October 22, 2014

Best of the Gulfshore

For 35 years, Gulfshore Life has been your guide to all there is to love about life in Southwest Florida. Year-round, our editors search out great places, resources and people to help you get more out of living here. And once a year, we ask a team of lively local experts to share their collective knowledge for a detailed, up-to-date insider's guide to the Best of the Gulfshore, highlighting spectacular Southwest Florida restaurants, shops, experiences, controversies and more.

This year, our panel included a wide range of talents and points of view: foodies, a local chamber leader, a novelist, a marketing guru, a florist/designer (talk about a heavy-hitting Rolodex!), an all-around bon vivant or two, and more. As always, the discussion was passionate and at times heated, as we worked to choose a winner and two finalists (listed in alphabetical order) in each of the 47 categories. (Panel members who were eligible for any categories excused themselves from voting on those.) Also as always, even our best-connected experts came away with some new ideas and places to add to their Southwest Florida to-do list. And because even our all-knowing panel doesn't know all, this year we rounded out the judges' picks with expert advice on a few additional categories, from the best places to swing a golf club to where to stage a successful first date.

We believe the resulting list is the best Best of the Gulfshore ever. We hope it leads to some great new experiences-and re-acquaints you with some old ones as well. See you there!

Meet the Judges

Neapolitan Brenda Borchardt stays on top of businesses, newcomers and networking spots as vice president of programs at the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

Food and style editor Marsha Fottler is Gulfshore Life's consumer-in-chief, every year sampling scores of restaurants and boutiques for her Shopping and Appetite columns.

Gulfshore Life publisher Lynne Groth oversees special publications and events, including the Naples Winter Wine Festival and ACE Group Classic, and is active in community affairs.

Accomplished cook, wine collector and Neapolitan, Charles Haskell is a founding partner of restaurant management and concept company Lettuce Entertain You, whose 50 properties include Chicago's Tru.

Gulfshore Life senior editor and Fort Myers resident Tracy Jones covers the region's people, parties and charities.

Lacey King is president of Naples' Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a fine dining group that will hold its national meeting in Naples in October of this year.

Gary Shanabarger, one of the founding owners of 50fiftyflowerphilosophy, has a design business, Room, on Naples' Fifth Avenue South.

Fort Myers resident Laurel Smith is vice president of the public relations firm Gravina, Smith & Matte.

Panel moderator Robert Plunket is an editor at large, author of the magazine's monthly Culture Vulture column and of two comic novels, My Search for Warren Harding and Love Junkie.

Restaurants 

Best Waterfront Dining

Baleen at LaPlaya (Naples)

Finalists: HB's on the Gulf (Naples), Parrot Key Caribbean Grill (Fort Myers Beach), Turtle Club (Naples)

This is why you're here: One look at the tranquil Gulf from Baleen's cozy outdoor dining area brings the area's charms into sharp focus. Those same waters are just steps away at the Naples Beach Hotel's HB's on the Gulf and Vanderbilt Inn's Turtle Club. At Parrot Key Caribbean Grill, boats bob in Estero Bay as you enjoy smart bistro fare.

Best Romantic Meal

The Grill Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Finalists: Lafite at the Registry (Naples), Thistle Lodge at Casa Ybel (Sanibel Island), Veranda (Fort Myers)

Despite the manly name and gentleman's club trappings, you're free to indulge your inner romantic at the Ritz-Carlton's Grill Room. Other best places to pitch woo-or fork over a ring-are the Registry's intimate Lafite, Fort Myers' historic Veranda and the sunset-struck Thistle Lodge at Sanibel's Casa Ybel.

Best Seafood

Truluck's (Naples)

Finalists: The Dock (Naples), Oyster Shell (Fort Myers), USS Nemo (Naples)

Good catches shine at the handsomely appointed Truluck's, which flies lobsters in from New England and sends its own boats out to catch stone crabs off the Isle of Capri. You can also expect honest, rather than fussed-up fish at Naples' Dock and Fort Myers' Oyster Shell. At USS Nemo, enjoy fusion takes on Chilean sea bass and other upscale swimmers.

Best Sushi

Blu Sushi (Fort Myers and Naples)

Finalists: Sushi-Thai (Naples), Zen (Naples)

It's double the pleasure for Blu fans now that the restaurant has added an ultra-cool Old Naples' outpost to its Fort Myers base. Fifth Avenue South's Zen coaxes diners beyond the California roll, while Sushi-Thai dishes sushi and ultra-fresh stir-fries in an atmosphere that's more colonial Singapore than Naples Park.

