Best of the Gulfshore 2015

BY May 26, 2015


Each year we take it upon ourselves to discover the best of the best that Southwest Florida has to offer. From restaurants to parks to picturesque places to tee up, our editors have spent the past 12 months making mental notes about the people, places and things we think make Southwest Florida better than anyplace else. We’ve wined, dined and played along the Gulfshore just for you. Do enjoy the results of our research.


Eating & Drinking

Best innovative cuisine—for much less: Everyone knows Mereday’s Fine Dining is one of the most exquisite (but appropriately pricey) restaurants in Southwest Florida. What many don’t know is that you can get a taste of chef Charles’ inventive food at a daily happy hour with half-priced craft cocktails and a bar menu.

Best comfort: Who else has noticed the biggest trend of the year has been whistling songs to the South up and down our coast? From new openings, like the ragin’ Cajun of SS Hookers, to dirty rice at KC’s American Bistro and blackened crawfish at Truluck’s, we welcome all the grit cakes, fried green tomatoes and Tasso ham we can get. 

Best short story: It’s the age of the short rib—almost every restaurant has incorporated a braised incarnation—but the one a cut above is chef Adam Nardis’ at M Waterfront Grille. The requisite fall-from-the-bone meat, Wagyu of course, is in a savory Bordelaise and offset by a lovely crunch from delicate root vegetable chips.

Best trip to Valencia in a pan: Much to our surprise, the ultimate paella does not come from a Spanish place. Instead, Fish Restaurant earns top honors with a huge helping of succulent clams, mussels, calamari and chorizo in a fragrant tomato base with a perfectly crunchy layer of toasted rice only someone skilled in the art of arroz can claim.

Best home away from home: The warm hospitality of Polish couple Witold and Maria Stelmach from Maria D’anna Café reverberates throughout a visit to their quaint, light-filled space—it makes you feel like you’ve entered their kitchen as a friend rather than as a customer.

Best wine list for adventurous oenophiles: A new bistro off Third Street in Naples, Mediterrano, embraces wines of the entire Mediterranean—not just the big guns from France, Italy and Spain but also tiny producers in Slovenia, Croatia, Israel, Turkey and Greece.

Best reinvention of a classic: The whole concept behind 11: Eleven Café could take this prize with its menu of “flavor combinations” that you order as either a grilled cheese, savory waffle, baked potato or flatbread. But visions of the “lemon-basil” grilled cheese still dance through our heads four months after devouring it: strips of zest, copious slivers of fresh herb, and a smothering of fontina and baby Swiss on slices of artisan bread.   

Best place for serious steak lovers: We knew The Continental would bring on the beef. What we didn’t know was that it would have a whole page for carnivorous food nerds to exert control over the breed (Piedmontese, Wagyu or Black Angus), cut (including seldom-seen teres major and bavette d’aloyau) and provenance (Japan’s Miyazaki Prefecture, folks?).

Best crafting (of an epicurean kind): We always had the sun, but freshly hopped suds is a new trend thanks to a profusion of microbreweries over the past couple of years, especially in Lee County—Old Soul Brewing, Momentum Brewhouse, Point Ybel Brewing Company, Fort Myers Brewing Company—we can barely keep track of what’s spilling onto the scene.

Best reason to be here in August: We thought the beautiful sunsets from Fresh Catch Bistro’s dining room couldn’t be topped—until we discovered their summer prix fixe. One multicourse meal could practically feed three people, all for under $40.

Best saving of an icon: When Dairy Queen abandoned the adorable iconic triangle in Old Naples, locals panicked their go-to shake shack on 41 would perish for good, but the All American Shake Shop saved the day by taking over the red-roofed throwback with a full menu of sandwiches, salads and plenty of soft serve (ginormous sundaes, as a matter of fact!).

Best news for night owls: SS Hookers and Nevermind Awesome Bar & Eatery in Lee and 7th Avenue Social and Bar Tulia in Collier are serving food until the wee hours. That’s a real hoot given the early bird tendencies here—and reason to celebrate if you enjoy a midnight (gourmet) snack!

