If there’s one thing the Sex and the City gaggle got straight, it’s that brunch is the best meal of the week. It’s the only time when you can roll back your shoulders, chow down on biscuits and bloody mary-soaked olives, and smell the Colombian (or Ethiopian, or Italian) coffee. Our picks for where you take your eggs—whether they’re poached, next to a heap of corned beef hash or with a glass of bubbly in hand—are your roadmap for a sunny start in Southwest Florida.
The Jazz Brunch
Slate’s jazz brunch (Photo by Craig Hildebrand)
Channeling the feel of a Crescent City street parade, Slate’s brings the big brass of New Orleans—and its flavors—to Cape Coral every Sunday. Musicians weave their way among the tables while guests return multiple times to a bloody mary bar to end all bloody mary bars. It’s $17 with the purchase of a brunch dish, and there are 23 different hot sauces alone, plus Cajun bacon, fresh oysters, jerky, pickled veggies and more.
The bucolic expanse that is Rosy Tomorrows Heritage Farm in North Fort Myers, besides being open for brunch Thursday through Saturday, has musicians entertaining on Sundays. So, you and the humanely raised cattle, hogs and chickens grazing in front of you can get all get your groove on.
Also in Lee County, on the it’s-5-o’clock-somewhere-spirited island of Captiva, there’s a daily brunch under the vibrantly hued umbrellas and sun shades of Keylime Bistro. You can order your crabcake Benedict and bloody mary from 8 a.m. on, but the live music kicks in at noon. (FYI, its more upscale sister restaurant, Sunshine Seafood Café and Wine Bar, launches daily brunch in December 2018.)
In Naples, M Waterfront Grille on Venetian Bay has live music on Sundays—along with bottomless mimosas. Downtown, the decorated chef Vincenzo Betulia is bringing a jazz trio to his charming brasserie The French this season. Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the walnut-raisin French toast capped with berry compote and a crème fraiche-mascarpone whip is sweeter with La Vie en Rose wafting through the air. By the way, the lunch menu—constant during the week—is brunchy, too, from no shortage of croque madames, kir royales and omelets. The Continental on nearby Third Street South operates much the same, with a permanent “brunch” section and a Brunch Punch cocktail available daily, with live music added at noon on Saturday and Sunday.
The Party Brunch
The drag brunch at Cavo Lounge (Photo by Vanessa Rogers)
Sunday—and Saturday—Fundays are the standard at The Standard in Fort Myers. Ever since it opened a few years ago in the River District, it quickly gained a following for breakfast pizzas, clever egg dishes, and bottomless mimosas and bloody marys, but more recently it added karaoke emceed by drag queen Alyssa Lemay on Saturdays and some Sundays (on other Sundays, musicians entertain). The sing-along features guests crooning between bites of bagels and lox until the afternoon. Down in Naples at Cavo LOUNGE, every third Sunday of the month (with hopes of making it a weekly event in season), the Mercato nightclub opens at 2 p.m. for a drag queen-, bloody mary- and frittata-fueled party.
Society at Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers has a two-tiered brunch on Sundays, capped by the ultimate clubby Vegas-style brunch. The varied food and a menu of brunch-specific cocktails and drink options are served all day, but the entertainment and vibe are what get the switcheroo: Up until 3 p.m., an electric violinist entertains while diners who want a more low-key morning indulge in surf and turf Benedict and truffle grilled cheese. Then, the lights go down, a DJ steps in and the party kicks into overdrive with sparklers in champagne bottles, servers in Day of the Dead garb and tables sipping on communal drinks served in punchbowls with straws sticking out like porcupine quills.
The Scenic Brunch
The crown for the room (and patio) with the most breathtaking views of the Gulf goes to Baleen at Naples’ LaPlaya Beach & Golf Resort. Good thing every Sunday it offers a $34 three-course prix fixe that includes endless mimosas (there are also a la carte options, plus a daily breakfast menu—i.e. not brunch but very close—with griddled items, Benedicts and sammies).
Lump crab Benedict and buttermilk ricotta pancakes at The Bay House (Courtesy The Bay House)
One of the arguably most beautiful gardens in Naples, the secret patio that is Veranda E, is kicking off its inaugural brunch this season on Sundays. As of press time, the details were mum: The kitchen will be using the herbs grown on-site, and they’re taking pages from European restaurants and upscale locales throughout the United States to form the premiere menu’s selections. Another lush patio that’s actually in a perpetual state of brunch is Jane’s on 3rd Garden Café. With tables lining a koi-filled fountain off one of Naples busiest pedestrian areas, breakfast and people-watching are de rigueur every day until doors close at 3 p.m. There are Bellinis with cocktail umbrellas poking out, burritos and breakfast sandwiches galore, and a weekend special of the absolute best stuffed French toast we’ve ever tasted (classic French toast can be ordered in appetizer or entrée portions daily).