Best French

Cote d'Azur (Naples)

Finalists: Bamboo Café (Naples),

Bleu Provence (Naples)

If it were tucked away in the French countryside, Cote d'Azur would be a place worth ditching the guidebook to find. Fortunately, chef Claudio Scaduto is serving Gallic classics to happy regulars right in the heart of Naples. Two other top cafés intimes: Eastern-influenced Bamboo and charming Bleu Provence.

Best Italian

Sale e Pepe (Marco Island)

Finalists: Mama Pasta (Fort Myers), Ristorante D'Angeli (Naples)

Sale e Pepe's Alberto Varetto serves dreamy Italian cuisine and distinguished vintages in an opulent resort atmosphere. Our panel also raved about Fort Myers' Mama Pasta, where an "everyone knows your name" vibe enlivens spacious digs, and Fifth Avenue South's equal-opportunity Ristorante d'Angeli, serving both Southern and Northern Italian favorites.

Best Mexican

Cilantro Tamales (Naples)

Finalists: Flaco's (Naples), La Casita

(Fort Myers)

The atmosphere is airy American bistro, but the food is stick-to-your-ribs Mexican, a combo that keeps crowds packing North Naples' Cilantro Tamales (and prompted a new Bonita Springs version this spring). The cucina has a conquistador flair at the Spanish-influenced Flaco's, while Parmesan-sprinkled gorditas and fish tacos at the funky purple La Casita on McGregor Boulevard transcend national boundaries.

Best Asian

P.F. Chang's (Naples)

Finalists: Origami/Wasabi (Fort Myers

and Naples), Pad Thai (Naples)

Collier County wouldn't let P.F. Chang's put up the terracotta horses that mark the entrances to the chain's other outposts, but that doesn't mean its sophisticated spin on Chinese take-out favorites hasn't won local raves. Pad Thai curries favor among Thai lovers, and whether it's called Origami in Fort Myers or Wasabi in Naples, this local favorite serves up fresh ingredients with showy style.

Best Other Ethnic

Bha Bha (Naples)

Finalists: Dwyers (Fort Myers),

World Bakery & Cafeteria (Naples)

Our judges savor the Persian-inspired cuisine of Bha Bha chef/ owner and James Beard honoree Michael Mir. Spanning the globe-and the decades-contemporary Irish rock bands accompany old-fashioned shepherd's pie at Fort Myers' Dwyers, and tres leches and empanadas are served with a side of Havana nostalgia at World Bakery & Cafeteria.

Best Pizza (Non-Chain)

Aurelio's (Naples)

Finalists: Joey D's (Naples), Stevie Tomato's Sports Page (Fort Myers and Naples)

There's nothing fussy about the pies at these Gulfshore stalwarts. Its magical, sweetly smoky sauce landed Chicago-style Aurelio's on top, but New Yorkers craving thin crusts and infinite toppings will find them at Joey D's and Stevie Tomato's Sports Page.

Best Steakhouse

Fleming's (Naples)

Finalists: Andre's (Naples), Chops (Bonita Springs and Naples)

When you're the new kid in town, you have to make your reputation early. Of course, it helps if, like Fleming's, you're packing serious, top-drawer beef. Andre's melt-off-the-bone offerings made judges' mouths water, and Chops is where many local chefs go to indulge carnivorous yens.

Best Bakery

Mikkelsen's (Naples)

Finalists: Sucrée Salée (Fort Myers),

Tony's Off Third (Naples)

Picture a fairytale cake-all swirls and layers and rich, complex flavors without the sugar shock. There's no mistaking the handiwork of Paw Mikkelsen, even when Gulfshore hostesses (or restaurants) try to pass it off as their own. Sucrée Salée and Tony's Off Third also keep the crowds lined up for tasty treats.

Best Desserts

Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Finalists: Bubble Room (Captiva Island), Registry Resort (Naples)

For desserts, the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, is the crème du la crème brûlée-or maybe it's the decadent chocolate mousse that's calling your name. At the Registry Resort, Brit Paul Heyward, the pastry chef, concocts sweets as handsome as he is. At Captiva's Bubble Room, lusciously layered red velvet and orange crunch cakes are straight out of Southern Living-or maybe Steel Magnolias.