Best place for a “hot” afternoon: Shaded from the sun and fanned under a thatched tiki roof, Gumbo Limbo at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples on Vanderbilt Beach is a great place to cool down and kick up the heat of a different kind—it has the most addictive Buffalo wings served as a heaping pile of thick, crunchy, well-sauced drumsticks.

Best dinner afloat: Grab a two-seater at the end of one of Coconut Jack’s wooden boat slips, and, with barely enough room for the table, you’ll feel like a fish in water.

Best dish that doesn’t taste like chicken: Oh, my, O’mei. Your Peking duck is enough to put us in a dreamlike state: Rave review is an understatement for the expertly cooked bird with its delightfully crisp exterior.

Best result of deep-sea diving: We also can’t stop raving about the scallops Provençal at Swan River Seafood. They’re so good we’d offer to take you to scoop up the buttery white wine sauce and melt-in-your-mouth treasures.

Best way to prove real men do eat quiche: In North Naples, Grain de Café instantly transports diners to the Left Bank. French flutters through the air along with a heavenly aroma of the most amazing pastries in Southwest Florida (yes, we stand behind that bold claim!). The quiches get lost in the mix but shouldn’t—pull up a chair during the live jazz Sunday afternoon and order the spinach and goat cheese. You won’t regret it. 

Best (and most unexpected) place to eat like a caveman: Retro diner Patric’s—known for hearty comfort foods like meatloaf and lasagna—has perhaps the most extensive Paleo menu, with tons of flavorful salads and plentiful proteins.

Best homecoming: The Firestone Grille’s founding chef, Marbin Avilez-Guzman, left Fort Myers for an opportunity to work on his farm-to-table cred at a restaurant in rural Maine last summer. Thankfully he couldn’t stay away for long: He’s back and is now the executive chef at Cape Coral’s Fish Tale Grill.

Best reason to forgo the fries: At Naples Botanical Garden’s new eatery, the chic and healthy Fogg Café, all sandwiches come with a fresh seasonal slaw. On a recent visit, shavings of Napa cabbage and mint intermingled with julienned cucumber, carrot and red onion and juicy chunks of pineapple and mango. With the inviting textures and flavors, it was easy to forget cravings for deep-fried sides.

Best way to spend a dollar: Second Cup’s pastries—all sourced from local bakers—are a wonderful cross-section of Paradise Coast small-batch sweets. Leftovers at the end of each day are sold the following day for just a buck. Grab coffee and a muffin or two.

Best odd coupling: The Bianca Pizza at Barbatella is anything but what Nonna made for Sunday supper, but it works: Not a tomato in sight, the pie is finished with gorgonzola, walnuts, figs, prosciutto, porcinis and pears.

Best sweet surprise: The Surprise Cookies at Food & Thought pack a perfect moist, not-too-sugary punch with carrots, oats, coconut, dark chocolate and pecans. You’d never know they’re gluten-free.

Best trick or treat: Everything on the menu at The Cider Press Café is raw, vegan and gluten-free, but they could have fooled us with their coconut ice cream. The treat is as creamy, dreamy and delicious as any we’ve had from a cow.

Best excuse to sample 49 soups: The Harry Chapin Food Bank Empty Bowls Naples event, where Cambier Park hosts dozens of restaurants serving up their finest liquid lunches. Just $15 gets you a one-of-a-kind ceramic bowl painted by volunteers, which you can then fill time and time again to your heart’s content.


Setting the Salad Bar

In Naples, these dishes are dressed to impress…

Bar Tulia’s Cauliflower Salad: The crunchy florets are on their way to becoming an “it” veggie (we predict this as a trend for 2015 and beyond), and they take center stage here with no greens other than delicately slivered scallions. Add in Marcona almonds and a scattering of currants for an ahead-of-the-curve dish.

Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro’s Pomegranate and Pistachio Salad: Long before the juicy red seeds became a fixture on menus, they had been a staple of Persian cuisine for centuries. Here they mix beautifully with baby spinach, toasted nuts, feta and tender grape tomatoes—and an extra kick of sweetness from green apples, dried apricots and a pomegranate vinaigrette.

