One of the most exciting restaurants to debut amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Seventh South Craft Food + Drink in Naples is led by chef Adam Nardis (above) and bartender Barry Larkin. 

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It Takes Two

A perfect flurry of circumstances in an imperfect year led to the chef-bartender collaboration behind Seventh South Craft Food + Drink.

Two blocks away from Fifth Avenue South, the new Seventh South Craft Food + Drink is a short walk from the downtown action, but a languid evening on its bougainvillea-bordered patio can feel like a world away.

The owners are a pair of industry friends: Adam Nardis, who had been the executive chef at M Waterfront Grille for eight years, and Barry Larkin, who most recently was the bar manager at the restaurant that directly preceded theirs in the same location, 7th Avenue Social. The two met through Nardis’ wife, Erin, when she and Larkin helped open The Continental’s bar in 2014.

They were drawn to the space because of the location, which is the first element of its name; the second half is a nod to their mission, and their efforts to bring out the best in each other. The executive chef and bartender teamed up to have the kitchen and bar work in tandem to put an equal emphasis on quality, made-from-scratch cuisine and cocktails. “There are collaborations of kitchen and bar, chef and bar manager, all over bigger cities. It doesn’t then become so front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house. We wanted to idea-share—that’s the main concept of this restaurant,” Nardis says.

Nardis and Larkin aren’t the type to take themselves too seriously; the two  aim for whimsy in what they do. But, “damn, do we focus when we’re making something for a customer,” Nardis says.

They put in a lot of sweat equity over the summer to transform the space, laying bricks to extend the patio area, designing and installing wood wall panels for the interior and sourcing art and furniture that reflect a traditional American brasserie with a modern touch. The food and the drinks came together organically, some inspired by the local ingredients available, such as day-boat fish. What’s reeled in that morning ends up on your plate, served, depending on the season, with perhaps a piquant romesco sauce or a seven-herb pesto. Inspiration also comes from the herb and lettuce garden Colusa Farms helped them install at the restaurant.

The story of how the pair decided to plunge headfirst into restaurant ownership in the middle of  a once-in-a-century pandemic is as much a tale of the interconnectedness of the local dining scene as it is of anything else. You could call it luck, fate or crazy coincidence, but the advent of COVID-19 arguably helped Larkin and Nardis embark on this journey. The two had been on the same trajectory: Each had for years wanted to open his own restaurant. Nardis, who was mentored by Chris and Peter Sereno of M Waterfront Grille since 2005, had been looking at properties for the better part of a decade. Larkin, who dove deep into the world of bespoke cocktailing as the bar manager at The Continental, left there about two years ago. At his interview for the job at 7th Avenue Social, Larkin says he looked its owner Jerry Alajajian in the eye and said, “In two years, I want to own my own restaurant.” Alajajian answered back, “I hope I can help you do that.”

Fast-forward to the pandemic, and Alajajian closed 7th Avenue Social with the intention of reopening in October (he also owns Hogfish Harry’s, another restaurant that opened in 2020 to rave reviews, and Island Gypsy Cafe & Marina Bar). Sensing opportunity amid the global chaos, Larkin called Nardis and asked if he wanted to open a restaurant with him. Oddly enough, Nardis’ wife had a dream a month before that the two had started a restaurant together. He naturally said yes.  Larkin met with Alajajian on July 5 and asked if he’d sell them 7th Avenue Social.  Later that week, the three were meeting to discuss the deal. 

Larkin (top) and Nardis work in tandem to place equal emphasis on the culinary and cocktail offerings. Another standout feature: Seventh South’s late-night service, offering elevated fare until 1 a.m. daily.

 

>> Full story in our May issue

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Photography by Brian Tietz