Finding the Sweet Spots
What sinful and delightful choices we have in the pursuit of the finest pies, cakes, ice cream, yogurt and gelato.
Photography by Vanessa Rogers
Ye who enter here abandon all hope of calorie, carb and BMI (body mass index) control. Because sometimes you just need something sweet. The good news is that we have plenty of choices here on the Gulfshore. And the other good news is, there’s no bad news.
Desserts tend to flow in and out of style like runway fashions. While we still have a love affair with pie (especially Key lime, and most especially Randy’s Key lime), dedicated pie shops are scarce. But you can find a = cupcake emporium around practically every corner.
Here in paradise we can get a chocolate pink flamingo, a chocolate sea turtle or a green-fringed chocolate palm tree. We can indulge without too much guilt in a single, sparkling, handcrafted jewel-toned objet d’art, or we can drape an obscene amount of hot fudge over our 1950s era, three-scoop banana split. Ice cream never goes out of style.
Do you know your monkey bread from your bear paw? Hint: One’s a savory cinnamon bun topped with caramelized banana slices at the Monkeybread Factory in Old Naples. The other is a very generous-sized caramel, nut and chocolate confection, $5 and worth every penny at Chocolate Expressions on Sanibel Island. But, please, enough talk. Leave your guilt trip at the door, and let’s indulge!
It’s a Pie. It’s a Cake. It’s PieCakin?
Please don’t kill the messenger, dear carbcounters, but I’ve discovered the most over-the- top, insanely luscious, who-knew-you-could-do-this cake on the planet. At Vicki’s Sweet Things Cakery and Creamery, you can get two full-size fruit pies baked as layers into an awe-inspiring, dense, moist three-tier cake. It’s called— naturally—a PieCakin.
A little history: A gifted baker named Katie Gardenia invented mermaid cakes more than two decades ago on Captiva Island. At her 18th birthday party, an aspiring chef named Vicki DelBagno was charmed by Katie’s artistry. By serendipity, the baton was passed to the young baker a few years later. Vicki still makes the original and most famous mermaid cake: the orange crunch, a yellow cake with Grand Marnier, a crunchy brown sugar and almond filling, orange cream cheese icing and fresh sliced oranges. Get it whole or by the slice at Bailey’s General Store on Sanibel. (239)472-1516, baileys-sanibel.com.
Meanwhile, Vicki opened her own 19th Century Victorian-style bakeshop, taking the mermaid cake concept to new levels. She recently baked a Coca-Cola PieCakin with cherry pie layers. Get it? Cherry Coke! Her current top seller is the exclusive Sanibel Lime-elo cake (from a real limetangelo cultivar) layered with Key lime pie.
Absolutely worth the trip: 15675 Old McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. (239) 288-6110.
King of Sweets: Norman Love does more than chocolates. Try this delicious and beautiful strawberry waffle.
Big Cake …
The Bubble Room on Captiva Island, that queen of crazy-fun, one-of-a-kind kitschy restaurants, was also created by Katie Gardenia. Her mega-size Bubble Cakes are still sold whole or by the slice in the restaurant lobby. The moist, three-layer red velvet is the signature bubble cake, but all 14 selections will drive the undecided crazy. (239) 472-5558, bubbleroomrestaurant.com.
… Little Cake
Alice’s friend The Hatter may have been mad, but he certainly served charming cake—just the right size for two. You can get your own elegant miniatures at the Whole Foods pastry counter. I love the frilly little white cake, topped with a beautifully sculpted tropical flower, like a fine couture hat. At Naples’ venerable Wynn’s Market, nothing’s more adorable than the fluffy little puppy cake, with its pink tongue, chocolate chip eyes and pink bow. (239) 261-7157, wynnsonline.com.
Cakes for Lingering
Sometimes the total cake experience requires a cozy table on a sun-dappled patio, with a glass of wine or cup of fresh-brewed coffee, a delightful companion and good conversation. Tony’s Off Third in Old Naples provides just such a divine setting. I’m thinking a baked-from-scratch slice of raspberry Grand Marnier cake for you, and an insanely creamy slice of flourless chocolate cake for me. With extra forks for sharing. (239) 262-7999, tonysoff third.com.