Bleu Provence’s Superfood Salad: The midday menu at this time-tested, elegant restaurant has been reconceived to put a spring in your step, the best example being this bed of quinoa with an unlikely marriage of snow peas, green beans, mango, green onions and aged goat cheese.

HB’s on the Gulf’s Grilled Romaine Salad: We grill everything else, so why not grill a salad? The warm, charred greens are enveloped in cream and sprinkled liberally with shaved Parmesan for a delectable combination. 

Ridgway Bar & Grill’s Caprese Salad (above): Thin-yet-wide disks of house-made mozzarella mix with hefty rounds of beefsteak tomato, plus basil oil and cracked salt and pepper—balsamic vinegar is noticeably absent but not missed. Simple, fresh, wonderful. What a Caprese should be. 


Bring On the Bacon … and Chops and Ears

Gulfshore chefs get creative from snout to tail with the other white meat.

Osteria Tulia’s Crisp Fried Pig Ears—These nibbles, with a fennel- and lime-accented salt, are a sophisticated answer to bar food.

Blaze Bistro’s Kurobuta Berkshire Angry Pork Chop—Possibly the juiciest piece of pork out there, the heritage breed ensures quality and the chef’s execution is spot-on.

Alpine’s Jäger Schnitzel—With no less than three schnitzel variations to choose from, this place is hog heaven for fans of breaded, fried paillards.

Aqua’s Ossobuco with Truffle Risotto—Eschewing the traditional veal shank for the same cut on a pig makes this dish unique.

Fuse Global Cuisine’s Chili-Garlic Hog Wings—The foreshanks, braised and covered in a zesty tamarind hoisin sauce, drip off the bone.

Belly The fatty, marbled underside where bacon comes from almost deserves to be its own food group. Here are three standout takes that have us salivating.

  • Bennet’s Fresh Roast’s Maple Bacon Donut—A best-seller, the fritter is topped with a syrup-flavored glaze and pieces of applewood-smoked Nueske bacon.
  • Cru’s 24-Hour Sous Vide Pork Belly—Preparing meat via sous vide tenderizes it enough. Now imagine it slow-cooked for an entire day and served with spicy Szechuan Brussels sprouts.
  • Tierney’s Tavern’s Pork Rillions—Once you start eating these bite-sized cubes of candied fried bacon, you can’t stop popping them in your mouth.


Eyeroll, Please

While we normally call attention to what’s amazing, critical feedback can be a good thing. Restaurateurs, take note.

Chef Statues: Ugh Cartoonish mustachioed gentlemen at an entrance send people in the other direction before they even set foot in the door. 

Fake Menu Pix: About pictures of food on menus … don’t put out a message that you’ve got to fake it before you make it.

Cutting Lunch Short: It’s one thing if you don’t serve lunch. It’s quite another if you shut down your kitchen for an hour or two of downtime between lunch and dinner.


Places & Experiences

Best forgotten spot: Located just south of Marco Island, the deserted domed homes of Cape Romano are a spectacularly eerie spot that seems to cross the genres of science fiction, horror, tragedy and fantasy. Once the luxurious home of a retired oilman, in its day it was a futuristic abode, completely self-sustaining and solar-powered. Now, it is abandoned and being reclaimed by the sea. It’s definitely worth a look while you can still see it without scuba gear.

Best place to dial it back: Echo Vintage Books & Vinyl is tucked away from main streets in downtown Fort Myers, but stepping inside can make you feel ages apart from the present. Oldies stream from a record player at the store’s entrance, blending with the sound of regulars swapping stories of days gone by. A wide-ranged inventory of books and vinyl spans decades—and sometimes even centuries.

Best service we never thought we needed (but now can’t do without!): The drive-up valet at Tide Dry Cleaners and especially the after-hours automated kiosk are, dare we say, revolutionary. Cheerful attendants hang clothes in your car during normal hours, and as long as you leave a credit card in the computerized system, you can fetch your shirts at any time. Same-day service, email alerts and free bottled water are icing on the cake.

