Where the Top Chefs Shop ... and You Can, Too
Tips to make your own culinary masterpieces at home
The Local chef/owner Jeff Mitchell
Photography by Erik Kellar
We’ve told you about the best new restaurants out there, but what about creating culinary masterpieces in your own kitchen? It all starts with the right ingredients, and no one knows that better than chefs. Here we follow two talents who’ve discovered the best of what’s available in our corner of the Sunshine State (zucchini blossoms, Thai chili and just-caught snapper, to name a few). We’re pretty sure their leads will be your delights.
CHEF JEFF: HIS HOT SPOTS
Jeff Mitchell and his family start every Saturday the same way, buying 5 pounds of organic oyster mushrooms from Inyoni Farms at the Third Street South farmers market in Naples. Those mushrooms along with whatever interesting veggies Inyoni and other vendors are selling provide the base for a week’s worth of dinners. Mitchell, the chef/owner of The Local off Pine Ridge Road in Naples (a farm-and-sea-to-table restaurant dedicated to sourcing everything, you guessed it, locally), says the weekend excursion is perfect for his family’s style of eating. “We do a lot of soups, salads and stir-frys,” he says. “We gear everything we eat each week to what we find there. Last week, we had the mushrooms, of course, some pac choy—which is like bok choy but a little different. We bought zucchini and zucchini blossoms.”
There’s a rainbow of rarely heard-of vegetables on offer, enough to fill your basket and then some. And although Mitchell has two young children, he says he isn’t picky about what he’s buying, but rather from whom. Once you know the person selling, and usually growing, your food, then you open yourself up to new flavors and possibilities, he says.
During the fall through spring, he’s also supplementing his haul from the market with vegetables, herbs and fruit from his own backyard.
“We have a substantial garden,” he says. “We have four avocado trees, a 40-year-old tangerine tree, a Meyer lemon tree and a pomegranate bush.”
Before their patch was in full bloom, Mitchell’s family had also subscribed to a CSA, or community-supported agriculture co-op, from the Punta Gorda-based organic Worden Farm. For between $35 and $40 a week, they would get a box during the peak growing season full of whatever was ready at the moment, stuff that would have cost $90 or $100 at the supermarket. The Local remains a drop-off point for Worden’s Naples clients, and even though Mitchell is no longer a member (with his growing backyard bounty and Saturday ritual, it became just too much food), the experience is still paying off because it taught him to be flexible with recipes and to seek out new ones that would work for the ingredients he’d get in the box. It also led to some epic vegetable feasts.
“On the night before we’d get a new box, I’d take all the stuff we still had left and slow-roast it in the oven,” he says. “It got to the point that I so loved that meal each week that I would intentionally leave certain things aside just so they could go in the oven.”
While vegetables are the main part of his family’s diet, they aren’t vegetarian. And for most of his meat, dairy and cereals, Mitchell goes to the same place many of us do—Publix. “I really like their Greenwise organic products,” he says. “So on Sunday after we’ve been to the farmers market the day before, I go to Publix and get the other stuff we need for the week.”
A few other places also warrant special stops. Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop & Deli on U.S. 41 for the uncured bacon his wife really loves, plus sausages and the occasional rabbit or other specialty meat. Oakes Farms for bread. And then the Asia Pok Market on Pine Ridge Road. “I love that place,” Mitchell says. “That’s where I get a lot of my condiments, lemongrass, ginger, Thai basil and chili sauces. A lot of what grows well in Naples is Asian vegetables so they tend to lend themselves to Asian preparations.”
The only thing he doesn’t get at a store everyone can visit is seafood, which he buys from the same purveyor that sells to his restaurant. “It’s just easier,” he says. But if he weren’t able to buy from his regular guy, he likes Capt.
Kirk’s (recently renamed Captain & Krewe) on Eighth Street South and Whole Foods in Mercato. “Just make sure to ask questions about when it was caught and where it’s from,” he says, adding, “I tend to stick with local snapper more than other fish.” Channeling the same ethos that drives decisions for his restaurant, he prefers the Gulf ’s copious snapper because it is at a lesser risk of being overfished. To Mitchell, local is a given, but sustainable is the goal.
Gloria M. Jordan D'Cabral of La Trattoria Cafe Napoli and Mermaid Garden Cafe
CHEF GLORIA: “YOU HAVE TO ASK THE OWNER.”
For Chef Gloria M. Jordan d’Cabral, shopping local isn’t a fad. It’s just how she’s always lived. Growing up in Cuba, there was no access to big supermarkets. So it was about sourcing what you ate from the people who specialize in that particular ingredient. You want meat? Go to the butcher. You want produce? Go to the farmer.
She says the growth of greenmarkets has made that a lot easier in her adopted hometown of Fort Myers. In fact, it’s so much a part of her life now that she’s opening a new spot dedicated solely to that pursuit. Mermaid Garden Café is the byproduct of her day-to-day personal cooking. With plans to be open by this month, the breakfast and lunch spot in Fort Myers is a perfect complement to her excellent dinner spot, the Mediterranean-inspired La Trattoria Cafe Napoli.
