Delicious Finds

Food-Loving Designer Dwayne Bergmann Dishes on His Favorite Lee County Restaurants

When he's not designing multimillion-dollar manses in SWFL, Gulfshore Life advisory board member Dwayne Bergmann is often out checking out one great restaurant or another. Here's where he goes for stellar meal close to home.

BY May 1, 2024
Azure Fort Myers Best Dining in Lee County
Interior designer Dwayne Bergmann has a not-so secret obsession with food, and Azure’s cuisine hits the spot. The South Fort Myers joint’s menu blends classic French fair with Mediterranean spice. (Photo by Christina Bankson)

Dwayne Bergmann is used to discussing tile and lighting, area rugs and ceiling finishes, and satin versus matte paints. He has dealt with these subjects since opening Dwayne Bergmann Interiors in Fort Myers in 2013.

But, when he’s not poring over fabric samples or picking wood stains, Dwayne has another love: food—and he has strong opinions about the best places to enjoy a meal around Lee County. “The culinary experience here has evolved significantly, especially over the last three to five years,” he says. “When I started coming to Fort Myers 20 years ago, it was quite challenging to find much of anything beyond the typical offerings.”

By “typical,” Dwayne means pizza, pasta, burgers, fried shrimp and lots and lots of chain restaurants. That was the Lee dining scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Now, he sees an abundance of options, a diverse range of culinary talent and oh so many wonderful restaurants to which he is eager to return.

While his background is in design, the food is what matters most to Dwayne at restaurants. “There has to be good food—then, service,” he says. “If a restaurant can do both well, then I’ll certainly be back.”

High on Dwayne’s list of local favorites is the tiny but mighty Azure. At this South Fort Myers restaurant, owners Eddy Garces and Lee Riley treat their customers like close friends. Azure’s menu blends classic French fare—coq au vin, escargot, frisée salad—with dashes of Mediterranean spice in the form of paella, marinated olives and a Moroccan-braised leg of lamb that Azure’s kitchen twirls with house-made ribbons of pappardelle.

Another South Fort Myers restaurant layering great food with great service is Osteria Celli. “It is a very underplayed location,” he says of chef Marco Corricelli’s 9-year-old locale, which sits at the end of a Publix-anchored shopping plaza on Summerlin Road. “He has such a loyal following. No matter the day, there’s always a nice hum of people in there.” The branzino and salmon are two of Dwayne’s favorites. “And the pastas, of course, are incredible,” he adds.

For a broader array of seafood dishes, the designer ventures across the Caloosahatchee River to Cape Coral’s Lobster Lady Seafood Market & Bistro, a New England-inspired spot that Dwayne says has the bustling vibe of an Old Florida fish house and “the best lobster we have in this market.”

When his seafood cravings lean raw, Dwayne’s go-to is Maks Asian Kitchen & Sushi on Fiddlesticks Boulevard in South Fort Myers. Here, brothers and veteran sushi chefs Billy and Kevin Mak craft vibrant rolls from perfectly seasoned rice and plate glistening slivers of salmon and hamachi alongside exquisite hunks of otoro—bluefin tuna belly, marbled pink with fat.

While Maks also offers Mongolian tofu and fried rice dotted with shrimp, scallops and pineapple, Dwayne opts for the simplicity of sashimi. “You need fresh, high-quality fish for sashimi to be good, and Maks is the very best,” he says.

Dwayne’s top pick for sashimi, Maks Asian Kitchen & Sushi in Fort Myers, serves up prime cuts. “You need fresh, high-quality fish for sashimi to be good, and Maks is the very best,” he says. (Photo by Scott McIntyre)

For a more casual taste of Asia, Dwayne heads to the nearby Thai Star. Wedged between a smoothie joint and a pizza chain, Thai Star is a restaurant you really have to look for to find. But the search will be worth it, thanks to the velvety curries and a coconut noodle soup Dwayne calls “to die for.”

While all of Dwayne’s picks are tucked into strip malls or plazas, some spots outshine others. Such is the case for Liberty, where cousins and chefs Bob and Richee Boye have turned this 30-seat South Fort Myers space into one of the area’s hottest reservations, with an inventive and ever-changing menu of small, shareable plates.

And then, there is Harold’s, a longtime Dwayne favorite from long-beloved local chef Harold Balink. Dwayne appreciates the chef’s farm-to-table ethos and the simple (yet perfectly executed) dishes that allow quality ingredients to shine. “I think everyone knows it by now, but Harold is just incredible,” Dwayne says. “He’s one of the chefs that really changed the dining scene here for the better.”   

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