Culinary Debuts

Naples’ New Mediterranean Gem is in East Naples

After wooing Neapolitans with her Hotel Escalante and Veranda E, Mary Brandt debuts the transportive The MED restaurant in the Bayshore Arts District.

BY May 1, 2023
(Photography by Brian Tietz)

My first trip through The MED’s azure front door marks my umpteenth time visiting the Bayshore Arts District. This moment feels as familiar as it does new. My partner and I sit at the table, where we clasp flutes of bubbly. We toast, sip, and I close my eyes, losing myself in memory. The sunset’s golden hues spread across the cozy-cute dining room, sun warming my skin, and my mind shuffles through familiar scenes from the past when I felt the same sensation: Sprawling in the sun on a lazy river in San Antonio, sipping a cup of tea in a San Francisco cafe, laying on my grandmother’s heated kitchen floor in Ohio while she dozes in the other room.

This is Mary Brandt’s ode to Mediterranean flavors. Mary and her right-hand man, chef Tommy Francavilla, opened the restaurant in October in buzzy Bayshore. In the last few years, the area has undergone a radical revitalization: Rebecca Maddox turned the neighborhood into a bonafide dining destination with Three60 Market, her food truck-filled Celebration Park, and now, with her upcoming Rebecca’s Wine Bar & Market and private club The Maddox.

The MED marks the next evolution in Bayshore’s culinary legacy, and the restaurant reads as much as a love letter to food as it does to those comforting moments slumbering inside us. Because they touch on all the senses, meals often lock in moments or feel nostalgic, even if they don’t directly tie to a specific time or place but rather a feeling.

Tommy draws on this idea for his menu, which is informed by his native Italy and generations of Francavillas. Passed-down recipes find their way into classic and modernized takes on culinary traditions from the Mediterranean. Dishes, like the aubergine parmigiana (which Tommy loads with beef, veal and pork, just like his family taught him), lean heavily on Italian and Greek flavors. You’ll also find other inspirations from Tommy’s more than 35 years working in hospitality around the world, learning to speak five languages, and even serving the British royal family while working in London restaurants. But every dish—whether the Spanish gazpacho or the tony version of a favorite camp treat on the dessert menu (more on that later)—ties back to evocative flavors or themes.

I dig into Tommy’s Fiocchi allo Zola (pear-stuffed pasta topped with freshly grated nutmeg and finished in a silky Gorgonzola béchamel—the sauce is a family recipe) as the sun sets and the amber flush of candlelight dimly illuminates the space, making us rely on our other senses. I’m finely attuned to the sound of dining room manager Ciro Costanza carving through the crackling skin of a chicken, roasted with black truffle, tableside. My partner and I take in the show as the conscientious staff navigates the room in harmony. Tommy and Mary conduct the whole experience as if leading an orchestra, taking diners through moments of meals shared and cementing new memories.

A few weeks after our dinner, I meet with the duo on a breezy morning at Veranda E. Tommy leans toward me, one arm reaching toward Mary as if telling me a secret he wants everyone to know. “I’ll never work for a more generous person in my entire life,” he says of the hospitality doyenne. Mary’s been in the Naples area on and off since 2003 and purchased Hotel Escalante in 2004. She remembers walking down a quiet Naples side street and stumbling on the locale as a sort of kismet. “It reminds me of Europe. It reminds me of Puerto Rico. It reminds me of New Orleans. All of my favorite places,” Mary says. Just off the hotel’s vine-laden brick courtyard, she created Veranda E as an alfresco dining escape with global inspirations. There, surrounded by a burbling fountain and wicker-clad garden, each bite and sight transport you to a dreamy locale.

With The MED, Mary again delivers on her immersive and transportive approach. Inside, a cushy and intimate dining room juxtaposes the convivial outer yard. Before the dinner service, Tommy meanders through the patio toward the onsite aeroponic towers. He plucks fresh rosemary, thyme and tarragon to fold into a mirepoix with his blend of olive oil, which he uses to cover the octopus he confits for nearly four hours before letting it kiss the grill and sending it out. Memories from Mary’s travels make their way onto the menu, too. She recalls a pizza she had in Venice. When she tasted it, Mary knew she had to have the pie on her menu. She contends that Tommy’s recreation—the Bronte-andria-parma A/R, topped with mortadella, burrata and Bronte pistachios—exceeds the original.

There’s a lightheartedness to the restaurant, which comes through in offerings like the s’mores board. Graham cracker squares are propped on marshmallows, with a well of gooey chocolate on one corner of the board and a portable burner on the other, so you can roast the morsels to your heart’s content—another sensory-rich element that burnishes this dinner into our minds.   

Keeping a dream alive takes work, and recreating that dream for others to enjoy takes another level of complexity. But for Mary and Tommy, it is just another day in their paradise—in the heart of our paradise. “We can’t wait to explore the next adventure,” Tommy says. And to create your next memory. 

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