Hot Dish

Hot Dish: April 15, 2009

BY April 15, 2009
Inside the Gulfshore’s dining scene.

New Kid on the Block is Tops in Pizza

Café Alessio Chef /owner Joe Mannino has guts. Who else would open an Italian restaurant in Naples, just a few calzone tosses from Noodles Italian Café & Sushi Bar and Dino’s, each already offering great Italian food and live entertainment on weekends? Well, Joe’s gutsiness and his tasty food have paid off—Alessio’s is standing room only on weekend nights. 

The broad selection of more than 70 salads, sandwiches, pasta and seafood dishes is good, ranging from $4 to $25. However we, and many regulars, especially rave about their wood-burning-style pizzas! We had the 12-inch pesto and shrimp pizza ($17), with fresh tomato, pesto sauce, shrimp and lots of mozzarella, with a thin crisp crust—the best! 

Alessio’s pizza

Our friend had a custom-made pizza with rice-based, gluten-free dough ($5 extra), giving it and the gluten-free pasta dishes two thumbs up. The prices are attractive for families, with many generous portions available for less than $10. For now, it’s “bring your own bottle,” while their wine license is pending. 

Alessio’s desserts

Desserts are made on premises, and our favorite is the tiramisu. Others favored the New York-style light cheesecake and the flourless chocolate cake. Stop in for one of the best pizzas in the area! 

Café Alessio, 1485 Pine Ridge Road, Naples. 597-7500.

Randy’s Fishmarket Is Growing Hydroponic—and into Lee County

Randy’s Fishmarket Restaurant in Naples has a casual fish house atmosphere with a fun décor, metal-topped tables for serious eating, a bustling tap room, take-out fish market—and a hydroponic garden out back.

Randy’s Fishmarket Restaurant

Owner Randy Essig acquired the property behind the Fishmarket’s parking lot a year ago to see if “do-it-yourself” hydroponic gardening would aid his quest for competitively priced, healthy, better-tasting produce. Now the 100 percent hydroponic garden supplies all the restaurant’s organically grown seasonal tomatoes and basil.

Chef Richie Miller with Randy’s Fishmarket’s hydroponic tomatoes

The tomatoes grow on vines up to 10 feet long! Not conventionally rooted in soil, they grow on rocks and pebbles in raised aqueducts, nourished by three daily pulses of water and nutrients. They are bursting with natural flavor, and the initial crop was so good, Randy expanded production. Some weeks, he just gives away the excess produce!

Some restaurants weakly claim to offer organic produce “when available,” but it’s not easily verified. At Randy’s, you can see the large crop of tomatoes happily growing—from firm and green to soft, succulent, ripe and red. Chef Richie Miller may even let you pick a few, if he’s not busy cooking!

Randy’s serves fresh fish and lots of it—that’s why tables are filled for lunch and dinner year-round. My favorite fish dinner is the Neapolitan pan-seared grouper (the recipe is in his cookbook). I also buy escolar and tripletail to take home. 

Neapolitan grouper at Randy’s Fishmarket

Retail fish and shrimp sales have been so strong—Randy’s buys up to 300 pounds a day —that Randy recently purchased the Paradise Shrimp Company in Bonita Springs, which sells a wide variety of seafood. This strategic purchase lets him cut out the middle man, so his prices have not increased. Lee County customers asked him to set up tables for dining inside to save them a 16-mile drive, so look for a second Randy’s-style restaurant opening there this fall. (You heard it here first!)

Randy’s Fishmarket Restaurant, 10395 Tamiami Trail N., Naples, 593-5555.

Let’s broaden our dining choices together. Post your hints and experiences of great Southwest Florida restaurants below, as a comment, or email

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