Second only to our beaches and waterways, Venice is known for our great restaurants. But in a down economy, dining out is one of the first things people cut back on. How, then, have some restaurants continued to attract customers, and even prospered?

We surmised it must be the food that draws people in. So we sought out five local establishments and went to the source. Join us as we meet a few of the faces behind the places.

Lucky Dog Diner has been a Venice landmark since 1952. Owner Dawn Surak attributes their success to keeping the tried-and-true favorites while expanding their menu to have something for everyone.

Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry milkshakes are still whipped up in the 1952-style mixer, their hot dog menu has 20 different selections—including turkey dogs, tofu dogs, all-beef and Angus dogs—and their burgers have been voted the best around. For those who can’t decide, there’s even a burger dog.

What keeps the locals coming back, though, said Surak, is the huge variety on their menu. Chef Carlos also grills up sandwiches—from hot ham and cheese to all veggie—and fish, chicken and healthy salads. Lucky Dog makes breakfasts, too, with seasonal surprises such as pumpkin pancakes and Christmas coffee.

Find Lucky Dog Diner at 602 Tamiami Trail S. in Venice, 941.483.4840.

The success of The Back Eddy Bistro stems from owners Ed and Allyson Glennon’s philosophy: To end up with something good, you have to start with something good. Or, as Chef Ed put it, “Start with fresh, end with delicious.” Everything they serve is homemade, from the bread to

the ice cream.

Ed’s training at the Culinary Institute of America couldn’t hurt, either, along with the couple’s experience as personal chefs to the famous. That’s why all their dishes offer a little something different.

Lump crab cakes with lemon and Cajun remoulade sauce. Asian eggplant sandwich with green cashew sauce. Or marinated grilled salmon with tzatziki sauce and tomato salsa.

The Back Eddy Bistro is located at 239 Miami Avenue W., 941.244.2643.

Curry Creek Café’s owner/chef, Dave Arbuckle, revealed their secret: food that’s consistently high quality, and a friendly, family experience.

“We try to make everyone feel special by greeting them at the door,” said Arbuckle, “and I try to get out of the kitchen and say hello at the tables. We want them to feel as though they’re at a friend’s home.”

The café’s specialty is fresh seafood, and veal and pasta are also popular. Dishes with Indonesian flair make up a substantial portion of the menu—courtesy of Arbuckle’s wife and co-owner, Rofie, who is Indonesian—with American fare and Italian dishes also plentiful.

Curry Creek Café is located at 920 S. Tamiami Trail in Nokomis, 941.485.6560.

Sam Chavers, one of the owners of Captain Eddie’s Family Seafood Restaurant, sums up their popularity in two words: “buy local.”

“People know our menu is 90 percent fresh Florida fish,” said Chavers. Patrons flock to Captain Eddie’s for their lobster roll, rock shrimp and grouper, prepared blackened, fried or broiled and served with crab cake stuffing.

A graduate of the Florida State Hotel and Restaurant School, Chavers believes in fresh fish prepared simply. “We don’t mask the fish with sauces,” Chavers said. Instead, fish is served with homemade tartar sauce, cole slaw and salads.

Their fresh seafood market, which predates the restaurant, is also very popular.

Captain Eddie’s is at 107 E. Colonia Lane in Nokomis, 941.484.4623.

It’s not surprising that fish tops the menu at the Saltwater Café. What is surprising is the extent of the menu—or menus to be exact. In addition to fish, seafood, all-natural beef and cheeseburgers, the restaurant also has a gluten-free menu that’s as extensive as the regular menu, a kids menu with healthy choices as well as typical chicken or fish fingers, early bird, sunset, late night and Sunday brunch menus.

“We are very family friendly,” said Chef Rolf of the restaurant’s wide appeal. Originally from Bern, Switzerland, Chef Rolf is French-trained, so the menu has European as well as Asian influences.

The Saltwater Café is also known for their extensive wine list—they’ve been recognized with awards from both “The Wine Spectator” and “Wine Enthusiast”—and locally for their 39-cent Happy Hour wings and oysters.

The Saltwater Café is located at 1071 Tamiami Trail N. in Nokomis, 941.488.3775.

These restaurants represent just a sampling of the great variety of cuisine we are fortunate to find in Venice and the surrounding community. One thing is certain: Whatever you’re in the mood to eat, there’s a local chef eager to

grill it, fry it, sauté it, broil it, flambé it or toss it up fresh just for you.

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