October 31, 2014

Best of the Gulfshore 2012

Island dining: Grilled mahi mahi at Gumbo Limbo at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. (VANESSA ROGERS)It’s May again, which means it’s time for our annual look at the best that life on the Gulfshore has to offer. Our editors have spent the past year noting the ultimate joys in dining, shopping, entertainment and more. Turn the page and dive right in. And once you are finished, read on for the results of our Readers’ Choices poll (p. 64) and flip back to our editors’ personal favorites (p. 26), as well.

 

Food and Dining

Best ‘50s Flashback: The cherry-dipped vanilla cone at Dairy Queen, Naples. It’s a work of art, that glowing red shell atop a wafer cone, signaling your brilliance while creamy vanilla ice cream looks for an escape route down your forearm.

Best healthy beef: You are what you eat. And Alva’s Queen B’s grass-fed cattle are significantly better for you than their grain-fed counterparts, thanks to their higher concentrations of CLA (concentrated linoleic acid) and Omega 3. Two hundred cattle, 400 acres of green, green grass. Moo‘ve the grill a little closer to the patio.

BEST SEAFOOD IN THE SWAMP: Joanie’s Blue Crab Cafe (KAREN T. BARTLETT)Best seafood in the swamp: Joanie’s Blue Crab Café, Ochopee. About 40 miles east of Marco Island on Tamiami Trail puts you very close to the middle of nowhere. (That’s why the post office is so small.) But you owe it to yourself to visit this funky joint that serves delicious seafood and gator smack dab in the heart of the Everglades.

Best place to get organic sprouted banana bread: If you’re like us, you like healthy—in theory. But after one visit to Food & Thought you’ll learn to love it in practice.Everything from organic banana bread to raw chocolate coconut pie will dazzle your taste buds and impress your doctor.

Best late-night bites: Native Neapolitans know that Café Lurcat serves up some stellar late-night snacks that far surpass the standard pizza or drive-through options. At the end of the evening, you can’t beat a plate of warm cinnamon-sugar mini donuts or caramelized Brussels sprouts. Even better, they’re perfect for sharing.

Best baby sister: After their success with Sea Salt, Fabrizio and Ingrid Aielli's announcement of a new restaurant was greeted with eager anticipation. Well, Barbatella certainly doesn't disappoint. With great pizza, pastas and a gelateria, this kid sister is the perfect complement to the big kid up the street.

Best café named after a breakfast staple: Toast of Naples is divinity with a side of bacon for any breakfast aficionado. Everyone we take there loves it. Even the pickiest of eaters will find something to rave about.

BEST POWER LUNCH, COLLIER: Capital Grille (VANESSA ROGERS)Best place to experience the Caribbean without hopping a boat: Gumbo Limbo at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, is a favorite of hotel guests and locals alike for its fun and funky island cuisine. Its perfect beach-side setting makes you feel you are on vacation even if you only stop for a quick, workday lunch.

Best blast from the past: The classic supper club experience has fallen by the wayside. Or it had until Gordon’s on the River opened up earlier this year. For only $200 a person, you get an annual membership that includes access to one of Naples’ hidden restaurant treasures.

Best homage to Iron Chef: Last summer, Brian Roland decided not to let the off season be boring. He called up his local chef friends and created a one-of-a-kind dining series that pairs Roland and his guest chefs with some of the finest ingredients around. The results, served at his restaurant, M Waterfront Grille, were like something you’d see on food TV.

 

BEST PLACE FOR A BUBBLY FIX: The Waldorf Astoria NaplesDrinks
 

Best unexpected martini mix: The pickle martini at The Pub at Mercato. Athletes have known the power of pickle juice for ages. Now it gets a boozy kick. It’s not on the menu, but we promise the bartenders will throw you a knowing nod and reach for the prescribed gherkin.

Best place for a bubbly fix: The Waldorf Astoria Naples is a dream come true for those with champagne taste on a beer budget—literally. On Friday beginning at 5 p.m., cozy up at the bar for $5 flutes of Veuve Clicquot champagne and $5 appetizers. Repeat again next Friday.

Best place for a sunset cocktail: Remember when you first thought about visiting Southwest Florida, and you daydreamed of watching the sun set over the Gulf, warm breeze around you and frosty drink in hand? You may not have known it at the time, but the outdoor bar at the Naples Beach Hotel was just what you had in mind. It’s recently remodeled with plenty of seating and a comfy lounge area, so we won’t blame you if you decide to stay long after dark.

