Hot Dish: September 10, 2008
By Ivan Seligman
Breaking Bread at Whole Foods…Trifecta of Steak…Wine Dinner on Third
Whole Foods Market Opens in Naples
Whole Foods Market celebrated its first Naples store’s grand openingat 9 a.m. Friday, Sept. 5 in the Mercato complex on U.S. 41 at Vanderbilt Beach Road. I lined up with hundreds of others to get the first peek at the culinary cornucopia, and we got hunks of fresh bread and a recycled bag as “bragging rights” for our effort!
Whole Foods Market
This unique, 52,000-square-foot store—with individual departments that manage to feel “people-sized”—is raising the bar for other grocery stores on service and selection. I liked an Indian-style hot food creation at one stand and the pulled pork and chicken wings at another stand. There were tiny cups of cold soups—a tomato soup was enjoyable. The bread from the “breadcutting” ceremony was tasty enough to make me come back to try more breads, and I also sampled various teas and cheeses.
Picky shoppers in town have been getting seafood at Swan River, meats at Jimmy P’s and organic produce at Food & Thought and various farmers’ markets. Wines have been purchased at Haskell’s Wine and Spirits and at humongous Total Wine and Spirits. Will Naples shoppers’ buying patterns change with Whole Foods’ entry?
They will have even more choices when Ada’s, a smaller Fort Myers-based macrobiotic and vegetarian-oriented grocery store opens this month nearby at Vanderbilt Beach and Airport-Pulling roads. Pretty gutsy to compete toe-to-toe with Whole Foods! Publix has even started to offer organic products in the last year, realizing that more and more people will pay more for natural and organic foods.
Although Wild Oats had a strong initial following, it dwindled fast. Whole Foods, which bought it, mercifully closed it a month or so ago, rehiring the staff at the Whole Foods store. Albertsons, on the North Trail closed, as well.
Steak, Steak and More Steak!
The Capital Grille is opening Monday, Sept. 22 just across U.S. 41 from Fleming’s Steakhouse in North Naples. Combined with The Keg Steakhouse’s recent arrival a little further west on Vanderbilt Beach Road, let’s see how Neapolitans choose among the closely situated trio of fine steakhouses.
An Educating Evening on Third
Owner Jerry Alajajian’s Handsome Harry’s Third Summer Wine Series on Third Street South Aug. 26 was a success. Lou Bernardi of Southern Wine and Spirits paired and described Antinori’s wines with Executive Chef Tony Biagetti’s more than generous six courses of cuisines.
Handsome Harry's kitchen
The appetizers alone included crisply breaded fried smelts, beef carpaccio, sausage croquettes, mini-foccacia pizzas, smoked tri-color roasted peppers topped with a crumbled gorgonzola, and oven-dried Roma tomatoes with basil, balsamic and olive oil drizzle.
Courses two through six included roasted prawn with roasted baby artichokes and eggplant caponata; Maine lobster claw, risotto studded with lobster bits and porcini mushrooms, and a fried leek garnish; fried pork meatballs with prosciutto; spinach and pignole stuffed loin of veal with gorgonzola essence jus and herbed gnocchi; and aged marsala zabaglione with fresh berries.
I’ve been to quite a few wine dinners in the $75-$150 price range, and this was a winner at the $125 price point. Not only was there fine quality food and wine in an elegant setting, there was also very good education about the specific foods.
Lou shared the differences between multiple years of the same winery’s wine (vertical tasting), and demonstrated the taste differences between Tuscan and “super Tuscan” wines. The super Tuscan entity was created by the Antinori family in the 1970s using a blend of grapes not previously authorized in the Italian wine market. He gave insights into investigations unmasking other vintners through DNA testing for falsifying the grapes comprising their high priced Brunellos.
The next Handsome Harry’s wine tasting dinner is Tuesday, Oct. 7 with Duckhorn Estates.
Comings and Goings in the Cape
850 Lafayette in Cape Coral closed last month after being open less than one year in the location of the former Oasis. This schizophrenic amalgam of finer dining inside, with an outside open bar for a decidedly more casual set, never offered the consistent food quality or distinct identity to gather a following. It was owned by the Chip’s Sanibel Steakhouse team, which has lost two prior Sanibel Steakhouses in Bonita Springs and Naples. There’s no word on 850’s future, or on the next location for Peggy and Jim Flannery, the two talented musicians who performed there.
Cape Coral just gained the newest Bonefish Grill on 900 Pine Island Road, putting pressure on the Outback Steakhouse at 1642 NE Pine Island Road.
As Bonefish excels with seafood and steaks at a very good price point, I think they will do a booming business here. It differs in style and offerings from Outback, so I expect both to succeed. This influx of new restaurants is a welcome change, enlarging and enhancing dining options for Cape Coral.
Discount Dining for a Great Cause
There’s a heartfelt benefit to the new Naples Originals discounted restaurant gift certificates, good for use at dozens of local restaurants. Great savings on great food are also helping to save a life.
Chef John Farmosa, owner of Mr. Mom’s Diner for six years along with wife Leanne, and former owner of Chef John’s, is battling kidney cancer. Naples Originals will donate 20 percent of the proceeds from the gift certificate sale to assist the Farmosa family with its medical expenses.
Let's broaden our choices of great Southwest Florida restaurants together. Post your hints and experiences below.
These coupons, for up to 30 percent off at selected local independent restaurants, are available now for purchase at www.eatlikealocal.com/naples
. Such a deal!