Best Brunch

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples; Lemonia at the

Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort

Finalists: Chablis at the Registry Resort (Naples), Sanibel Princess at Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa (Sanibel)

On any Sunday morning, guests at the Ritz-Carlton's two Naples properties sit down to brunches so sumptuous there's no choosing between the two. You can also end your week on a romantic note-or impress guests to the point of speechlessness-at the Registry's Chablis or the Sanibel Harbour Resort, where brunchers get their fill aboard the Sanibel Princess.

Best Wine List

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Finalists: Fleming's (Naples), Zoe's (Naples)

Some Talmudic texts haven't received as much scholarly study as the wine list at the Ritz-Carlton's Dining Room-and this season's series of dinners with celebrity vintners only adds to the lore. Fleming's makes many top vintages available by the glass, and the wine list at Zoe's befits owners Marie and Larry Andrews' status as Naples Winter Wine Festival trustees.

Best Coffee Bar

Starbucks (Naples, Bonita Springs)

Finalists: Coffee Beanery (Naples), Lighthouse Coffee (Fort Myers)

We understand if you worry about the Seattle company's total world coffee-shop domination. We'll worry, too, just as soon as we've finished our mocha latté grande. Never fear, the '60s coffee shop vibe-folky musicians, homemade art-show flyers and good brew-can still be found at Naples' Coffee Beanery and Fort Myers' Lighthouse Coffee.

Best Martini

Blu Sushi (Fort Myers and Naples)

Finalists: Chops (Bonita Springs and Naples), Parrot Key Caribbean Grill (Fort Myers Beach)

Life is too short for ugly drinks. Pouring libations as glamorous and colorful as its crowd of regulars, Blu is about more than sushi. Equally good-looking-and good-tasting-are the inspired martinis at Chops and Fort Myers Beach's Parrot Key Caribbean Grill.

Best Business Lunch

University Grill (Fort Myers)

Finalists: Collier Athletic Club (Naples), Tropical Reef (Naples)

At University Grill, a lively buzz says deals are going down, and the polished atmosphere and top-notch food make every transaction a win/win. In Naples, you can catch almost everyone you've been meaning to call at the private Collier Athletic Club, and the networking is easy over the Tropical Reef's superb crunchy grouper.

Best-Kept Secret

French Roast Café (Fort Myers)

Finalists: Beach Seafood (Fort Myers Beach), Catering and To Go (Naples)

It's time to unmask the elegant Vietnamese specialties and French standards at Fort Myers' French Roast Café. Gala hoppers hooked on Matthews & Gardners' party fare can check out the company's storefront Catering and To Go. And in Fort Myers Beach, wholesaler Beach Seafood saves a few tables for fresh seafood lovers in the know.

Best Happy Hour

Campiello (Naples)

Finalists: Biddle's (Fort Myers),

Yabba (Naples)

Trendy hot spots come and go, but well-poured drinks and the see-and-be-seen Third Street South crowd keep Campiello the Gulfshore's happy hour of record. Blocks away, bright young things liven up Fifth Avenue South's Caribbean-themed Yabba. Others relax to the sound of tickled ivories at Biddle's piano lounge in Fort Myers.

Best Caterer

Matthews & Gardner (Naples)

Finalists: Celebrations Unlimited (Naples), Catering by Jack and Michael Elias

(Cape Coral)

Savvy hostesses have Matthews & Gardner on speed dial. The Naples caterer has earned its reputation with delicious, strikingly presented menus served with unflappable calm. Also winning kudos from our panel: Celebrations Unlimited's Jon Berry and event pros Jack and Michael Elias.

Best Wine Shop

Bacchus (Naples), Haskell's (Naples),

Finalists: Liquor Store at Fiddlesticks (Fort Myers), Wine Merchant (Naples)

One-stop shopping won't do: Stocking the ultimate Naples bar calls for trips to both Haskell's, where the wine selection is deep, and Bacchus, where scarce bottled treasures await. The spirit-savvy set also salutes the Liquor Store near Fort Myers' Fiddlesticks community and North Naples' Wine Merchant.

Best Gourmet Grocer

Fresh Market (Fort Myers and Naples)

Finalists: Blue Pepper (Fort Myers), Paesano's (Cape Coral)

Gourmands in Lee and Collier have a superstore in the Fresh Market, where obscure salsas and imported English biscuits can be found amid the outstanding meat and wine selections. Watch for aisle-to-aisle crowds at the Naples store to be relieved by a second location soon. Foodies also swear by Blue Pepper and Paesano's Italian market.

