Food + Dining Main

Best New Restaurant: Collier County

BY February 11, 2015


We conclude our Best New Restaurant countdown with the naming of our Collier pick:



720 Fifth Ave. S., Naples; 580-0070,

In a town where there’s no shortage of restaurants and people clamoring to open them, several names stand out that have withstood the test of time. Michael Hernandez is a quiet presence among them—and he lets his hot spots speak for themselves. After selling Bistro 821 and Bistro 41 (both still standing strong) to move to the Montana countryside for eight years and give, in his own words, “being Mr. Mom” to his four kids a try, his hunger to get back in the game led to his arguably greatest creation, HobNob Kitchen & Bar.

No place in either Collier or Lee has nailed the current foodie zeitgeist of rustic comfort better than HobNob. Starting with the name, you know you’re there to kick back and have fun. (“We wanted that—we even considered calling it ‘The Social,’” Hernandez says.) And in the divided-yet-not, airy space, whether you slide into one of the wooden tables underneath the whimsical textured mural by local artist Bryan Relyea or you grab a bar stool across the room within the glow of the enormous DRINK sign floating above, you can’t help but feel cosmopolitan and hip. “I’m happy with the layout because you still get the energy of the place, but you don’t get someone at the bar falling into your table,” says Hernandez, who, with his wife, gutted the space and did the bulk of the design work with help from local architect David Poorman and designer Edward Gary Shanabarger.

Right before HobNob, Hernandez had taken over Handsome Harry’s on Third Street South as his first foray back into the Naples scene. Although it was short-lived because of a dispute with the landlord that predated him, it wound up securing an im- portant partnership: that of HobNob’s executive chef, the Culinary Institute of Ameri- ca-trained Tony Biagetti.
The two collaborated from the start on what they call their menu of “creative American cuisine,” composed so you can either graze or have a full sit-down meal. The result is an eclectic mix of small plates and entrées, many of which have subtle Southern influences, including the tin of warm corn muffins brought to your table to launch the meal and the can’t-miss deviled eggs topped with sweet-savory sugar-cured bacon and tomato jam. “We didn’t want to be different just for the sake of being different,” Hernandez says. “Along with the restaurant’s design, we wanted the menu to be something you felt comfortable with—rotisserie chicken, short ribs—interest- ing twists on food you have all the time.”

Rather than give the melt- in-your-mouth short ribs a more traditional meat and potatoes pairing, Biagetti serves them with a Meyer lemon-accented risotto, wilted escarole and a zesty pine nut gremolata. Then there’s a sea bass with coconut pesto, butternut squash and jasmine rice, or mussels dotted with spicy chorizo, Manchego and flecks of cilantro.

Hernandez figured out a way to transport diners beyond the confines of the very first space in which he started his career nearly 20 years ago (that’s right, Hob- Nob used to be Zoe’s, a boîte named after his first-born daughter). And thankfully for us, he hungers for more. “HobNob is here to stay, but even though Naples is full of restaurants, we’re looking at other projects. There is still room for something new and exciting.”



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