November 29, 2014

Dining Review: Fancy's Southern Café

Fancy’s delivers tasty down-home dishes in a casual, elegant setting.

Etouffee with crawfish, tasso ham, andouille and dirty rice at Fancy's Southern Cafe.

Etouffee with crawfish, tasso ham, andouille and dirty rice at Fancy's Southern Cafe.

Photography by Vanessa Rogers

 

Some say it’s soul food. Others call it comfort food. However you label it, Southern cooking conjures images of collard greens, grits and endless pitchers of sweet tea. At Fancy’s Southern Café off Daniels Parkway in south Fort Myers, it’s all that and more as owners/brothers Daniel and Matthew Creach offer up the best of the South in a setting that, as the name implies, is a bit fancier than your typical chicken-and-waffle shack.

From the corrugated tin ceiling to the cypress wood walls and whitewashed bricks to the impressive centerpiece—a large, rustic, wroughtiron chandelier hung with jelly jar-encased lights—the dining room exudes casual elegance. You may be waited on by one of the owners or by a friendly server, but the enthusiasm will be palpable and the pace brisk as they ferry food from the open kitchen to the 15-odd tables.

We came for a mid-week early dinner with healthy appetites and hopes of sampling real down-home Southern cooking. For the most part, we were very satisfied. My étouffée appetizer ($6.95)—tiny crawfish, tasty tasso ham, spicy andouille sausage, dirty rice and corn in a rich, savory soup—was a testament to the best of New Orleans cuisine.

That same spicy tasso ham and corn gravy was a key ingredient in my scrumptious shrimp and grits entrée ($19.95), topping spicy grilled Gulf shrimp and the creamiest cheddar grits I’ve ever eaten. Up until then, I had never understood a Southerner’s fascination with grits. Now, I get it.

My husband’s crunchy fried catfish entrée ($14.95) was delicately flavored and moist inside, but it was the spicy Cajun remoulade, roasted corn relish and arugula that made it really come alive. (The purported pork belly cracklins seemed to be missing in action.) The entrée was accompanied by two “fixins” of his choice: sinful sweet potato soufflé, with sweet potatoes, brown sugar and pecans topped with caramelized

pecans and marshmallows (reminiscent of Thanksgiving); and traditional black-eyed peas.

We washed all of this down with a very pleasant, drinkable Saarstein Reisling ’09, QBA, Germany ($9), which was a sweet, fruity counterpoint to our savory dishes.

Not everything was a hit. The two Southern specialties we chose at the start of the meal—not so special.

The lightly dusted, seemingly unseasoned fried green tomatoes ($6.95) were hard and tasteless; the only flavor came from the rivulets of remoulade-like Mississippi Comeback sauce. And the orange blossom-honey hot sauce and spring onion that accompanied the lightly fried (and, again, unseasoned) frog legs ($7.95) couldn’t compensate for their bland flavor.

We were disappointed there was no bread to begin our soul food feast, but our server revealed that the owners do eventually plan to put in ovens to bake their own bread, biscuits and cornbread. That should add some important elements to their fare.

The dessert menu, however, offered a bounty of comfort food favorites. The thick, creamy banana pudding ($6.95) contained sliced ripe bananas, vanilla wafers and whipped cream—rich and decadent. The moist, delicious red velvet cake ($6.95) also had a large dollop of whipped cream, but I would have preferred a thicker layer of the cream cheese frosting instead. Like all of the dishes, the portions were hefty, especially for anyone with an “eat in moderation” mantra. “Doggy bags” were filled and trotted out the door.

While fancier in décor than a simple down-home Southern diner, the atmosphere and attitude at Fancy’s is casual and friendly. Our server could have been a little more knowledgeable about the dishes and wines—but he made up for it in attentiveness, checking in frequently to gauge our satisfaction with each course.

Still, if you crave a little comfort food, an inviting ambiance and a bit of Southern hospitality, you don’t have to venture any farther than Fancy’s in Fort Myers to find it.

Blue crab lump crab cakes with fried green tomatoes, roasted corn relish and tomato jam.

 

Fancy’s Southern Café

8890 Salrose Lane, Fort Myers; (239) 561-2988, fancyssoutherncafe.com

Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

Wheelchair accessible. Reservations recommended.

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