Best Place to Buy Fruits

and Veggies

Oakes Farm Market (Naples)

Finalists: Fresh Market (Fort Myers and Naples), Publix at Vanderbilt Walk (Naples)

Think local-you'll find vine-ripened Gulfshore tomatoes and melons and Florida strawberries, plus a wide variety of organics, at Naples' Oakes Farm Market. The shiny produce at the Fresh Market helps the grocer live up to its name, and a manager who cares stocks the Publix at Vanderbilt Walk with tropical fruits, fresh figs and more.

Best Sandwich

French Deli (Naples)

Finalists: Fannie's (Naples), Mini Max's Cuban sandwich (Naples)

What's better than French Deli's baguette? One stuffed with tuna, Muenster cheese or the other fabulous ingredients that make this deli a second-year winner. The efficient Fannie's delivers lunchtime standards better than Mom used to make, and you'll find the best Cuban sandwich outside Ybor City at the Mini Max on Bayshore Drive.

OUTDOORS

Best Beach

Clam Pass (Naples)

Finalists: Barefoot Beach (Bonita Springs), Lighthouse Beach (Sanibel Island)

Mangrove-lined boardwalks winding down to a secluded Gulf beach and a bar on the way? At Clam Pass, a public park behind the Registry Resort, environmental treasures and wordly pleasures come together.

Preservation and recreation are also intertwined at Barefoot Beach Preserve, while Sanibel's Lighthouse Beach is both historical gem and fun fishing spot.

Best Community Park

Cambier Park (Naples)

Finalists: Centennial Park (Fort Myers), Lowdermilk Park (Naples)

At Cambier Park, an old-fashioned bandshell and volunteer-built playground lend Old Naples small-town warmth. Public access to the city's Lowdermilk Park was preserved by early leaders who wanted young families to enjoy the Gulf beaches; here's hoping Fort Myers' leaders keep protecting access to downtown's riverfront Centennial Park.

Best Nature Attraction

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary (Naples)

Finalists: Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Sanibel Island), Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (Naples)

For half a century, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary has been the main roost for rare wood storks and other species, as well as a home away from home for migrating birds. On Sanibel, Ding Darling weathered Hurricane Charley well, and last year Naples' Rookery Bay got a visit from the president and a big new educational facility.

Best Outdoor Bar

Sunset Bar at the Naples Beach

Hotel & Golf Club (Naples)

Finalists: Cabana Bar at Bayfront (Naples), Snook Inn (Marco Island)

Follow the twilight crowds to the Naples Beach Hotel's Sunset Bar on the Gulf to enjoy companionable chatter, green flash cocktails and the nightly sky show. Built over the Gordon River, Bayfront's Cabana Bar is where young singles snare river breezes-and each other. The waterfront Snook Inn recalls a gentler pre-condo Marco Island.

Best Place to Take Kids

Caribbean Gardens: The Zoo in Naples (Naples)

Finalists: Imaginarium (Fort Myers), SunSplash Water Park (Cape Coral)

Rain or shine, we wouldn't leave you without somewhere to entertain your pint-sized troops. Kids never tire of the alligators, apes and other beasties at Naples' Caribbean Gardens; splurge on season tickets. Sunny weather calls the young and restless to Cape Coral's SunSplash; and the hands-on Imaginarium is educational and fun no matter the forecast.

GOODS AND SERVICES

Best Consignment Shop

Wear in the World (Naples)

Finalists: Rodeo (Naples),

Twice as Nice (Naples)

Wear in the World offers impeccable service to go with its consigned couture. Look for Chanel, Marc Jacobs and other designer duds at the ritzy Rodeo; and one man's barely used high-end dining furniture becomes another's treasure at Twice as Nice.

Best Florist

50fiftyflowerphilosophy (Naples)

Finalists: Fort Myers Florist (Fort Myers), Grace Lakes (Naples)

Lots of parties-and weddings-couldn't get started without the

floral finishes of perennial winner 50fiftyflowerphilosophy. Naples hostesses have long relied on Grace Lakes for elegant arrangements, and Lee County residents have trusted their flowery sentiments to Fort Myers Florist for more than 50 years.

Best Salon

Robert of Philadelphia (Naples)

Finalists: Hair by Carlos (Fort Myers), Sphere (Naples), Top It Off (Fort Myers)

Forget about Philadelphia-Robert DiLella and his family have been

here so long we call them natives. Generations of Neapolitans wouldn't call on anyone else for their coifs. At Fifth Avenue South's trendy Sphere, shop for beauty products and boutique fashions aprés style. In Fort Myers, the best-dressed tresses originate at Hair by Carlos and Top It Off.

