October 24, 2014

Best of the Gulfshore 2009

best.jpgFor this year’s best of the Gulfshore, we put the fate of the winners in the people’s hands with a readers’ choice ballot. And you are a discerning lot—determining the quality places to find the best steak or martini, meet singles or get a haircut. Make no mistake: The people have spoken, and the winners are …

Best Overall Restaurant
Gold: Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House (Naples) 
Silver: The Grill Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
Silver:
Olio on Naples Bay
Caught locally that morning, Truluck’s stone crabs are fresh on your plate that night. The downtown Naples restaurant boasts an extensive selection of fresh seafood, such as customer favorite king crab. Food and wine connoisseurs love The Grill Room for its dry-aged steaks, high-quality wines and romantic atmosphere. Olio on Naples Bay offers Italian and Napa valley cuisine and wine and waterfront dining with breathtaking views.
Finalists: Chops City Grill (Bonita Springs, Naples); Angelina’s Ristorante (Bonita Springs)

Best Chinese Restaurant
Gold: P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Charlie Chiang’s Modern Asian Kitchen (Naples)
A favorite of many, P.F. Chang’s tangy twist on classic Asian cuisine may begin with lettuce wraps and end with the gigantic Great Wall of Chocolate. The middle? Pick from favorites like sweet and sour chicken or Kung Pao shrimp. Charlie Chiang’s menu is sure to include your favorite Asian dishes. Stop in midday for the lunch special and grab a takeout menu—we’re sure you’ll be calling back soon.
Finalists: China Pavilion (Naples); Pei Wei (Naples)

Best French Restaurant
Gold: Bleu Provence
(Naples)
Silver: Bamboo Café (Naples)
A quaint bistro offering attentive, personalized service, Bleu Provence presents a creative twist on French Provençal cuisine accompanied by a wine list that includes more than 2,000 bottles. Another charming eatery, Bamboo Café, serves French fare with a North African flair—dine on bouillabaisse with lobster, scallops, shrimp and more, or tagine, a slow-cooked Moroccan soup.
Finalists: Chardonnay Nouveau (Naples); Escargot 41 (Naples)

Best BBQ
Gold: Rib City Grill
(Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Immokalee, Lehigh Acres, Naples)
Silver: Michelbob’s Championship Ribs (Marco Island, Naples)
Started as a family-owned barbeque joint in Fort Myers, Rib City’s “Real BBQ and Great Ribs” has evolved into a national franchise. Pair a rack of baby back ribs with down-home favorites like cheese fries, cole slaw, baked beans or corn-on-the-cob. Take the whole gang to Michelbob’s for a family rib pack or bring one home for dinner.
Finalists: Sonny’s Real Pit BBQ (Fort Myers); Famous Dave’s (Fort Myers)

Best Italian Restaurant
Gold: Carrabba’s Italian Grill
(Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Campiello Ristorante (Naples)
Lasagna, wood-fired pizzas, minestrone and chicken Parmesan, Carrabba’s does all the traditional Italian dishes to perfection with some surprises—such as the chicken Bryan, topped with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and a basil lemon butter sauce. Campiello’s Tuscan cuisine includes oak-fired pizzas, pasta and entrees complemented by an Italian wine list. 
Finalists: Naples Tomato (Naples); Pazzo! (Naples)

Best Steakhouse
Gold: Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
(Naples)
Silver: Chops City Grill (Bonita Springs, Naples)
Silver: Ruth’s Chris Steak House (Estero)
Fleming’s steaks are wet-aged and seared on a flat top grill and perfectly paired with blue cheese mashed potatoes or chipotle cheddar macaroni and cheese. Chops City Grill is a steakhouse with a Pan-Asian twist—dry-aged steaks are grilled and complemented by creative sides and sushi, while the butter-topped seared steaks and indulgent desserts at Ruth’s Chris are mouth-watering good.
Finalists: The Capital Grille (Naples); The Grill Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Best Vegetarian
Gold: Food & Thought Organic Market and Restaurant (Naples)
Silver: Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro (Naples)
Food & Thought reminds us that you are what you eat—and eating healthily can be oh-so-good. Pick up organic groceries from the market or lunch on sandwiches and salads on the restaurant’s patio. Bha! Bha! (translation: Yum! Yum!) serves fresh Middle Eastern dishes—lots of salads, hummus, vegetarian soups and sandwiches.
Finalists: Sweet Tomatoes (Fort Myers); Whole Foods Market (Naples)

