Food + Dining Main

Best New Restaurant: Lee County

BY February 10, 2015













At last, our pick for Lee County's best new restaurant:



23161 Village Shops Way, Estero; 949-9466,

Charles Mereday’s ascent to the upper echelons of the food world here has been rapid, and the area is truly better for it. But we can almost hear a collective sigh from some readers—“This guy? Again?” Mereday’s Fine Dining, his first offering in July 2013, was at the top of last year’s list, and he’s opened three restaurants in less than two years, earning a cover story from this magazine in the process.

Rest assured, however; this designation is not an understatement. Mereday’s Brasserie is the best new restaurant in the region by a long shot, so the praise is ful- ly deserved. Dollar for dollar, there is nothing that comes close to the value you’ll get at Mereday’s relaxed-yet-elegant version of an everyday French eatery. Sure, you’ll spend $16 for a wheel of baked brie (the restaurant’s divine spin on a cheese plate) or $42 on lobster Thermidor (impressively adorned with organic baby vegetables tilled at 2 a.m. that day), but it is worth every penny for the way the flavors magically come together and the artistry in which they’re expressed on the plate. The sauce alone for the Thermidor is a delicate dance, starting with a shrimp-snapper stock base that’s then enriched by tomato, shallots, double cream, brandy, parsley and lemon juice. A whole lobster, split lengthwise, its meaty knuckles and tail intact, gets topped with crab and cheese before being baked. The halves balanced just so on the dish elicit gasps the second they’re brought to the table. Then it’s silence after the first bite.

That’s not saying anything of the service—almost obsessively attentive and genuinely warm—or the ambiance, which bears an unintentional but uncanny resemblance to New York’s headlining Boulud Sud.

“I want people to feel relaxed and comfortable, but I want it to be more like a Parisian brasserie— boisterous, active and fun,” Mereday says of his vision going forward. "I want more people to come in. We’re in Coconut Point, and people should feel fine just swinging up to the bar or grabbing a table after shopping.”

To that end, Mereday is working on version 2.0 of the menu. For the Septem- ber launch, all of the entrées pretty much squarely fell in the $30 range, with one or two outliers, but he is adding some more affordable options, like a Croque Madame, a burger and pasta dishes. The one thing he won’t budge on—and we sa- lute him for this—is having it a dinner-only establishment.

“People keep saying to me, ‘How can you be in a mall and not serve lunch?’ I struggled with the decision at first, but what we’re doing takes a lot of time and dedication. My team is working from sunrise to prepare for dinner service. For us to be able to execute the level of quality we want for lunch and dinner, we would be overstraining,” he says.

When it comes to dining out, we’ve put our trust in Charles Mereday to take care of our palates. We know you won’t be disappointed if you do, too.


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