July 23, 2014

Gulfshore Life Best of the Gulfshore 2002

BEST SEAFOOD
Charley's Crab (Naples)
Finalists: Chart House (Fort Myers)
Bill's Pier on Fifth (Naples)
What are all the raves about? Well, Charley's signature crab cakes for one thing-lots of crab, little filling. The daily lobster specials and the ultra-fresh fish also keep this five-year-old location at the top of the seafood-lover heap. The gorgeous views of Naples Bay and all those million-dollar yachts just add to the flavor.

BEST SUSHI
DaRuMa (Naples)
Finalists: Origami (Fort Myers, Naples)
Club Sushi (Naples)
Maybe it's that much of the fish is flown in fresh from Japan. Or maybe it's just those friendly sushi chefs, who are always eager to explain the difference between, say, inari and your everyday standard eel. Whatever it is, there's little doubt the 12-year-old DaRuMa knows its way around a spicy tuna roll.

BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT
China Pavilion Restaurant (Naples)
Finalists: China Fuji (Fort Myers); China Tokyo (Naples)
This near Pavilion tempts local lotus-eaters and business Brahmins with a beefy dinner menu chockful of choices. Try the specialty of the house, poetically named Happy Family-lobster, pork and chicken sautéed with vegetables. Or duck in for some afternoon delight with bargain-priced lunch specials.

BEST FRENCH RESTAURANT
Chardonnay (Naples)
Finalists: Bleu Provence (Naples); Marie-Michelle's (Naples)
At Chardonnay "every night is opening night," and it's been that way every day for the past 14 years. Chef Jean Claude Martin puts his all into the creation of such French specialties as Fricassee D'escargots and Le LaPin (rabbit), and the staff is fussy about getting every detail exactly right.

BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Campiello (Naples)
Finalists: Anthony's Trattoria (Bonita Springs); Nonna Maria (Naples)
Readers loved life Italian style in Campiello's Tuscan-themed eatery, with two indoor and two outdoor dining rooms. Palate-pleasing picks include simple, fresh food like pizza cooked in a brick oven and chicken roasted on a rotisserie over an open, wood-fired grill.

BEST BARBECUE RESTAURANT
Michelbob's (Naples)
Finalists: Rib City Grill (Fort Myers, Naples); Porky's Last Stand (Naples, Bonita Springs)
"You can't expect me to reveal all our secrets, can you?" asks owner Bob Mattson, who opened this Naples landmark 23 years ago (there's a take-out location in Marco Island.) Our readers love the baby back ribs, but Michelbob's also serves up some primo All-American standards like hot dogs and hamburgers. And the homemade cole slaw, beans and onion rings add to the total'cue package.

BEST MEXICAN RESTAURANT
La Casita (Fort Myers)
Finalists: Flaco's (Naples); Iguana Mia (Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs)
Forget run-of-the-mill Tex-Mex when dining at La Casita. This three-year-old south Fort Myers restaurant-brought to you by the same folks who own the Mucky Duck on Captiva-prides itself on authentic Mexican dishes with plenty of fresh ingredients (they drive all the way to Immokalee to get fresh tomatoes for the salsa and other dishes.) Favorites include the shrimp soup, any number of different quesadillas and enchiladas, along with "flor bunuell," a dessert with a fried tortilla shaped like a flower and topped off with strawberries, cinnamon and vanilla ice cream.

BEST AMERICAN/CONTEMPORARY RESTAURANT
Tie: Chops City Grill (Naples); Silver Spoon (Naples)
Finalists: Stonewood (Fort Myers); Watermark Grille (Naples); Zoe's (Naples)
Down on Fifth Avenue South, Chops is known for its American favorites, including juicy, tender steak served in a trendy downtown atmosphere. At Silver Spoon it's fun and casual with signature soups and towering salads, sandwiches, burgers, gourmet pizzas and entrées.

BEST PIZZA
Tie: Aurelio's (Naples); Pizza 2000 (Fort Myers)
Finalists: Angelo's Pizzeria (Naples); Anthony's Italian Ristorante and Deli (Naples)
Our two winners agree on what it takes to make a perfect pie. "Fresh ingredients," says John Stewart, whose son J.P. opened Aurelio's a little more than four years ago. Says Patty Doubleday, whose husband, Rodney, is the main man at Pizza 2000: "We just use the really good stuff." And pizza lovers are really thankful.

