Inside the Gulfshore’s Dining Scene.
Explore the Locals’ Secret Dining Spot
V & J Bistro is Fort Myers Beach’s home away from home for me. I’m on a “staycation” as soon as I go past Lover’s Key, cross the last bridge and drive past the condos and mom-and-pop restaurants. This bistro is a local’s secret dining spot, intimate and casual. The service and food quality is better than most spots in Fort Myers. The co-owners serve lunch and dinner; Rachael Johnston covers the “front of the house,” and Executive Chef James Buis creates delicious entrees at very friendly price points.
V&J Bistro lamb shank.
Rachael can be very busy serving a full house, and her energy and efficiency never waver. Lunch features grouper sandwich and fries ($8), grilled John Dog ($4), baby back ribs and fries ($7), fish ’n chips ($7), Vera’s beef enchiladas ($6), and chicken tenders and fries ($6). Drinks are $2.50 for Bud, Bud Light and Coors. House wine is a deal at $4 per glass, and wine bottles range form $13 to $29.
V & J Bistro carrot cake.
My dinner favorites are the creative phyllo-wrapped shrimp with a light citrus aioli ($7), and the Portobello and goat cheese strudel ($7) for appetizers. Best bets for entrées are the large lamb shank ($13) with rich cherry demi-glace, mashed potatoes, squash, carrots and baby bok choy, and the tender miso sea bass ($17) with fresh fruit salsa on a bed of nicely scented jasmine rice.
A favorite is the pecan-encrusted chicken ($15), wonderfully crispy and spiced, stuffed with bleu cheese and bacon, with squash and carrots on the side. The sautéed red snapper with lemon butter sauce and capers ($17) is good, too. The overall quality is very good, and no entrée is more than $29. Get the award-winning orange crème brûlée before it runs out! I also enjoy the large carrot cake, and the Key Lime pie is popular. All desserts are only $3.50. Reservations are helpful, as they will be packed (at these prices) during Season. V & J Bistro, 2801 Estero Blvd., Fort Myers Beach, 463-1428, www.vandjbistro.com.
Naples Originals Offers Big Discounts at Local Restaurants
Naples Originals Gift Certificates are on sale now, offering 30 percent discounts at 38 independent local restaurants. Whether it’s a $25 coupon for $17.50, or a $50 coupon for $35, they go fast! Restaurants include: Alexander’s, Bamboo Cafe, Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar, Bha Bha, Bistro 821, I.M. Tapas, Real Macaw and Ridgway Bar & Grill. Purchase the certificates online, and print your coupons. Some restrictions do apply. For complete details, visit www.naplesoriginals.com.
Fine Winemaking—Right Here!
Perfectly ripe grapes are being crushed in Naples! Naples Winemaking is setting up new barrels of delicious Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Syrah and four other grape varieties fresh from California. Nine hundred pounds of pressed grape juice fills one barrel, providing 288 personalized bottles. The wine is ready for consumption in 10 months to two years. They will press and bottle more than 6,000 bottles from this year’s harvest!
I recently watched grapes crushed by local wine enthusiasts for their own barrel. Along with Southwest Florida wine mavens Bruce Nichols, Jerry Greenfield and Jim McCracken, I tasted several barrels from last year’s harvest; the wines are very good! In blind tastings, the “house” wines trounced competing French wines. When I saw Cosmos Café & Pizzeria’s Italian owners Giancarla and Eva Corso crushing grapes, I knew I was in the right spot! People often pool money, making and bottling a whole barrel of wine, under the tutelage of expert winemakers. The cost, start to finish, is less than $12 per bottle, and the wine could retail for $25-$45.
Crushing grapes at Naples Winemaking.
Wine label names are very creative. The best part? Savoring the wine over the next several years. Next year, grapes will be flown in from Spain and France. Courses are offered in wine tasting and appreciation, and wine blending. It’s a great spot for private parties and private catered wine dinners. Naples Winemaking, 1061 Collier Center Way, Naples, 514-3300, www.napleswinemaking.com.
Let’s broaden our choices of great Southwest Florida restaurants together. Post your hints and experiences below or e-mail me at [email protected].