Best Thai
Gold: Sushi Thai (Naples)
Silver: Siam Thai & Sushi (Fort Myers)
Silver: Thai Basil (Naples)
Silver: Thai Gardens (Fort Myers)
At Sushi Thai, it’s hard to decide between the Thai noodles and curries and the delectable rolls—but, with affordable prices and a comfortable atmosphere, you can order both and stay awhile. Our three silver medalists deliver traditional Thai food amid authentic Asian décor. Both Siam Thai & Sushi and Thai Basil are known for their stand-out curries.

Best Sushi
Gold: Blu Sushi (Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Sushi Thai (Naples)
Blu Sushi’s seemingly endless variety of unique cocktails and sushi ensures that repeat visitors are always satisfied. At Naples chain Sushi Thai, start with miso soup and a sushi roll followed by a traditional Thai dish. Lunch specials at both restaurants give diners a lot of food at an affordable price.
Finalist: Sushi Bar at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Best Mexican
Gold: Iguana Mia (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers)
Silver: Flaco’s Mexican Specialties & Steakhouse (Naples)
Chow down on chips and salsa while you wait to devour fish tacos or the house-special chimichangas. Or stop by Flaco’s for steak tacos that will make you say “Olé!” and sangria that will have you up and dancing to the live music in no time.
Finalists: Cantina Laredo (Fort Myers); La Bamba Mexican Restaurant (Estero, Naples)

Best Seafood
Gold: Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House (Naples) 
Silver: Bonefish Grill (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers)
Also voted Best Overall Restaurant, Truluck’s seafood experience may begin with fresh oysters or lobster bisque, followed by the restaurant’s renowned stone crabs complemented by unique side dishes like crab fried rice or creamed leeks. Personalize your meal at Bonefish Grill by picking your fish, sauce and sides—and be sure to try an appetizer or two.
Finalists: U.S.S. Nemo Undersea Cuisine & Adventures (Naples); Randy’s Fishmarket (Naples); Pincher’s Crab Shack (Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach)

Best Wine List
Gold: The Grill Room at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Silver: Angelina’s Ristorante (Bonita Springs)
The wine list for The Grill Room encompasses 1,500 bottles of wine from every major wine growing region in the world. The wine list focuses on American cabernets but also includes vintage Bordeaux and more than 300 Italian red wine selections. Angelina’s 26-foot-high wine tower looms in the center of the restaurant, filled with 3,400 bottles and 500 different varieties. Climb the spiral staircase and pick whatever suits your fancy. 
Finalists: Naples Tomato (Naples); The Capital Grille (Naples)

Best New Restaurant
Gold: The Capital Grille (Naples) 
Silver: Olio on Naples Bay
Guests enjoy five-star service and aged-to-perfection cuts of meat at The Capital Grille, located at Mercato. Begin your evening with a glass of wine or a blue cosmopolitan at the bar, then head to your waterfront table for Italian cuisine at Olio on Naples Bay.
Finalists: Sea Salt (Naples); Angelina’s Ristorante (Bonita Springs); Absinthe (Naples)

Best Pizza
Gold: Aurelio’s Is Pizza (Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Cosmos Café & Pizzeria (Naples)
Silver: Joey D’s Italian Restaurant (Naples)
Grab a slice of thin Chicago-style pizza at Aurelio’s, a family owned franchise that’s been serving up slices for more than six decades. If you prefer New York-style, stop by Cosmos or Joey D’s. For a delicious variation on the Margherita pizza, try the Grandma Pie at Cosmos or the Old Country at Joey D’s.
Finalists: Marsala Pizza & Italian Eatery (Estero); Starz Restaurant and Pizzeria (Fort Myers)

Best Burger
Gold: Five Guys Burgers and Fries (Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Cheeburger Cheeburger (Bonita Springs, Naples, Sanibel)
There are 250,000 ways to order a burger at Five Guys Burger and Fries, a ’50s-style diner that cooks up burgers fresh, never frozen. Cheeburger Cheeburger also allows dining creativity—invent your own dipping sauces, cheeseburgers, salads and shakes.
Finalist: Gumbo Limbo (Naples)