Best Spa

Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Finalists: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point (Bonita Springs), Pink Shell Beach Resort (Fort Myers Beach)

The ever-evolving spa at the Ritz-Carlton, Naples, stays at the top of national best lists as well as ours. Nouveau therapies-water massage, anyone?-attract beauty junkies to Bonita Springs' Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Spa. In up-and-coming Fort Myers Beach, all-out luxury characterizes the new Pink Shell Beach Resort and its spa.

Best Place to Pamper

Your Pooch

All Dogs Hair Haven (Naples)

Finalists: Dudley's Dog Bakery (Fort Myers), Naples Pet Center (Naples)

In Naples Park, All Dogs Hair Haven has been catering to canines for more than 16 years. Your four-legged friend can enjoy pet psychic nights, gourmet treats and pet couture at Dudley's Dog Bakery. If your pooch's sacroiliac-not his psyche-needs adjusting, try reiki treatments at holistic Naples Pet Center.

Best Place to Work Out

NCH Wellness Center North (Naples)

Finalists: Athletic Club of Naples (Naples), Omni (Fort Myers)

Hard bodies love NCH's new Wellness Center North, with its state-of-the-art equipment and crowd of local power brokers. And gym rats are breaking in the shiny machines at Golden Gates' deluxe Athletic Club. Not ready to take your moves public? The 50,000-square-foot-plus Omni Club includes a separate facility for women.

Best Local Entertainer

Kat Epple (Fort Myers)

Finalists: Cahlua & Cream (Naples), Mambo Brothers (Fort Myers)

Emmy-winning composer/flautist Kat Epple is eschewing major-label contracts to maintain creative control. The cover of her latest CD was drawn by friend Robert Rauschenberg, a tribute from one artist to another. Also high on our hit parade: the smooth jazz of Cahlua & Cream and the ubiquitous Mambo Brothers.

Best Team to Root For

Florida Flame

Finalists: Everblades, FGCU Eagles girls' basketball team

With the fun, community-minded Flame, coached by former pro and Fort Myers resident Dennis Johnson, minor league basketball has found its local niche. Catch more hoops action with FGCU's high-scoring Eagles girls team; and if hockey can become a local favorite, with the Everblades playing to capacity crowds, anything is possible.

Best Sports Tournament

ACE Group Classic (Naples)

Finalists: City of Palms Basketball Classic (Fort Myers), Swamp Buggy Races (Naples)

Champions walk among us when PGA greats meet on Gulfshore greens to golf it out in the ACE Group Classic. A few miles-and a world-away, homegrown swamp buggies tear up the tracks for cheering crowds. And some 10,000 fans watch high-school hoop dreamers compete in the 33-year-old City of Palms Basketball Classic.

Best Local Performing

Arts Group

Philharmonic Orchestra (Naples)

Finalists: Florida Repertory Theatre

(Fort Myers), Naples Players (Naples)

The talented members of Naples' Philharmonic make beautiful music together. Fort Myers' Florida Rep, a professional company, puts on a full season of shows at the wonderful old Arcade, a longtime local landmark, and the Naples Players mount community theater productions at downtown's impressive Sugden Theatre.

Best Black-Tie Event

Magnolia Ball (Naples)

Finalists: FGCU Renaissance Ball (Estero); Lee County Heart Ball (Fort Myers)

The white-tie Magnolia Ball, an over-the-top evening of Southern gentility, funds oncology programs and equipment at NCH Regional Cancer Institute's Lutgert Cancer Pavilions. FGCU's Renaissance Ball re-creates an entire medieval village, and the Lee County Heart Ball is one of Fort Myers' most glam parties.

Best Tourist Attraction

Naples Pier (Naples)

Finalists: Edison & Ford Winter Estates (Fort Myers), Shell Factory (North

Fort Myers)

With all our cosmopolitan attractions, it's the homey, hometown ones that visitors most often appreciate: the 100-plus-year-old Naples Pier, the historic Edison & Ford Winter Estates and the Old Florida feel of the ever-expanding Shell Factory.

Best Festival

Naples Winter Wine Festival

Finalists: Edison Parade of Lights Festival (Fort Myers), Everglades City Seafood Festival

A three-day bacchanalia of food and wine royalty and visiting celebrities, all to benefit area children, the Naples Winter Wine Festival is the world's top charity wine event. The whole town turns out for Fort Myers' Edison Parade of Lights, and smoked mullet and fried grouper star at the Everglades City Seafood Festival.

