At the end of a long day, there is nothing like sitting down with a big plate of hot food surrounded by friends and family. Food speaks to your soul. While the trendy, gourmet restaurants have their place; there is something to be said for homestyle cooking, homestyle serving and a good old homey vibe. Whether its biscuits and gravy, pot roast, a big plate of pasta or a giant piece of pie, everyone has a dish that can magically melt all your cares away after just one bite.
Comfort food, although not always healthful for the body, is always healthful for the soul. At Old 41 the owners aim to serve foods that remind you of home, no matter where that is, geographically speaking. And they make no excuses for the extra cream, butter and cheese that makes some dishes oh sooooo good.
The national restaurant Buca de Beppo is great for big parties and celebrations. The food is served in the traditional family-style. Big bowls and platters are put in the middle of the table so everyone can dig-in. Don't skip dessert! The place is full of laughter and fun memorabilia.
If you want that homestyle feeling, try one of these 10Best restaurants on for size. Warning, you will need to loosen that belt a notch or two.
At most Korean BBQ places, you cook your own meats and vegetables. That's not the case at Koreana. Similar to a Japanese-style hibachi but with individual grills, your Korean specialties are cooked for you by the expert staff. Gather the family, sit around the burners while trying the traditional dishes of bulgogi and galbi, and enjoy multiple sides of specialties such as kimchee, veggies, potatoes and more. Not limited to the variety of BBQ meat choices, your party can order Korean soups, stews, noodles, rice and more, for a healthful meal. A sister restaurant to the popular sushi bar, Origami, ensures rolls and sashimi are also done right. (239-433-0508)
The food philosophy at Old 41 is to serve the stuff you grew up with, regardless of it's health benefits. Want creamed chipped beef like Grandma used to make? You'll find it here, along with sausage gravy, roast beef and true Texas Toast. The Philly Cheesesteak wins local awards year after year. Have you ever seen the Pennsylvania Dutch classic, scrapple, on a restaurant menu? You'll find it at Old 41 where they serve breakfast all day. The Belgium waffles are huge and the French toast is cooked just right. The portions are big, the prices are low and the service is inviting (239-948-4123)
Mel's Diner has been serving home cooked comfort food for nearly thirty years and has expanded to five locations in the Fort Myers area to meet the demand. You don't have to wait until Thanksgiving to get a satisfying meal of freshly roasted turkey with cranberry stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy. Other specialties include meatloaf, liver and onions, corn beef and cabbage and BBQ baby back ribs. Don't miss the Friday fish fry and the roasted pork special on Sunday. And if that's not enough to warm your belly, all meals are served with Mel's famous chicken noodle soup: good as Mama's. (239-275-7850)
Just over the Caloosahatchee Bridge, across from downtown Fort Myers, you'll find the Go-Go Diner in a strip mall next to a Bingo Hall. The chef and owner is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who has made local headlines with his homemade, corned beef hash. The Reuben's are piled high and the juicy burgers are $6.99 for unlimited toppings. For breakfast, the biscuits smothered in a sausage gravy are full of flavor; you can also get the same gravy over hash browns with an egg in the middle. Be sure to order the Red Velvet Pancakes for a sweet treat. They are topped with whipped cream and tiny chocolate chips. Comforting, filling, affordable and fantastic; don't be fooled by the outside appearance. (239-599-8877)
Fancy's Southern Cafe
Sometimes in Florida, it can be easy to forget you're even in the South. A trip to Fancy's Southern Cafe will most certainly remind you. "Southern Sophistication" is the name of the game at Fancy's. Its rustic decor cleverly uses old doors, windows and more. But it's the authentic Southern cuisine that people really come for. Entrees include comfort-food favorites like pot roast, shrimp and grits, and their signature Chicken-n-Waffles, while the appetizers cover classics like fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs and frog legs. Even the traditional salad gets a Southern twist with the addition of "grit croutons." The large portions ensure you'll leave with a full belly, while the warm feeling of a home-cooked meal will ensure your return. (239-561-2988)
Buca di Beppo
Manga Manga! Buca de Bepo serves heaping portions of traditional Italian food in a fun and festive atmosphere. The food comes true family-style, placed in the middle of the table for you to help yourself. Try favorites like eggplant parmigiana, penne alla vodka, stuffed shells, manicotti and meatballs that are as big as your fist. The décor is full of old photos and Italian memorabilia. There is even a "Pope Room" and a "Cardinal Room" for dining, however in this location, there is no table in the kitchen for patrons for sit. Buca de Beppo opened in front of the Edison Mall in March 2013 with a large bar and some outdoor seating. It's an affordable and tasty place to take your family, big or small. (239-332-0957)
Bubba's Roadhouse & Saloon
If you like big portions of meat and BBQ makes you swoon, you need to visit Bubba's. You can see the grill from the dining room, the sparks flying as the chefs expertly tend to steaks like a 25-ounce ribeye. The ribs are award winning and so is the 46-ounce Bubba Rita to wash down the home fixins. Other comfort foods include chicken fried chicken, hand cut French fries, nachos and a grilled cheese, tomato and bacon sandwich. Check out the daily specials such as the all you can eat Fish Fry for $9.99, with soup or salad, Jalapeno cornbread and a side, now that's homestyle. Bubba's also has After Church Specials on Sunday starting at just $6.99 so mom won't have to cook. (239-282-5520)
Offering breakfast seven days a week and all day long, the Oasis Restaurant in downtown Fort Myers has a little bit of everything to offer. The "hangover" omelet is a house specialty with Italian sausage and vegetables covered in melted cheese. The skillet creations aren't far behind and the biscuits and gravy are as good as Grandma's. Other comfort food includes chili, burgers, meatloaf and liver and onions. Good for your belly and your soul, be prepared to be "loved on" by the friendly staff. They give hugs freely, call you sweetie and make you feel like your part of the family. It's no wonder this is a local favorite. (239-334-1566)
Chef Reuben's catering experience, makes him an expert at giving you great food to go or dine in. The fast food is anything but fast quality. Rueben's menu is full of home cookin' comfort foods; the stuff that may not always be good for the waistline but is certainly good for the soul. The mac and cheese is cheesy, the coleslaw is zingy and the beans with bacon will make your eyes roll back. Reuben's has a refrigerator to grab your beverages to go or you can opt for a booth and listen to some country music while you dig in to your ribs. Meat is king at Reuben's; the ribs, brisket, meatloaf and more will make a believer out of you. Then there is the chocolate caramel bread pudding for dessert.....wow. (866-928-2789)
Farmer's Market Restaurant
The Farmers Market is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Lee County, located off the beaten path in an industrial area that you might drive right by. The no frills, homey eatery serves the same big portions and same great quality of a Southern Grandma, and has been doing so since the 1960's. The lunch and dinner specials don't come with one side; they come with THREE for $11.95. You also get a basket of corn bread and rolls. Enjoy comfort food like mashed potatoes and gravy, southern favorites like country fried steak, fried okra and collard greens. You'll need a "to go" box so you can save room for the sinfully good, homemade desserts and pies. (239-334-1687)
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)
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