Best place to drink like an Old Floridian: If good things come to those who wait, they also come to those who drive about 25 miles off the highway to get to Tarpon Lodge, a 1920s-era fisherman’s lodge and inn tucked away on Pine Island. Once there, order a mojito and wallow in the laid-back Old Florida vibe. You may feel like you’ve traveled a few decades into the past, but we’re fairly certain you won’t mind.

BEST BEER LIST: World of BeerBest place to mix sports and a Florida atmosphere: Convenient by boat or by land, Tavern on the Bay is home to the largest HD TV in Southwest Florida and some of the best views of Naples Bay as well, making it the perfect place to catch a game (for the sports enthusiast) or to watch the boats come and go (for the sports enthusiast’s maybe-not-so enthusiastic companions).

Best place for a late-night drink on the beach: After a day at the beach, where better to end the night than right back on the beach? (You are in Southwest Florida, after all.) At La Playa’s Baleen restaurant, take the beach-bar vibe a step further and unwind around the beach fire pit with the kind of nightcap you can only get in Naples.

Best place to drink with Man Ray: Space 39 is a strange oasis in the middle of the bustle of downtown Fort Myers' bar and restaurant scene. Half-bar, half-gallery and always entertaining, you can grab a cocktail while exploring the works of local, national and international artists.

 

Everything Else

BEST PLACE TO RUN INTO AN EX-PRESIDENT: Gasparilla InnBest place to run into an ex-president: The level of exclusivity is off the charts, thanks to strict zoning laws and the fact that it sometimes seems easier to get there by boat (seriously, $10 to cross the bridge and you don’t take SunPass?). But that’s what makes the Gasparilla Inn on Boca Grande hotel a favorite of Bushes 41 and 43 and the rest of their presidential clan. Best time to spot them? Between Christmas and New Year—when W is still trying out his new rollerblades.

Best way to get out of the doghouse (for men): Norman Love Confections. They say diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but they taste awful and tend to chip the teeth. We suggest something just as beautiful but with a taste so spectacularly smooth and luscious that after one bite she’ll forget why she was mad at you. Try the Hazelnut Praline Truffle—OMG.

BEST WAY TO GET OUT OF THE DOGHOUSE (FOR MEN) Norman Love ConfectionsBest way to get out of the doghouse (for women): Nothing says, “I’m sorry” better than the opportunity to rekindle a man’s boyhood dreams of being a baseball player. While spring training tickets to catch the Red Sox, the Twins (both in Fort Myers) or even the Rays (in Port Charlotte) won’t help him become a better listener, it’ll get him out of your hair for a few hours.

Best place to capture snaps of alligators: Clyde Butcher’s photography workshops in the Everglades. Butcher will be the first to tell you he has never been eaten by an alligator. And as far as we can tell, that’s true. But this award-winning nature photographer can get you as close to the action as you’ll want while holding a Nikon camera and your lunch.

BEST PLACE TO CAPTURE SNAPS OF ALLIGATORS Clyde Butcher’s photography workshopsBest place to catch the “Green Flash”: Sunsets are one of the reasons we live here. And if you pull into the small parking lot (seriously small, so get there early) off Blind Pass Bridge, then walk down to the beach, you will get to witness it in its purest form. They say the flash has something to do with an increase in the density gradient of the atmosphere—we say it’s the crew of the Black Pearl sneezing.
 

Best catering decor: We’re all for things that taste as good as they look, which is why we have a special place in our hearts (and stomachs) for Tastebuds Custom Catering in Naples. The team’s eye for the creative—such as antipasti skewers served on a bed of wheat grass—keeps us coming back for more.

Best high-brow charity event: Celebration of Women is far from just another fundraiser. This year’s event encompassed Broadway performances, boutique-style shopping, a champagne reception and silent auction—and that’s all before the luncheon and fashion show even began. With individual tickets priced at just $55—and with proceeds benefiting Hope Hospice and Hope Kids Care for children with serious illnesses—it’s the ultimate bang for your charitable buck.

BEST USE OF ARTISTIC FAME Marcus Jansen (power and pandemics, © 2011 Marcus Jansen Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn Courtesy:101 Exhibit, Miami)Best centerpiece: Ask any party planner: No event decor is ever worsened by a well-designed arrangement of fresh flowers. Grace Lakes Florist in Naples offers completely customizable centerpieces in a variety of colors and display options to enhance everything from dinner parties to dessert tables.
 

Best place to hear country blues: If you start feeling low-down, no good or like you are missing your love in the vicinity of Buckingham, you are probably near the Buckingham Blues Bar. Just 12 miles outside of Fort Myers, this juke joint has been playing host to great players since 1957.