Despite its name, April’s Pie Company in downtown Fort Myers is primarily a long-time breakfast and lunch hangout for locals from mayors and judges to the office and construction crowds. Still, it earns its name with 36 down-home pies, starting at $2.50 per slice. (239) 337-4004, aprilspiecompany.com.
Key lime pie started out as a dessert selection at Randy’s Fishmarket seafood restaurant in Naples. But customers couldn’t get enough of its just-tart-enough perfection, and now you can buy it at many food markets and shops all over the Gulfshore. For fun, try the dark chocolate-dipped Key lime pie-sicle, a frozen wedge of pie on a Popsicle stick. (239) 593-5555, randysfishmarketrestaurant.com.
Mix, Weigh and Pay
Welcome to Menchie’s, sing out the smiling young staffers behind a small pink and green checkout island in the frozen yogurt shop. Here’s the drill: You pick up a stack of thimble size cups and make your way along the pink and green wall imbedded with soft-serve frozen yogurt dispensers.
Pull the levers and taste as many flavors as you want, free, and then walk out if you want to. But you won’t want to. Grab a pink and green cup to fill with your favorite flavor(s), and then cruise the 10-foot-long toppings bar. Fresh fruit, nuts, sprinkles, syrups, chunks of your favorite candy bars…no limits, no rules.
You pay by weight, excluding the weight of the cup. The final decision—pink or green collector spoon. And for the kids: Will that be a pink and green Sweetmobile souvenir, or the chocolate and vanilla polka-dotted one? It’s fun! (239) 260-1343, menchies.com.
Yogurbella: Marriage of Yogurt, Icy Treat and Fruit Cocktail
This elegant little frozen yogurt parlor near the Silverspot movie theater at Mercato is the grownup version of Menchie’s. The service is more traditional, with selections behind a glass case, but there’s a clever twist. Pick your favorite flavored yogurt and freshly sliced ripe fruits, like grape-size blackberries and oh-so-juicy kiwi. Among the prettiest toppings are delicate, pearl-sized translucent balls filled with fruit juice. And here’s the twist: Your selections are gently smashed up with shaved ice for a refreshing, almost guilt-free treat. (239) 431-6787, yogurbella.com.
Back to the 50s: A Real Ice Cream Parlor
You may remember—or have at least seen it in the movies: one scoop each of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream side by side in a glass dish, embraced by a banana sliced longways. Each scoop is drenched in its own pineapple, strawberry or chocolate sauce, and the whole thing is topped with whipped cream and a cherry. Enjoyed while seated on a high red vinyl stool at the marble counter or in a red vinyl booth near the jukebox. The nostalgia is half the fun at several ice cream parlors around the Gulfshore. Get your egg creams, malts, and banana splits here:
Regina’s Ice Cream Pavillion,
Fifth Avenue South, Naples. It’s the one with the red and white checkered linoleum floor, the vintage red Chevy Bel Air mounted on the wall over the jukebox. (239) 434-8181.
Beebe’s Ice Cream,
Marco Walk Plaza, Marco Island. A little bit of Italy with its Italian ices and cookies; a touch of New York, with its egg creams and real-deal New York cheesecakes. (239) 642-9800, beebesicecream.com
The Love Boat,
San Carlos Boulevard, near Fort Myers Beach. Here’s your quintessential after-the-beach ice cream store: cobalt blue concrete block outside, checkerboard linoleum and fluorescent lights inside, with old-timey team pennants and creamy, back-to-the-’50s-size scoops. (239) 466-7707.
Vanderbilt Drive, Bonita Springs. This retro-themed, family-style ice cream store in a concrete block building off Bonita Beach Road deserves every one of those best-of-the-best awards. Sometimes the line wraps halfway around the building. (239) 992-2000, royalscoop.com.
And now there’s a baby Scoop— the first Royal Scoop franchise, just opened at U.S. 41 and Vanderbilt Beach Road in Naples’ Pavilion Shopping Center. Same fabulous flavors and convenient from all directions. (239) 597-4043.
Pinocchio’s Original Homemade Italian Ice Cream,
Periwinkle Way on Sanibel. Even without any ’50s kitsch, the 30-year-old family-owned ice cream parlor wows visitors with its World Famous Sanibel Krunch: homemade vanilla ice cream with toasted coconut enrobed in chocolate and gourmet mixed nuts. It’s in the Seashorse Shopping Center on Sanibel. (239) 472-6566, pinocchiosicecream.com.
