For the last decade, Suchitra “Sue” Flynn has been pulling off an unlikely tour de force in a South Venice shopping center.
Married to a Boston Irishman with a State Department career that took them all over the world, this diminutive Thai chef from Bangkok combined the best of both their worlds in a setting that might be found in Thai tourist spots, but not the States.
Right here in South Venice, The Sand Trap Sports Bar & Grill serves up a blend of classic American bar food and authentic Thai cuisine.
Like most Thai restaurateurs, Sue is a stickler for all the details of getting not only Thai but also American cuisine absolutely right. Her Thai line cooks must be masters of both.
“I’m just the insignificant other,” joked Pete. “My wife is the owner, operator and whip-cracker here. She has very high standards. In fact, I’m the only thing she ever lowered her standards for.”
The couple met during the Vietnam War when Sue was a receptionist at the posh Dusit Thani hotel in Bangkok. After marrying in 1971, they made their home in northern Virginia while Pete worked for the State Department.
One day, while Pete was on assignment to Afghanistan, Sue asked him, in a fateful long-distance call to Kabul, if it would be all right for her to open a Thai carryout restaurant in Virginia.
It would become, many years later, the impetus for The Sand Trap.
“I knew she could handle it,” said Pete. “She’d run the officer’s club when I was assigned to Moscow, serving a couple thousand meals a day, with a big staff.”
Sue launched her Thai takeout. It was just taking off when Pete called her with the news that they’d been reassigned to Taipei and she’d have to sell it. She quickly managed to do so, only to learn from Pete that they weren’t going to Taipei after all. He’d been assigned to Washington, D.C, instead.
“You owe me a restaurant,” she told him.
When they retired to Florida in 2003, it turned out to be a temporary retirement for Sue, who quickly wearied of a life of shopping and golfing.
It wasn’t long before Pete repaid the restaurant debt to his wife, with The Sand Trap.
When they purchased it, it was a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s. Although it still has the wood-paneled feel of an Irish pub, they had to change quite a bit in a kitchen that had been heavily geared to fried food and install a massive new mahogany-like bar with custom portable tables.
In a nod to Pete’s favorite pastime, Sue transformed the place with a golfing theme, golf prints on the walls and clever Bar & Grill menu sandwich monikers like The “Birdie” (grilled chicken breast), The “Hook” (filet of fish), The “Eagle” (burger with bacon and American cheese) and The Club House. Of course, the American menu also has New England Clam Chowder for Pete, appetizers, salads, and beef, poultry and fish entrees. The sides include unique basil-garlic mashed potatoes.
But The Sand Trap wouldn’t have been Sue’s restaurant without The Thai Corner. Her alternative menu offers a full board of Thai appetizers like satay; entrees; four curries; noodle dishes including Pad Thai, Pad See Ew and Drunken Noodle (Pad Kee Mao); classic Thai soups including Tom Yum; and salads like Larb Gai and Nam Sod. And duck fans shouldn’t miss the popular house crispy duck with panang curry and jasmine rice, which appears on the American-side menu.
The light, vegetable-heavy, lower-calorie choices appeal to both health-conscious diners and Southeast Asian foodies.
“I never thought that Thai food would be that big a deal,” Pete admitted. “That’s why we serve American cuisine. But the Thai food far outsells it, and we have quite the retinue of regular customers who say, ‘Thank God you haven’t changed the menu.’”
The Sand Trap Sports Bar & Grill ($-$$), 941-493-2300, 4145 Tamiami Trail (in Venice Village Shoppes next to Publix), is open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Sunday noon to 7:30 p.m.