Todd Johnson is ingrained into Naples’ dining heritage. He had his finger in the pot at Chef’s Garden (now Ridgway Bar & Grill), Bistro 821 (the catalyst for Fifth Avenue South’s restaurant renaissance in the 1990s) and Aqua Grill at Waterside Shops (a two-year endeavor many still remember fondly), where he learned from some of the best in the industry: Tony Ridgway, Jesse Houseman and Michael Hernandez. Now, after 24 years split between Fort Myers’ now-shuttered Bistro 41 and Cape Coral’s Rumrunners, he’s back working in his hometown with his first restaurant, Nosh on Naples Bay at Naples Bay Resort & Marina.
The menu collects dishes the chef has perfected through the years and reflects the love he and his wife and business partner, Dana, share for trying different dishes. “This is how Dana and I like to eat when we go out,” he says of the small-plates format. “So, we thought, ‘let’s name it what it is.’”
Attention-grabbers on the globally inspired menu include foie gras topped with apple gelée and seared Hokkaido scallop on sweet corn bisque. Nosh caters to more traditional tastes, too, with standouts like the bluefin Niçoise salad for lunch and the dry-aged duck leg confit and crispy breast duo for dinner.
A convivial, semicircular bar serves craft cocktails and wines selected by Todd, a certified sommelier. Salty, alfresco harbor seating achieves a relaxed, tucked-away environment: “I didn’t want touristy and a lot of foot traffic,” he says. Dana is responsible for the interior makeover of the space, formerly occupied by celebrity chef Art Smith’s 1500 South Restaurant & Bar.
While Nosh is fully born of the Johnsons’ imaginations and talents, Todd is adamant that the chefs he learned from are responsible for this new step (Houseman, of Bistro 821, appears with Todd in a Doug Sampson painting that hangs on the cream-toned walls). “As far as what I learned from Tony, Mike and Jesse, I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for all three of them,” he says.