If you had asked me several years ago if I wanted to go to the Naples Grande Beach Resort for dinner my instant reaction, would have been a tepid, “Really?” I don’t have an aversion to hotel restaurants. Two of my all-time favorite spots are Baleen at LaPlaya and Dusk at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples. But that copper-topped tower at the end of Seagate Drive has had a parade of owners shuffling in and out since it opened in the mid-’80s. Hooking the year-round crowd never seemed to be much of a priority.
But all of that has changed drastically—especially with the resort’s signature restaurant, The Catch of the Pelican. Northwood Hospitality, which purchased the hotel in 2013, has proven to be a master of the long game. The group debuted The Catch in 2015 as part of an $18-million renovation, which included a sleek design update and a new herb garden. Then this spring, the team hired respected Naples chef Mounir Loqmane, and added an over-the-top weekend brunch.
Locals are starting to catch on. One afternoon in May, my family and I grabbed a table
overlooking the mangrove thicket. It was just the three of us—me, my husband and our daughter—and Curtis, an affable and attentive waiter who remembered our daughter’s name after one visit.
We wound up returning twice more for brunch and once for dinner with various guests. Each time, there was a marked increase in foot traffic, and we vowed to make reservations for future visits.
At brunch, a complimentary pastry tray offers interpretations of retro classics. My 5-year-old snatched a cream-filled chocolate cake that, having grown up in a gourmet home, she didn’t recognize as a fancy version of Ho Hos. The adults were more impressed by the bloody Mary bar—$14 per glass or $35 for bottomless—that comes with the option of vodka or tequila, eight salt rims and two house mixers: a traditional red and a sharper green tomatillo. Then, you get more than 70 chilled toppings, like cornichons, feta cubes and artichokes, and trays of hot nibbles, such as miniature beef empanadas and bacon. Squeeze as much as you can onto a skewer and call it what it is: an appetizer in a glass.
We shied away from the “bottomless” option to save space for the mains, which included eggs Benedict with a plump crab cake atop a slice of brioche ($22) and a mountain of custard-stuffed French toast ($18) blanketed by a mélange of macerated berries.
On a dreadfully rainy Friday in July, we went back for dinner. Loqmane had been appointed the new executive chef a few weeks earlier. The Moroccan chef’s resume reads like a cheat sheet to the best of Southwest Florida dining: He spent nearly three years as a sous chef at the Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurant Bleu Provence, half a decade at U.S.S. Nemo (arguably the top seafood restaurant in the area), and most recently he was the executive chef at the al fresco oasis Veranda E.
His arrival at The Catch was still recent and he had yet to implement his vision, but the hallmarks of quality and creativity one would expect from a chef of his caliber were evident.
I started with the lobster and crab bisque ($10) and was delighted to find the “lump meat” part of the name wasn’t hyperbole: I counted at least 10 knuckles bobbing around. Meanwhile, my husband and mother-in-law split a burrata Caprese ($13). I eyed with envy as they shared the salad with “pearls” of balsamic vinegar. Eventually, I stole a few bites and found the tiny, tangy explosions were a foil for the halved heirloom tomatoes and their frisée nest.
We enjoyed our entrees with equal gusto. My spiced shrimp bowl ($33) benefitted from a jerk seasoning tempered with melted butter and a fresh mango salsa. A 12-ounce New York strip ($39) was intriguingly coated in an herbaceous chimichurri sauce that enhanced the steak’s natural juiciness. It rested upon a creamy puree of sweet plantains.
We ended the night with a chocolate tart trio ($14): rose water-infused white custard, milk chocolate and cherry, and a refreshing dark chocolate-mint.
In the past, we’d overlooked this gem just down the street from our house. But now, with Loqmane at the helm, the restaurant exceeds expectations. And we’re glad to know we have plenty of reasons to return as the chef continues to unveil new surprises.