Best Deli
Gold: Jason’s Deli
(Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Paesano’s Italian Fresh Market (Cape Coral)
Silver: Publix (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Estero, Naples)
Jason’s Deli’s delicious, good-for-you food is made from all-natural ingredients and is free from trans-fat and MSG. For meat lovers, Paesano’s sandwiches are loaded with prosciutto, ham, salami, pepperoni and more, while Publix subs are piled high with Boar’s Head meats or mouth-watering chicken fingers.
Finalist: Tropic Chill (Naples)

Best Salad
Gold: Crispers
(Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Sweet Tomatoes (Fort Myers)
With a tagline like “Fresh Salads and Such,” it’s no wonder that Crispers snagged the most votes. The selections are plenty, which makes your daily lunch dilemma—“What’s healthy, quick and tasty?”—pretty obvious. At Sweet Tomatoes, you don’t have to choose one or the other; instead, dig in at the unlimited salad bar, which features more than 50 ingredients that make their way from the ground to your plate within 24 hours.
Finalist: California Pizza Kitchen (Estero, Naples)

Best Morning Eats
Gold: First Watch
(Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Skillets (Bonita Springs, Naples)
Rise and shine with traditional breakfast favorites and signature items like the “Chickichanga” and “Crepeggs” at First Watch. For the health conscious, try the egg-white omelets or fresh fruit crepes. Skillets gets raves for its thick-cut smokehouse bacon, enormous sourdough waffle and freshly squeezed orange juice, served in frosty beer mugs.
Finalist: Chrissy’s at Bayfront (Naples)

Best Brunch
Gold: Lemonía at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort
(Naples)
Silver: First Watch (Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Naples)
A lavish array of seafood, omelets and desserts makes quite an impression on the eyes—and the tastebuds—at Lemonía’s famed Sunday brunch during season. Late risers, feel free to hit the snooze—First Watch serves up its scrumptious, oversized blueberry pancakes and other breakfast standards until 2:30 daily.
Finalists: Skillets (Bonita Springs, Naples); Olio on Naples Bay (Naples)

Best Dessert
Gold: The Cheesecake Factory
(Naples)
Silver: Bubble Room (Captiva)
Silver: Roy’s (Bonita Springs, Naples)
It would be a sin to not indulge in one of the many namesake creations at The Cheesecake Factory, which run the gamut from Adam’s Peanut Butter Cup Fudge Ripple cheesecake to a fresh banana cream cheesecake. At the Bubble Room, the Orange Crunch Cake, a confection topped with orange cream cheese frosting, brown sugar and almond slivers, makes diners weak in the knees, while Roy’s melting hot chocolate soufflé just might make your heart melt, too.

Best Key Lime Pie
Gold: Randy’s Fishmarket (Naples)
Silver: Rodes Seafood Market (Bonita Springs)
Silver: Publix (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Naples)
Can’t make it to the Keys? No problem—the islands’ yummiest treat is just as good at Randy’s Fishmarket, whose famed pies are so popular with regulars and seasonal visitors alike that they’re available for shipment anywhere in the continental U.S. Dig into the cool, tangy dessert Rodes is best known for, or, when you require a quick pie on the go, nothing beats Publix for convenience and flavor.
Finalist: Waterside Seafood & Grille Co. (Estero)

Best Romantic Restaurant
Gold: The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Silver: The Turtle Club (Naples)
We’d be willing to bet the cozy fireplace, nightly piano entertainment and a good glass of wine at The Grill will bring out the romantic in anyone. It doesn’t get any better than the view at The Turtle Club, so grab a seat seaside with the one you love and watch the sun slip beneath the water. Finalist: The Veranda (Fort Myers)

Best Business Lunch
Gold: Shula’s Steak House at Hilton Naples
Silver: Brio Tuscan Grill (Naples)
Silver: University Grill (Fort Myers)
Superstitious or not, it can’t hurt to do business in a restaurant themed after the Miami Dolphins’ 1972 undefeated season; perhaps good fortune is a secret ingredient in Shula’s Steak House’s 48-ounce porterhouse. Grab a booth at Brio for a private tête-á-tête, or for groups, the menu at University Grill surely satisfies.