Best parks: We love Lee County’s jewel, the 279-acre Lakes Regional Park, where the preferred mode of transport is a surrey bicycle for four—perfect for family bonding before your children begin feeling humiliated playing Fred Flintstone with Mom and Dad (somewhere around age 5). But we’re equally excited to celebrate Collier’s Gordon River Greenway, the 2-mile stretch of winding paths, paved bike trails, boardwalks and bridges that takes residents off traffic-clogged roads and, ahhhhh, back to nature.

Best golf setting: Two of this area’s most popular things are golf and the Gulf. And wisely South Seas Island Resort on Captiva has brought the two together by placing holes 6 through 9 of their onsite executive course directly on the beach, making for Southwest Florida’s most spectacular sand trap/water hazard combo. The course is available only to guests of the resort, so plan a “staycation” and drive (get it?) to a spot so beautiful Sports Illustrated used it for this year’s swimsuit edition.

Best haunted paddle: CGT Kayaks offers an #OnlyinFlorida experience with “ghost tours” of Calusa archaeological sites by way of Estero Bay. Better to be spooked on the open water than crammed with tourists on a hokey bus.

Best place to feel rebellious: The 86 Room—also known as the speakeasy of downtown Fort Myers—transports guests to the era of the underground liquor trade with details like vintage barrels, a projector streaming silent films, and bartenders dressed like flappers and bootleggers. Its inconspicuous location on Patio de Leon only adds to the bar’s taboo appeal.

Best shaded outdoor escape: A launch from Captiva Kayak Co. presents an easy glide across the seagrass of Roosevelt Channel to a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entry along Buck Key, leading you to a close-quarters mangrove tunnel. You won’t see the bigger sea life as you might in the open waters, but it’s nice to be alone with your thoughts—and the skittering mangrove crabs.

Best shot at furnishing finds old and new: Home & Salvage. The Naples store tucked away in the Pine Ridge industrial district houses treasures you didn’t know you needed, from rescued rustic doors to interesting light fixtures to fancy couches, all on artful and inspiring display.

Best places to people-watch: Hands down, the Lani Kai Resort on Fort Myers Beach, an intoxicating mix of spring-breakers, borderline alcoholics and sunbaked beach bums. For a very different people-watching experience, dabble with the bedazzled along Fifth Avenue South in Naples. But for the ultimate gawk fest, smear on some fake blood, shred an old shirt and head to Zombicon in Fort Myers this October for everyone’s favorite night of the living dead.

Most surprising concert venue: Sure, you could go to Artis—Naples or Germain Arena or Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall to hear a concert. But, for a nice change of pace, we groove on the open-air vibe of Top Rocker Field at Six Bends Harley-Davidson in Fort Myers. The 2.5-acre location can host up to 5,000 people. Best of all, after the show you can buy a motorcycle and head out on the highway, lookin’ for adventure—or whatever comes your way.

Best place to take a beach-ready Carrie Bradshaw: If you get the Sex and the City reference, you’ll know there’s something about the shoes. At the new Waterside Shops boutique Canipelli Firenze, dozens of gorgeously jeweled sandals are available to accessorize your toes.

Best place to hear a gator growl: Take a few steps along the boardwalk of Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and into its tunnel of trees and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. In the summer when the water is high, the deep roars of our prehistoric residents carried across the green surface are enough to make you jump—then want to hear them again.

Best bragging rights: The Arthur L. Allen Tennis Center in Cambier Park is a hot zone for competitive USTA league play, but the annual City of Naples Tennis Championships each May provide an edge for local players. For the entry categories, a win won’t count for ranking points in the region—but it carries more street cred in town.

Best children’s boutique disguised as a stationery shop: Believe it or not, this setup is more common than you’d think, but we have to salute Invitation to Paper for its selection of handmade, organic clothes and learning-focused toys (many crafted out of wood in the U.S.).

Best sleep aid: Not getting enough sleep is par for the course for new parents, but for some, the sleep deprivation can be crippling. In other parts of the country finding nighttime newborn care is easy, but here in Southwest Florida it wasn’t until Geraldine Cirillo started Night Nannies of Naples. With more than two decades of child care experience under her belt. Cirillo finds and screens candidates and then matches them with moms and dads for those first few months until their babies learn how to sleep like babies.


