September 1, 2014

Get Crabby … With Pleasure

TRULUCK'S
Tom and I usually take a principled stand against restaurant chains, where chefs tend to be shackled by corporate dictates and the food bears the mass-produced mark of the bottom line. Not so with Truluck’s, a small treasure tucked away behind the Inn on Fifth.

“Two restaurants had failed in this location before we arrived almost six years ago,” said Rick Rinella, the managing partner of Truluck’s Naples. “People said, ‘You’ll never survive there; nobody will be able to find you.’ But we had 400 reservations for tonight alone—a Monday.”

In Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, Chef Anthony Bourdain gives readers some terrifying reasons to avoid ordering fish on a Monday. But it’s clear that Bourdain never ate at Truluck’s. The company owns two stone crab fisheries in Southwest Florida and holds one of only 10 existing licenses to harvest the delicacy commercially. Rinella manages both fisheries—with 50,000 traps—and stocks all 10 Truluck’s (five in Texas, including the original store in Houston, two others in Florida and one in San Diego). Naples gets the last shipment, which means a crab could come out of the water at 4 p.m. and be on the table by 6.

“I’ll have the stone crab dinner ($42),” Tom said, displaying the trademark wisdom for which I married him.  


photo by Vanessa Rogers

Veteran server Tim Irving helped us make our selections from an impressive array of wines available for purchase by two-ounce sample, glass or bottle. Ordinarily, I’m a cabernet gal while Tom favors pinot noir, but Truluck’s inspired a role reversal: Tom ordered a glass of the Folie a Deux cabernet sauvignon ($16) while I took a flier on the G.J. pinot noir ($15.50). The Folie a Deux proved to be Tom’s cup of tea, so to speak, while I relished my pinot.

Truluck’s is the sort of masculine, dark-wood, leather-chair, white-tablecloth establishment where an overabundance of servers and busboys, hovering discreetly in crisp white uniforms, caters to its diners. Before long, my lobster bisque ($7.50) was being assembled before me by a busboy bathing small chunks of Maine lobster in a smooth, orange liquid and garnishing with chopped chives. Some lobster bisques are thick, creamy and mild, while others have a bite; Truluck’s belongs to the sassier variety. Tom tucked with gusto into a plate of fried calamari ($13) as a Maryland lump blue crab cake appeared ($17). I appreciated the simplicity of the crab cake. As a Maryland native, I’m perpetually exasperated by pretenders to the Crab Cake Throne. Why can’t restaurateurs understand that no amount of red pepper and breading will compensate for inferior crab? I breathed a sigh of relief at Truluck’s, where the crab cake was fat with tasty, premium lump crabmeat from my home state. Tom’s crisp Caesar salad ($8) completed our mini tour of the menu’s starters.

We ordered two large entreés: the aforementioned stone crab dinner for Tom and the Duck Harbor Alaskan red king crab ($49) for me. That’s right; we embarked on a veritable Crab Bacchanal. Truluck’s has several organic Niman Ranch meat entrées and other environmentally sound and sustainable fish options—the company seems unusually committed to being a good citizen of the Earth—but we zeroed in on the crab. (Any Monday from mid-October to mid-May, we could have done the All-U-Can-Eat Stone Crabs for $59 each.) A towering bowl of large, iced, stone-crab claws appeared in front of Tom as a massive pair of red crab legs was laid before me, along with asparagus spears of equally alarming size. We felt like gladiators poised to engage in a weird, culinary version of hand-to-hand combat, with crab prosthetics. When a uniformed attendant placed a ramekin of drawn butter on a small flame in front of me, I scooped the flesh out of one large, pre-cracked crab leg and dunked it. Happiness is premium shellfish dunked in drawn butter.

“This is a little bit of all right,” said Tom, a master of understatement.

It makes me blush to recall it, but when our server returned with the dessert tray, I said, “I’ll have the chocolate malt cake ($10).”

Tom said, “Surprise me.” Tom loves to say, “Surprise me.” This request flummoxes most servers, but Tim—a true professional—walked away briskly and then returned before we could miss him.