Best Waterfront Dining
Gold: The Turtle Club (Naples)
Silver: Gumbo Limbo at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
The difference between diners at The Turtle Club and sunbathers on Vanderbilt Beach? Only a few feet—and some really happy taste buds. Indulge in casual Caribbean cuisine amidst the sea oats and cabbage palms at The Ritz’s Gumbo Limbo, and let the warm Gulf breezes carry your worries away.
Finalist: Rumrunners (Cape Coral)

Best Family Restaurant
Gold: Mel’s Diner (Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples)
Silver: Carrabba’s Italian Grill (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
You’ll have a rockin’ good time at the ’50s-style Mel’s Diner, where the mile-high pie and hand-dipped milkshakes, among other family favorites, are made right on the premises. And thanks to its Real Deals menu, it won’t break the bank, either. Carrabba’s offers popular Italian and American fare in perfect portions for the little ones.
Finalist: The Terrace, The Ritz-Carlton, Naples

Best Hotel Restaurant
Gold: The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
Silver: Shula’s Steak House at Hilton Naples

When you’re tuckered out from traveling, isn’t it nice to know some of the best dining in the area is just downstairs? Guests of The Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort—and locals, too—have found the cuisine and well-crafted cocktails at The Grill to be just that. Shula’s at Hilton Naples provides visitors with an opportunity to take home a different kind of souvenir: admittance into the 48oz. Club—if, that is, they can finish the restaurant’s signature oversized steak.
Finalists: Baleen, LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort (Naples); Tanglewood, Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa (Estero)

Best Special Occasion Restaurant
Gold: The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
Silver: The Melting Pot
(Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Truluck’s Seafood, Steak and Crab House (Naples)
From anniversaries to birthdays to graduations, The Grill’s rich, intimate ambiance makes it the perfect place to celebrate just about anything. Get your fondue fix with the Melting Pot’s Big Night Out, which includes four customizable courses. If you prefer seafood to celebrate, Truluck’s has the freshest crab in town.
Finalist: Roy’s (Bonita Springs, Naples)

Best-Kept Secret
Gold: Paesano’s Italian Fresh Market
(Cape Coral)
Silver: Preston’s (Naples)
Silver: Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro (Naples)
You can’t trust us to keep our mouths shut. You will, however, thank us for letting you in on the über-fresh meats, produce and bakery goodies at Paesano’s. While you’re there, grab a bite al fresco at its outdoor patio café. Check out the family-owned Preston’s for its generously sized steaks and attentive staff, or try something new and superbly seasoned at Bha! Bha!.
Finalist: A Table Apart (Bonita Springs)

Best Ice Cream
Gold: Royal Scoop
(Bonita Springs)
Silver: Cold Stone Creamery (Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples, Marco Island)
Here’s the scoop: Royal Scoop is Bonita Springs’ oldest homemade ice cream store, and with good reason—it makes all its delectable flavors daily on the premises. Pickin’ your mix-ins is part of the fun at Cold Stone, whether you choose one of the Signature Creations or invent one of your own.
Finalist: Love Boat Homemade Ice Cream (Fort Myers)

Best Martini
Gold: Blu Sushi
(Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Chops City Grill (Bonita Springs, Naples)
Among the light bulb and other essentials, we can also thank hometown legend Thomas Edison for contributing to his namesake Blu martini, the Aloha Mr. Edison, a refreshing mix of Van Gogh pineapple vodka and DeKuyper tropical pineapple schnapps. Chops City Grill offers an array of “Choptails” sure to satisfy the most discerning of drinkers.
Finalist: Campiello (Naples)

Best After-Work Bar
Gold: Brio Tuscan Grille
(Naples)
Gold: Miller’s Ale House (Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Bice Ristorante (Naples)
After a long day cooped up at the office, grab a breath of fresh air—and a drink or two—at the sophisticated outside bars at Brio or Bice. (Hint, hint: Brio’s Bruschetta Quattro should be a given.) Or kick back more casually and enjoy the killer drink specials at Miller’s Ale House.