Honor Roll

Best public art project: Giant loggerhead turtle sculptures that will emerge from artists’ workshops and swim to public spaces near you this November. Turtles on the Town will benefit the Community Foundation of Collier County, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the United Arts Council of Collier County. The 4-foot-by-4-foot-base models are among the final artistic contributions of wildlife sculptor Kathy Spaulding, who died of cancer last September.

Best reward for paying attention in history class: Marco Island author Sue Monk Kidd’s new historical novel, The Invention of Wings, which has cracked the 1 million sales mark since its January 2014 debut, hit No. 1 on The New York Times best-seller list and racked up a host of impressive literary awards. It traces the relationship between a slave girl in 19th century Charleston and a fictionalized version of the real-life Sarah Grimke.

Best corporate recruiting tool: Arthrex’s inclusion on Fortune magazine’s 2015 Best 100 Companies to Work For list. The company was singled out for its practice of giving employees an extra 40 weeks of paid time off every five years and an excursion to a destination of choice for the employee and dependents. Got openings, Mr. Schmieding?

Best project completion: The $54 million flyover connecting I-75 with Southwest Florida International Airport, opened in March. To be fair, crews did a good job keeping the traffic flowing during the project, but we’re glad it’s done and over with. And just in time—the airport saw the busiest February in its 32-year history with 906,039 travelers.

Best salute: It’s hard to believe that WWII, America’s most deadly war in terms of combat deaths, didn’t have its own national memorial until 2004. It’s even harder to fathom that, of the 16 million enlisted, only 1 million remain. Collier County Honor Flight was founded two years ago to transport veterans (of any war but with priority given to the most senior) to Washington, D.C., to see the memorials erected in their honor. The next volunteer-led mission takes to the skies May 2.

Best substitute for the fountain of youth: Get ready to have our world rocked. Dr. Allen Weiss, CEO of NCH, has brought the Blue Zones Project to Naples. Founded by a National Geographic explorer who researched the happiest societies with the longest life expectancies, the 10-year plan will rethink how we live, with the addition of more walkways, bike paths and family-friendly initiatives.


Best Catches

When we think “Port Royal” we don’t think “Florida panther,” but that’s exactly what a landscaper discovered in the bushes of one waterfront home in the exclusive neighborhood this February. He tipped off the homeowners, who then called 911 and retreated to their dazzling rooftop terrace to watch biologists from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission tranquilize and document the big cat. Later released in Picayune Strand State Forest, the young panther is believed to have swum to the neighborhood from Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

New Jersey residents scored a $2.6 million deal for a three-story Cape Coral mansion in February. The seven-bedroom, 11-bathroom, 12,000-square-foot home on the Caloosahatchee River was up for auction with no minimum bid. In the end the homeowner, a retired UPS executive, was not happy—he said the same home would be worth “$25 million” in Collier County.

A group of masked home invaders made their mark nine times across the state last year—five within Collier County—before being arrested in Orlando. The armed men trashed cell phones and used zip ties and duct tape to immobilize homeowners while they pilfered hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of valuables from their high-end homes. Alas, they were captured on a security camera, pinpointed through pawnshop and cell phone records and shoe prints, and betrayed by a confidential informant.

Because the Red Sox train at JetBlue Park, we root for them as we do a home team. So when they signed veteran hard-hitting third baseman Pablo Sandoval this season, we were cheering right along with Bostonians. The All-Star Venezuelan came from three World Series with the San Francisco Giants (in one of which he was named MVP) to sign a five-year contract with the Sox.

A 16-year-old fishing with his Cape Coral family hooked a white nurse shark off their boat near Captiva Pass in late October. The albino fish is extremely rare, but the Silvestris have video to prove their nearly 9-foot catch.


Best of the Social Season

We scoured the region to learn from insiders just what set their tongues a-waggin’ from this past season’s social scene.

