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Fine Dining

Best Bite

The veranda has offered Southern-style fine foods in a romantic setting in two turn-of-the-century homes for more than 30 years. Reserve your garden-view seats and enjoy the $34 Bourbon Street filet’s twin tournedos of beef in a smoky, sour-mash whiskey sauce. Chef William Murray’s luscious sauce—a reduced blend of beef demi-glace, butter, garlic, rosemary, mushrooms and bourbon—richly bathes the seared tenderloin. Colorful vegetables complete the presentation. 2122 Second St., Fort Myers, 332-2065, www.verandarestaurant.com—Ivan Seligman

The Jolly Cricket

Lamb, Salmon and Goosebumps

The Jolly Cricket’s dishes are every bit as enthralling as the waiter said they were.

In the 1991 comedy defending Your Life, Al Brooks and Meryl Streep play two souls on a way station between heaven and earth. They discover that they can eat as much as they like without gaining weight (which qualifies as heaven to me) when they encounter an exuberant Italian waiter who rhapsodizes about food. “You like pie? I’m gonna bring you nine of the most beautiful pies you ever saw!”

We met this waiter—or his doppelganger—in real life the other night at The Jolly Cricket: Jane’s Gastropub, a new venture by Naples veterans Jane and Tony Wood, located in the space formerly occupied by Zoe’s and Trilogy.

“You like a nice rack of lamb? Ours is so good it gives me goosebumps!” Romanian server Aurel Ene enthused, describing Chef Brad Austin’s rack of lamb with a cabernet glaze ($28). Tom was quickly sold on the organic Scottish salmon in a cider butter sauce ($24)—“You’re not gonna believe how moist it is!”—but he tried and failed to get the kitchen to substitute mashed potatoes for the accompanying pine nut rice pilaf. Our second modification request, involving the delicious filet mignon sliders ($14), met with the same resistance. Was Chef Austin lacking Ene’s hospitality, or was he just protecting an artistic vision? When our food arrived, we realized it was the latter. 

“These are exceptional coconut shrimp,” ($14), I murmured to Tom, who was equally smitten with his mussels appetizer ($12), a dish bursting with twice as many flavors as the usual mussels-in-wine, including a surprise cameo by hazelnuts. The potato flatbread ($12) was truly inventive, with jerk chicken and onions. We found ourselves singing along to the British soundtrack softly pervading the “gastropub” (i.e., a pub with top-notch food): the Beatles, Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, etc. When the lamb and salmon arrived, we found them to be as goosebump-inducing as Ene had promised. We told him so and praised his salesmanship.

“Honestly, I’m the worst server,” he confessed. “I cannot sell you something if I don’t like it.” That might not work at some restaurants, but Ene’s safe at The Jolly Cricket.

General Manager Scott Seger stopped by and asked if we were enjoying our meals. We asked him for his story. “Three months ago, Jane, a.k.a. The Boss, brought me down from Orlando to gut the place. We got a new executive chef, new servers … basically, no B players.” Seger explained that their price point is well below the norm, especially for Fifth Avenue. They want to offer good service and high-quality food, even if much of it is “Pub Grub” like Shepherd’s Pie ($16), at unusually low prices. So far, they’re on target, even down to the wine. You can indulge, or you can try the very good Coastal Vines “Pub Wine” offerings as we did: the pinot grigio and cabernet sauvignon ($6.50/glass each).

Seger used his pull with Chef Austin to score us an off-the-menu sampler of desserts, including the piña colada bread pudding, the “What’s Up Doc” carrot cake and a trio of sorbet, all made in-house, and the outsourced but local “Some Say Death, We Say Love By Chocolate Cake” (all $7). I’d love to say we took modest bites of each and then went for a long walk, but they were so heavenly, we had a feeding frenzy and ended up splayed on the sofa like a couple of happy souls. 

The British are coming, and you know what? That’s just fine with us.

The Jolly Cricket: Jane’s Gastropub, 720 Fifth Ave. S., Naples; (239) 304-9460, www.thejollycricket.com. Open daily from 11 a.m. to close. Live music in the evenings in season. Reservations highly recommended. Free parking. Credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Quite a spread: The Jolly Cricket’s Ploughman’s Board features English bangers, aged cheddar, mango chutney, crusty bread and pickles (above). The Absolutely Fabulous Pork Chop comes with cinnamon apple compote, mashed potatoes and braised red cabbage.

We found the lamb and salmon to be as thrilling as Ene had promised.

Sweet endings: Piña colada bread pudding is one of several mouth-watering desserts made in-house at The Jolly Cricket.  

Hot Dish

Naples’ Steamers Restaurant is a popular authentic New England seafood spot. Filled with nautical bric-a-brac, it’s almost standing room only, as diners feast on the rich seafood chowder that’s even better than the clam chowder ($7 a bowl), one pound of fresh Maine steamers ($10), mussels in garlic butter ($12), and fried calamari ($9). Hungry campers fill up on lightly battered fried fish ’n chips, haddock, oysters, grouper, sea scallops or whole belly clams for $16 to $18. A lighter menu is priced right with smaller portions. 5317 Airport Road, Naples, 593-3388.

Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop and Deli is the spot for savvy shoppers to take home Wagyu (Kobe) beef, Kurobuta (Berkshire) pork, lobster and elk. I’ve grilled Jimmy P’s Wagyu steaks at home. They are better-tasting than beef at many steakhouses! The deli serves $8 lunch items—superb eight-ounce Kobe burger, eight-ounce Berkshire pork chop, grilled Reuben, Kobe pastrami sub, and a Cuban sub! The on-site smokehouse produces fine deli meats, fresh and smoked sausages. The delicatessen’s Kobe pastrami and corned beef are a hit every day of the week! 1833 Tamiami Trail N., Naples, 643-6328, www.jimmypsbutchershop.com.

Cape Coral’s Ají-Limón is a tasty newcomer serving authentic Peruvian and Latin cuisines. It’s a welcoming spot with autumnal colors and a brick counter. Most dishes are less than $9. A quarter chicken with rice and beans is just $4. I like the large, mixed seafood ceviche ($10.50), lomo saltado (sautéed beef, $10), and aji de gallina (chicken in chili sauce, $7). The eight-ounce grilled steak and grilled pork with two sides are each $9. Most dishes are large enough for a meal and a half—or two! Enjoy tres leches, cheesecake, rice pudding and flan for dessert, all for $2.50 to $3! With sodas $1.25, domestic beer and juices $2, and Coronas and Heinekens $2.75, it’s all very easy on the wallet. 1480 N.E. Pine Island Road, Cape Coral, 424-8212. —Ivan Seligman


Take a seat: Enjoy lunch at the bar of The Jolly Cricket while British rock music sets the mood.

Edible artwork: The Asian salad is made of organic field greens, fresh herbs, market vegetables, mandarin oranges, toasted almonds and rice noodles with ginger soy dressing.

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