Best Wine Store
Gold: Total Wine & More (Fort Myers, Naples)
Silver: Haskell’s Wine & Spirits (Naples)
With more than 8,000 types of wine at Total Wine & More, we dare you to not find something you’ll enjoy. Haskell’s selection is sizeable as well, including a temperature-controlled cellar full of the most exclusive selections.
Finalists: ABC Liquor (Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Naples); The Wine Merchant (Naples)

Best Gourmet Market
Gold: The Fresh Market
(Naples, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers)
Silver: Whole Foods Market (Naples)
The European-style grocery at Fresh Market makes finding produce, fresh meats, trail mixes and gourmet cheese a joy. We recently discovered the do-it-yourself, freshly ground almond and peanut butters—and we’ll never go back to jars. Newcomer to Naples, Whole Foods, has quickly helped anchor a new town center in north Naples with its expansive organic offerings, supplements, wines and hot buffet.
Finalist: Wynn’s Market (Naples)

Best Caterer
Gold: Wynn’s Market
(Naples)
Silver: Rene’s Custom Catering (Fort Myers)
Long-time Naples favorite Wynn’s not only provides inventive food, but also the services of chefs, servers, bartenders, pastry experts and wine consultants—leaving hosts free to party it up with their guests. A recent Rene’s client gushed, “There’s no question that we would hire you again in a nanosecond”—leaving no question about how Rene’s earned the silver in our poll.
Finalist: Artichoke & Co. (Naples)

Best Place to Take Kids
Gold: Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens

Silver: Sunsplash Family Waterpark (Cape Coral)
Naples Zoo—a multiple-year winner—keeps things new and exciting for kids of all ages with unusual animals from around the world and the Black Bear Hammock exhibit, which opens this month. Three new slides at Sunsplash—X-celerator, Terror Tube and Thunder Bump—are sure to continue to entice the water-bound thrill seekers.
Finalist: Sun-N-Fun Lagoon (Naples)

Best Place to Take Visitors
Gold: Naples Pier
Silver: The beach
(Lee and Collier counties)
Originally built in 1888 and rebuilt after hurricanes in 1910, 1926 and 1960, the Naples Pier is one of the area’s most enduring—and charming—attractions. And why do most visitors invade your guest rooms every winter and spring? To escape their chilly northern climates in hopes to dig their toes in our sandy shores.
Finalists: Fifth Avenue South (Naples); The Edison & Ford Winter Estates (Fort Myers)

Best Beach
Gold: Vanderbilt Beach
(Naples)
Silver: Sanibel Island
One of the most user-friendly beaches in the region, Vanderbilt Beach draws locals and visitors alike with its convenient parking, concessions, showers and excellent people watching. A quieter atmosphere with some of the world’s best shelling can be found on Sanibel Island.
Finalists: Barefoot Beach (Bonita Springs); Fort Myers Beach

Best Golf Course
Gold: Tiburón Golf Club
(Naples)
Silver: Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Course
Both the Gold and Black courses at Tiburón were designed by golf legend Greg Norman, and these links are paired with the experts at the Rick Smith Golf Academy, creating an all-inclusive experience in north Naples. It may be the oldest golf course in Naples, but the Naples Beach Hotel links have been redesigned and enhanced over the years to continue to challenge its players.
Finalists: The Colony Golf & Country Club (Bonita Springs); Mediterra Golf & Country Club (Naples)

Best Community Park
Gold: Cambier Park
(Naples)
Silver: North Collier Regional Park (Naples)
Silver: Lakes Regional Park (Fort Myers)
The hub of many large community events, Cambier Park in Old Naples draws the crowds with concerts in the Bandshell as well as the Norris Community Center and Arthur L. Allen Tennis Center. Built in 2006, North Collier Regional Park continues to expand with the recent groundbreaking for the Children’s Museum of Naples. The south Fort Myers Lakes Park continues to delight with its 1/8th-scale locomotive and railroad that visitors can ride one-and-a-half miles around the park.
Finalist: Estero Community Park

Best Dog Park
Gold: Dog Beach Park
(Bonita Springs)
Silver: Rover Run Dog Park (Naples)
Let Fido run free in the sand in the only off-leash beach around, located north of Bonita Beach where the road becomes Hickory Boulevard. The Rover Run Dog Park at Veterans Community Park is Collier County’s only dog park and offers separated large and small dog areas.
Finalist: K-9 Corral at Estero Community Park