Periwinkle Way on Sanibel. Please, oh gods of nostalgia and soft-serve ice cream, never take away this historic red-roofed icon with the white stone benches tucked into the subtropical landscape on Sanibel’s Periwinkle Way. A vanilla curl cone dipped in chocolate sends you right back to childhood summertime, with prices to match. (239) 472- 1770, dairyqueen.com
Is gelato the new frozen yogurt? There’s room for both here on the Gulfshore, but do check out two especially fabulous new gelaterias. At Norman Love’s Artisan Gelato in Fort Myers, try the peach Melba: an almond cake topped with crème brûlée gelato, oven-roasted peaches, vanilla-infused raspberry sauce, fresh vanilla whipped cream and toasted almonds. Beyond sensuous are the bananas Foster crepes, and authentic Belgian waffles topped with vanilla gelato, homemade chocolate sauce and vanilla whipped cream. (239) 561-7215, normanloveconfections.com.
At Barbatella’s gelateria on Third Street South in Naples, splurge on the Nutella pizza with whipped cream and caramelized banana ($14), or a more modest but equally pretty selection at $9 with artistic enhancements like biscotti, cannoli, praline and whipped cream. (239) 263-1955, barbatellanaples.com.
Apple to the Max
Q: What would you get if you skewer a tart Granny Smith apple on a stick, dip it in a kettle of warm homemade caramel, then roll it in crushed nuts and drizzle it with chocolate? A: One very decadent Granny Smith apple. Have one at Kilwins on Fifth Avenue South in Naples, at Times Square on Fort Myers Beach or Gulf Coast Town Center in Fort Myers. (239) 261- 9898, kilwins.com.
Nobody will ever win the debate over a naked, unadulterated slice of cheesecake versus one soaked, infused or topped with coffee, fresh berries, brownies, peanut butter, Oreos or anything at all. So the Cheesecake Factory at Coastland Mall covers its bases. Try the triple threat: flourless Godiva chocolate cake topped with Godiva chocolate cheesecake and chocolate mousse. (239) 435-1580, thecheesecakefactory.com.
Truffle time: Indulge your chocolate cravings with some delectable truffles from SweetHartz Chocolatier in Naples.
Bark if You Love Chocolate
“I want it all. I want it covered in chocolate.”
This slogan claimed by Chocolate Expressions (home of that sensuous bear paw we mentioned earlier) applies to any self-respecting chocoholic. Satisfy the craving with melt-in-the-mouth peppermint chocolate bark at SweetHartz Chocolatier—(239) 352-6800, sweethartz.com—near Coastland Mall. At Royal Palm Chocolates, try a sinful dark chocolate cherryalmond bark with white chocolate chips. (239) 325-8300, royal-palmchocolate. com.
About those Chocolate Pink Flamingos and Mon-Key Buntz …
Find the flamingoes and other creatures at Olde Naples Chocolate, on Fifth Avenue North, www.oldenapleschocolate.com, (239) 262-3975.
Discover the Mon-Key Buntz at the Monkeybread Factory on Fifth Avenue South. Tip: Call ahead and they’ll have yours steaming from the oven on arrival, ready for a dollop of homemade Abbotts Frozen Custard. (239) 793-6203, monkeybreadfactory.com.
Ice Cream vs. Gelato vs. Frozen Custard vs. Frozen Yogurt
Ice cream has both milk and cream. Gelato has only milk. Cream coats the tongue more, so gelato lets you taste the flavor more intensely. But wait, if it has no cream, why does gelato taste creamier? Because there’s less air in the churning process, making it more dense than ice cream. Frozen yogurt is an ice cream base with yogurt cultures tossed in, making it light and slightly tangy. Frozen custard is ice cream, too, but it contains egg yolk, a natural emulsifier, making the texture super-creamy. Now you know.
Should those who must avoid dairy and gluten products suffer a life without ice cream, frozen yogurt or gelato? Absolutely not, says Adelheidi Schuppenhauer, chef/owner of Adelheidi’s Organics. You’d never know that her creamy vegan chocolate gelato contains not a drop of milk— and it’s especially yummy in a gluten-free lavender cone or topped with fresh organic fruits. (239) 304-9870.
No dairy, no problem: At adelheidi's Organics, you can enjoy wonderful vegan gelato in gluten-free cones.