Here & Now: Lunch Life Revealed
When lunch can be ‘Piglicious’—or eaten with a 2-foot-long tongue
There are pros and cons to summering here on the Gulfshore. Con: It’s hotter than February. Pro: The typical workday shrinks to about six hours. Weekends often start on Thursday, and it’s perfectly logical on any random weekday to hang that “Gone Fishin’” sign and play hooky. Another pro is the lunch thing. As in, we actually have time for it. Recently I called up a few locals to see what they’re doing for lunch this summer. And guess what? The mayor was not having a big juicy steak. The elegant Naples philanthropist and popular hostess was not having a dainty watercress salad. And the other guy, now that’s a story.
Orange-banana Smoothies with Dee Gee
My first call lands me an invitation to join Dee Gee for cool summertime tropical smoothies. Not only does this turn out to be my most unique date of the year, but for hours afterward my hands felt smooth as silk and cashmere-soft. That, say his current girlfriends, Cindy and Liz (who accompanied us), is on account of Dee Gee’s special spit. I didn’t make this up. I’m just writing it down. Anyway, when you’re sharing your smoothiedrenched banana with a guy who has a 2-foot-long, eel-like tongue designed to slurp up about 35,000 termites per hour, that’s a whole lot of special spit. (Something has to keep the termites from jumping off, right?) Anyway, here’s what I’m thinking: Add some fresh-squeezed orange juice, mashed ripe bananas and yummy insectivore pellets (don’t ask), and we’ve got the next great luxury spa treatment.
Dee Gee, of course, is the new resident anteater at the Naples Zoo, and our zoo takes the culinary tastes of its residents very seriously. Dee Gee, an early-to-bed kind of guy who also likes to sleep in, prefers to dine at the civilized hours around brunch and afternoon teatime. Today, after licking my fingers and forearm clean of the golden, slippery goo, he goes back to his usual jug of plastic wiffle balls that he must slurp around to get to the good stuff. It simulates the workout an anteater’s tongue gets in the wild, keeper Cindy says.
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Go Ahead, Tough Reporter!
Meanwhile, Dee Gee’s personal chef, Liberty, invites me into the commissary, where she’s precisely measuring and weighing the ingredients for his 4 p.m. smoothie, to be served in a trio of tall, cobalt blue bottles. As she pours the thick tropical mixture from the blender, I mention that it smells delicious. You can guess what happens next: Liberty invites me to have a taste. Do I detect a mischievous sparkle of “Go ahead, tough reporter,” in her eye? Huh, I once crunched on some live termites deep in the jungles of Venezuela without benefit of orange juice, thank you, and I’m not buckling now. Luckily, she doesn’t offer a cup and straw, just a finger-dip. It’s actually very tasty, and my reputation remains intact.
“Come back for his birthday cake in January when he turns 3,” Liberty says. “I haven’t come up with the design yet,
but each creature receives something special. The African lion got a beautiful three-layer ice cake with raw turkey icing and beef chunks for decoration.”
Um, I’ll check my calendar. Meanwhile, I wonder how Mary Susan Clinton is lunching this summer.
Mary Susan Tells All
“I’m not much of a lunching lady in the proverbial sense,” says the well-known Naples hostess and nearly native Neapolitan (since 1993, by way of Tennessee), “but lunch is my look-forward-to. So you’ve asked the right person.”
Attention, locals who strive to keep our juicy little inside foodie secrets under wraps. Stop reading this instant, because Mary Susan is about to shamelessly reveal all, and it’s not what you’d expect. Luckily, being summertime, the snowbirds are reading this from far, far away and won’t remember any of it by next season.
“Being a true Southerner,” she says, “I have the fried lunch lingo down in this town. At least once a week, I’m standing in line with the faithful at Grouper and Chips. Both the camaraderie and the ‘half and half’ (fried shrimp and grouper tempura basket) are absolutely worth the wait.
“The Black-Eyed Pig is a definite go-to; that satisfies my Southern craving for pulled pork sandwiches and ribs. They really are ‘piglicious!’ For my deli fix, it’s a hot pastrami sandwich at Pastrami Dan’s. For organic and healthy, I love a picnic table under the trees at Food & Thought.
“And for pizza, my heart belongs to Napoli on the Bay at Crayton Cove. My sons tasted their first pizza there as toddlers. The original owner, the late Mike Longo, always gave them ice cream cones—pistachio for Denver and strawberry for Hurst. Telni Brito, who worked the counter back then and now owns the place, still lets me go behind the counter to make my own fountain soda. I had lunch there today and felt so sentimental that I had to call Denver at college. I’m fairly certain that afterward he went right out in search of pizza and pistachio ice cream.
“Still, the long wooden table in my own outdoor living area is my very favorite lunch spot. This table has been a sounding board for both deep and hilarious mealtime conversations, including my Community School moms lunch group, Becky Allen, Patty Campbell, Heidi Farrugia and Nancy Schwerin. Sharing food with good friends—usually salad, pasta, grilled fish, and always a good chilled wine—that’s the perfect lunch.”
Mayor Henderson: Casserole Man
I don’t understand it. Although we’re both card-carrying Southerners (he’s from North Carolina and I’m from Georgia), Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson has not once invited me to a power lunch at City Hall. I’m thinking green bean casserole, pimiento cheese sandwiches, a nice peach cobbler and refreshing mint juleps if the meeting runs late. Since no invitation seemed to be forthcoming, I brazenly picked up the phone:
“If you were to actually invite me to lunch at City Hall in the near future, Mr. Mayor, what would we be having?” And guess what? I was pretty close. Hizzoner’s business lunch might as well be a potluck on the Methodist church lawn, beneath the live oak and magnolia trees.
“We’d send out for finger sandwiches cut in triangles,” he says, “pimiento cheese, ham salad, egg salad or chicken salad. The crust is always removed from super-fresh (that’s stick-to-the-top-of-your-mouth fresh), soft white bread. There would also be chicken fingers, veggie and fruit trays.”
I’m on a roll, so I press on. “I had brunch with an anteater yesterday, and I’ve personally dined on termites. How about you? What’s the weirdest food you’ve ever eaten?”
“Termites are where I draw the line,” the mayor says. “The weirdest thing I’ve eaten was liver pâté, at a very elegant restaurant. Never again! I do like brunch, with lots of food stations. And being a Carolina boy, I especially like a variety of casseroles.”
Ha! Nailed it! I’d have been batting near 1.000 if only he’d tossed in the mint julep.
Still, Mr. Mayor, I haven’t had a soft white-bread pimiento cheese sandwich in about 30 years. I had a tentative birthday cake date at the zoo, but I’m clearing my calendar.