Best Wildlife Sighting
Gold: Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
(Naples)
Gold: J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (Sanibel)
Silver: Everglades National Park
There are so many critters to discover at Corkscrew that the sanctuary’s Web site even offers a checklist (www.corkscrew.audubon.org) to ensure you don’t miss any of the birds, mammals, reptiles and more. The largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the country, Ding Darling is best known for its migratory bird populations and supplies staff to help you navigate. Check out alligators, crocodiles, herons, panthers and many others in their natural habitat in the Everglades.
Finalist: Conservancy of Southwest Florida (Naples)

Best Day Trip
Gold: Florida Everglades
Silver: Sanibel-Captiva Islands

Outdoor recreation is the main attraction in the Everglades—especially fishing, boating and kayaking in the Chokoloskee Bay and throughout the Ten Thousand Islands. The quaint Everglades City is the destination to kick off airboat or wildlife tours. A true beach community, the islands of Sanibel and Captiva offer charming boutiques, family-run restaurants and, of course, the sandy shore. Recent development reveals an awe-inspiring tour of residential architecture.
Finalist: Marco Island

Best Museum
Gold: Patty & Jay Baker Naples Museum of Art
Silver: Edison & Ford Winter Estates
(Fort Myers)
With exhibits featuring the likes of Norman Rockwell and Fernando Botero as well as permanent collections such as American Modernism and Modern Mexican Masters, the Naples Museum of Art is an art lover’s delight. The Edison & Ford Museum gives a glimpse at some of Edison’s amazing inventions of the late 19th century.
Finalists: Holocaust Museum of Southwest Florida (Naples); The von Liebig Art Center (Naples)

Best Local Talent
Gold: Jimmy Keys
(Naples)
Gold: Cahlua & Cream (Naples)
Silver: Billy Dean & Dawn (Estero)
Jimmy Keys pairs comedy, music and impersonations to entertain crowds with his British Music Hall-style of entertainment. Don and Lesly Hale make up the Naples-based band Cahlua & Cream, who specialize in everything from Cher to Kenny Loggins to Frank Sinatra at fundraising events, country club appearances and restaurant gigs. Classically trained Dawn paired with pianist Billy Dean to create a musical force—and can often be found performing with fellow winners, Cahlua & Cream.

Best Performing Arts
Gold: Naples Philharmonic Orchestra
Silver: Naples Players

Led by Music Director Jorge Mester, the Philharmonic Orchestra is made up of 49 full-time musicians who have accompanied many world-renowned visiting artists, including Luciano Pavarotti and Andrea Bocelli. The Naples Players wow local theater fans with a wide variety of productions—from Anything Goes to The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (opening this month).
Finalists: Southwest Florida Symphony (Fort Myers); Florida Repertory Theatre (Fort Myers)

Best Place For Live Music
Gold: Cambier Park Bandshell
(Naples)
Silver: Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
Silver: Philharmonic Center for the Arts
(Naples)
Local bands, including the Naples Daily News Jazz Band, Naples Concert Band and Gulf Coast Big Band, take to the Cambier Park Bandshell stage throughout the year for crowd-pleasing free concerts. Live bands, cocktails and a nightly sunset show? You won’t find it any better than at the Sunset Beach Bar at the Naples Beach Hotel. The Phil brings everything from classical arrangements to modern musicals to nationally headlining acts.
Finalist: Jack’s Bait Shack (Naples)

Best Hair Salon
Gold: Robert of Philadelphia Hair Design (Bonita Springs, Naples)
Silver: Allure et Beauté Salon & Day Spa (Naples)
Under the guidance of hair designer Robert DiLella, Robert of Philadelphia salons is staffed by well-trained, creative stylists who receive on-going education to stay on the cutting-edge of today’s trends. Clients looking for up-to-the-minute hairstyles achieved through Earth-friendly means turn to Allure et Beauté and its organic line of hair care products.
Finalists: Felix Andrew Salon (Bonita Springs, Estero, Naples); N Color Salon+Boutique2 (Naples)

