Hook, Line and Sinker: Restaurants to Fall For
The best seafood places in Southwest Florida—whether your tastes are fancy or just plain basic
Snapper over butternut squash at Fish Restaurant
Photo by Vanessa Rogers
Somehow, despite a recession that toppled scores of good restaurants, the Southwest Florida dining scene has exploded in recent years, winning national attention for the high quality and diversity of the cuisines. We’ve seen an influx of Spanish influences, a growing number of places with exquisite technique and, of course, the continuing popularity of Italian food.
But the backbone on which our dining culture is built is still seafood. And that’s a good thing. Any self-respecting coastal community better serve some damn fine fish if it wants to draw repeat visitors. We’ve scoured the best of what Lee and Collier counties have to offer—from the white-tablecloth establishments to those that favor plastic trays—to create this guide to the best seafood you are going to find.
Naples’ affluence breeds certain expectations among its diners. And the most important is the need to sample the very best. A quartet of restaurants—one each on Fourth Avenue South and Third Street South and two in The Village on Venetian Bay—offer the finest catches you are going to find.
If stone crabs are your game, then you have to make a stop at Truluck’s (698 Fourth Ave. S., trulucks.com). The high-end seafood chain has its own crabbing operation off Isles of Capri to ensure a seemingly endless supply of the sweet, succulent claws are on hand at all times during the October-to-May season. Whether you are looking for dungeness crab from the Pacific Northwest or shrimp pulled in off Pine Island, Truluck’s has the best-quality product and knows how to cook it.
On Third Street South, celebrated chef Fabrizio Aielli’s Sea Salt (1186 Third St. S., seasaltnaples. com) started his Florida operation, which now includes Barbatella and a St. Petersburg location. He takes the best ingredients and prepares them with exquisite precision. His swordfish “osso bucco” is flawless, and the whole branzino will draw stares from the other diners who wish they’d ordered it. But don’t sleep on Sea Salt as a great spot for a lazy lunch after shopping on Third Street South. The fish tacos are just about the finest version you are likely to try.
In The Village on Venetian Bay, two local restaurateurs have capitalized on the glorious bay views as the perfect setting for delightful, and delicious, seafood dishes. At Fish Restaurant (4360 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., fishrestaurantnaples.com), Sal Sinzeiri has created one of the most exhaustive seafood menus we’ve ever seen. With a full-scale sushi bar and more than a dozen kinds of fish from tripletail to walleye, there’s certainly going to be a dish for everyone. And don’t miss the chilled shellfish towers, which overflow with oysters, shrimp, clams and more.
Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar (4270 Gulf Shore Blvd. N., baysideseafoodgrillandbar) is really three restaurants in one. There’s a casual downstairs bar area where you can snack on fried grouper sandwiches and barbecue-glazed shrimp. The main dining area is more sophisticated with bouillabaisse and miso-glazed sea bass. And then there’s the outdoor bar and patio, where you can get some of everything and take in the glorious view.
In Lee County, two upscale seafood experiences stand out above the rest. At Fort Myers Beach’s Fresh Catch Bistro (3040 Estero Blvd., freshcatchbistro.com), you have expansive Gulf views paired with exquisite seafood. Try the Key lime Caribbean jerk-spiced mahi-mahi or the grouper caprese for flavors you aren’t going to find anywhere else in Southwest Florida.
If you love oysters, you have to check out the Blue Pointe Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill (13499 SE Cleveland Ave., bluepointerestaurant. com) in Fort Myers. Blue Pointe serves a rotating selection of super-fresh oysters from around the country, plus other seafood classics such as lemon sole and blackened swordfish.
A few spots in Southwest Florida offer the option of taking a fresh piece of fish home or settling in to let someone else do the cooking for you.
In the past year, Fish Tale Grill (1229 SE 47th Terrace, fishtalegrill.com) has become the go-to place for the best seafood in Cape Coral. Located next to Merrick’s Seafood market, the plan was originally to open up a little lunch spot. But it kept growing and the quality of the food kept folks coming back. Now people can’t get enough of dishes such as scallops with caviar and bourbon salmon.