The Village Shops on Venetian Bay is a mecca for anyone wanting to catch the azure water lapping in the canals below; its M Waterfront Grille has tables outside and in, and so does Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar.
To feel like you’ve been transported to the bayou or the marshes of the Carolina coast, The Bay House, which is on a river nestled between mangroves, boasts 180-degree views and an elegant, pared-down menu (with specialty brunch cocktails) on Sundays during season.
The Boozy Brunch
Folklore can’t pin who or what was the inspiration behind the bloody mary (or even who was the first to invent her), but that pungent, pulpy and hotter-the-better libation is the centerpiece of any good boozy brunch. Some places are known for their take, and it reads like a competition for the craziest toppings. Take the Bitchslap Mary at the snarky Cork Soakers in Cape Coral, where the rim of the glass is where the fun begins on Sundays with the plumpest shrimp and bacon. BrickTop’s at Waterside Shops had been famous for a DIY bar that fell to the wayside, but it still packs a punch with its Sunday recipe.
Bitchslap Mary at Cork Soakers (Courtesy Cork Soakers)
Although its fare is casual, The Dock at Crayton Cove gets fancy with its bloody mary spread. Pricing is determined by which of the eight vodkas is your pick of poison, and then it’s up to you to craft a hair of the dog to your liking with mixers and marinated vegetables. (When it comes to fixings, the Slate’s bar is hard to top). The Pub at Mercato also has a special table on Saturdays and Sundays with lots of toppers to choose from, including Brit breakfast fixings like sausages and bacon.
For those who take day-drinking on the sweeter side, The Bevy has you covered. Their “build your own mimosa,” available Sundays for $39, is perfect for a group: A bottle of Adami prosecco is delivered tableside with a tray of accouterments, including beautiful berries and carafes of orange juice, pear nectar and mango nectar—enticing you to linger on the open-air deck long after the last sip.
Bottomless mimosas are a thing at a bunch of places around town (see sidebar), but Point 57 Kitchen and Cocktails, which offers the deal on Sundays, stands out for its crazy-good Southern-inflected dishes. The breezy Cape Coral cottage churns out puffy cathead biscuits topped with fried chicken and peppered honey, plus fried green tomatoes, grits, apple fritters and more, all executed at the highest levels. Both Timeless – an MHK Eatery in Naples and Gather on a marina in Cape Coral take cocktailing seriously, as evidenced by their full-court press for boozy brunches on weekends during season. Timeless goes big on both Saturday and Sunday, and Gather serves brunch on Saturday but saves its all-out interpretation (read: bottomless mimosas, extended hours) for Sunday. That’s not to mention the restaurants’ memorable spins on classic eats—the salted-toffee-drizzled banana custard French toast at Timeless and the Greek yogurt-lemon zest pancakes at Gather are to-die-for.
Last but not least is Third Street South stalwart Ridgway Bar & Grill, which is as much a fabric of Naples as the pier is. Chef-owner Tony Ridgway has been cooking for more than 40 years in town, and he has a special drink menu just for brunch cocktails on Saturday and Sunday to go with his famous sticky buns (he also owns the pastry shop next door, Tony’s Off Third) and a ricotta-ratatouille omelet (the ricotta is also made there). As mentioned above, Society, with its focus on being the life of the party, also has a cocktail menu with choice libations just for brunch. So, too, does an excellent new Naples restaurant, The Claw Bar. And we just can’t say how much we admire the whimsicality of The Eatery by Ryan’s popsicle mimosas—they are as they sound, with a popsicle dunked in the glass and garnished with gummy bears at this laidback, shoebox-size Fort Myers café.
The Buffet Brunch
Seafood spread at Tarpon Bay (Courtesy 2018 Hyatt Hotels Inc.)