BEST STEAKHOUSE
Andre's Steak House (Naples, Marco Island)
Finalists: Sanibel Steakhouse (Sanibel, Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples); Shula's Steakhouse (Naples)
Here's the beef: Stake out Andre's for a cut of prime porterhouse, and polish it off with one of 200 velvety varietals from the top-rated wine list.

BEST GROUPER SANDWICH
Grouper & Chips (Bonita Springs, Naples)
Finalists: Tommy Bahama's (Naples); Steamers (Naples); Snook Inn (Marco Island)
"It starts with the freshest grouper we can get, and then it's all in the batter," says owner Francis Pischner, who opened the original G&C eight years ago and personally cuts the fish each day for his restaurants. He uses a tempura-style batter with a corn meal base and six spices. "But, hey, the exact details have to be kept secret," says Pischner.

BEST CAESAR SALAD
University Grill (Fort Myers)
Finalists: Pelican Larry's (Naples); Old Naples Pub (Naples)
You can't really improve upon the basic Caesar ingredients, but the south Fort Myers University Grill makes sure the romaine is well chilled, the croutons are homemade and the parmesan is the best available. They use pasteurized eggs, not raw or coddled, in the dressing, along with a milder flavored anchovy. All hail this Caesar!

BEST DESSERTS
Tony's Off Third (Naples)
Finalists: The Bubble Room (Captiva Island); Roy's (Bonita Springs)
The desserts at Tony's display the craftsmanship of pastry chef Toni Belknap. She uses top-drawer ingredients, including Lucerne chocolate (a dark Swiss chocolate) and premium liqueurs. Among our faves: piña colada cake, raspberry Grand Marnier cake and lemon mousse cake.

BEST KEY LIME PIE
Naples Cheesecake (Naples)
Finalists: Sunshine Café (Fort Myers, Captiva); Rodes Fresh & Fancy (Bonita Springs)
Naples Cheesecake owner Michael Gardner, the self-proclaimed "Big Cheese," began selling his cakes and pies to an appreciative audience 20 years ago. While he also makes a killer Key lime cheesecake, his traditional pie calls for sugared egg yolks that are whipped into a frenzy of chiffon. "It makes a lighter pie that people can't seem to get enough of," says Gardner.

BEST BRUNCH
The Registry Resort (Naples)
Finalists: The Ritz-Carlton, Naples; Bacchus (Fort Myers)
At Café Chablis, the atmosphere and the view of mangroves may be casual and peaceful, but the laden brunch tables are full of excitement, from pastries, fruit and omelets to made-to-order to fish specialties and prime rib. It's a feast for the eyes and the palate.

BEST BREAKFAST
First Watch (Fort Myers, Naples)
Finalists: Manna from Heaven (Naples); Sunrise Café (Naples)

BEST BREAD WITH A MEAL
The Beach Pier Side Grill (Fort Myers Beach)
Finalists: The Veranda (Fort Myers); Silver Spoon (Naples)
Somehow the staff of life stacks up better when munched beachside; and the Pierside's beach-bread appetizer-French bread with garlic butter, blue cheese, cheddar cheese and chopped tomatoes and onions topped with marinara sauce-won plenty of plaudits. The warm, dark squaw bread served with dinner also garnered a loyal tribe of followers.

BEST MARGARITAS
Iguana Mia (Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs)
Finalists: Flaco's (Naples); Yabba (Naples)
Owner Dirk Atherton, who launched this popular local chain in TK, spent long years arduously researching how to make the perfect margarita. You can't fool with the basics-fresh limes, Triple Sec and good tequila. Our readers say they enjoy the lively atmosphere at Iguana Mia's and like to customize their 'ritas with various call brands of tequila.

BEST WINE BY THE GLASS
Tie: Bacchus (Fort Myers); Cork's Steakhouse and Wine Bar (Naples); Zoe's (Naples)
Finalists: Bistro 821 (Naples); Syrah (Naples)
So many wines, so little time. Each of these oenophile's haunts abides by the same winning rules: an ever-changing list of selections, including champagnes and ports; a wide mix of price ranges; and quality stemware for serving.