Best Health Club
Gold: NCH Wellness Centers
(Naples)
Silver: LA Fitness (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers)
Health seekers find innovative classes—including Nia, Pilates, yoga, dance, Zumba and more—and state-of-the-art strength training and cardio equipment at Whitaker Wellness Center in north Naples and Briggs Wellness Center near downtown. Both offer personal trainers and special needs programs. National gym powerhouse LA Fitness recently increased its Southwest Florida presence with well-placed facilities on U.S. 41 in Bonita Springs and in Gulf Coast Town Center.
Finalist: Omni Club Fitness Center (Fort Myers)

Best Spa
Gold: The Ritz-Carlton Spa
(Naples)
Silver: Spada Salon & Day Spa (Fort Myers)
Indulge in oh-so-many ways at The Ritz-Carlton Spa at Naples’ rejuvenating steam rooms, saunas, aqua lounges and outdoor mineral pool. The spa’s menu includes a “Drift to Sleep” signature treatment and “Sea of Love” couples massage. Spada Salon & Day Spa pampers visitors with packages such as a “Full Day Indulgence” and the “Pampered Pregnancy.”
Finalists: Naples Bay Resort (Naples); Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa (Fort Myers)

Best Children’s/Baby Shop
Gold: Beth Mone Children’s Shop
(Naples)
Silver: Cottontails (Naples)
Grab the little ones and head to Beth Mone Children’s Shop on 12th Avenue South for all their fashion needs, from christening gowns to swimsuits. The shop specializes in Florence Eiseman, US Angels, Quicksilver/Roxy, Perry Ellis and Lilly Pulitzer. Cottontails is another fave among fashion-conscious moms. Pop into one of its two locations on Fifth Avenue or Airport-Pulling Road.
Finalist: Gap Kids (Fort Myers, Naples)

Best Consignment Shop
Gold: Encore Resale Shop
(Naples)
Silver: The Consignment Store at Auctions Neapolitan (Naples)
For high-quality name-brand furnishings, accessories and collectibles, don’t pass up great consignment deals at Encore Resale Shop—all to benefit the David Lawrence Center’s programs and services. The Consignment Store at Auctions Neapolitan has 8,000 square feet filled with antique, mid-century and contemporary styles.
Finalists: Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Upscale Resale Shop (Bonita Springs, Naples); New to You (Naples)

Best Florist
Gold: 50 Fifty Creative Services
(Naples)
Silver: Gene’s 5th Ave. Florist (Naples)
When the same-old, same-old just won’t do, Fifty 50 Creative Services will bring the most special of occasions alive with unusual flower selections arranged in dramatic displays. Gene’s 5th Ave. Florist is another attention-grabber specializing in fresh flowers and tropical plants in contemporary and traditional arrangements.
Finalist: Garden District (Naples)

Best Garden Center
Gold: Driftwood Garden Center
(Estero, Naples)
Silver: The Home Depot (Bonita Springs, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples)
Driftwood Garden Center has everything you’ll need to get your lawn and garden in tip-top shape, plus the outdoor furniture to sit back and enjoy your handiwork. The Home Depot offers big-box selection plus personalized information through its Garden Club, which features timely regional tips, expert advice and exclusive savings.
Finalist: Lowe’s (Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Naples)

Best Pet Pampering
Gold: Groomingdale’s
(Naples)
Silver: PetSmart (Cape Coral, Estero, Fort Myers, Naples)
Well-groomed pets wouldn’t miss their appointments at Groomingdale’s of Naples. Whether dropping in for a quick pick-me-up of bath, ears and nails or a full grooming, they emerge pampered and sitting pretty. The PetSmart Grooming Salon offers packages that sound like something out of a high-end spa for humans—shampoo, blow-dry, massage, pedicure (OK, nail trimming), all topped off with a bow or bandanna.
Finalist: All Dogs Hair Haven (Naples); Diva Dog House (Naples)

Best Black-Tie Event
Gold: The Angel Ball (Naples)
Gold: The Heart Ball (Lee and Collier counties)
Silver: NCH Hospital Ball (Naples)
Guests of The Angel Ball bid on exciting auction items such as travel fantasies, jewelry and art, all to raise money for the Community School of Naples’ financial aid program. The Heart Ball was fabulous, and it got even better when Lee joined forces with Collier County this year to create the 2009 Southwest Florida Heart Ball, a black-tie fundraising event to celebrate life and benefit the American Heart Association.

