While the rest of the nation was enjoying summer dining in the safety of the great outdoors, we Southwest Floridians were sweating it out. Literally. Now, as November creeps in with a crisp, cool attitude, the time is ripe for alfresco dining.
Our area knows no shortage of restaurants with garden patios, water views and cool fall breezes. And, with social distancing measures encouraging more restaurateurs to up the ante on their outdoor dining offerings, our prospects are only getting more attractive. (We’re looking at you Vincenzo Betulia—in addition to turning the breezeway at The French into a cocktail cafe, this summer, the restaurateur leased the parking lot near his Fifth Avenue South restaurants to accommodate more tables outside of his Bar Tulia locale). Here, we present three other favorites for alfresco dining, in a variety of styles and locations.
Dine with Toes in the Sand at The Turtle Club, Vanderbilt Beach
Picture this: Whiffs of salt air seasoning fresh seafood delivered to tables planted directly in the sand and shaded by a jaunty set of market umbrellas. The boom-swish of gentle waves provides the orchestration for your meal, whether lunch or dinner. And an extravagant sunset creates diamond, topaz and aquamarine gems on the water’s surface at the end of the day. The Turtle Club might just take the crown for representing the height of outdoor feasting in the region.
The Vanderbilt Beach Resort restaurant has been a splendid Naples dining tradition since 1998. There’s seating in the indoor dining room, which has walls of wood paneling and glassed-in wine displays. But this time of year, it’s the beach setting that reels in avid fans. Belying its casual ambiance, The Turtle Club’s refined cuisine sets the hook. Some of the restaurant’s signature dishes have survived since the beginning, perhaps most famously the Shrimp & Crab Napoleon salad with smoked tomato vinaigrette and mango salsa at lunch, the Pan-Seared Lowcountry Gulf Shrimp and Sausage boil or The Sea Harvest medley for dinner, and Oysters “Turtlefeller” with baby spinach, Pernod, cream, apple-smoked bacon and Parmesan as an appetizer any time of day.
“Many first-time guests try our restaurant because of our amazing views of the sunset,” Turtle Club’s general manager Curtis McCreary says. But everyone returns time and again for the outstanding food and hospitality.
Escape into the Lush Courtyard at Veranda E, Naples
There are few places that will make you feel more sequestered and special than this open-air garden tucked within The Escalante hotel’s secret folds. At breakfast, weekend brunch and lunch, take in the private poolside vibe amid riotous greenery, topiaries and blooms, and the peace-inducing sounds of the stone fountains. In the evening, twinkling lights set the scene aglow with subdued festivity at tables scattered across stone pavers under the pergola, canopy or stars.
Driving along bustling Fifth Avenue South, one could easily miss this hideaway, but those who find it return often for the menu’s unique brand of global haute cuisine.
Join fellow connoisseurs for the popular 4-6 p.m. Social Hour menu, with small bites that range from almond-encrusted grouper sliders to the beignets du jour, along with sips from the restaurant’s renowned wine cellar. Or arrive prepared for seismic specialties off the ever-evolving dinner menu, embellished with pickings from The Escalante’s sustainable organic garden: Asian pear and greens salad with tarragon vinaigrette, tableside filleted snapper for two with spicy lemongrass and citrus-ginger peanut sauce, and shrimp and grits with Creole bacon sauce, for instance.
Catch the Rooftop River Views at Perch 360, Punta Gorda
Poolside and six stories up, Perch 360 atop The Wyvern Hotel has earned its “place to be seen” status. But it’s also the place to see. Scope the Peace River and all the way across it to Port Charlotte. Turn around, and look over charming, historic downtown Punta Gorda, with its vintage buildings and unmistakable air of pedigreed small town.
Three basket-like cabanas provide spaces for gathering together in groups of up to 12 people. Outside, umbrellas shade wooden tables (warmed in the winter evenings by glowing fire pits) and high tops pressed along waterfront railings.
Basil, rosemary and other herbs grow in planters to be snipped for the bar’s always-changing repertoire of craft cocktails. Like its drinks, Perch 360’s salads, tapas, sandwiches, tacos and flatbreads are made fresh from locally sourced ingredients. Some staff recommendations: shrimp-and-sweet potato tacos with sun-dried tomato aioli and crispy chicken thigh sandwiches with avocado ranch and truffle-smoked Gouda fondue.
Photography by Brian Tietz & Courtesy The Turtle Club, Veranda E, Perch 360