of parties keeps you on your toes each April, from mingling with stars at Opening Night to Patti Smith concerts at Ceviche and Caribbean beats at Cinema Tropicale. –SW


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