BRADENTON -- Visitors to Village of the Arts’ sixth annual the Festival of Skeletons this weekend will find a new way to celebrate the Mexican holiday at Sweet and Savory Restaurant, the first new eatery to open in Bradenton’s arts neighborhood in at least five years.
The combined bakery and world food cafe, which opened in early October at 930 12th St. W., will offer a Mexican dinner featuring a chili rellenos buffet and traditional Mexican desserts. The Mexican-themed meal will be the first of monthly themed meals offered by Sweet and Savory, operated by a team intent on using its diverse culinary skills to generate renewed interest in Village of the Arts.
“I think Village of the Arts is an amazing community that is often overlooked,” says Tara Sell, a pastry chef and chocolatier who is the “sweet” part of the new restaurant’s management team. “People in the Village are truly passionate about what they do and who they are. Their entire life is an expression.”
Sell, a lifelong Bradenton resident, specializes in southern-style sweets, including peach cobbler and muffins, and also creates chocolates, cookies, pastries of all kinds and custom fresh-baked bread.
The other half of Sweet and Savory is Jim Copening, a longtime chef from New York City who relocated with his wife to Manatee County earlier this year. Copening says he looks forward to bringing a variety of “world flavors” to the area and has found an especially strong interest in his flatbreads, which are flavored with lavender, herbs, curry, semolina and other spices.
Other menu items at Sweet and Savory that Copening says have become big hits are his Waldorf salad, Yorkshire Pudding, and classic Margherita pizza.
“Coming from New York, which doesn’t have its own cuisine, I was able to learn about all kinds of world cuisines,” he says. “I’m trying to introduce new dishes to people. We’re learning what they like and also finding that they are open to new flavors.”
Sell and Copening discovered each other through Bonni Brown, who ran Bonni Bakes out of the Sweet and Savory location for 12 years. They were among five different people interested in renting the former home of Bonnie Bakes. Brown encouraged them to consider joining forces.
“I felt that what Jim wanted to do was a good fit, and that what Tara wanted to do was also a good fit,” Brown says. “It occurred to me that if they got to know each other, they would have an even stronger business. At the end of an hour and a half, everybody was really excited.”
Brown says she hopes the two will continue the “warm, comfortable” atmosphere she created with Bonni Bakes. Sell said she and Copening are also committed to ensuring affordable prices: soups and entrees range from $4 to $12 (tonight’s Mexican meal is $10), cookies go for $1.50 and most cakes are $20 to $30.
Future themed meals will include a traditional Christmas theme in December, and a multi-course French dinner and a gourmet twist on traditional American foods like burgers and hot dogs in coming months.
Both Copening and Sell are involved in plans to open other Village of the Arts businesses. Copening’s wife Donna, a mosaic artist, plans to open a gallery called Arts and Eats in January, and Sell’s fiance, Matt Allison, will be opening a gallery and fine art print studio in January called F8 Photography.
Sweet and Savory is also collaborating with Ortygia and Charisma Cafe & Art, Village of the Art’s other two restaurants, on The Village Eats: a punchcard/passport system that allows diners to earn discounts at the three eateries by dining at each of them.
“The village has been in a rough patch for a little while, but I see the onslaught of a renaissance now that it has three active restaurants,” Sell says. “I think we’re going to see the atmosphere of the village change and grow in a really positive fashion.”
The overall Festival of the Skeletons event, held from 6 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, is fashioned after the Mexican Dia De Los Muertos holiday, which is a chance to honor relatives, friends and pets who have passed away. Other Festival of the Skeletons activities this weekend include preparation of the event’s shrine and altar this morning; shrines and altars on display at galleries throughout Village of the Arts throughout the weekend; Friday night appearances by Elvis and La Catrina, the symbol of Dia De Los Muertos; live Mexican music; and the Artist Skeleton Walk, featuring 15 life-sized humanoid cutouts portraying deceased artists.
Christine Hawes, Herald business writer, can be reached at 941-745-7081.