BEST MARTINIS
Campiello (Naples)
Finalists: Chops City Grill (Naples), Ditka's (Naples)
A big wraparound bar that seats 75 indoors and out, a mind-boggling list of 50 types of martini, and generous 12-ounce glasses got Campiello's the nod for best martini. The daring might want to try an Amazon Monkey-a combination of rum, Midori and fruit juices-while the traditional will stick with the James Bond-"dry, very dry, and shaken, not stirred."

BEST WATERFRONT DINING
Tie: Turtle Club (Naples); Mucky Duck (Captiva)
Finalists: Marie-Michelle's (Naples); The Dock at Crayton Cove (Naples)
Cute critters rule on the waterfront! But great food in an awesome setting is the real payoff. The Turtle Club does it all-from steaks and pastas to a terrific Caesar salad and a well-rounded, affordable wine list. And the Mucky Duck has long since branched out from its original pub grub fare to include such dishes as grouper Café de Paris.served up with a sunset.

BEST ROMANTIC MEAL
Tie: Annabelle's (Naples); The Ritz-Carlton, Naples Grill Room; The Veranda (Fort Myers)
Finalists: Sign of the Vine (Naples); Chardonnay (Naples)
All three offer their own slice of romance. Share those special moments behind the private curtained tables at Annabelle's, cozy up to the fireplace at the Grill Room, or soak up the historic charm of The Veranda.

BEST BUSINESS LUNCH
Shula's Steakhouse (Naples)
Finalists: Alexander's (Naples); Campiello (Naples); University Grill (Fort Myers)
If you want a power meeting, you need power meat. At Shula's the menu is written on a football, and the prime rib should be delivered in a wheelbarrow. Heck, the baked potatoes are almost as big as middle linebackers.

BEST PLACE FOR A REALLY CHEAP MEAL
Mel's Diner (Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples)
Finalists: LuLu B's (Naples), Sweet Caroline's (Naples)
Economists long have warned that there is no free lunch. But there is a cheap lunch-and breakfast and dinner-at Mel's Diner, sort of a retro-chic '50s diner crossed with a Denny's. The thrifty and the hungry line up to gobble good grub here-standard American chow like meatloaf and ribs served with all the trimmings.

BEST IRISH OR ENGLISH PUB
McCabe's (Naples)
Finalists: Paddy Murphy's (Naples), Cassidy's (Fort Myers)
Philip McCabe, proprietor of the Inn on Fifth Avenue, journeyed to Ireland in 1997 to research his roots and come up with the Hibernian-American pub grub that characterizes this cozy eatery adjoining his hotel. Diners delight in Gaelic fries, McGillicuddy Cobb salad, auld Tatty, leek soup and even pasta O'Brien and shanachie Reubens-and wash it all down, of course, with a pint o' Guinness.

BEST BARTENDER
Robin Thomas and Jennifer Giroux, Cloyde's Steak & Lobster House (Naples)
Finalists: Ralph Ceglia, Carrabba's (Naples)
The era of the good, stiff drink may have drowned in Perrier and wine in many a bar, but here at Cloyd's, veteran bartending team Robin Thomas and Jennifer Giroux honor the time-tested rituals of their ancient and noble craft: liberal libations and friendly but crisp and professional service. Cloyd's customers, many of them loyal locals, want traditional drinks: martinis, Manhattans, Scotch on the rocks. "This is a steakhouse," Thomas explains. "No froufrou drinks here."

BEST WAITRESS
Nia Airgood, Turtle Club (Naples)
Nia Airgood admits she never expected to still be waiting tables at age 36. She started waiting tables in her home state of Indiana at age 21 and just never left-the profession, that is.
"It's convenient," she says. "It allows me to live the life I want." Meaning, Airgood is perfectly content being a seasonal Naples visitor and flitting off to another state of her choice each summer. Last year it was Maryland, this year it's Colorado. "That's the best thing about this business. You can find work anywhere, leave for a few months, and know your job will be there when you return."
Each fall when she returns to Naples, Airgood tends to gravitate to the Turtle Club, where the view and the atmosphere are spectacular. Her philosophy: "If you can't be on the beach and have to work, why not work on the beach?" Sometimes she even moves within Naples. Before season ended here, she found herself at the Cocohatchee Bay House.
But no matter where Airgood's summer jaunts lead, she admits the Turtle Club feels like home. There, the staff has become her family. And she greets her customers with the same welcoming warmth, serving everybody with a genuine smile.

