It usually takes southwest Florida a while to catch up to the culinary trends. But when we do, we go all out (see: yogurt, frozen).
I hope the recently opened The Local won’t be the last farm-to-table restaurant featuring high-quality local ingredients to grace our sandy shores. But any that follow are going to have their work cut out to top it.
Owner Jeff Mitchell and Chef Richard Demarse—both Culinary Institute of America graduates—believe that cuisine should be based on the finest, freshest seasonable ingredients that are produced locally and sustainably. Their network of farmers and suppliers (including ranchers, fishermen and even brewers) are all within a 100-mile radius. And Chef Demarse’s healthy signature dishes are drawn from his European travels, Italian grandmother’s cooking and Sunday supper/family recipes.
The Local’s décor is as fresh as the food. Natural wood plank floors and retro warehouse lamps, pendant fixtures and an antique white chandelier juxtapose against sage-colored walls, white wainscoting and vintage Florida posters. We found the ambience casual and comfortable, and the owner and our server, John, genuinely friendly.
Instead of the ubiquitous breadbasket and butter, we were served julienned zucchini, carrots and celery with a dip of puréed white beans, olive oil and fresh pepper. It was satisfying and non-filling—which was good, since the dishes that followed were generously portioned.
For an appetizer salad, we shared the organic lettuces and heirloom tomato with Winter Park Dairy “Sunshine Blue” Cheese vinaigrette ($6). The salad, including fresh tangy arugula, was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, like a lot of tomatoes grown in Florida, the heirloom tomato was nothing special. Our second appetizer (which we discovered could easily qualify as an entree) was a flatbread with Pine Island clams, tomato, Parmigiano and fresh herbs ($15). The crust was thin and chewy; the tomato sauce, thick melted cheese and tender clams were excellent.
Begrudgingly, we put half of the flatbread in a takeout box so we could forge ahead to the entrees. My husband chose the butchers cut grass-fed beef special ($30), which that night was a short rib pot roast with roasted potatoes, carrots and celery. We found it to be a flavorful and tender cross between brisket and boiled beef in nicely seasoned gravy. My husband washed this down with Cigar City Maduro Brown Ale ($6.50), which was smooth and satisfying (one of a choice of 17 beers).
For my entree, I chose the catch of the day: mustard/breadcrumb-crusted, oven-roasted grouper ($32) with a lightly seasoned tomato/sherry sauce. With a choice of two sides, I opted for the savory, perfectly seasoned rosemary potatoes and zucchini squash. My Dr. Loosen “Dr. L” Reisling ($7.25) was a slightly sweet, crisp, perfectly balanced accompaniment. (The Local offers a nice selection of 22 wines by the glass and 76 bottled wines, all under $75.)
We were as full and content as we could possibly be at this point, but we had to sample a little dessert. Fortunately, “little” was the operative word. With desserts served in the popular shot-glass size (all $3), we chose the banana pudding with whipped cream and a sprinkling of nuts, which was nice. But the mango cake topped with whipped cream and toasted coconut was too heavy on the cake and too light on the mango.
We were delighted to discover a cool, casual eatery that serves fresh, healthful, flavorful food we’d enjoy for both lunch (soups, salads, grains and noodles, flatbreads and sandwiches) and dinner (similar options, plus larger, pricier entrees). With the plethora of good restaurants in Naples, this farm-to-table concept is still a rarity, which makes The Local the local authority in town.
5323 Airport-Pulling Road, Naples; (239) 596-3276, thelocalnaples.com
Open daily for lunch and dinner, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible. Does not take reservations.