10 Best Restaurants: Seafood, European and Southern Cuisine Rule the Scene
By Gina Birch
Fort Myers Local Expert
The foodie movement is a growing one in Fort Myers, and the number of high-quality restaurants in the area is increasing to match. While there are plenty of tried and true, long-standing favorites around Fort Myers and the Gulf Islands, there are also a number of new and unique spots popping up to tickle your taste buds.
For a bit of romance and a great sunset, it's worth the winding drive through Sanibel Island to the Mad Hatter. This small, beachside restaurant has a superb menu with service and view to write home about.
Expect Southern hospitality and charm at the well established Veranda in downtown Fort Myers. This is a special occasion, lets linger over a cocktail kind of place. On the flip side at Mad Fresh Bistro you'll find a no-nonsense, just great food kind of atmosphere. The original concept of Mad Fresh was gourmet take-out and even though there are a limited number of counter seats and tables now, the feel is still fast paced.
From the elegance of restaurants in historic or grand buildings, to hidden treasures tucked away in nondescript strip malls, Fort Myers truly delivers on fantastic restaurants for the food lover in everyone.
10 Twisted Vine
Twisted Vine Bistro sits right across from the newly renovated riverfront in downtown Fort Myers. Known for many years as a wine bar, the selection and quality of the fermented juice still rivals any in the Downtown River District. It's not just the wine but also the food that has patrons coming back. Owners have a partnership with a local urban farm to grow seasonal produce for the restaurant. Whatever is not used is donated back to the community. Always tweaking their menu, Twisted Vine chefs consistently serve a spectacular Pork Shank that falls off the bone. The decadent Twisted Burger with brie is a local favorite along with crisp (not soggy) truffle fries. The Twisted Vine has live music, happy hour and special women's wine events to keep things interesting. (2392261687)
Occupying two old homes dating back to 1902 (they were joined by Peter Pulitzer for his long-time fishing buddy, Fingers O'Bannon, in the early 1970s), for years the Veranda has provided a charming atmosphere as well as consistently good cuisine. Specializing in regional flavors and seafood, a restaurant favorite is artichoke fritters stuffed with blue crab. The personal yet professional service will enhance your dining experience whether you choose to eat indoors or out. The Veranda's lounge is a favorite with the downtown legal crowd. You'll often find live music here, the type one might expect from a sophisticated establishment. A favorite special occasion place, the Veranda is the perfect place for romance and quiet conversation. (239-332-2065)
8 Mad Fresh Bisto
A warning on the menu at Mad Fresh Bistro both delights and scares patrons, don't ask for 'ketsup', or salt. Trust the chef on this admonition, he is and an avid runner who likes to create the perfect combination of health and decadence in his dishes. The flatbreads are big enough for two or three and the Parisian is always impressive; grilled flank steak with a tarragon salad, topped with a mound of truffle fries. The charcuterie plates are filled with high quality meats, cheeses and other treats. Always check the specials scribed on the chalkboard, they can run out fast. The wines offered are great values and change often. Dining here is close quarters and can get loud, but no one seems to mind much because the food is impeccably prepared and presented, time and time again. Mad Fresh is also open for lunch. ((239) 362-2363)
7 Misto Bar & Grill
Misto is one of those white linen table cloth, tucked in a strip mall kinda places that foodies long to find. Misto means diverse in Italian and while Chef and owner, Jeorge Lanese, is well known for his Italian expertise, he has branched out at this location with dishes like Seafood Napolean; diver scallops, blue crab stuffed shrimp wrapped in smoked bacon with a hoisin orange and Thai chili sauce over rice. The rich risotto cakes are layered with mozzarella and pesto, over an amazing veal Ragu. The rolls have a crisp but delicate surface with pillowy goodness underneath and all of it is made from scratch. Many regulars rebuff the menu, instructing the chef to send out something amazing, which he does. Misto serves lunch and has a small bar but it fills up fast, just like the dining room. ((239) 673-9799)
6 La Trattoria Cafe Napoli