For the most insanely over-the-top Sunday seafood spread, you want Tarpon Bay, a scenic lakeside spot in the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa. It has a unique setup: You choose an entrée such as challah avocado toast, biscuits with (brace yourself) alligator gravy, a Spanish skillet or rhubarb crepe. And then, for $49 per person, you get live jazz, bottomless mimosas and endless picks of ice-cold towers of crab legs, oysters on the half-shell, peel-and-eat shrimp and sushi, as well as carbs like muffins and bread. In a similar spirit, Fish Tale Grill in Cape Coral has launched an affordable all-you-can-eat Sunday Funday that features chafers filled with hot brunch favorites (bacon! eggs! pancakes!), alongside chilled seafood and baked goods.
The Big Kahuna (with an appropriately hefty price tag), however, comes only several times during the year, at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. On Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, the hotel busts out its cannons with pretty much anything you can possibly think of to eat, from prime rib to platters of charcuterie to pies both sweet and savory. There are a few other Naples restaurants that dip their toes in the brunch buffet pool on holidays as well, such as Bistro La Baguette and Tartine & Tartelette, and almost all major hotels. Angelina’s Ristorante in Bonita Springs also opens on Easter and Mother’s Day with prix fixes.
Herschel latte with marshmallow, pecan, caramel and Nutella at Bullig Coffee & Bites
Casual cafés serving breakfast daily abound on the Gulfshore, and many serve it all day (until close, which is usually 3 p.m.) breakfast. Two that have opened in the past year are standouts: The Rooster Food & Drink and Skinny Dogz Brunchery. Nearly everything you can eat at each will make you want to leave your seat and do a little victory dance. At Skinny Dogz, the biscuit-based Benedicts and build-your-own chicken and waffles (your choice of waffle batter, sauce, butter and wings or breast meat fried to a crisp) are enough alone for Neapolitans to plan a trek to the Gateway section of Fort Myers. As for The Rooster near downtown Naples, the grits are so thick, so creamy, so flavorful on their own, but when topped with pulled pork that could be shredded with a fork, salsa verde and a poached egg, you’re sinking your teeth into a match made in brunching heaven. Another leader that has risen to the top of this category in just short of a year is Artisan Eatery, which is not too far a drive from Skinny Dogz on Daniels Parkway. Order diner-style at the counter and grab one of the scant 30 seats, and mentally prepare yourself to cut into some of the best waffles (red velvet, anyone?) and savory dishes (pastrami hash with pepperoncini aioli?) around. Breakfast wraps up at 11 a.m. weekdays but goes until 2 p.m. on weekends (it’s also open daily for dinner). When it comes to thinking outside of the breadbox, Poached in Naples and Bonita Springs is dependable for delightful pancake stacks and French toasts with every permutation and theme imaginable—and the same is true for the homespun Hart & Soul Café in Cape Coral that also exudes an inimitable charm.
A trio of French cafés in Naples—one that specializes in crepes, Café Gourmand, and the other two with strong bakery operations, La Colmar Bakery & Bistro and Grain de Café—leads you to see rosé at the top of the morning. Coffee at all three is strong, just like overseas.
Blueberry and lemon pancakes with bacon and hashbrown biscuit; slow-cooked pulled pork and grits with salsa verde and poached egg; and biscuits at The Rooster (Photo by Erik Kellar)
Java snobs will also want to check out two other Euro hits, the new Bullig Coffee & Bites in Fort Myers and Dolce & Salato in Naples. Bullig not only has lovely and strong(!) lattes, but also makes mean Nutella waffles and healthier fare like avocado toast, whereas tucked behind Fifth Avenue South is the latter tiny cappuccino hideaway with frittatas and Italian pastries. Same goes for Café YOU, an Australian-style café in Cape Coral with an espresso bar, bakery and newly expanded restaurant.
Jane’s will always be among anyone’s favorites in Naples for a daily fix of eggs and bacon. Another scenic spot in Bonita with culinary chops is the Garden Café. Simple yet absolutely delectable, the elevated brunch fare is bar none (note: almost all seats are outside).
For the most classic retro rise-and-shine, look no further than Joe’s Diner in North Naples. With probably the best recipe for sausage gravy in the entire region, it’s no wonder it’s the base of several breakfast samplers, where it’s poured over biscuits and capped with runny eggs, sausage and bacon to boot. Crave in Fort Myers also sticks to the basics, yet pretty much everything down to the pastrami and corned beef is maniacally made in-house by its talented chef-owner Sean Gavin. (Speaking of biscuits, Mom’s Restaurant of both Fort Myers Beach and Cape Coral and The Heavenly Biscuit of Fort Myers Beach take their reputations on the flakiest discs around. Mom’s also does a great cinnamon roll; other exceptional ones are found at the Angelic Desserts bakery in Naples and Restoratives Café in Estero).