“You said you were feeling full, so I thought this would be lighter,” Tim explained as he set down a cool slice of Key lime pie ($8) for my better half. Then he plunked down a massive hunk of cake for me. Tom pronounced his pie a winner, and I sampled my cake. I’m getting tired of all of the leaden, flourless, dark chocolate cakes being peddled these days. Truluck’s features the sort of chocolate cake that satisfies an adult palate but still calls to mind the best chocolate cupcakes of our childhood.

Truluck’s provides a combination of high quality food, service and ambiance that is not easy to come by these days. If you deserve a treat, make a reservation.

Truluck’s, 698 Fourth Ave. S.; Naples; (239) 530-3131,
www.trulucks.com. Happy hour 4:30–7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, all night on Sunday. Dining room is open 5–10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Reservations strongly recommended. Valet and free parking available. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

THE GREEN FLASH
When I first moved to Fort Myers in 2004 as a single woman, I met the son of family friends for lunch on Captiva. Because my single years were characterized by optimism, it took me the duration of the meal to realize that I was not looking across the table at my soul mate. I blame The Green Flash and its spectacular water view. With brown pelicans cavorting, the natural beauty of Buck Key in the distance and the occasional boat drifting by, you could be dining with Attila the Hun and still find it all positively romantic.

I had forgotten all about my date at The Green Flash until my bona fide soul mate and I—inspired by a positive review from a fellow diner on Sanibel—pulled into its parking lot to do a restaurant review. The Green Flash occupies the landmark space held until recent years by Timmy’s Nook since 1950, just southwest of Marker 38 if you’re lucky enough to come by boat.

“Wait a second, I’ve been here before,” I told Tom. “On a date.”

“You dated other people before you met me?” he asked, feigning shock.

“Did I say a date?” I backtracked. “I meant I once came here with my great-aunt.”

“What was her name?”

“John.”

On the night we dined at The Green Flash, business was booming. We saw couples, families, babies, retirees and a number of college-aged folks in hoodie sweatshirts and flip-flops. Sanibel and Captiva are ideal escapes for people who are tired of starched shirts and ties. While it does feature tablecloths and candlelight, The Green Flash is a casual, unpretentious venue with wicker furniture and tropical green carpeting. The menu has a few highfalutin options and the traces of its Swiss proprietors, but mainly it’s the sort of place where the entreés come with a fresh vegetable and choice of French fries, rice or potato au gratin.


photo by Vanessa Rogers

It took us three minutes to decide what to order.

“I’ll start with a glass of the Hess Select cabernet sauvignon ($8), a cup of the shrimp bisque ($4.50) and the toasted artichoke hearts ($8.95),” I told Sherry Anne, our server. “Then I’d like to try your veal Zurich ($21.95) and I’ll finish with the carrot cake ($4.95).”

“Can you tell that we have a babysitter at home and the clock is ticking?” Tom asked Sherry Anne. “I’ll have the Rutz pinot noir ($7.75), the portobello mushroom ($9.95), the Caesar salad ($4.50), the special stone crab appetizer ($14.95), the Captiva steam pot ($24.95) and the crème brulée ($5.95).” Sherry Anne laughed and said she would take care of us. We took in the spectacular view and held hands for a few minutes, and then a long, steady stream of food began to appear.

The bisque was thick, chunky, mild and flavorful. The artichokes were deluged in butter and cheese, a personal affront to the arteries but a pleasure to the tongue. Tom’s mushroom appetizer was very good, as were the stone crabs. Tom’s steam pot was tasty, but my veal Zurich hadn’t traveled well—the scaloppini was bathed in a sauce that was too rich for a tropical climate, and the accompanying homemade spaetzle noodles were too salty. The desserts were also a bit too rich for our beachy environment. To sum up, we found the food to be tasty, but on the heavy side. If you’re comforted by lots of butter and cheese, and rue the day chefs started caring about trans fats, you should make haste for Captiva.

The Green Flash, 15183 Captiva Drive, Captiva Island; (239) 472-3337, www.greenflashcaptiva.com. Lunch served 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., dinner 5:30–9:30 p.m. daily. Reservations not accepted. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

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