Mike Yoder and I are sitting at the bar at Mark Caragiulo’s latest venture, Veronica, a sexy seafood house with a supper club vibe, where Mike is the bar manager. He moved to Sarasota from Plymouth, Indiana, in 1975 and graduated from Riverview High School in 1985, before deciding to join the Navy. He was a fire control man on the USS Kitty Hawk, the Navy’s last remaining diesel-fueled air carrier. Mike gestures behind the bar, where his Navy jumper occupies a place of pride, and shrugs. “Mark also hung my boot camp picture in the ladies room.”
It does seem fitting that the bar manager of a restaurant whose theme revolves around a woman driven mad waiting for a love lost at sea should have spent his formative years as a sailor.
If Mike looks familiar, it’s probably because he is. Mike has been involved in nine Sarasota restaurant openings in the last few decades and he’s been bartending in Sarasota since 1992. If you visited the bars at Helmsley Sandcastle, Chelsea Grill, Lemon Coast, Horsefeathers, or Silver Cricket during the height of their popularity, it’s a safe bet that Mike has mixed you more than a couple of cocktails over the years.
Mike spends his downtime rebuilding classic cars and motorcycles and hanging out with his 10-year-old American Staffordshire Terriers, Tiger and Tina. He also often has something pickling in the kitchen, which is why we’re sitting at the bar at Veronica on a lovely late-summer afternoon surrounded by bags and bags of pickled vegetables.
Mike started making his Groovy Garnishes over the years to accompany various vodka infusions and cocktail creations. His pickled drink garnishes are featured at Social Eatery, Made, Shore, Owen’s Fish Camp, Caragiulos, and Veronica. Mike has been friends with the owners of Big Apple produce since he was 13 years old.
“They have a big family and there was always something cooking when I would go over there. I picked up a lot just from hanging out with them and then learned more from various chefs throughout my bartending career.”
Mike’s garnishes include pickled asparagus, cauliflower, beans, black olives stuffed with capers and cheeses, corn on the cob, okra, and even pickled shrimp. He blanches ingredients in salted boiling water before shocking them in an ice bath and then pickling them for at least two days in variations on his special brine. The brine includes fresh dill, garlic, jalapeño, lemon, and other fresh herbs and spices. Mike packages the pickled vegetables in the brine to keep the pickling process going until the garnishes are used to top a Sunday brunch Bloody Mary or to add excitement to a simple martini.
At this time, you can only enjoy Mike’s tasty garnishes at the aforementioned bars but he’s hoping to retail them in the future. We’re looking forward to trying them out in the Edible test kitchen.
Veronica Fish & Oyster: 1830 S
Osprey Ave, Sarasota; 941-366-1342;