BEST CHEF
Ross Peterson, Syrah (Naples)
Finalists: Chris Agius, Sunshine Café (Fort Myers, Captiva); Michael Mir, Bha Bha (Naples)

BEST CATERER
Wynn's Catering (Naples)
Finalists: Derek Bennett (Naples); Blue Pepper (Fort Myers)
Wynn's team of eight chefs understand that in this business it's not just about the food but more about the presentation. So they get creative. For instance, a 72-inch round table would be perfectly fine with a floral centerpiece, but these chefs carve vegetables and fruit for a centerpiece that makes a statement.

BEST FISH MARKET
Captain Jerry's Seafood (Naples)
Finalists: Prawn Broker (Fort Myers), Swan River (Naples)
Capt. Jerry, a commercial shrimper from Fort Myers Beach, set sail from this market years ago, but its two locations in Naples retain a salty tang and yield some of the freshest fish out of the Gulf. On a typical day, shoppers get to pick from more than 20 species, including local favorites like grouper and snapper, and exotics like Boston scrod and scallops, Alaskan halibut, and Chilean salmon and sea bass. Some take home a package of 'gator tail or Carolina crawdads. Others dig shellfish: plump, briny oysters, sweet littleneck and cherrystone clams, succulent stone crab claws, live Maine lobsters or frozen Florida lobster tails. Time-strapped hosts cruise by to pick up prepared appetizers like crab cakes, conch fritters, shrimp platters, oysters Rockefeller and other concoctions of delicious fishes.

BEST FRUIT AND VEGETABLE MARKET
The Fresh Market (Naples)
Finalists: Sun Harvest Citrus (Fort Myers), Oakes Farm Market (Naples)
In search of celery hearts or celery roots, broccoli or broccoli rabe, grapes or grape tomatoes, local lettuce heads have an easy row to hoe at The Fresh Market, where they can harvest bushels of some of the area's finest fresh fruits and vegetables.

BEST WINE SHOP
Bacchus of Naples
Finalists: Haskell's (Naples); The Wine Merchant (Naples)
"We like to say we're the Tiffany of wine shops without the Tiffany prices," says Bacchus' David Contreras, who with partner Susan Esson opened this high-profile shop on Fifth Avenue barely a year ago. Our readers say they like the intimate tastings, often with visiting vintners, along with the artful and relaxing setting.

BEST SPECIALTY FOOD SHOP

The Fresh Market (Naples)
Finalists: Blue Pepper (Fort Myers); Wynn's Market (Naples)
Now in its fourth year in Naples, this Greensboro, N.C.-based chain, with several locations on Florida's east coast, may be eyeing a Southwest Florida expansion. It's all here at Fresh Market-from custom-cut meats and gourmet to-go dinners to Italian flatbreads, fresh produce and a stellar wine selection. Just walking the aisles is a delicious experience.

BEST BAKERY
Publix
Finalists: Bara Bread (Fort Myers); La Maison du Pain (Naples); Mikkelsen's Pastry Shop (Naples)
It's not difficult to find a Publix-there's one on almost every corner-and once inside who can resist the array of pies, cakes, doughnuts, pastries and cookies?

BEST BEACH FOR TAKING A LONG WALK
Vanderbilt Beach (Naples)
Finalists: Wiggins Pass (Naples), Barefoot Beach (Bonita Springs)
The best things in life may not really be free, but you don't have to be a Vanderbilt to stroll this strand. Feed a few bits to a parking meter and you can cover the waterfront, where the sea vistas are free and limitless.

BEST BEACH FOR PEOPLE WATCHING
Fort Myers Beach
Finalists: Bowman's Beach (Sanibel); Vanderbilt Beach (Naples)
Sure, the traffic in season can back up from one end of Estero Island to the other. But there's no better place to hang out and enjoy slices of life in all shapes and sizes than on this long, white strand. FMB has it all going on-a nice pier, good parks and plenty of beach bars and restaurants for chilling out while you watch life flow by.