Best Local Power Couple

Simone and Scott Lutgert (Naples)

Finalists: Ellin Goetz and Mike Watkins (Naples), Lou and Steve Pontius

(Fort Myers)

In a town with more power couples than palm trees, the Lutgerts stand out for business and philanthropy success (under his gavel, this year's Naples Winter Wine Festival passed the $11 million mark). Other heavy-hitters: landscape architect Ellin Goetz and husband Mike Watkins, owner of the Naples Beach Hotel; and Lee County's super-philanthropists, Lou and Steve Pontius.

Best Place to See

Beautiful People

The countless local charities that attract selfless volunteers

Finalists: Aja (Bonita Springs), downtown Naples

Gorgeous folks flock to the boutiques and cafés of Third Street South and Fifth Avenue South, and the 20-somethings hanging out at Aja make Bonita Springs look like The O.C. But it's those tireless volunteers-reading to kids, running errands for Hospice patients and so much more-who are the most beautiful of all.

Best Local Story of 2004

How the Gulfshore came together after Hurricane Charley

Finalists: Naples Winter Wine Festival's record-breaking auction, Southwest Florida International Airport expansion

The national story was all about Hurricane Charley's devastation, but the news that mattered was the way the region rose to the challenge of rebuilding, from volunteers pounding roofs in Pine Island to businesses providing ice and food to devastated neighborhoods. That eclipsed even the Southwest Florida International Airport expansion and the amazing philanthropy of the wine festival.

Best Thing That Could Happen Here

Adding more lanes to I-75

Finalists: Getting a Nordstrom,

public acquisition of Babcock Ranch

Actually, they are adding more lanes to I-75. But could we have them now, please-not after more years of misery? And some flying vehicles to beat in-season traffic? More in the realm of reality, vocal shoppers are lobbying for that Nordstrom, and there's mounting momentum to save the ranch.

Insider Picks

Best Fishing Spot

There's a reason why Randy Wayne White is so convincing when he describes life on Sanibel Island waters in his best-selling Doc Ford mystery-adventure series. For 15 years, he was a fishing guide working Sanibel's Tarpon Bay. "I ran thousands of charters out there," he says. "I found an idle-only zone where the bird life is fabulous and there are a lot of manatees. I caught my first sea trout, red fish and tarpon on fly-rod there, so it's dear to me." But no, he won't draw us a map.

Best Power Lunch

A devoted power-luncher for obvious reasons, Naples Mayor Bill Barnett has two favorites in his city. One is St. George and the Dragon on Fifth Avenue South. It not only attracts the power crowd, he says, but "it's very dark," important "if you don't want to be seen." For when it's all about seeing and being seen, he recommends Vergina, where the tables are right out on the sidewalk. "The food is good at both places," he says, "and you can get in and out fast-that's important."

Best Local Building

For Matthew Kragh, president of the American Institute of Architects' Southwest Florida chapter, the choice is clear. Like many other architects, he says, he considers Port Royal's Neugebauer House, by famed modern architect Richard Meier, a Southwest Florida standout. "It's a slap in the face to [the Mediterranean style] that is quickly becoming the vernacular of Southwest Florida," says Kragh. Instead, this modern classic pays homage to the semi-tropics: "Its inverted roof opens up views of the sun and water and the mangroves nearby. It really seems to fit in."

Best Place for a First Date

As the owner of It's Just Lunch, a dating service that sets professionals up for lunch (lower expectations and commitment than a full-fledged evening of drinks and dinner), Lynne Adams knows the right restaurant can help calm first-date jitters. She often advises her to clients to meet at Blue Pointe Oyster Bar in the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers. "They love the food, and they love the privacy," she says. "They have an outside area for eating, it's open, and the tables are nicely situated."

Best Golf Course

For Naples-based Golf Channel analyst Mark Lye, courses don't get any sweeter than Naples' ultra-exclusive 250-member Old Collier Golf Club. "It's so close to town yet the land is pristine", says Lyle. "There's a lot of movement, which means they moved a lot of dirt; there's a lot of sand and a lot of natural lakes. Yesterday I was on the course, and there was an eagle out there. It's just the best piece of land." While membership is by invitation only, members' guests are welcome, so choose your friends wisely.

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