Best-dressed: Sonya Sawyer at the Heart Ball in an ostrich-feather and sequin strapless cocktail dress by Milly and gorgeous Christian Louboutin multi-buckle heels. Hearts were racing.

Best speech: Lou Holtz at Ave Maria’s fourth annual Scholarship Dinner made guests feel like they were in the red zone.

Best first course: Cedar plank charcuterie featuring cedar-smoked salmon terrine, Gulf shrimp ballotine, Shenandoah trout salad and brioche with dried seaweed and toasted sesame seeds by Windows Catering Company at Magic Under the Mangroves

Most heartfelt donation: William Boyajian of Port Royal Jewelers donated a 2-carat diamond in the name of his associate, Steven Leonard, who died tragically in a fire in February.

Best celebrity appearance: Paul Sorvino (Goodfellas, Bulworth) sang up a storm at the Opera Naples 10th anniversary gala.

Best face-lifts: multiple names redacted

Best use of artist ability: Eleven-year-old Golisano Children’s Hospital patient Sofia Black’s painting raised a record $500,000 at the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest. Just beautiful.


People & Projects

Best identity crises: The hotel formerly known as the Waldorf Astoria, formerly known as the Naples Grande, formerly known as The Registry is again the Naples Grande Beach Resort; Edison State College (previously Edison Junior College, Edison Community College and Edison College) officially became Florida SouthWestern State College; and Toast is toast, with two area restaurants now humorously—and intentionally—labeled Poached after a cease-and-desist from a same-name restaurant in faraway Chicago. Stay tuned for their next incarnations…

Best birthday parties: You only turn 50 once, so dancer extraordinaire Shelia Davis did it right with an over-the-top soiree at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples that included 160 of Southwest Florida’s most beautiful people as well as dancer friends from across the globe. Maxine Carter, former showgirl and girlfriend of Clark Gable (yes, that’s right), turned 100 recently with 100 guests at a Mardi Gras masquerade party and spectacular jazz band. That’s a life well-lived.

Best unions: Marissa Collections and RumbaTime businessman Jay Hartington and TV personality Courtney Hansen sure make a beautiful power couple, even more so after the birth of their daughter last summer. And we daresay Paychex founder and big-time philanthropist Thomas Golisano and tennis great Monica Seles, who announced their engagement last June, give them a run for their money as rumors swirl that they tied the knot. When it comes to platonic coupling, we celebrate chef Charles Mereday and actor/comedian Jim Belushi teaming up for the Super Bowl to host a superstar creative party at Belushi’s Comedy Bar in Fort Myers. A buffet of favorites from Mereday’s three restaurants and stand-up by Belushi got cheers from the crowd—and all proceeds benefitted the music therapy program at the Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Best use of the letter B: Billionaires. The 2015 Forbes list of billionaires contains four locals. Shahid Khan (Jacksonville Jaguars, Flex-N-Gate) No. 360 at $4.5 million; Reinhold Schmieding (Arthrex Inc.) No. 418 at $4 billion; Richard Schulze (Best Buy) No. 628 at $2.9 billion; Tom Golisano (Paychex Inc.) No. 782 at $2.4 billion.

Best legacies: Southwest Florida was dealt a double blow in 2014 with the losses of Fort Myers philanthropist and arts “angel” Barbara B. Mann and the Neighborhood Health Clinic’s co-founder and public-health champion, Dr. William Lascheid of Naples. We also remember the mixed legacy of developer Jack Antaramian, the force behind some 30 projects in Southwest Florida and Boston before he fell into a deep feud with his former business partners and a $20 million debt. Antaramian’s February 2015 death was ruled a suicide.

Best time-saver for the rest of us: The Collier County Community Foundation’s new Nonprofit Directory, a comprehensive database powered by Guidestar that offers in-depth information about virtually every nonprofit in town. Bookmark it now!

Best failure at retirement: When Myra Janco Daniels left the Philharmonic, we hoped it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of her. Now with projects underway at both Ave Maria and the Salvation Army, including launching The Latchkey League and a capital campaign to build a youth center in East Naples (the 2014 gala raised $200,000 alone), there’s no doubt she’s back and was born to lead.

