The Keg Steakhouse and Bar opened its newest Naples branch this week at the site of the former Sanibel Steakhouse. It has been wildly successful, packed with diners every night. Satisfied patrons leaving the restaurant told me why: The steaks come in at the middle price point, some with veggies and potato included, unlike many competitors who only offer those sides a la carte.
Grilled salmon at The Keg
Thistle Lodge at Casa Ybel on Sanibel Island
The Thistle Lodge, culinary gem of Sanibel’s Casa Ybel Resort, welcomes new executive chef John Wolff, who previously plied his art at locations such as the Sanibel Harbour Resort. He has brought new creations to the casually elegant resort’s menu—including a fresh new lunch menu—and retained some favorites. His emphasis is on “freshness and great flavors, presented with a classic simplicity.”
Thistle Lodge executive chef John Wolff
Thistle Lodge’s price point is in keeping with that at other fine dining on the island. The lobster and lump crab meat crusted sea scallops, with coconut-infused jasmine rice, for $29, is a beautiful offering.
The hurricanes will increase summer losses even if the “eyes” of the storms don’t get us because bad PR may cause tourists to rethink vacation plans. Tropical Storm Fay decreased visits and increased hotel cancellations, and Tropical Storm/Hurricane Gustav is doing the same already.
The Island Cow
On secluded Sanibel, some spots stay paradoxically busy—even in the off season—and are busier than many spots on the mainland. The Island Cow’s parking lot was packed at lunch, with a lot of nonlocal license plates, so I stopped in to talk with owners Brian and Elke Podlasek, to get their take on why they’re not facing the same economic challenges as many area restaurants.
Grouper Oscar at The Island Cow
Elke says the restaurant is open 365 days a year, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to more than 700 people each day. “Many are locals. It’s very popular with economy-minded families. We are not expensive—prices haven’t gone up in a long time—and the portions are large. Kids can be noisy, and it’s OK. They really like to play out back.”
Wood-burning oven at Matzaluna
Sanibel’s Matzaluna, the Italian Kitchen, also has quite a respectable flow of traffic, both adults and families. The restaurant features abundant portions of Italian food, still at a comfortable price point, in a more upscale, yet casual setting. One family ordered the five-cheese pizza for $9.95, and we watched it cook in the large, open wood-burning oven.
Antipasto at Matzaluna
The cold antipasto with salami, ham, several cheeses, prosciutto, marinated artichokes and roasted red peppers is large and popular at $8.95. The seafood Siciliana’s shrimp, clams, calamari and fish is a delight with marinara sauce over linguine. It’s at the “top end” of the mid-priced menu for a very reasonable $21.05, making it desirable for vacationers and locals alike.
Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille
I like to visit successful restaurants, soak in the atmosphere and try to guess what makes them a hit while others with similar quality and price points do not fare as well. Word of mouth plays a large part in a restaurant’s year-round success with locals, and advertising greatly helps attract new diners, especially in the off season. Doc Ford’s Sanibel Rum Bar & Grille parking lot is usually full at lunch and dinner, having become a success with locals.
Mahi-Mahi at Doc Ford’s
Other locals like the snapper wrapped in a banana leaf that’s lined with masa harina, ancho chili purée and Pine Island lime juice. It’s steamed, then paired with black beans and rice with a lime cilantro drizzle for $21.95. Doc Ford’s, 975 Rabbit Road Sanibel Island, (239) 472-8311.
Let’s broaden our choices of great Southwest Florida restaurants together. Post your hints and experiences below.