Regulars refer to the restaurant as 'Gloria's', after chef/owner Gloria Jordan. She is passionate about food, wine, music and life in general; this passion is evident in her establishment. She is seen more often on the floor these days, than in the kitchen, working the room in sassy high heels and fashionable dresses. Gloria is Cuban but has worldwide experience and training, explaining the many flavors and cuisines she is able to bring together. This is the only true tapas bar in Fort Myers, serving delicious bites like plums stuffed with Gorgonzola, wrapped in Proscuitto then baked. And tender pork ribs tossed in a Mojo Isleno sauce. The Roast Suckling Pig is quite a treat; serving eight or more, it must be ordered in advance. ((239) 931-0050)
5 CRU Restaurant
Cru is a place to see and be seen in Fort Myers with a hip indoor bar, a casual outside bar and a classy dining room, all serving freshly sources and prepared food. The chefs are constantly updating the menu with creative seasonal dishes while keeping longtime favorites like spicy crab rolls and truffle fries. The wine list is comprehensive and Cru shows it off by hosting outstanding wine dinners. For a truly unique experience, sit at the chef's table and let the staff prepared special courses just for you. You never know what might come out next but you can be sure it will be amazing. The food is first class and so is the service at Cru. ((239) 466-3663)
4 Mad Hatter
This beach side dining spot has been an island favorite for the perfect combination of food and ambiance, for three decades. With only about a dozen tables, each one has a spectacular view of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The vibe is cozy, with dim lighting and exquisite attention to detail. The menu changes frequently with lots of fish offerings, always a hit, and the bouillabaisse consistently gets rave reviews. Start with a glass of bubbly or another selection from the high-end wine list and perhaps order the foie gras. Other tempting specials include lamb, duck and decadent homemade desserts. Sunset seatings fill up fast so by all means make a reservation. This is a true, waterside gem. (239-472-0033)
3 Flippers on the Bay
Part of Lovers Key Resort, Flippers On The Bay is a hidden gem between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. The dining is alfresco and more upscale than one might imagine after taking a gander at restaurant on stilts. It's the only spot on the beach giving diners a view of both the sunrise and the sunset, while serving food for both. The chef is full of laughter and you can almost taste that in his food. Try the Lobster Eggs Benedict for breakfast and the Miso Seabass for dinner, it will melt in your mouth. Sitting on the Estero Bay, you still have a clear view of the Gulf of Mexico and it's one of the best spots to see the dolphin show, presented by Mother Nature. This small space fills up fast on the weekends so call ahead for seating. (239-765-1040)
2 Angelina's Ristorante
Angelina's screams elegance from the moment you pull up to the building. In 2013 the Italian restaurant hired Sarah Gruenberg as the consulting executive chef. Gruenberg was runner-up in Bravo's "Top Chef: Texas" competition in 2012. Be sure to try the award winning ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and mascarpone cheese, topped with a citrus tomato butter and truffled almonds. The herb marinated grilled veal chop with black truffle parmesan risotto and fresh Italian black truffles is sensational. So is the Cappesante e Pancetta di Maiale; pan seared scallops, slow roasted pork belly, Yukon gold potato puree and Brussels sprout citrus salad. Wine lovers will go cross-eyed over the 4,000 fantastic selections and the thirty foot wine tower. If you are dressed beach casual, you may find yourself excluded from eating in the dinning room but the bar and patio both have the same great menu and ambience. (2393903187)
1 Sweet Melissa's Cafe
This unique Sanibel restaurant is where foodies go while on the island. Award winning Chef Melissa Talmadge sources local ingredients year-round, for a seasonal menu that leans toward small plates. Her creations are innovative and consistently pleasing. Sweet Melissa's staffers are consummate professionals, and can easily recommend the best wine pairings for your meal. Many nights a week, you can find a local guitarist playing relaxing dinner music. There's an outdoor patio that's lovely for al fresco dining when weather allows and a small, full-service bar. You'll definitely want to secure a reservation for dining in the Winter and Spring tourist seasons. (239-472-1956)
About Gina Birch
Gina carries the rare title of "Native Floridian". Living in Southwest Florida for 22 years, she is a well known, award winning radio and TV personality. Besides brandishing a microphone, Gina is good with a camera and computer, publishing a restaurant guide for Lee County called FLAVOR. Gina is a self-proclaimed Oenophile, traveling to wine regions all over the world to sip what she calls "the nectar of the Gods." When not in the vineyards she loves to explore beautiful beaches and new restaurants. You can find more of her musings in her blog "The Birch Beat" (www.thebirchbeat.blogspot.com)
Read more about Gina Birch here.