BEST BEACH TO TAKE THE KIDS
Lowdermilk Park (Naples)
Finalists: Wiggins Pass (Naples); Fort Myers Beach
Lowdermilk has plenty of parking, clean facilities, picnic tables and lots of open spaceso it's no wonder families gravitate here.

BEST BEACH FOR SUNSETS
Captiva Island
Yes, dear readers, there is a "flash of green." And if you hang out on Captiva long enough-and squint at that glowing orb as it descends-then you might just catch a glimpse of it. This is a place for romance, so grab your honey and get some sand between your toes.

BEST BEACH TO ESCAPE THE CROWDS
Lover's Key (Lee County)
Finalists: Barefoot Beach (Bonita Springs); Wiggins Pass (Naples)
Escaping the crowds is a relative thing along the Gulfshore, but the people are definitely sparser at pristine Lover's Key, where you can sometimes glimpse roseate spoonbills munching their dinners in the mangroves.

BEST PARK
Cambier Park (Naples)
Finalists: Lowdermilk Park (Naples); Lakes Park (Fort Myers)
This is more than a park; it's an outdoor entertainment and sports arena. Cambier boasts tennis, racquetball and basketball courts; ball fields, horseshoe pits, a stage for big band events, even meeting rooms.

BEST SCENIC DRIVE
Fort Myers Beach to Bonita Beach
Finalists: Gulfshore Boulevard (Naples); Gordon Drive (Naples); Sanibel/Captiva
The rush of everyday life wears on everyone after awhile, which is why we encourage you to relax and indulge in the finer points of life along the Gulfshore. Who can resist the cool breeze off the Gulf, the smell of the salty air, the sand between your toes, the squawk of the seagulls?
But if you can't make time to lie on the beach and frolic in the water, why not take a drive along the coast? With Estero Bay winking at you from the east and the Gulf enticing you from the west, it is no wonder residents consider the journey from Fort Myers Beach to Bonita Beach to be the best.
First the towering homes will wow you. But once you pass the mansions, nature stars on a stretch of highway that makes you feel like you are in the wilderness. And the bridge at Lovers Key will have you wanting to stop and take it all in.
Even better: It can also be an alternate north-south route to the stop-and-go traffic of U.S. 41.

BEST FOREIGN CAR MECHANIC
Tie:Latimer Auto Repair (Naples), Lextech Automotive (Bonita Springs)
Finalists: Automotion (Fort Myers), Jap Tech of Naples, Robbin's Complete Auto Repair and Radiator (Naples)
If people grow to look like their pets, do they also wind up feeling like their vehicles? Don't fret if your car growls: These fine mechanics get to know their customers as well as their rides and can fix everything but a broken heart.

BEST CLASSIC CAR DEALERSHIP
Supreme Auto (Naples)
Finalist: Shelton Jaguar Porsche (Naples)
In Naples, where you are your car, tout le monde wants to be a classic. Supreme Auto owner John Nocera helps readers find just their types, from Beetles to Bentleys, at this luxurious lot.

BEST CONTEMPORARY FURNITURE STORE
Robb & Stucky (Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, Naples)
Finalists: Denmark Interiors (Naples, Fort Myers); Norris Furniture and Interiors (Naples, Fort Myers)
The grand scale may be a bit intimidating, but once you have the lay of the land Robb & Stucky is a shopper's paradise. And if you're confused about just what wonderful thing will fit best into your home, you'll find lots of skilled-and smart-designers on call.

BEST ANTIQUE STORE
Treasure Island (Naples)
Finalists: C.W. Smith (Naples); Judy's of Fort Myers; Lalla Rookh (Naples)
Readers like to while away the hours combing the shelves for treasures at this gold mine of a shop tucked away off U.S. 41. Treasure Island is 12,000 square feet of antique bliss.

BEST LANDSCAPE DESIGN FIRM
Tie: Smallwood Design Group (Naples); Burner and Co. (Fort Myers)
Finalists: Roland J. Lieber (Naples); Busk & Associates (Naples); Stephen Trudnak (Bonita Springs)
Quality, creativeness and attention to detail are the basis for both winners' designs. But what elevates their work to art is their abiding love for tropical Florida nature.

