Hot Dish: July 29, 2009
By Ivan Seligman
Inside the Gulfshore’s Dining Scene.
Dine with Dolphins at Flippers on the Bay
Flippers on the Bay has long been a tropical oasis for boaters, who glide right onto its sandy beach, as well as for those who arrive by car and bicycle.
Boaters head back into the bay after dining at Flippers.
This palm-shaded, poolside paradise, at Lovers Key Resort on Fort Myers Beach, could be a setting for Jimmy Buffet’s Cheeseburger in Paradise! Beach your boat or park your car and come upstairs. Yep, it has a roof and a wooden deck, but its sides are wide open to the cooling breezes, stunning sunsets and curious birds. The view is relaxing, stretching across the expanse of the open bay. When I visited last week, five dolphins lazily swam by and pelicans dove for dinner.
The Lover's Key Resort pool.
Your dinner will be almost as fresh as the pelicans’. The portions are large and the prices reasonable. My favorite appetizer is the monstrous mussels Neapolitan with bacon, garlic pesto and white wine for $10. It’s harder to choose the main course because so many items stand out. I liked the special bronzed grouper, with the oh-so-tender fish nestled among tropical fruits and veggies cooked just right.
Bronzed grouper at Flippers.
Get there in time for sunset, have a cold drink, and let the pastel colors paint the mangroves and bay into your memory. Flippers at Lovers Key Resort, 8771 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, 765-1040.
Dozens of popular spots have lowered prices—some cut food quality just a tad, and portion size, too—in a competitive spiral to woo dining dollars. Where do most diners now flock? To the perceived best mix of discounted price and quality. The parking lots don’t lie! Some examples: Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Miramare Ristorante, Naples Tomato, Randy’s Fishmarket Restaurant and Zizi Restaurant.
I know quite a few multimillionaires who now wouldn’t dream, on principle, of eating anywhere but at discounted restaurants! This challenge has folks trying spots they never entered before the “buy one, get one free” discount war. Surviving restaurants expect to recoup summer losses when snowbirds return in the long-awaited Season.
The only price drop I’ve seen in the higher-end Naples restaurants (those that have survived the downturn) is at The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. It reduced its corkage fee to $75 and is offering wines at half price. Yet it is still rare to see restaurants raise their prices these days. Naples’ Bay House is the only restaurant I know to have significantly increased prices this year. Their prix fixe dinner price has increased from $25 to $29.
Comings and Goings...
Fort Myers’ Cin Cin, one of Fort Myers’ last remaining finer dining spots, closed July 18. It was transformed months ago from a Mediterranean Tapas Bar and Grille to a Gastro Pub, to better weather the economic slump. Talented Chef Scott Sopher maintained his cuisine’s high quality, serving tasty, large portions at very low prices. But how long can one survive with $9 appetizers going for $3? Only a few months. The change certainly brought in more diners, but not enough to keep it going. Where will this superbly talented chef next work his culinary magic?
Bonita Springs’ Bella Vita, a hidden neighborhood Italian favorite for years, recently closed, leaving many loyal snowbirds to be bewildered upon their return. This family restaurant did well for years, but in this economy—same sad story.
Frascati’s Italian Restaurant, a Naples favorite, has closed after many years of service and happy memories. The telephone is no longer answered at lunch or dinner time. Plans are not know for the site.
Let’s broaden our dining choices together. Post your hints and experiences of great Southwest Florida restaurants below, as a comment, or email firstname.lastname@example.org