The Ringling Grillroom at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota opened to rave reviews last month. When Metz Culinary Management was asked to collaborate to rebrand and create a new vision in dining for the museum, it proved to be an appetizing challenge. The goal was to honor the rich history of the Ringling brand and the legacy of John and Mable Ringling with a dining concept as unique as its namesakes. Metz Culinary also worked to incorporate whimsical influences from the Circus and also the Arts.

The overall vision and menu were developed by the Metz culinary team in collaboration with executive chef John Metz, Jr., CEO and Co-owner of Marlows Tavern and Sterling Culinary Management. It was inspired by the around the world trips of John and Mable Ringling, who frequently traveled through Europe in search of acts for the circus. The Ringling Grill menu includes many of the Mediterranean influences they enjoyed, as well as inspirations from the Ringling’s love for Sarasota and the West Coast of Florida. From hand-cut steaks and chops to deliciously prepared freshly caught Florida seafood, the restaurant impresses with the best seasonal and local ingredients.

“In addition to the Ringling’s travels and love for the Mediterranean, the inspiration for the menu was based around freshness and seasonality,” said Curtis Hawk, executive chef of The Ringling Grillroom. This includes fresh produce from local farms, such as Duda, Tomato Thyme, Lipman and Chapman Fruit, to name just a few. “We also work closely with local fishermen to deliver the freshest fish and seafood right to our door,” Hawk added.

A sampling of the innovative global fusion menu offerings includes ahi tuna poke; Jumbo Lump crabcake with arugula, grapefruit and pickled red onion; Golden Beets & Burrata with quinoa, housemade lemonette and aged balsamic; Seared Florida Snapper with jumbo pearl couscous, baby kale, dried cherry, toasted almond and red wine reduction; and a Roast Colorado Lamb Wrap with baby spinach, feta cheese and red wine dressing.

Chef Hawk said that some of the more popular items during the grand opening weeks included the Sarasota-Bay Fish tacos, Crispy Sicilian calamari, Steak Frites with wild mushroom cognac peppercorn gravy, and the Crusted ahi tuna Salad with Peruvian and fingerling potato, tiny green beans, radish, sliced egg and a citrus vinaigrette. Food is like the arts. The presentation is a critical part of the dining experience and each plate is presented like a striking work of art. The menu also pays homage to the Ringling brand with categories such as Big Top Sandwiches, Three Ring Sides and Freakshow brand wines.

“It’s been an exciting project from conception through the opening,” said Rick Sell, VP of Restaurant Operations for Metz Culinary Management. “Feedback from our client and restaurant guests has all been positive.”

“About half of the guests I spoke to during the opening weeks had eaten at the previous museum restaurant and were wowed by the changes in the menu, food presentation and atmosphere,” Sell added. “Many guests commented that nothing compares to the flavors, freshness, and level of hospitality we are delivering at The Ringling Grillroom.”

In addition to a strong focus on fresh, seasonal cuisine, service was also key to bringing this gastronomic vision to life. All restaurant staff went through very detailed hospitality and service training, which included a grand orientation focusing on the restaurant’s mission, vision and chef-driven style of food, beverage and hospitality. “This extensive training on the hospitality aspect of the dining program as well as the menu helped to build excitement and confidence among staff members,” Sell said. “By the time training was complete our staff could speak confidently and passionately about our menu and vision. It also helped us to ensure our goal of making every guest feel comfortable and welcome.”

A full hand-crafted cocktail list was created to enhance the guest’s dining experience. The cocktail list includes Pineapple Rum Express and Grapefruit Ricky, as well as an extensive list of international wines, draft and local Florida bottled beers.

Atmosphere and décor put the finishing touches on this unique dining experience. Beautiful marble floors are surrounded by a rich warm interior that has been enhanced by a modern design in lighting and architecture, including a 30-ft. high ceiling that opens to private dining on the private mezzanine. An inviting outdoor patio overlooks the water and beautiful grounds.

Metz Culinary Management realizes the Ringling Brand is distinct and hopes they have accomplished their goal of reflecting that brand by providing genuine hospitality, quality chef-driven food and beverages, and a memorable culinary experience.

Ruth Corcoran
(570) 881-4172