Yannick and Ana Brendel of La Colmar
Timeless – an MHK Eatery made the biggest splash, followed by The Bevy. Both are capturing diners who want to waltz in and have something to drink and nibble that’s not too pricey. The Bevy, off Third Street South, has staked its claim as the coolest watering hole around with serious craft cocktails, a retractable roof and hanging gardens. Meanwhile, Timeless, just north of Central Avenue on U.S. 41, is excelling at lunch, lounging and dinner (there’s an interesting wine and beer list, but no cocktails), and next door La Colmar Bakery & Bistro is earning rave reviews for being the first true bakery to hit Naples in goodness knows how long. Rustic loaves, crisp baguettes and the flakiest croissants are baked daily with imported French flour. In the same development, The Wine Store should soon be specializing in cult labels, educational seminars and professional storage for collectors. (Also on U.S. 41, Natural Wines has expanded its retail space for the additive-free, organic vintages it sells.)
Meanwhile, where the diner-like Mangrove Café had held court on Fifth Avenue South for decades until it closed last year, Luca Di Falco, a managing partner of Caffe Milano and Bice, oversaw a sweeping renovation. He created Kitchen, a casual breakfast, lunch and dinner spot with American food from a chef who relocated here from Miami. A few blocks down, across from Sugden Community Theatre, Vergina gained new owners and at press time was being rebranded as Monticello, complete with a new menu and décor.
Angelic Desserts Bakery & Café, with organic and gluten-free treats and coffee, opened in the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt. Not one but two healthful cafés satisfying sweet cravings have emerged: Soul Bowls in Mercato and a second location of The Bowl downtown (both should have launched by now and be serving blended smoothie-like edibles with açai, pitaya and more).
Speaking of Mercato, there were plenty of changes afoot. Burntwood Tavern, the first location of a small Ohio-based chain, is dishing up modern American gastropub-style fare, and Whole Foods built an in-store sit-down restaurant, High Tide Bar & Grill. As soon as Zoës Kitchen, a fast-casual Mediterranean franchise with pitas, kabobs and Greek salads (not to mention wine by the glass), opens in November, the landscape will barely be recognizable.
Napoli on the Bay, what some New York pizza aficionados argue tastes the closest to home, added another location in the Marquesa Plaza on Pine Ridge and Livingston roads. In that same strip, Martin Fierro Restaurant, the Argentinian-Uruguyan opus of chargrilled meats, has gotten a new look, replacing tango posters with mood lighting. While the Loving Hut franchise closed to the west on Pine Ridge, its former owners started Vegan Kitchen on nearby Neapolitan Way—and NeNe’s Kitchen from Marco Island is soon taking over the empty spot for a second location of its down-home cooking.
Southwest Florida as a whole is burgeoning from a dining perspective, and the far east is the latest horizon to get a big injection of culinary creativity with The Warehouse. Past Collier Boulevard on Immokalee Road, the restaurant and bar is filling a niche for residents of the Estates who want upscale American comforts with a modern gourmet twist (think: an unbeatable seared duck with an orange-chili gastrique). That same crowd also must appreciate the return of Poached to the strip mall it once inhabited just south of Immokalee Road (the French toast and eggs Benedict oasis now has three locations).
Still to Come
Kareem's Lebanese Kitchen
In North Naples, the original creative genius behind the much-lauded Zen Asian BBQ, chef Pitak “Koko” Hermkhunthod, left there to form Namba, an izakaya-style ramen, robata and sushi gastropub, on Vanderbilt and 41 this fall. Another chef, a veteran of Komoon and Thai Udon, is gearing up to open Mojo Thai & Sushi in the Shoppes at Vanderbilt. The local crowd is also tantalized by the upcoming Kareem’s Lebanese Kitchen. Going next door to 21 Spices by Chef Asif on the East Trail, it stands to be much fancier than a falafel shop yet not overly formal—the menu boasts seven types of hummus, shawarma wraps plus authentic entrées in the $20 range.
On the western end of Fifth Avenue South, just steps away from Vincenzo Betulia’s The French (the biggest opening last season), is the sleek, sophisticated Sails Restaurant. An ode to the good life at sea, it will include a raw bar and is hoping to drop anchor by December.
Bayshore is primed for action, too. Celebration Park is a food truck park being developed by the owner of Three60 Market near Naples Botanical Garden that will hopefully sprout up in the next year, along with Ankrolab Brewing Co., a brewery and beer garden that is expected to replace a vacant warehouse down the street.