BEST DRY CLEANER
Jerry's Cleaners (Naples)
Finalists: Platinum Coast Dry Cleaners (Naples); Fashion Fresh (Naples)
Owner Jerry Fyke, now retired and living in Naples, worked at an area dry cleaners before going out on his own and opening his first operation. That was in 1964. Business was going so well, he decided to open a second location in North Naples in 1986 and both have been booming ever since. They credit their success to top of the line equipment and courteous staff.

BEST PLUMBER
Acres & Son (Naples)
Finalist: Lezgus (Bonita Springs)
If you want to get technical, it's really Randy Acres, his son, Ryan, and daughters Rene and Rochelle. But satisfied Gulfshore Life readers know whom to count on, whether it's a plumbing emergency or a remodeling project. The business that started 28 years ago now covers all of Lee and Collier counties and boasts more than 100 employees.

BEST VINTAGE CLOTHES STORE
Bonnie's Vintage Emporium (Fort Myers)
Finalists: Elite Repeat (Fort Myers)
Still think bell bottoms are hip? Polyester turns you on? Fulfill your decades-old fancy at Bonnie's, which stocks fashions from the 1870s to the 1980s. Peace signs, rhinestones, hats-they're back.

BEST CONSIGNMENT STORE
The Conservancy of Southwest Florida Upscale Resale (Naples, Bonita Springs)
Finalists: New To You (Naples); Clothes by Consignment (Naples)
If you're in the market for high-end furnishings, antiques and collectibles, then is the Conservancy consignment store is your one-stop shop. As the staff reports, "It's upscale merchandise at a fair price."

BEST FLORIST
Gene's Fifth Avenue Florist (Naples)
Finalists: Ruth Messmer (Fort Myers); 50-Fifty Floral Art (Naples); Flower Lane of Naples
A young fellow by the name of Gene started the business 29 years ago, but quickly sold it to Bud and Arthea Brimmer after only a year. Today Bud and Arthea are still the owners crediting their longevity to good service and quality. "Twelve months of the year we can get you anything you want," Bud says.

BEST BARBER
Rollie Rice, Rice's Barber Shop (Naples)
Finalist: Vinnie Sullivan, Top It Off (Fort Myers)
No highfalutin' salons or stylists here; just good, honest barberin' at an old-fashioned shop. You'll have to hunt for Rice's, hidden away in an arcade in the Naples Plaza shopping center. Look for the striped barber pole, patriotic floor (red-white-and-blue tile), four comfy, swiveling barber's chairs, mirrored walls and a sign that warns: "If you're smoking, you'd better be on fire."

BEST SPA
Danielle's (Naples)
Finalists: The Ritz-Carlton, Naples; The Face Spa (Naples)

BEST NAILS/PEDICURE
Tie: Cher's Hair Spa (Naples); Danielle's (Naples)
Finalists: Hair (Naples); Robert of Philadelphia (Naples)
You'll be eagerly showing off those perfectly primped hands and feet after a visit to one of these preferred locales. Embarrassed to bare your pre-pedicure feet? No worries. Cher's offers a private pedicure room. It's toe heaven.

BEST LOCAL ENTERTAINER
Carla Valenti (Naples)
As a young girl growing up in Rochester, N.Y., music was Carla Valenti's passion and singers Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan her inspiration. Her first performances were in her childhood bedroom, prompted by her sister, who paid her a quarter to sing into a perfume bottle. By the time she hit 21, Reno's MGM Grand was her stage. "It was scary, but the pump was really big," she says.
Today, at 43, Valenti is selling out theaters in Naples, which for the past 15 years she has called home. "This town is tough," says this accomplished jazz performer, which is what makes the reward so much sweeter.
After playing the club scene for awhile, Valenti now performs to an audience of hundreds at the Sugden Community and Naples Dinner theaters. "I love my audiences," she says. "They give me inspiration." And Valenti enjoys giving back to them. "I can take their problems away for a few hours."