“I always think about what I want to eat and then I seek it out,” she says. “If I want Indian, I go to the Indian market. If I want Asian, I go to the Asian market.” (For those of you shopping along, she recommends the Leaf Asian Market, across U.S. 41 from the Edison Mall, and Little India, just south of Page Field.)
But it’s not enough to just walk in. In fact, that can be overwhelming. “How are you going to know what the best soy sauce is or something like that?” she says. “You have to ask the owner.” That’s her biggest piece of advice for shopping in general. Not only are you going to find out more about the products you are getting, but you also are going to get tips on where to buy stuff you never dreamed you could get.
“I always ask, ‘Do you have this,’ or ‘Do you have that,’” she says. “And if they say no, I keep talking and usually they know someone who does.”
She loves Merrick Seafood, a haven for restaurateurs and home cooks alike, with fish from right outside its Cape Coral locale as well as countries as far-flung as Surinam and Scotland.
Other finds are Paesano’s Italian Market (also in Cape Coral), and Carniceria Monterrey in Fort Myers for Mexican groceries.
At a farmers market, it helps to be specific. It’s not enough just to ask for organic, she says. You want to talk to the vendors so you can determine if you are buying from the source or just someone who bought a bunch of vegetables somewhere else and is now trying to sell them.
“A lot of people at the local markets aren’t farmers; they are just buying produce cheap and trying to sell them for a little more,” she says. In that way, they are no different from a supermarket.
“I like the greenmarket at Alliance for the Arts the best,” she says. “They interview the farmers, sometimes they go out and see the farms before they let them sell there. So you know you are getting things from locals.”
But she says you can find good-quality product in other markets; you just need to be nosy about the farms and techniques. “I don’t want anything where they use pesticides,” she says. “So you have to ask them how they grow their products.”
If all this sounds like a hassle, she swears it isn’t. It just takes a little planning and then the flexibility to shift gears. No farmer is going to have the same product week to week. Some weeks there will be peppers, she says, then the next there might be tomatoes. So come up with a plan of what you want to make for the week and attack your shopping accordingly.
And don’t be nervous if the produce doesn’t look as perfect as what you are used to at the supermarket. That’s to be expected. Just as no two handmade items will be the same, it’s impossible to use heritage farming techniques and get uniformity. But ugly on the outside can often be delicious on the inside. And be ready to use a slightly different ingredient. A few weeks ago, Jordan d’Cabral was looking forward to making some ceviche. Her normal recipe calls for snapper, which she likes for the sweetness. But when her local fishing boat captain had only grouper, she added a little bit of starfruit into the mix, along with shrimp and citrus.
“I just changed the recipe to add the sweetness in that was missing with the grouper,” she says.
Being flexible when it comes to shopping? That’s truly sweet.
It seems like there’s a new farmers market or greenmarket popping up every weekend, but here’s the most up-to-date list.
Collier County Government Complex, 3335 Tamiami Trail E., Naples. Fridays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Year-round.
Immokalee Market (Pinhookers), 114 New Market Road W., Immokalee. Daily sunrise to sunset. Year-round.
Italian American Foundation, 7035 Airport-Pulling Road N., Naples. Thursdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. October through April.
Shoppes at Vanderbilt, 2355 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples. Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Outside during season, indoors during the summer.
St. Monica’s, 7070 Immokalee Road, Naples. Wednesdays 1:30-5:30 p.m. October through March.
Sugden Regional Park, 4284 Avalon Drive, Naples. Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. November through April.
Third Street South, 1220 Third St. S., Naples (parking lot behind Tommy Bahama). Saturdays 7:30 a.m. to noon. Year-round.
Veterans Community Park, 901 Park Ave., Marco Island. Wednesdays 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. November through April.
Alliance for the Arts, 10091 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. Saturdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Year-round.
Centennial Park, 2000 W. First St., Fort Myers. Thursdays 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Year-round.
Coconut Point, 23105 Fashion Drive, Estero. Thursdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. October through April.
Cypress Trace Plaza, 3300 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. Tuesdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Year-round.
Fenway South, 11500 Fenway South Drive (at JetBlue Park), Fort Myers. Mondays noon to 4 p.m. January through March.
Lakes Regional Park, 7330 Gladiolus Drive, Fort Myers. Fridays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. October through mid-April.
McGregor Fresh Market, 15690 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. Thursdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. October through early April.
Promenade at Bonita Bay, 26795 S. Bay Drive, Bonita Springs. Saturdays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. October through April.
Sanibel Island, 800 Dunlop Road, Sanibel. Sundays 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. October through April.
Santini Sunrise, 7225 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach. Tuesdays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. October through March.
United Methodist Church, 8088 Lords Way St., Estero. Tuesdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. October through April.
The Specialty Shops
If you are looking for the best fish, meat and ethnic delicacies, here are the ones to check out.