BEST WILD NIGHT OUT Naples Zoo’s Night Eyes tourBest use of artistic fame: Marcus Jansen isn't resting on his laurels, even if that's a pretty comfortable spot. The superstar artist has opened up a new public studio/gallery space in Fort Myers, Unit A, that gives the public a chance to see what he's working on and gives other artists space to work and display.

Best arts trend: Collaboration. Naples has long been a good arts town, but the recent pairing of some previously fiercely independent groups seems to be taking the arts to a whole other level.

Best wild night out: The Naples Zoo’s Night Eyes tour, led by zoo director David Tetzlaff, introduces you to the wildlife after dark. Safely touch a venomous snake, hear the lions roar. Fun, fun, fun.

BEST HOOP DREAMS COME TRUE BEST: FGCU’s women’s basketball teamBest place to meet a gator: At Tin City in Naples, Gator Man Mike will let you hug, hold and have your picture taken with one of his live Florida alligators. For the kids, he has baby ones to cuddle.

Best hoop dreams come true: What a season the Florida Gulf Coast University’s women’s basketball team had. The Eagles won the Atlantic Sun Conference championship with an 18-0 record, finished with a 29-3 mark and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. The team’s first-round loss to St. Bonaventure in overtime was heartbreaking, but also a learning experience for next year.

BEST ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE Sammy WatkinsBest athletic performance: People across the country are learning what folks who follow Lee County football already knew: Sammy Watkins can flat out play football. The freshman wide receiver set school, conference and national records in his first season at Clemson. Luckily for football fans, this is only the beginning of a long career.

Best shortcut: Now that season is over, we can dare to brave Pine Ridge Road again. But for four months out of the year Orange Blossom Drive is a life saver. A two-lane oasis, this street takes us from Livingston Road to Goodlette-Frank Road without being stuck at a light through two cycles.

Best urban oasis: Tired from shopping on Fifth Avenue South all day? Then duck into Merrihue Mini Park, one of the best hidden treasures in Southwest Florida. What looks like a little alley with benches opens up onto an observation deck with a great view of Spring Lake. The perfect spot to recharge in downtown Naples.
 


Hidden treat: One of the luxurious desserts at Gloria’s La Trattoria Cafe Napoli. (VANESSA ROGERS)Ivan Seligman’s hidden gems

Our roving food correspondent clues you in to the places to seek out.

Martin Fierro, Naples. This Uruguayan-Argentinean spot has some of the best steaks in Southwest Florida at a quarter of the price of conventional steak houses. The secret’s in the choice of beef and the unique hardwood slow grilling.
 
Dolce & Salato, Naples. This is my go-to spot to take friends for refreshingly delicious, light dining with a unique Italian twist, and for exquisite desserts to take to friends' homes and dinner parties.

L’Orient, Naples. L’Orient offers beautiful and deliciously creative Asian food in a lovely waterside setting. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the owners/brothers are on site and helpful. This is one of the top Asian spots in Southwest Florida.

Yabo Restaurant, Fort Myers. Yabo has eclectic live music, tasty mostly Italian food and a friendly vibe. Come casual and happily stay for hours.

Gloria’s La Trattoria Café Napoli, Fort Myers. My Fort Myers home away from home for wonderful Spanish, Cuban and Italian cuisines in a lovely little spot. Gloria cooks with love, and you benefit.

 

Best of Lee: Our critics call Sweet Melissa’s the best restaurant in Lee County. (VANESSA ROGERS)5 FAVORITES FROM OUR RESTAURANT CRITICS

Karen Tolchin and Tom DeMarchi pick their top spots from the past year.

Sea Salt, Naples. Still the very best of Collier, as far as we’re concerned. Ask Chef Fabrizio Aielli to crystallize drops of truffle oil for an amuse bouche

Sweet Melissa’s. Sanibel. Quite simply the best of Lee County, for its fresh ingredients and innovative pairings. They had us at their grilled romaine salad with truffle oil!

Aqua, Naples. Delicious food served with the warmest of welcomes, courtesy of co-owner Mr. G.

DaRuMa, Fort Myers and Naples. Our new go-to place when we feel like watching somebody set stuff on fire for our entertainment. Dinner becomes an event, and the food is a cut above the usual Japanese steak house. 

Seasons 52, Naples. Go for the flatbread of the week, 52 different flatbreads each year… What a pity to only have one mouth. 

