December 22, 2014

Appetite

Maine Lobster with a Side of Jazz

We overshot the roadhouse Café by three blocks, having made a classic Lee County blunder. We couldn’t believe that our “fine dining” would happen across the parking lot from a Big Lots. Who sups on filet mignon and lobster tails (which Roadhouse’s online menu had promised we might enjoy) next to a bin of clearance beach toys? But that’s the strange beauty of Lee County: The best places are tucked away in unsightly strip malls, the modern-day equivalent of the speakeasy. That vibe is especially potent at The Roadhouse Café, where the décor is black and white, and you can hear live jazz every night of the week. 

“I can’t believe we’ve driven past this place for three years, totally oblivious,” I whispered to Tom as we were shown to our table.  

“There’s a server for every table,” Tom said. Every table was packed. The smart owners had engaged a platoon of uber-professional servers. Doug Hunt was assigned to us, and he never let us want for anything. 

The first thing that you’ll notice about the Roadhouse menu—at least, if you’re a northeasterner—is that several dishes feature lobster. There’s the lobster bisque ($6.95 cup/$10.95 bowl); the lobster quesadilla appetizer, featuring jack cheese and goat cheese, and served with avocado cream sauce and chipotle sour cream ($16.95); the chicken homard, a boneless chicken breast stuffed with fresh lobster meat and Swiss cheese ($28.95); the seafood fra diavolo with scallops, shrimp and lobster over linguini ($29.95); and beef and seafood combinations that offer a choice of one or two 12-ounce lobster tails ($39.95 for one/$74.95 for two). 

“Doug, are we talking about real lobster?” asked my Boston-born-and-bred skeptic of a husband.

“Maine all the way,” Doug said. That sealed it for us.

“In an age where most people seem to go by the motto ‘How may we not help you,’ service like this is nothing short of a blessing,” I said to Tom.

“Mrrph,” he said. He was already chomping on the warm, fresh bread with olive oil, herbs and parmesan cheese that Doug had set before us. Moments later, he was nursing his excellent Meiomi pinot noir ($12 for a glass), and I was savoring the Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon ($9). 

When the be-clawed appetizers and entrées began to roll in, Tom and I went into a Maine lobster feeding frenzy. Think of love-starved teenagers being given a brief, chaperone-free moment, and you’ll get the picture. 

“This lobster quesadilla is fantastic, and large enough to satisfy as an entrée,” I said. I passed it over so Tom could taste it for himself while I went to town on his calamari ($10.95). 

When Doug set the steaming seafood fra diavolo before me, I saw that it was every man for himself, as Tom speared a forkful of succulent lobster meat from his beef and seafood combination (including a 6-ounce filet mignon in a mushroom demiglace with a 12-ounce lobster tail for $71.90).   

We got to sing Doug’s praises to Roadhouse’s proprietress, Sherri Colombo Neeley, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Marc. We found her as warm, humble and busy as the busboy. This is particularly cool given that she’s descended from jazz royalty: Her father is jazz trumpeter Lou Colombo, who played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Artie Shaw. The Roadhouse Café started on Cape Cod, where Sherri’s brother David still runs the original restaurant. Lou plays both venues. 

We ordered not one, not two, but three desserts: the Rocky Roadhouse cake, a dark chocolate cake with chocolate and butterscotch bits, and served with vanilla ice cream; the orange cake ($9 each); and the fresh berries topped with white chocolate mousse ($8). There wasn’t a loser in the bunch, but I was especially partial to the Rocky Roadhouse.

“They didn’t hit a single false note,” I said to Tom.

Whisper the secret passwords—Maine lobster and jazz—and prepare for a feast at the Roadhouse Café.  

The Roadhouse Café 15660 San Carlos Blvd., Suite 36, Fort Myers; (239) 415-4375, www.roadhousecafefl.com. Open Sunday through Saturday 4:30 to 10 p.m., “Hours of Happiness” 4:30 to 7p.m. Sunday through Thursday, live music nightly. Reservations recommended. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible.