October 23, 2014

Appetite

A Taste of New England

For a restaurant that’s been open less than a year, Bert’s Seafood & Chowder House in downtown Naples has found its sea legs in a simple yet ample menu with a genuine New England touch—manager Tom Shields Jr. and Sous Chef Marty O’Toole are from Massachusetts, and Executive Chef John Martunas is from Connecticut.

Appetizers include a few interesting choices, such as whole belly clams ($14.95) and lobster risotto ($12.95). Entrées feature the usual suspects of broiled, blackened and fried seafood, a few tempting pastas, and a generous portion of surf and turf ($42.95). The most expensive sandwich is the lobster salad roll ($31.95), but most of the menu’s items are affordable, including the fresh cod sandwich ($14.95).

Bert’s shines brightest with three dishes: “lazyman’s” lobster casserole, New England clam chowder and seafood bisque. Which is best?

We begin with Bert’s baked “lazyman’s” lobster casserole ($34.95), a compilation of fresh Maine lobster served in a hot, shallow casserole dish with a lemon herb butter crumb topping that marries perfectly with the sweetness of the lobster. Order your own, or for a table of four, order one for each couple.

The lobster casserole’s fiercest competitors are the restaurant’s namesakes. The homemade New England clam chowder ($5.95 for a cup, $8.95 for a bowl) is the creamy version packed with clams and not the least bit Vichyssoise (I’ve so often ordered New England clam chowder elsewhere only to be disappointed by potato soup with few clams). This is the real deal like I’ve only ever found in Boston.

Its brother soup is the seafood bisque, simmering with chunks of crabmeat, scallops, shrimp and lobster ($7.95 for a cup, $10.95 for a bowl). The table favorite was a toss-up between the two, and a bowl of either easily makes a meal.

At Bert’s, you can’t be territorial regarding regional favorites. I’m from North Carolina, where we’re accustomed to seafood stuffing that consists more of breadcrumbs and butter than seafood. Bert’s seafood stuffing in a cod fillet is more moist than the crispy stuffing back home. Notwithstanding, the cod was perfectly cooked.

Although it falls far outside the boundaries of luscious crustaceans, another Bert’s dish is worthy of mention. The flawlessly pan-seared beef tenderloin tips were affectionately served with a roasted garlic and Cognac demi-Marsala reduction. The best part: It was on the two-for-$39.99 daily specials menu, which included a bottle of wine, choice of entrée, salad and dessert.

What better way to end the evening than with Bert’s Chocolate Madness ($6.95)? It features chocolate mousse, Heath bar pieces, brownie chunks and chocolate truffle on a chocolate cake crumb crust.

Bert’s Seafood & Chowder House, 862 Fifth Ave. S., Naples; (239) 213-1111, www.bertsnaples.com. Open daily at 4 p.m. Reserve the wine room for private parties up to 25 people. Major credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

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