Dining in Style

Looks aren’t everything, but when it comes to memorable restaurant experiences, there’s a lot to be said for ambiance.

BY March 1, 2020
The Gasparilla Inn and Club Photography by Vanessa Rogers
The Gasparilla Inn and Club (Photography by Vanessa Rogers)

A stylish restaurant can’t compensate for mediocre food, but few things are quite as pleasing as a great meal served up in a charming, thoughtfully designed space. Whether you’re looking for an intimate location for a milestone date or a welcoming space to catch up with friends, the area is spotted with inspiring spaces that don’t compromise on taste or style. We’re talking about those wow-worthy locales, like the recently arrived Tesoro at JW Marco Island Beach Resort, where the modernist interiors match the seafood-centric menu, and Campiello, where the courtyard deserves its own study in creating good vibes. Here are three other gorgeous restaurants whose praiseworthy style stretches from the back to the front of the house.  

SAILS, Downtown Naples

One might be wary of the decor in a place that takes its inspiration from the nautical world, but the simply named Naples eatery demonstrates an impressively subtle interpretation of the time-trusted (often-kitsch) theme. 

The Mediterranean restaurant’s eggshell walls and prominent, marble horseshoe bar bring a dominant warmth to the space, while polished brass and warm leather touches neatly complement the brightness without creating clutter. The restaurant’s open kitchen makes you feel like you’re part of the scene, which evokes the workings of a busy, luxury-liner crew. Beyond that, a glass-doored series of cabinets displays a Eurocentric, 400-plus bottle wine collection and keeps it properly protected from any “rocking” that may occur. More obvious touches—tiny accent sailboats sparingly placed around the bar—nod politely to the theme.

Sails Restaurant Photography by Vanessa Rogers
Sails Restaurant on Fifth Avenue South Naples

The most delightful element of Sails, however, is the private dining space (nicknamed the “Wall of Wines”). Wrapped in the restaurant’s extensive wine collection, it has a deco-casual intimacy and seating for 12, comfortably, or 13, “tightly.” 

It’s a good idea to give Sails a try for brunch, and not just because of the full windows that show off the best of Southwest Florida’s enviable, early spring weather. The current chef de cuisine, Darren Veilleux, was on the restaurant’s original team, and though the menu changes often, one thing that we hope becomes a staple is the Sunday Bubbles Brunch menu. Dishes like a Mediterranean take on avocado toast, with feta and  olives; rich crab lasagna; and a sticky toffee pudding laden with candied pecans are worth a morning voyage.

BARBATELLA, Downtown Naples

Barbatella doubles down on bridging new and old-world Naples, starting with its decor. The main dining room’s rich color palette is warm, evoking hot sand with its brown seating and floors, and seaglass with its bold, textured green walls and ceilings. The casual restaurant’s open floor plan carefully balances industrial and deco touches. Minimalist seating and clean lines around the bar and open kitchen are pleasingly offset by little details in light fixtures and geometric flourishes on the accent walls. 

Barbatella Naples Photography by Vanessa Rogers
Barbatella on Third Street South Naples
The arancini at Barbatella in downtown Naples.

But Barbatella’s arguable centerpiece is also its most important functional element: a roiling, kitchen-dominating pizza oven, shipped in from Naples (the other one) to expertly bake the signature, crispy pizzas. It’s worth considering, as you enjoy one, that the oven had to be lifted in through the roof with a crane. 

In addition to pizza, Barbatella’s menu most successfully focuses on authentic Italian cuisine, but the cocktail menu is catching up, with its inventive drinks featuring amaros in refreshing  ways, like the Sunset on Third, made with tequila, Aperol, St. Germain and grapefruit juice. If you’re the type  that adores dinner and a show, inquire about their Opera Nights, when sopranos perform.

THE GASPARILLA INN & CLUB, Gasparilla Island

The Gasparilla Inn is an essential snapshot of Old Florida: pastel palettes, breezy open spaces and a genteel, marked politeness reverently observed by staff and patrons. 

One of the last bastions of country club service and charm, it’s the sort of place you’ll see tanned faces and hands of all ages emerging from the collars and cuffs of blue blazers. But don’t mistake polish for stuffiness. The resort hasn’t rested on laurels, even as waitlists have become longer over the years. 

With its white tablecloth dining room and vine-covered outdoor seating, The Gasparilla Inn & Club retains its Old Florida charm Photography by Vanessa Rogers
With its white tablecloth dining room and vine-covered outdoor seating, The Gasparilla Inn & Club retains its Old Florida charm
The restaurant’s salmon roe on cucumber.

The main dining room, despite a fondness for tradition, features locally sourced ingredients: stone crab claws, grass-fed Florida beef, and pan-roasted black grouper are among the highlights. And like the restaurant itself, the wine program is impressive, storied with accolades and touting significant depth across regions and vintages.

Should the dining room feel a little too formal for your party (or mood), the main-floor lounge, BZ’s, has a relaxing collection of corners and club chairs arranged around a versatile cypress bar that works just as well for pre-dinner drinks, or as an inviting hangout should you prefer to exchange dinner for light snacks, and a few more rounds. 

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