BEST ART GALLERY
Eckert Fine Art (Naples)
Finalists: DeBruyne Fine Art (Naples); Darvish Gallery of Fine Art (Naples); Tilting at Windmills Gallery (Bonita Springs)
Founders and owners Henry and Jane Eckert never let the art go stale in their modern and contemporary and traditional showrooms. They offer museum-quality art with a Florida attitude.

BEST MUSEUM
Naples Museum of Art
Finalists: Fort Myers Historical Museum, Collier County Historical Museum
Is it art? Nearly 100,000 connoisseurs and culture vultures apparently thought so as they flocked to the three-story, 15-gallery Naples Museum of Art last year and ogled assorted artworks, from ancient Chinese to modern American.

BEST PUBLIC GOLF COURSE
Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club
Finalists: Gulf Harbour (Fort Myers), Hunters Ridge (Naples)
For more than half a century, duffers and pros have puttered the Naples hotel's tree-studded course, sometimes credited with making Naples a nationally known vacation destination. This vintage place just seems to improve with age, and occasional redesigns and updates keep it at golfing's fore.

BEST PRIVATE GOLF COURSE
Tiburon (Naples)
Finalists: The Sanctuary (Sanibel), Mediterra (Naples), Olde Cypress (Bonita Bay)
Some golfers like to rough it, but our readers preferred Greg Norman's rough-less championship 27-hole course at Tiburon. One of only two of the Shark's creations in Florida, it's swimming with stacked sod wall bunkers and native trees.

BEST GOLF SHOP
Edwin Watts Golf (Naples)
Finalist: World of Golf (Naples)
Last year, Watts' 12,000-square-foot superstore added a separate ladies' department, which now accounts for 25 percent of business. The staff also unveiled a computerized gizmo that scored a hit with golfers wanting a perfect match with gear they purchase. Shoppers can find anything from $1 wooden tees to $2,300 sets of Calloway VFT Titanium irons and woods.

BEST GOLF PRO
Robert Harpster (Bonita Springs)
Finalists: David Leadbetter Golf Academy, Frank Vasalotti, Trevor J. Gliwski (all Naples)
Tee and sympathy: In his 10 years at Hunters Ridge Country Club, Harpster, who's golfed for two-thirds of his life (he's 32 now), has become known as one of the fairest on the fairway, and his diplomatic diligence suits golfers to a tee.

BEST PRIVATE TENNIS COURTS
Naples Bath and Tennis Club
Finalists: The Strand, Pelican Bay, Port Royal, Royal Poinciana (all Naples)
After a lot of volleying, readers finally served up The Naples Bath and Tennis Club, one of Florida's premier tennis resorts, for its matchless offerings. Among them: a variety of lessons for adults and kids, a primo pro shop, a slew of big-time tennis tourneys, and a match-making service (tennis matches only, we hear) linking members with guests at the associated resort.

BEST TENNIS SHOP
Cambier Park Tennis Center (Naples)
Finalists: Tennis Shop of Naples, Pro-Am Discount Golf & Tennis (Naples)
No backhanded compliment here: Local tennis players had a ball at Cambier Park's well-stocked store and made a racket about its convenient location, within hitting distance of city courts and contests.

BEST TENNIS PRO
Bill Beverly (Naples)
Finalist: George Lampert (Naples)
Beverly, a 23-year veteran of the Naples tennis scene and longtime host of the cable TV tennis show "Racquet Talk" is the tennis pro at The Club of Sterling Oaks, where he combines enthusiasm, knowledge and love of the game to get the best out of students, players and club.

BEST SPORTING EVENT
Florida Everblades
Finalists: Spring training baseball; Nuveen Champions tennis tournament
Our guys on top of the puck in the East Coast Hockey League played to nearly 250,000 fans last season, averaging more than 7,000 per match at the TECO arena. And they still hold the league record for the highest winning percentage-.771-from the stellar 1999-2000. Bash 'em, Blades.

BEST FEMALE NEWS ANCHOR
Kellie Burns, WBBH-NBC (Fort Myers-Naples)
Finalists: Lois Thome, Beth Shelborne
Reporting the news is Burns' job, but getting involved with the community is her passion. Burns brings her energy and commitment to events and causes-too many to count-that reach out to those in need.