Best proof of why our galas actually make a difference: The crowd at the Guadalupe Center’s annual affair was moved to tears by its Tutor Corps student Regine François. The precocious high schooler (and gifted public speaker) recalled sharing a bag of potato chips for dinner with her five siblings and not wanting poverty to define her. Now a senior armed with a 5.3 GPA, college credits at FGCU, awards and multiple volunteer hours, she hopes to put her talents to use studying public policy at Georgetown University.

Best way to engage: Although a glass-half-empty person could say the Naples Winter Wine Festival’s debut online auction raised only $231,000 (considering that’s what one of the 60-something lots the live auction brings in), that’d be missing the point. People loved it—guests who weren’t spending $231,000 on one prize, local oenophiles who couldn’t attend the $8,500 weekend and the directors of charities who receive those funds. And every penny does help: $25,000 can put 90 at-risk students on track to graduate high school on time.

Best—and most fitting—tribute: The sea of hot pink at the Fort Myers half marathon in March was no coincidence. More than a hundred racers crossed the finish line wearing “Chelsea’s Army” T-shirts to keep alive the memory of their friend Chelsea Santucci—a 26-year-old crossfit trainer who succumbed to kidney cancer in December 2014 but didn’t let the disease dampen her fighting spirit (she was often seen in her wheelchair at CrossFit Salvation in Cape Coral until the very end).

Best passion project: When Destiny Haggett’s 14-year-old, Chansen, was declared cancer-free for the second time in May 2014, he was considered a success story despite a stroke and fractures to his spine from chemo. But what shocked Haggett was learning that pediatric cancers get less than 10 percent of National Cancer Institute research funding. To help improve the odds for other patients, Haggett, her husband and couples they met through the Golisano Children’s Hospital banded together to organize the first annual Luau of Life gala on April 11, raising money for both pediatric cancer research and Barbara’s Friends, a group that helps oncology patients in the hospital.


Best Boat Names

Aboat Time (Canadian transplant?)

Biop-Sea (Ride requires $50 co-pay)

Keeps Going (Owned by the former president and CEO of the Energizer battery household products division)

Mast Transit (Docked next to a sailboat named Blow Hard)


Best Second Winds

Ghost-town shopping centers are a sad sight, but two have recently turned around and are better than ever. The Promenade at Bonita Bay and the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt both have had an influx of chic boutiques such as Well Read, To the Moon and Children’s Couture (in Bonita) and Naples Wine Collection, Heart & Soul and Neighborhood Organics (in North Naples).

The Pavilion was also bustling again this season thanks in part to a new Inca’s Kitchen location and the revival of its movie theater. Following a $3 million overhaul, Paragon Pavilion now rivals the luxe Silverspot Cinema with all-reserved spots in its wide, La-Z-Boy-type leather seats, state-of-the-art projection and (alcohol-vending) The Lot Bar & Lounge.

Naples also saw the renovation of Naples Botanical Garden, whose new face was revealed in October to include a stunning entry pavilion, gleaming event space and three new gardens: the canopied Kathryn’s Garden inspired by paintings by Henri Rousseau; Irma’s Garden of individually odd and charismatic standouts; and the LaGrippe Orchid Garden, which rotates hundreds of exotic species. Let’s not forget the food, which now includes items like warm honey-drizzled banana bread, sirloin-and-short-rib burgers and garden-to-table salads courtesy of the onsite, D’Amico-run Fogg Café.

And then there’s Hammond Stadium at CenturyLink Sports Complex, home of the Minnesota Twins spring training. Following a new parking lot and playing field in spring 2014, phase two brought concourse and clubhouse expansions, a new retail store and box office, better concessions, upgraded seating and restrooms, and a renovated press box, concluding the $48.5 million project. It’s never been more enticing to go out to the ballgame.

Slammers can have a second life, too, right? The former Old Copeland Prison and Hendry County Correctional Facility now house Altair Gun Club, allowing members to get into character as they learn tactical shooting from experts out in the boonies. The spaces may be renovated for training for air, land and sea, but there’s history enough to keep it creepily cool.


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