November 29, 2014

Appetite: Morgan House

Tasty with a Twist

Contemporary, yet classic: From left, seared scallops with quinoa and grilled asparagus; pan-seared grouper and shrimp tempura with goat cheese whipped potatoes; pineapple upside down cake.

Whenever I hear of “something for everyone,” I usually turn and go the other way. It’s so much easier to be good at a few things than it is a lot.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I walked through the door at Morgan House on Patio de Leon in Fort Myers.

A little pregame research of the Morgan House website (morganhouserestaurant.com) told me that the dinner menu was compact but full of delicious-sounding food in an upscale-casual setting. How can any place that serves a dish called “The Turf Ate My Surf” (crab-stuffed jumbo prawns wrapped in filet for $30) not be worth giving a try? And Morgan House certainly is.

But when my wife and I arrived, we figured we must be in the wrong place. Outside was what looked like a typical South Florida bar, with plastic chairs and umbrellas popping through the center of the tables. We actually continued on our way down the alley before realizing we had passed it up.

It took a little adjusting to get into the true spirit of the restaurant. The décor—various photos of Patio de Leon’s previous life as the hub of Fort Myers and white table cloths—seemed to match my expectations. So, too, did the piano and guitar duo playing pop standards from the corner. But the servers wore garish tie-dyed T-shirts urging us to return the next weekend for the Groovy Music Festival.

We kicked things off with two fantastic appetizers. The barbecue oysters ($12 for six) mingled smoke from the grill, brine from the oysters' natural liquor and a kick from the spicy chipotle sauce. Chased down with some of the signature Morgan House Punch ($7.25)—a mix of rums and tropical fruit juices—and you feel like you are on island time pretty quickly.

Simple and bold: Breaded eggplant caprese with arugula and balsamic reduction.The fried green tomato stack ($9) is a bit of a misnomer as the chef chooses to oven roast the green Romas. But the way tart tomatoes combine with the sweetness of caramelized onions, peppery arugula, creamy goat cheese and balsamic vinegar allows the kitchen a bit of creative license. It paired well with the crisp house sauvignon blanc ($6.50 a glass).

The entrée selections had the ubiquitous grilled steak and fresh seafood selections (from $25 up). But the real heart of the menu is the Morgan House Favorites section. Heavy on seafood, these house creations offer playful twists on classic Southwest Florida cuisine.

Beyond those massive steak-wrapped stuffed prawns make sure to take a chance on the guava red-curry glazed swordfish ($28). While the fish was perfectly prepared and the glaze offered subtle hints of sweet and spicy, the real star of the dish was the lemongrass risotto. The creamy texture of the rice was brightened considerably by the citrusy, fresh flavor of the lemongrass. A truly spectacular combination of Old World technique and Asian flavor.

The pan-seared scallops ($26) were given a Low-Country-meets-New Orleans twist with andouille flavored grits and a roasted red pepper sauce. The artfully presented dish was marred slightly by being served too cool, which muted the flavors.

To finish up, we pulled two desserts at random and were surprised by maybe the best dish of the night, a wonderful pineapple upside down cake ($6). Looking like a miniature version of what my granny used to make, the cake was light and the sticky, sweet glazed pineapple burst with juicy flavor. (The $7 peanut butter explosion cake seemed wonderful, if not as spectacular.)

We exited the restaurant hurriedly to try to make our way back to Naples before an oncoming thunderstorm. But we knew with certainty that the next time we were in downtown Fort Myers looking for a great meal, we’d not walk past Morgan House again.

Morgan House 33 Patio de Leon, Fort Myers; (239) 337-3377. Open for lunch Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m. Live music Thursday through Saturday. Reservations recommended. Valet parking available. Credit cards accepted. Handicapped accessible.