The Coupe, an East Naples breakfast and lunch café, transformed into Jeri Lu’s over the past year, and its same purple-tressed owner is about to open a second Lulu B’s Diner in the Greentree Plaza on Immokalee Road. Another old timer, Randy Essig, most recently of Fish Crazy and before that Randy’s Fishmarket, is jumping back in with Randy’s Coastal Kitchen in North Naples, while an upmarket British café, Fishers Fish & Chips, is under construction behind the Dairy Queen downtown by Adam Smith, the same developer who brought The Bevy to life. Two Guys Kitchen & Catering, a restaurant that is the expansion of a company that started two years ago, is looking to open its small storefront soon near the Naples airport.
Much further on the horizon—well into 2018 and beyond—is Bayfront’s growth plan, which includes new eateries. Plus, its existing Shane’s Cabana Bar is expanding to incorporate a restaurant (also, across the river, a Doc Ford’s is planned for where Kelly’s Fish House once stood). Uptown, Andy Hyde, who has made a name for himself as a private chef, announced he’s planning The Hyde Cuisine, a restaurant in the Saks Off Fifth plaza on U.S. 41, to showcase his flair for dramatically presented seasonal fare. Seed to Table, the gigantic artisan market in North Naples that will house Food & Thought II, is scheduled to open in October 2018. More under wraps is the JW Marriot Marco Island’s construction of an adult-only tower that will feature a celebrity-chef-driven restaurant (who, what and when are still a mystery).
Miami chef Jamie DeRosa, who made the jump to this coast with Izzy’s Fish & Oyster, has swept into the River District like a white cap. The effortlessly glam nautical-chic dining room and bar (which tends to stop people in their tracks) is as much of a catch as his New England oysters, crab cakes and chowders. A few blocks aways is Downtown Social House (“SoHo” for short), which is to drinking what Izzy’s is to eating. It was the first new bar to hit the neighborhood in five years, and people have been loving the large-scale beer garden, unique cocktails and street food bites. Expect to see an expanded menu this fall.
In Estero, Coconut Point gained its own Miami-area transplant, Divieto Ristorante. The aged Parmigiano Reggiano-laced fettuccine alfredo, along with other solid takes on classics, in a glitzed-up yet comfortable setting has struck a chord. Right beside it, there should be a new wood-fired grill from Skip Quillen in his old Blue Water Bistro space called The Saloon by late November or early December.
Traveling back up north, Cape Coral, which has emerged as a foodie destination in recent years, saw Taverna Wood Fire Kitchen, specializing in pizzas and grilled meats, replace the short-lived Seven Oaks. And the team behind the popular Fathoms Restaurant & Bar and The French Press ice cream and coffee shop has invested in a third location, Gather. On the waterfront at Tarpon Point Marina, it combines elements of the other two properties into a serene spot that’s open breakfast through dinner. Shannon Yates has built a hipster-grunge gastro empire anchored by Nevermind; the tiny takeout joint Danger, Danger should be hatched; and he has talented chef Christian Caillaba rebooting what was Mix Rocktails in the fall.
Crave, a haute dinner and brunch fixture in Fort Myers where chef-owner Sean Gavin is known for his all-from-scratch food, underwent a renovation for its 10th anniversary. Gavin is next aiming to work eggs and meat raised on his own Alva farm into the menu. Not too far away, by the intersection of McGregor and Gladiolus, Poppy’s Pizza & Bistro moved beyond pies when a partnership with Yabo’s former chef resulted in his cult Italian favorites being resurrected. (Meanwhile, LYNQ, from the owners of Blanc, moved into Yabo’s old spot on Summerlin Road with a global menu of ramen, sushi and pasta.) Fort Myers also gained two pizzerias, PrimaFila Pizza e Ristorante Italiano in the River District and Friend’s Pizza on Colonial Boulevard.
Bonita Springs meat lovers have reason to be happy: Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop & Café is selling wagyu cuts and dine-in sandwiches near the Estero border. Bonita also received a second local outpost of Metro Diner, the Jacksonville-based chain featured on the Food Network.
Still to Come
Over the past year, Lee County got a spate of new breweries: Millennial Brewing Company, Scotty’s Bierwerks and Palm City Brewing. We’re waiting on the edge of our barstools for Marlins Brewhouse in a plaza that’s being constructed near 41 and 6 Mile Cypress Parkway that will hopefully be done before the end of 2018.