BEST MALE NEWS ANCHOR
Craig Wolf, WBBH-NBC (Fort Myers-Naples)
Finalists: Jim McLaughlin, WINK-CBS; Trent Butler, WBBH-NBC
Wolf, who typically teams up with Kellie Burns to report the evening news, also takes his role in the community seriously. He helps to raise funds for various local organizations and is the official spokesperson for Literacy Volunteers of America/Lee County.

BEST SPORTSCASTER
Tom James, WBBH-NBC (Fort Myers-Naples)
Finalists: Brian Simon, WINK-CBS, Jay Severson, WBBH-NBC (both Fort Myers-Naples))
NBC-2 sports director James covers big events like the Super Bowl and college football, but it's his attention to local details that keeps the home crowd in his corner. Popular weekly dispatches include "The Dream 18," which spotlights the toughest golf holes in Southwest Florida, and "Tom's Top Performer," a profile of a high school athlete.

BEST METEOROLOGIST
Jim Reif, WZVN-ABC
Finalists: Jim Syoen, Jim Clarke (both Fort Myers)
Everyone complains about the weather, but ABC-7's Jim Reif has actually been doing something about it for some 30 years. Come rain or shine, he's made fair and foul forecasts as Southwest Florida's main weatherman.

BEST NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST
Brent Batten, Naples Daily News
Finalist: Sam Cook, Fort Myers News-Press
Batten down the hatches! This Naples newshound, a 16-year veteran on the front lines of the Naples Daily News, stirs up the citizenry as he takes on everyone from dizzy developers to pinheaded pols to a suspiciously sinister Santa Claus. Is nothing sacred?

BEST RADIO DEEJAY/HOST
Rich King (WNOG)
Finalists: Stan & Haney; Joe Rout

BEST FITNESS CLUB
Naples Fitness Center (Naples)
Finalists: Gold's Gym (Naples, Fort Myers); Wellness Center (Naples, Bonita Springs, Fort Myers, Cape Coral)
Four indoor racquetball courts, a cardio room, weight room, pool, Jacuzzi, steam and sauna all under one roof. Naples Fitness Center is large, but still intimate.

BEST PERSONAL TRAINER
Tie: Garrett Canada and Jackie Judson at Naples Fitness Center
Finalists: Karen Rokosh; Denise McHenry
Canada and Judson are the best at what they do because they make an effort to individualize each client's program. They don't have a one-fits-all approach to fitness.

BEST FESTIVAL
Taste of Collier (Naples)
Finalists: Arts in the Park (Naples), Edison Pageant of Light (Fort Myers)
Readers displayed typically good taste in picking this Naples festival presented by the Collier Chapter of the Florida Restaurant Association the first Sunday of every May. Things really get cooking with live bands, chainsaw-wielding ice-carving artists, a waiter-waitress competition and plentiful platters of good food. As if all that weren't hot enough for you, in 19 years the festival has raised plenty of bread for local charities-about half a million dollars.

BEST CHARITY EVENT
Naples Winter Wine Festival
Finalists: Angel Ball; Heart Ball
The three-day Wine Festival extravaganza is the second-largest wine auction in the country, and with good reason. Wine enthusiasts reach deep into their pockets raising millions of dollars for the Boys and Girls Club and Youth Haven.

BEST ELECTED OFFICIAL
Don Hunter, Collier County Sheriff (Naples)
Finalists: Mayor Bonnie McKenzie (Naples), U.S. Rep. Porter Goss (Sanibel)
The law won: Crime stats have dropped in recent years, making Hunter, a former deputy who's been sheriff since 1988, popular in the polls.

BEST ROAD FOR BEATING TRAFFIC
Goodlette-Frank Road (Naples)
Finalists: Livingston; Vanderbilt
When the red taillights are staring at you along Pine Ridge Road, turn onto Goodlette-Frank. In either direction, north or south, it's usually free of stop- and-go traffic. And there are hardly any traffic lights.

BEST FLORIDA DESTINATION FOR A WEEKEND TRIP
Key West
Finalists: Miami/South Beach; Orlando
Ah, Key West. Some would say that it's not just out of the area, it's on another planet, especially during Fantasy Fest or other wild Cayo Waste-o extravaganzas. Whether they get there by boat, by plane or by the long haul down A1A, the Last Resort is our readers' first choice for a getaway.

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