 

BEST SINGING STAR: Casey WestonBEST OF THE REST There are just too many people, places and things along the Gulfshore we think deserve some recognition that we couldn’t fit them all in our story. Gulfshore Life Staff

Best place for a power lunch, Collier: Capital Grille Best place for a power lunch, Lee: Veranda Best dive bar: North Naples Country Club Best new kid in town: C’mon Best place to find a manatee: Manatee Park, Fort Myers Best bloody Mary: The Dock’s build-your-own bloody Mary bar on Sundays Best new hire: Kathleen van Bergen, the Phil Best live performers: Nate Augustus and the Gladezmen Best salad dressings: Ruth’s Chris Steak House Best weird Naples tradition: The Great Dock Canoe Races Best weird Fort Myers tradition: Court of Edisonia Best bartender(s): Staff at Avenue Wine Café Best value for brunch: Naples Tomato Best place for Nationally recognized theater: Florida Rep Best place for a bike ride, Lee: Sanibel Island Best place for a bike ride, Collier: Gulfshore Boulevard/Gordon Drive Best place to get fender envy: Naples Luxury Imports Best beer list: World of Beer Best place to get crabby: Truluck’s Best Place to Shop for Deals: Best of Everything Best place to grab dinner before a show: University Grill Best dress-up opportunity (for a cause): Pirate Ball Best off-the-beaten-path breakfast spot: Alva Country Diner, Alva Best singing star: Casey Weston Best cheap date: Wiggins Pass State Park for Sunset Best place to explore the waterfront: Naples Water Taxi Best donuts, Collier: Peace, Love and Little Donuts Best donuts, Lee: Bennett’s Fresh Roast

 

 

Best of the Gulfshore Readers’ Choices 2012

 

COLLIER COUNTY

BEST NEW RESTAURANT Seasons 52New Restaurant
Winner: Seasons 52
Finalists: Agave, Komoon

Chinese Restaurant
Winner: PF Chang’s
Finalists: Charlie Chiang’s, O’mei

French Restaurant
Winner: Bleu Provence
Finalists: Café Normandie, Cote D’Azur

Italian Restaurant
Winner: Naples Tomato
Finalists: Campiello, Carrabba’s

Mexican Restaurant
Winner: Agave
Finalists: Flaco’s, La Bamba

Thai Restaurant
Winner: Sushi Thai
Finalists: Komoon, Thai Basil

Seafood Restaurant
Winner: Truluck’s
Finalists: Randy’s, U.S.S. Nemo

Sushi Restaurant
Winner: Sushi Thai
Finalists: DaRuMa, Fuji

Steakhouse
Winner: Capital Grille
Finalists: Fleming’s, Shula’s

Non-chain Pizza
Winner: Cosmos
Finalists: Joey D’s, Peppi’s

Barbecue Restaurant
Winner: Michelbob’s
Finalists: Rib City, Texas Tony’s

Deli
Winner: Jason’s Deli
Finalists: Publix, Stage 62

Breakfast
Winner: First Watch
Finalists: Patric’s, Skillets

Brunch
Winner: Naples Tomato
Finalists: Agave, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Romantic Dining
Winner: Turtle Club
Finalists: Baleen, Bleu Provence

Waterfront Dining
Winner: Turtle Club
Finalists: The Dock, Baleen

Family-Friendly Restaurant
Winner: Agave
Finalists: Carrabba’s, Mel’s Diner

Hotel Restaurant
Winner: Shula’s (The Hilton)
Finalists: Baleen (La Playa), The Grill (Ritz-Carlton, Naples)

Best-Kept Secret
Winner: Café Normandie
Finalists: Agave, Alexander’s

Ice Cream Parlor
Winner: Royal Scoop
Finalists: Kilwin’s, Regina’s Bar

Bar
Winner: Agave
Finalists: Blue Martini, The Pub at Mercato

Restaurant Wine List
Winner: Naples Tomato
Finalists: Capital Grille, Shula’s

Wine Shop
Winner: Total Wine
Finalists: ABC, Decanted

Gourmet Grocery/Market
Winner: Whole Foods
Finalists: Fresh Market, Wynn’s

Hair Salon
Winner: Robert of Philadelphia
Finalists: Allure et Beaute, Salon Tease

Health Club
Winner: NCH Wellness Center
Finalists: L.A. Fitness, Lifestyle

Spa
Winner: The Ritz-Carlton Spa, Naples
Finalists: Golden Door, Spa 41

Florist
Winner: Gene’s on 5th
Finalists: Garden District, Grace Lakes

Garden Center
Winner: Driftwood
Finalists: Home Depot, Lowe’s

BEST PET PAMPERING Wigglebutt InnPet Pampering
Winner: Wigglebutt Inn
Finalists: Camp Bow-Wow, For Footed Friends