Asia Pok Market, 2095 Pine Ridge Road, Naples. naplesasianmarket.com
At this go-to spot for Asian food, you can find countless varieties of common ingredients (soy, bean paste, etc.) and a lot of things you never imagined.
Asian Depot, 3879 Tamiami Trail E., Naples. 88asiandepot.com
For East Naples folks, this offers a convenient one-stop shop for Chinese, Korean, Thai and other Asian delicacies. It’s a great place for halal meats as well.
Leaf Asian Market, 4300 Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. leafasianmarket.com
This is Chef Gloria Jordan d’Cabral’s favorite ethnic market in Fort Myers. Enjoy a wide variety of sauces, frozen dumplings and traditional Asian foods, plus bubble tea for those who can’t live without it.
VN Oriental Market, 14680 S. Tamiami Trail, Fort Myers. 313-5192
Specializing in Vietnamese cuisine, this shop is packed with the flavors of Southeast Asia. But you can still get your fix of other spots, too.
Camilla Eastern European Foods Market, 4947 Tamiami Trail N., Naples. camillafoods.com
Specializing in Russian food but stocked with treats from the entire region, Camilla is also the home of raw dairy products.
European Food Market, 12901 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers. polishfoodmkt.wix.com/ european-food-market
Get your fill of perogis and other Polish treats, plus a full deli and live cake yeast.
Old World Market, 2800 Davis Blvd., Naples. oldworldmarket.info
Looking for Mediterranean delights? Old World Market has you covered. Also make sure to stop in for the wine tastings on Fridays and check out the deli.
Paesano’s Italian Market, 862 Lafayette St., Cape Coral. paesanositalianmarket.com
Paesano’s is the closest thing you’ll find to an old-school Italian grocery from up north. Stock up on salami, cheese, pasta and more.
A to Z Discount Beverage, 3863 Bayshore Drive, Naples. 775-3333
Don’t let the name fool you. This bodega in East Naples has more room devoted to delicious pre-made Indian treats than it does drinks.
India Bazaar, 5228 Bank St., Fort Myers. 939-0797
This shop truly lives up to its name, with loads of savory food, plus clothes, Bollywood DVDs and more.
Little India, 11510 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. 936-9299
A great spot for Indian ingredients—grab all the stuff you need for some tasty samosas, plus fill up your spice rack.
Bravo Supermarket, 2668 Tamiami Trail E., Naples. bravosupermarkets.com
The size of a traditional supermarket, Bravo is full of everyday products like detergent, etc., but then also fresh tortillas and chicken feet and anything you might need for a party.
Carniceria Monterrey, 11530 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. 939-6992
“Carniceria” literally translates to “meat market” in Spanish, but that belies the scope of what’s here—in addition to all sorts of cuts, there’s a restaurant and full Mexican grocery.
El Paso Supermarket, 5600 Eighth St. W., Lehigh Acres. 368-5050
Don’t want takeout, but also don’t want to do all the prep? Drive here for pre-marinated meat to throw on the grill, plus other Mexican and Central American goodies.
Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop & Deli, 1833 Tamiami Trail N., Naples. jimmypsbutchershop.com
Jimmy P’s specializes in super-high-end cuts (think wagyu beef and kurobuta pork). Pay close attention to their awesome selection of house- made sausages and exotic meats (ground kangaroo, anyone?).
Mario’s Meat Market, 12326 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. mariosmeatmarket.com
A butcher shop and Italian specialty store in one (mmm, fresh mozzarella), Mario’s has been cutting meat in Fort Myers since 1990. And while you are there, don’t miss the olive bar.
Maverick Meats/Smoke Signals Meats, 408 Leonard Blvd., Lehigh Acres. maverickmeats.com
Don’t have time to drive out to Lehigh for their quality chops? Don’t sweat. Maverick Meats takes things on the road to various farmers markets in Lee County as Smoke Signal Meats.
Pepper’s German Deli and Butcher, 4615 Corporate Square, Naples. peppersnaples.com
If you are looking for the best ’wursts, this is your spot. But there’s a lot more to Pepper’s than sausages. There’s a full German deli, plus a specialty grocery store.
Beach Seafood Market,
17650 San Carlos Blvd., Fort Myers Beach. beachseafoodfmb.com
If you are looking for shrimp, there’s no better place to find it. Serviced by one of the biggest shrimping operations in the Gulf, this market gets the best of the best pink beauties.
Captain & Krewe (formerly Capt. Kirk’s), 629 Eighth St. S., Naples. 263-1976
The Kirk family has been fishing these waters for more than 50 years. Snap up their stone crabs and other killer local catches from this market and newly remodeled eatery.
Merrick Seafood, 1229 SE 47th Terrace, Cape Coral. merrickseafood.com
If you are dining out in Lee County, chances are the restaurant got its fish from Merrick. The market has home cooks covered as well, with local and imported options.
Swan River Fish Market, 3741 Tamiami Trail N., Naples. swanriverseafood.com
Whether you are looking for grouper, oysters or salmon, you can find the best here, plus some prepared items as well.