Hot Dish: Sept. 24, 2008
By Ivan Seligman
Wicked Fare Comes to Fort Myers…“Deep Sea” Dining in Naples…Economy Kills Kona
The Capital Grille Offers Intimate Setting, Group Portions
Southwest Florida’s first The Capital Grille opened for dinner on Monday. Well known in many U.S. cities for serving fine steaks aged on premises and fresh seafood, the Grille complements these with a selection of nearly 400 select wines with Philip Holcombe, affable sommelier and manager, readily available.
The 276-seat restaurant gives a warm, intimate feeling, much like being in an elegant 1890s private club, with subtle lighting to accent brass, etched glass and red mahogany paneling set off by oil paintings and fine taxidermy. The bar seats 32, yet seems smaller with its narrow, conversation-friendly aisle.
The Capital Grille
The Capital Grille’s high level of service sets the tone from the start, with friendly greeters escorting you to your table. My favorite room is in the back, looking out on the gleaming kitchen whose inner workings are laid open before you. Start with the lobster and crab cakes ($17), or the grand plateau seafood appetizer ($96), overflowing with lobster, Alaskan king crab, oysters and shrimp.
Grand plateau seafood appetizer
My favorite main course was the porcini rubbed Delmonico steak with 12-year-old aged balsamic ($42). Others favored the ethereally light Dover sole special, stuffed with Alaskan king crab ($33), and the melt-in-your-mouth tender filet mignon with cipollinni onions and wild mushrooms ($42).
Sides are sized for four people and include au gratin potatoes ($10) and—my favorite—lobster mac’n’cheese! The chocolate hazelnut cake, is also sized for four people, and the double-chocolate mint ice cream sandwich is a showstopper! The Capital Grille, 9005 Mercato Drive, Naples, (239) 254-0640.
Cape Coral Loses Ada’s Supermarket
Ada’s Natural & Organic Foods Supermarket will close its Cape Coral store on Friday, according to store manager Brad Engle. “The space will be replaced by expansion of the popular gym,” he says, referring to the adjacent Ada’s Fitness Center.
Ada’s natural supplies will still be available at the main store in Fort Myers. The new Naples branch is still planned for a November opening at The Collection at Vanderbilt, at the intersection of Vanderbilt Beach and Airport-Pulling roads. Fresh Market was originally lined up for the location but withdrew.
Shark’s Cavern Has Aquatic Centerpiece
A lot of thought went into the creation of Shark’s Cavern, Naples’ newest restaurant, from the huge, colorful, 2,700-gallon, circular saltwater aquarium with a nurse shark, angel fish and puffers, to the beautiful chairs and booths.
Proprietors Richard and Jessie Jurek and Marie Striebel hired an attentive staff to quickly greet, seat and take orders. I saw at last Friday’s opening that patrons were laughing with the experienced, friendly bartender at the family-run, upscale restaurant with a neighborhood bar and patio dining.
Executive Chef Steve Jenkins, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America-Hyde Park, formerly of Arkansas’ Winthrop Rockefeller Center, serves up beautiful and tasty food. “We cut our own steaks, make our own bread, freeze our own ice cream, shape our own lobster ravioli and make our own stocks for our soups and sauces,” he says.
Highlights include the grilled grouper tower ($29), basil lobster ravioli ($23) and certified Angus boneless 14-ounc New York strip ($29). The wine list includes 10 wines for less than $30. Not only is there a good assortment for adults, there’s also a $5.99 kids’ menu with choice of chicken strips, cheeseburger, linguine pasta, grilled chicken breast and battered fish fillet.
There’s even a bonus—dueling pianos to entertain you every Thursday from 10 p.m. till 2 a.m. Shark’s Cavern, 13040 Livingston Road, at the intersection of Livingston and Pine Ridge roads, Naples, (239) 643-1113.
“Wicked Good” Icabod Takes Over Dwyer’s
I drove by the dark hulk of Dwyer’s steakhousea while ago, wondering how Jim Dwyer Jr. would revive this big location when the Irish pub faded after a four-year run. He brought in well-respected Chef Bill Wavrin to upgrade the restaurant from T-shirts to tuxedos as he changed the menu from pub to fine dining. Patrons spoke highly of Wavrin’s improved staffing and cuisine, but these enhancements did not reap financial success in Fort Myers’ economically depressed culinary environment.
Icabod’s Wicked Good Food and Drink, created by Rob De Gennaro of Sanibel, is set to reenergize the space on Tuesday, Nov. 4 by trading in the tuxedos for T-shirts again (and nice shirts, too), in a family-friendly restaurant on the ground floor, serving everything from burgers and salads to porterhouse steaks and lobster. The second floor will feature music seven nights a week in a pub setting with seven TVs for sports viewing.
That formula is sure to be a success if other popular family-type, mid- to lower-priced places like Lee Roy Selmon’s, Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s and Miller’s Ale House are any indication.
By contrast, Naples’ has been signing on heavyweights such as The Capital Grille and soon to open McCormick & Schmick’s at the Mercato. I wonder if Fort Myers, is ready to support the growth of similar new, high-end, high-priced dining spots.
Icabod’s Wicked Good Food and Drink, 13851 S. Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers, 267-1611.
Kona Grill Closes
Naples’ Kona Grill has suddenly closed its doors in Coastland Center after less than two years. Kona Grill and Ruth’s Chris were key parts of the mall’s big 2006 renovation. Kona Grill CEO Marcus E. Jundt says the location has been “challenged by volume, seasonality and demographics since its inception” in November of that year.
This closing is a loss of foot traffic to the center, and prominent, empty stores are not desirable. “We made every effort, including heavy advertising, promotions and site-specific offerings to improve sales,” Jundt says. “Unfortunately we never gained traction at this location.”
The Kona Grill chain had significant net financial losses over the last three quarters, something Jundt says reflects the experience of many other restaurants, both chain and independent alike.
Let’s broaden our choices of great Southwest Florida restaurants together. Post your hints and experiences below.