Grappino, Naples; Photo by Tina Sargeant

Taste


Buzzy Debuts: Grappino, Chops and the Roots of Society

Grappino, Naples

With the opening of Grappino, a grappa-themed restaurant and bar (stocking more than 80 kinds of the Italian spirit), Fabrizio Aielli has officially created a formidable dining empire. For his fourth restaurant in Naples, he took over the lofty, light-filled former home of Timeless on U.S. 41, and added whimsy to the contemporary setting, with details like the Murano glass balloons strung on transparent fishing wire from the ceiling. The menu is built around two pillars: a top-of-the-line brick pizza oven that affords a thicker, pillowy dough (it almost has the consistency and presentation of focaccia) and an algebraic equation of possible pasta combinations. There are 13 types of noodles (nine of which are made in-house) and 13 sauce and topping permutations to choose from—you do the math.
Photo by Tina Sargeant

 

Chops City Grill, Naples

When Skip Quillen debuted Chops City Grill on Fifth Avenue in 1997, it was a revelation—an upscale steak house with a full raw bar and sushi. And while the kitchen remained on the cutting edge, with Quillen and his team reworking the menu at regular intervals, the dining room had become dated. In late 2019, Quillen gutted the space down to the studs, renovating the restaurant with breathtaking results. Rich lavender drapes, plush velvet banquettes, deep wood paneling and delicate crystal chandeliers weave together for a sumptuous experience that matches the gravitas of the menu. The latter was also refreshed to offer not only top domestic cuts of beef from farms like Idaho’s Snake River but also wagyu from Australia and Japan. Prime rate, all around.
Photo by Tina Sargeant

 

The Roots of Society, Fort Myers 

Chef Harold Balink has been a fixture in Lee County for so long that whenever someone says the name Harold, it’s assumed they’re speaking of him. He’s opened five restaurants over the years, each significant in its own way. Usually he focuses his energy on one place before creating the next. His current bistro, Harold’s, a jewel box of a space with a scant 32 seats, only opens Wednesday to Saturday night. So when friend Brad Cozza approached him to help relaunch Society as The Roots of Society earlier this year, Balink jumped on board. He rewrote all of the menus for both the main dining room and the Tree House rooftop bar, putting an emphasis on rib-sticking comfort (a pressed cheeseburger with white cheddar and barbecue sauce is a highlight) and quality ingredients (the herb-roasted chicken comes straight from a pasture at the nearby Circle C Farm). When he’s not at Harold’s, he’s in the Society kitchen, where he and Cozza have also brought in two other experienced chefs—Marbin Avilez, formerly of Firestone Grill and Miguel Guzman, of Balink’s past eatery Cru—to keep the trains running the rest of the week. Happy hour just got a lot more interesting. —Dorothea Hunter Sönne. Photo by Vanessa Rogers