In Naples, Swan River Seafood (3741 U.S. 41 N., swanriverseafood.com) sells the highest-quality shellfish from around the country by day and by night and serves them up at its boat bar. You also need to try the perfectly cooked scallops and seared tuna, and, if you don’t like seafood, they make a pretty good steak, too.
The Prawnbroker Restaurant and Fish Market (13451 McGregor Blvd., Suite 16, prawnbroker.com) finds creative ways to serve whatever seafood comes to its Fort Myers location. So you might get monkfish cooked like a lazy man’s lobster or deep-fried Louisiana oysters. Regardless, it will be fresh and affordable, as the menu items rarely top $25.
All those Boston transplants have brought down more than funny accents and Red Sox hats. They brought their seafood traditions, too.
Probably my favorite seafood place in Southwest Florida is Steamers of Naples (5317 Airport-Pulling Road). No one fries seafood better, with a batter that’s almost tempura-light but brings a satisfying crunch. Steamers has all the New England classics: chowder, lobster rolls and the namesake clams. But don’t miss the lobster fish and chips, with batter-fried hunks of glorious lobster meat paired with fries or the famous onion rings. Oh, and be prepared to wait. Steamers doesn’t take reservations.
Relatively new to the Naples seafood game is Bill’s Seafood and Steak (4221 E. U.S. 41, seafoodrestaurantnaples.com). But the restaurant has wasted little time making waves. You might have heard about the massive 9-pound lobsters they serve. But if you focus on that you’ll miss the real gems, like a classic clam boil—loaded with clams, mussels, potatoes, corn, sausage and more—or the loaded raw bar. The exhaustive five-page dinner menu is certain to have a dish for everyone at the table.
Like many excellent restaurants in our area, Clam Bake (16520 S. U.S. 41, clambakefortmyers.com) is located in a pretty nondescript strip mall. But the humble facade belies the bountiful seafood feast awaiting within. As expected, there is a traditional clam bake with lobster, steamers, cod, potatoes, carrots, onions and sausage, steamed with Atlantic Ocean seaweed to give it a little extra briny flavor. You also don’t want to miss the fried Ipswich clams, which might be the best version we’ve tried, ever.
The Cape Cod Fish Company (15501 Old McGregor Blvd., capecodfishco.com) knows not everyone prefers a lobster roll served the same way. So this delightful little dive offers them three ways. You can slam back a classic with the big lumps of meat tossed in butter, herbs and mayo. You can get it “Connecticut style” with the meat sautéed in butter with Old Bay and lemon juice. Or you can go naked with simply the beautiful lobster meat on the toasted roll with drawn butter and mayo on the side. What you can’t go is wrong.
Casual, Fried and Fun
Although the restaurant serves a lot more, including tasty fish tacos and bouillabaisse, the reason most people swear by Grouper and Chips (338 U.S. 41 N., grouperandchips.net) is the fried grouper. Whether you want it on a sandwich or just in a basket with fries, it’s hard to imagine getting a better version anywhere in Naples.
Probably the most popular seafood place in Southwest Florida, Pinchers Crab Shack (a local chain with six locations in Lee and Collier counties, pinchersusa.com) is home to some of the freshest fish you are going to find. That’s thanks to owning their own fishing operation. So whether you want tasty fried grouper or jumbo stone crab claws, you’ll know they were hauled in from local waters not long before. And with a fun, casual atmosphere, it doesn’t matter if you drip a little butter sauce on your shirt.
Pete’s Fish & Chips (311 Del Prado Blvd. S., petes-fish-chips.com) serves a few other British specialties—pasties and savory pies to name two—but the reason to get on the road to Cape Coral is the beer-battered, deep-fried Atlantic cod and thick fries. Splash on a little malt vinegar and tuck in to crispy flaky delight.
A Naples classic for more than 60 years, Kelly’s Fish House (1302 U.S. 41 E., kellysfishhousediningroom.com) is the oldest restaurant in Naples. And it’s still serving the same tasty, Florida-caught fish that it was six decades ago. From local stone crabs to frog legs from the Everglades to mahi mahi from the Keys, Kelly’s always has fresh seafood prepared simply to capture the flavor. No Naples visit is complete without a stop at Kelly’s for a bite overlooking the water.