In South Fort Myers, Artisan Eatery, a counter service joint in a new development from the former executive chef of the Naples Grande Beach Resort’s The Catch of the Pelican, will focus on made-from-scratch fare for gourmet sandwiches and more. Nearby, The Tubby Pig, a Southern comfort café with country cooking, actually debuted in the summer but had its roof blown away by Irma; it is hoping to reopen in November.
To the east, Sal Basile is expanding on his Two Meatballs success with The Saucy Meatball, which is anticipated to debut soon (if not already) in the Gateway off Daniels Parkway. It will be more casual, with pizza by the slice and a totally different menu.
To the west, on Summerlin Road just before hitting Sanibel, another dressed-down concept is set to debut early next year: Lola’s Bait Shack is angling to capture the local fishing vibe in the former Summerlin Jake’s cottage.
Roy’s Restaurant in Bonita Springs from celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi is undergoing a renovation in December—but it promises to be open for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The ambitious new Boathouse 31 from the Kearns and Richter hospitality groups (also partners in Izzy’s and SoHo) on the bank of the Caloosahatchee River in its northernmost stretch of Fort Myers will feature a lagoon pool encircled by tiki bars and should hopefully be ready for lounging and sipping by spring. Oxbow restaurant, should all go to proposed plans with city council, will splash into the downtown riverfront space that had housed Art of the Olympians at the end of 2018 from the same people behind Tampa’s Epicurean Hotel.
Also far off—but near the top of everyone’s minds—is the completion of Daniels Marketplace, scheduled for summer 2018. It will bring Fort Myers not only its first Whole Foods, but a Zoës Kitchen and Mellow Mushroom pizzeria as well.
Fort Myers Spotlight: Society
At last, Fort Myers’ newest star chef, Todd Erickson, brings us the long-awaited Society in the Bell Tower Shops. Just, please, don’t mistake it for HaVen.
Although that now-shuttered restoclub took Miami by storm six years ago, Erickson, a serious chef with 45 awards, wanted to pull the plug on the club-vibe eatery originally slated for the Society space. “My background is high-end fine dining—I’m a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America,” he says. “Something I put blood, sweat and tears into, I didn’t want that to be called a club.”
What you can expect now are warm copper tones and botanicals; composed entrées in the $20 range, like a Spanish-style local snapper with romesco and charred green onions; craft cocktail and wine lists; and an expansive rooftop lounge with local bands jamming.
“We’ve really lightened up the whole space,” Erickson says. “HaVen had a beautiful walnut ceiling but you couldn’t see it because it was so dark. All of the grilled meats will be cooked over solid oak—the wood-fired grill is a really nice addition and will create a toasty, hearth-like environment.”
There is some carryover from HaVen’s menu because Erickson’s partner for Society, Brad Cozza, loved many of the dishes—they’re mostly small plates now. A new signature is likely to be what Rachael Ray called the “sexiest burger of the night” at her annual 2017 SoBe Wine & Food Festival bash. Then there’s Erickson’s grown-up Salisbury steak that beat Bobby Flay’s on TV in January 2017. He cheekily muses, “Before we even tried it, Bobby leaned over my shoulder and said it was a really beautiful dish. Because I served it on a blue plate, I think it may come around as a blue plate special.”
Naples Spotlight: The Cave
For a town that’s the unofficial seat of the wine world each January when dozens of vintners fly in for the Naples Winter Wine Festival, there’s an understandably insatiable thirst for red, white and everything in between.
Past co-chairs of that very event, Jim and Laura Dixon, decided to help keep glasses filled year-round by tripling the size of their Naples Wine Collection boutique in the Galleria Shoppes at Vanderbilt and crafting a wine bar and bistro next door, The Cave.
By now it should have 24 wines by the glass, along with cocktails, to pair with ingredients-driven Continental small plates—and waiters can open any bottle from the shop for a modest corkage fee.
“We want to expand peoples’ palates,” Laura says. “Sometimes people get stuck on something like California Cabernets. Sure, we will have a lot from California and France, but just the other day, for example, we got approached about really interesting Australian Pinot Noirs.”
Meant to channel the underground tasting rooms in the ancient Burgundian town of Beaune, the space deliberately shies away from modernity in favor of authenticity. The dining room, bookended by a long bar and lounge area, is complete with an arched ceiling, stonework and rustic chandeliers.