Best Festival
Gold: Naples Winter Wine Festival
Silver: Edison Festival of Light
(Fort Myers)
The internationally known Naples Winter Wine Festival draws the rich and famous to the auction tent and private dinners, raising millions each year for Collier County’s needy children. Fort Myers just celebrated its 71st Edison Festival of Light in honor of its most famous former resident, Thomas Edison. The festival is one of North America’s top 100 events, with activities culminating in an illuminating nighttime parade.
Finalists: Naples National Art Festival; Greek Festival (Naples)

Best Place to People Watch
Gold: Fifth Avenue South (Naples)
Silver: Third Street South (Naples)
Whether showing off their boutique purchases, relaxing at the latest dining hot spot or lounging after a day at the beach, people are always fun to watch as they put the beat into the heart of downtown Naples—Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South. Thursday is usually a great night to also catch live entertainment from musicians and street performers.
Finalists: Coconut Point (Estero); Fort Myers Beach

Best Place to Meet Singles
Gold: Noodles Italian Café & Sushi Bar (Naples)
Silver: Blu Sushi (Fort Myers, Naples)
The NooShi Lounge at Noodles is the hot spot to meet singles in Naples, offering a chic dance club setting with oversized leather banquettes perfect for getting to know each other better. The most difficult decision—besides which martini to pick—is which of three Blu Sushi locations to find Mr. or Ms. Fabulous tonight. Grab a signature blue-stemmed martini glass and start flirting.
Finalists: Campiello (Naples); Gulf Coast Town Center (Fort Myers)

Best Place For a First Date
Gold: Naples Pier (12th Avenue South)
Silver: Gumbo Limbo at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples
Take a stroll down the 1,000-foot Naples Pier, and your date will be swept up in the romantic scenery of Naples’ beautiful beaches. Time it right to watch the sun sink into the Gulf of Mexico. (Bet you’ll be holding hands for the walk back.) If you want to enjoy the sunset without all the walking, take your date to The Ritz-Carlton’s outdoor restaurant, Gumbo Limbo, for casual Caribbean cuisine and a tropical drink to toast your budding romance.

Best Place to Dance
Gold: Sway Lounge
(Naples)
Silver: Yabba Island Grill (Naples)
Sway Lounge offers an international lounge and nightclub atmosphere with world-class DJs, complete with comfy VIP couches when you need a break from the dance floor. Every Friday and Saturday night, Yabba Island Grill transforms from a trendy, tropical Fifth Avenue South restaurant into a fabulous dance club when it kicks off its late-night Island party with resident DJ UNéK.
Finalist: Noodles Italian Café & Sushi Bar (Naples)

Best Free Fun
Gold: The beach (Lee and Collier counties)
Silver: Cambier Park (Naples)
Whether you want to splash in the Gulf, search for the perfect shell, build a sandcastle, take a leisurely stroll or simply soak up the sun, the Gulfshore’s many public beaches offer hours of free fun (aside from the occasional parking fee). If you prefer your outdoor fun without the hassle of sand removal, check out the grassy areas and climbing playground at Cambier Park.
Finalists: Thursdays on Third (Naples), Weekend Concert Series, Gulf Coast Town Center (Fort Myers)

Best Reasons to Leave
Cost: The Gulfshore is a vacation destination, so if you aren’t careful where you step, you could fall into a pricey tourist trap.
Heat: If you are planning a vacation, you might want to time your exploration of other versions of Paradise while ours is at its stickiest—June, July and August.
Traffic: Everyone wants to be here during Season when their own weather is nasty. You might find empty roads elsewhere—just be sure Enterprise or Avis has a snow plow available in your favorite color.
“There’s no reason to leave”: Those of us who are transplanted Northerners definitely agree. It’s tough to find fault with the everlasting sunshine, beautiful beaches, unique wildlife and interesting people.

Best Reasons to Stay
Weather: If it weren’t for air-conditioned restaurants and office buildings, you’d probably never need a sweater.
Beach: From secluded, natural settings to more popular gathering spots, the many beaches throughout Lee and Collier counties offer stunning views, soothing sounds of Gulf waves lapping against the shore and the feel of soft sand between your toes.
“It’s Paradise here”: All of the above, plus an amazing dining, shopping and cultural scene. It doesn’t get better than that.  

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