The next day we decided to do a little shopping in AMI's northernmost neighborhood, Anna Maria village.
Our favorite among the shops was the charmingly twee Shiny Fish.
In addition to beach dresses, jewelry, candles, and housewares, the store features a sand-dollar painting area and a little ice cream stand.
Even the fitting rooms were adorable.
The owner's husband creates much of the shop's artwork, including these cuter-than-cute magnets.
After spending the morning oohing and aahing over Shiny Fish's beachy wares, it was time for lunch, so we made the short drive down to the Lido Beach Resort and their oceanfront tiki bar.
There, we ordered up two fish sammies with key lime aioli on luau bread, along with some peace and quiet.
The rest of the afternoon was a tough one.
That evening we had plans to meet up with our friend Sara, who'd recently moved to Sarasota after serving her time in New York City.
We settled on Jack Dusty, the elegant waterfront bar at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, which turned out to be the perfect place to relax and get caught up.
The cocktail list was sophisticated and creative.
As the sun began to set, the palm trees twinkled with tiny lights while the sky turned a delicate pink.
Soon it was time to make the short walk over to Social Eatery & Bar for some dinner.
Social's unique indoor-outdoor setting was perfect for the warm evening.
Even the water at Social was pretty. But those strawberry torpedoes were another story.
But I hadn't picked Social for its trendy scene, or its expansive outdoor lounge, or its cozy fire pits, or its scary-shaped fruit. I picked it for The Volcano.
That, my friends, is a gigantic meatball, surrounded by a mountain of paccheri pasta and filled with bubbly hot lava. (Fine, it was Bolognese sauce and mozzarella cheese, but don't ruin this for me.)
As if The Volcano weren't enough, Social's menu has an entire section called the "Meatballeria."
The old saying is true: You can never be too rich, or have too many meatballs.
Or too much mac & cheese.
After dinner we took our drinks -- a blackberry julep, the grapefruit Old Fashioned, and one of the best cocktails I've ever had, the puckerlicious vanilla-bean lemonade martini -- to the outdoor bar, where we got comfy on one of the fireside sofas.
In addition to great company that night, we'd also gotten a great tip from our waiter at Jack Dusty: Go to Tide Tables in Cortez, where we could find the best fish tacos he'd ever had.
The forecast promised another day of perfect weather, and Tide Tables was just a short bike ride over the Cortez Bridge, so we gave it a go.
One of the last working commercial fishing villages on Florida’s Gulf coast, Cortez is replete with quaint waterside seafood shacks, and although Tide Tables is the newest one on the scene, that waiter's advice turned out to be spot-on.
With its cheery yellow exterior, crushed-shell parking lot, and open-air tiki bar offering a front-row seat to the bustle of activity on the dock, we were already smitten before we even saw the menu.
And by the time we took one bite of those heavenly fish tacos, it was a full-blown love affair.
But we shouldn't have been surprised, seeing as how it would be difficult to get fish any fresher.
As the resident pelicans well know.
We capped off our perfect lunch by sharing a slice of creamy key lime pie.
And smuggling out some fish tacos in my purse.
That evening we headed to SandBar to take in the sunset.
It had been a long day of biking, so that night we stayed close to home for dinner, at Blue Marlin in Bradenton Beach.
Housed in a 1920's cottage, Blue Marlin is done up in nautical blue-and-white, with maritime-inspired touches in every nook and cranny.
The menu included stone crab-stuffed shrimp; lobster and shrimp scampi with leeks and sun-dried tomatoes over linguine in a garlic and white wine sauce; and a classic seafood boil with andouille sausage.
After dinner we took the remainder of our wine outside to the Trap Yard, Blue Marlin's outdoor garden and live music venue.
It had been such a nice evening that we weren't quire ready for it to end, so we wandered around a bit to admire the Bradenton Beach Christmas lights.
We'd enjoyed five days of fun in the sun on Anna Maria, and we still had three more left. Surely that would be enough time to squeeze in another Volcano . . . wouldn't it?
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