Place to Take Kids
Winner: Naples Zoo
Finalists: Naples Botanical Garden, Sun and Fun Lagoon

Beach
Winner: Vanderbilt
Finalists: Lowdermilk, Naples Beach

BEST GOLF COURSE Tiburón Golf ClubGolf Course
Winner: Tiburón Golf Club
Finalists: Naples Beach Hotel, Pelican Marsh

Black-Tie Event
Winner: Naples Winter Wine Festival
Finalists: Angel Ball, NCH Hospital Ball

 

LEE COUNTY

New Restaurant
Winner: Cristof’s
Finalists: Figs, Coconut Jack’s

Chinese Restaurant
Winner: P.F. Chang’s
Finalists: El Chinese, Stir Crazy

French Restaurant
Winner: Saigon Paris Bistro
Finalists: Blue Windows, A Table Apart

Italian Restaurant
Winner: Angelina’s
Finalists: Carrabba’s, Cirella’s

Mexican Restaurant
Winner: Iguana Mia
Finalists: Cantina Laredo, Senor Tequila

Thai Restaurant
Winner: Sushi Thai
Finalists: Home Thai, Thai Garden

BEST SEAFOOD RESTAURANT Bonefish GrillSeafood Restaurant
Winner: Bonefish Grill
Finalists: Pincher’s, Prawn Broker

Sushi Restaurant
Winner: Blu Sushi
Finalists: Origami, Sushi Thai

Steakhouse
Winner: Ruth’s Chris
Finalists: Chops, Outback

Non-chain Pizza
Winner: Grimaldi’s
Finalists: Marsala’s, Tony Sacco’s

Barbecue Restaurant
Winner: Rib City
Finalists: Famous Dave’s, Sonny’s

Deli
Winner: Jason’s Deli
Finalists: Jersey Mike’s, Mario’s, Publix

Breakfast
Winner: First Watch
Finalists: Perkins, Skillets 

Brunch
Winner: Angelina’s
Finalists: First Watch, Tanglewood

Romantic Dining
Winner: Angelina’s
Finalists: Roy’s, Veranda

Waterfront Dining
Winner: Bayfront Bistro
Finalists: Coconut Jack’s, Parrot Key

Family-Friendly Restaurant
Winner: Perkins
Finalists: Angelina’s, Mel’s 

Hotel Restaurant
Winner: Tarpon Bay (Hyatt Regency Coconut Point)
Finalists: Pincher’s (Holiday Inn), Sanibel Harbor Steakhouse

Best-Kept Secret
Winner: Angelina’s
Finalists: Crave, Tarpon Bay

Ice Cream Parlor
Winner: Royal Scoop
Finalists: Häagen Dazs, Love Boat

Bar
Winner: Angelina’s
Finalists: Uptown Larry’s, World of Beer

Restaurant Wine List
Winner: Angelina’s
Finalists: The Grape, Ruth’s Chris

Wine Shop
Winner: Total Wine
Finalists: ABC, Shoals Restaurant and Wine Bar

Gourmet Grocery/Market
Winner: Fresh Market
Finalists: Mario’s, Shoals Restaurant and Wine Bar

Hair Salon
Winner: Zervos Salon
Finalists: Red Salon & Spa, Vincent’s Salon & Spa 

Health Club
Winner: L.A. Fitness
Finalists: Anytime Fitness, Omni 

Spa
Winner: Stillwater Spa (Hyatt Regency Coconut Point)
Finalists: Massage Envy, Spada 

BEST FLORIST Fort Myers FloristFlorist
Winner: Fort Myers Florist
Finalists: Heaven Scent, Planned Perfection 

Garden Center
Winner: Driftwood
Finalists: Home Depot, Lowe’s

Pet Pampering
Winner: (tie) Four Paws, Groomingdale’s
Finalists: Doggy Day Spa, PetSmart 

Place to Take Kids
Winner: Lakes Park
Finalists: Imaginarium, Chuck E. Cheese’s

Beach
Winner: Bonita Beach
Finalists: Barefoot Beach, Fort Myers Beach

Golf Course
Winner: Veranda
Finalists: Fiddlesticks, Old Corkscrew

Black-Tie Event
Winner: Heart Ball
Finalist: Tux and Trees Gala

This list is a result of our Readers’ Choices ballots, which were submitted via gulfshorelife.com

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