We all know we should eat better, but how we choose to define that varies from person to person. Lucky for us, getting balanced, nutritious meals no matter your persuasion is not as hard as you think. More and more restaurants are expanding their core offerings to hit on everyone’s wish list for a happier and healthier self without compromising on taste. Here is proof that delicious and good-for-you are not mutually exclusive, from morning till night.
Starting the Day Off Right
You’d be hard-pressed to find something tastier than what’s in The Bowl (the-bowl.com), a new café in Naples specifically serving the eponymous house specialty: trendy acai bowls that resemble smoothies but are thicker, more nutrient-dense and eaten cereal-like with fresh toppings and spoons. Cold-brew coffee, kombucha and juices are on the docket as well.
The local chain of Delicious Raw (delraw.com) juice bars also serves these tasty, slurpable treats, and so too does Green Cup Café (facebook.com/organicgreencupcafe) in Fort Myers (which also has an impressive array of organic teas, salads, soups and more).
At a retro diner in Naples, Patric’s (patricskitchen.net), an unexpected twist comes from an extensive paleo menu at breakfast and lunch, where they swap out regular for gluten-free bread in benedicts and sandwiches (plus, they make a no-grain almond-and-seed “granola” that can be purchased to eat as a cereal at home).
The Garden Café (gardencafebonita.com) in Bonita Springs proposes an excellent solution to a common problem—what to do when you want to eat healthy but people you’re with don’t. By dividing the breakfast and lunch dishes 50/50 into “lighter fare” and “local favorites” (read: decadent), there’s really something for everyone.
In Fort Myers, Alice’s Café (alicestogo.com), which looks like your grandma's luncheonette of yesteryear (floral table cloths, deli case in front), serves forward-thinking vegan answers to comfort foods like zucchini muffins—plus faux meatloaf at lunch.
Keep it Going Strong
In Fort Myers, vegans and omnivores alike have nothing but amazing things to say about Chef Brooke’s Natural Café (chefbrookeonline.com). It’s open for breakfast and lunch and will sometimes host cooking classes for dinner, and the colorful dairy-, meat- and gluten-free goods include beautiful Faerie Cakes (cupcakes).
Similarly, when it comes to vegan fare, another spot that cannot be missed is The Sanibel Sprout (239-472-4499). They have everything else like Brooke’s in terms of vibrant plant-based entrées, and the ice-cream-like tiramisu and chocolate tortes are so good you’ll think you’re cheating. Plus, we love how they keep cooking till 7 p.m. in season. Also on Sanibel is tiny juice bar Among the Flowers (loveamongtheflowers.com), which is great for a pick-me-up after a day of beaching, from organic coffee (almond milk is an option) to tonics (healing juice concoctions) to and Nirvana Bliss Bites (seed-rich nuggets of deliciousness).
There’s nothing we’d like more than seeing Fort Myers’ Mermaid Garden Café (mermaidgardencafe.com) open for dinner, but we’ll take all the breakfasts, lunches and teas we can get at the mirthful salon that is healthful in the sense that everything on the menu is organic and sourced from local farms—and chef Gloria Jordan’s creative dishes such as lemon-chicken jicama salad with peach vinaigrette are picture-perfect to boot.
If it seems as though everyone has heard of Fort Myers’ Ada’s Natural Market (adasmarket.com) and Naples’ Food & Thought (foodandthought.com), it’s with good reason: Pretty much every item sold at the grocery stores and accompanying cafés is organic. They’re open all day, but lunch consistently draws huge crowds for smoothies, vegan meals and heftier dishes like vegetable lasagna (Ada’s) and chicken enchiladas (Food & Thought).
For a fun ride at lunch in Naples, try Fit & Fuel Café (fitnfuelcafe.com); it’s a popular spot for hardcore cyclists and people wanting plentiful salads and paninis.
It’s not often a fine-dining restaurant, especially a French one, will fully champion the call to clean eating, but leave it to the well-respected Cariot family to revamp their lunch menu for Bleu Provence (bleuprovencenaples.com) to be 100 percent health-conscious, with raw cocktails blending ginger, celery and apple, and buckwheat-flour (gluten-free) quiche with tomato and basil.
Across Naples, the shoebox-sized Body and Soul Café (bodyandsoulcafe.com) is popular for takeout and meal pickup plans because there are barely six seats in the place, but it has built a following for its all-organic and vegan mission, including “body bowls” (zucchini noodles or rice with toppings), paninis and “the cleanse” program, a detox to revive the metabolism and lose weight fast.
Speaking of fast, we had been eagerly awaiting the debut of Organically Twisted (organicallytwisted.com) on Pine Ridge in Naples, which opened this spring. It has built a following for the past few years as a food truck with an emphasis on organics (not strictly raw or vegan, but there are plenty of those, too). Colorful marinated heirloom tomatoes, a guammus (guacamole-hummus)-stuffed pretzel cone and a jalapeño-bacon egg salad will be sold at both the brick-and-mortar cafe and on the truck as it continues to travel the area.
An Elegent, Healthy Finish
There are two roads to take at dinner—restaurants that are specifically geared toward plant-based eating, and restaurants that are not health-oriented per se but have ample options for those who are. Of the former, the Cider Press Café (ciderpresscafe.com) is the most critically acclaimed in the area, a totally raw experience using creatively dehydrated veggies and grains to make sophisticated plates of sushi (with jicama “rice”) and lasagna (with cashew “ricotta”), all served alongside a wine list that denotes certified organic or no-sulfite-added bottles. And anyone who is trying to put health first should be excited for the projected arrival this fall of True Food Kitchen (truefoodkitchen.com), which adheres to the tenets of an anti-inflammatory diet in a fun way—making spelt and flax pizzas, a “Hangover Rx” juice tonic and lots of seafood entrées (also served with biodynamic wines).
If you’re jonesing for Chinese or Thai, the two Loving Hut restaurants (lovinghut.us) are a surefire bet. The food at each is vegan but approachable; it’s what you’d recognize from takeout joints (think: fried rice, spring rolls and stir frys).
Although not a vegetarian restaurant, Fresh Taqueria (freshtaqueria.com) on Sanibel Island has no shortage of appealing plant-based dishes—from four types of veggie tacos (some of which incorporate tempeh and tofu) to Mexican street corn.
If all-organic, locally sourced eating is what you care about, The Local (thelocalnaples.com) in Naples and Harold’s (haroldscuisine.com) in Fort Myers both feature grass-fed meats, Gulf-caught fish, cheeses made in the Sunshine State and a rainbow of farm-fresh produce—not to mention the chefs at both are putting out some of the area’s best cuisine.
In the same vein, the food at Kitchen 41 (kitchen41.com) is praised by local foodies for the chef’s use of sous vide cooking to lock in nutrients; the pastas are made in-house with organic eggs, and many of the proteins are sustainably sourced.
Veranda E (hotelescalante.com), in a tree-lined garden patio off-Fifth in Naples, gets high marks for everything that comes out of the kitchen, and the chef last year introduced a paleo and Whole30 menu plus a plethora of regular offerings are gluten-free.
For calorie counters, props must be given to a few of the larger chains across town that tout dishes under 600 calories on their menus, including the new Cooper’s Hawk (chwinery.com), Seasons 52 (seasons52.com) and Brio (brioitalian.com).