Whether you’re a railroad buff or not, Bob’s Train is probably the most unique and exciting place to eat in Sarasota. Yes, the restaurant is in an actual restored/transformed Pullman train car.
Located off Fruitville by the Boxing Club (long-term residents will know it as the site of the former Stottlemyer & Shoemaker lumber yard), Bob’s Train currently serves lunch only, but the extensive and equally unique menu makes up for the short hours. Everything on the menu comes with a healthy side of owner and train restorer Bob Horne’s fascinating stories of his life in the circus, in the military, and even a scientific stint with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Horne is such an apt storyteller you almost can’t believe that one person has done all these things, but he has the photographic evidence to prove it—at least two of the railroad cars onsite are lined with pictures and artifacts from his circus days and at least one photograph of him looking delightfully (and uncharacteristically!) nerdish and straitlaced as an EPA employee.
In the former restaurant, over on Central (Bob’s Place), I seem to remember that Bob had to spend more time in the kitchen, to the detriment of his customers, and his stories always had to be cut short.
Here, it seems, he has more time to chat with his guests, and even takes the time out to give his customers a narrative tour of the train cars he’s restored, including the restoration-in-progress JoMaR (John and Mable Ringling’s private railroad car). Luckily, Horne’s talented, witty—and very sharp-eared!—daughter Brittany is phenomenal at keeping Bob on track with the non-storytelling demands of the restaurant business.
I’m not quite sure how much Bob does the cooking these days, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he still has a hand in the kitchen, as he’s the sort of person who never stops moving. I’ve been a long-term fan of his blue cheese chips (homemade potato chips drizzled with blue cheese…yum!), but I skipped an appetizer and jumped into a veggie sandwich with pesto, artichokes, roasted red peppers, and olives on a toasted Kaiser bun. Now, I can be weirdly finicky about sandwiches, and food overall, texture-wise, but Bob’s veggie sandwich was very tasty!
The roasted red peppers were perfect (sometimes they can be too chewy and can taste like fish, oddly enough), the olives were just olive-y enough, and the artichoke (once I peeled it apart and flattened it—told you I was picky about food textures) was also not too chewy or crunchy, making the sandwich easily devourable and user friendly. I still spilled half of it on my clothes, but, hey, I’m a messy eater. If I wasn’t vegetarian, I’d be tempted by another one of his culinary creations—the Moose burger: Mozzarella, Olives, Onions, Sauce (a homemade horseradish sauce) and Extras (lettuce and tomatoes). I keep hoping against hope there’ll be a veggie burger option with the Moose burger one of these days. Ask Bob about his infamous skunk soup!
Oh, and we ordered the most decadent dessert I’ve ever had—chocolate spaghetti! It’s touted for looking like worms in dirt (fun for the kids) but, wow, was it good! I couldn’t stop eating it, and I don’t even like sweet things all that much.
If I remember the ingredients right, it’s angel hair pasta, chocolate, cinnamon, Peach Schnapps, butter, and probably some others I’ve missed. I was glad that one of my lunch bunch peeps suggested we order one for the table—you gotta try it!
Everybody in our lunch party loved the Bob’s Train experience, especially the railroad buff in our bunch. Bob’s Train was a big hit, and hopefully we can utilize the private room for the whole “lunch bunch” group on a future occasion.
As for me, I’m looking forward to when Bob’s Train provides a truly “moveable feast” with his future plans to provide train service to events in Tampa and Gainesville, as well as themed events featuring live circus and music entertainment. After all, performance is what Bob does best—along with fifteen gazillion other things!
Restaurant Rating: 10 out of 10 Brownie Points
2211 Fruitville Road
Sarasota, Florida 34237
Directions and More: http://bobstrain.blogspot.com/
(This is a reprint from my blog, Sarasota Bites (& Sights). Lots more restaurant reviews (and the occasional review of a local attraction) here: http://sarasotabites.wordpress.com/ Hope you enjoy!)