Restaurants and Red Sox: Dining after the Spring Training Game
By Gina Birch
Fort Myers Local Expert
In 2010 the Boston Red Sox moved their Spring Training home from the quant, old City of Palms Park in the well populated downtown Fort Myers, to JetBlue Park. The new facility has more space and better dining options on site, but its also a lot farther from local restaurants and shopping.
Even so, there are still a number of excellent choices within a five to fifteen minute drive from the so-called Fenway South, which is situated just east of the busy Interstate 75.
About four miles from the park, and just west of I-75, there is a cluster of restaurants ranging from Italian to Asian. And if you want a little downhome cookin’ like grits, frog legs and meatloaf, try the comfort cuisine at Fancy’s Southern Cafe.
A hotspot for both entertainment and dining, about eight miles south of JetBlue Park, is Gulf Coast Town Center. Here baseball fans will find a number of sports bars along with Salado Pedro’s, serving authentic Mexican cuisine with a huge tequila bar and the chic Blu Sushi where you may spot some of your favorite players in their down time.
Whatever direction you drive from the park, one of these 10Best will surely satisfy your culinary cravings, both before and after the game.
There's something about the hand washing station at the front door that gives you an indication this place cares about quality and cleanliness. With 21 burgers on the list, plus salads and an impressive gluten free section, Burger 21 is sure to have something for you. The burgers come from fresh (not frozen) Black Angus, to Ahi tuna, turkey and even black bean. The hand-spun milk shakes come from a proprietary blend, a decadent treat for young and old. Burger 21 is very community minded, giving back in a number of ways, including spirit nights to help raise money for local charities. This fun burger joint is located a short drive south of the stadium at Gulf Coast Town Center. (239-437-8590)
Most of the Italian restaurants in close proximity to JetBlue Park serve pies New York style but Aurelio's it's all about Chicago, from the decor to the food. In fact the restaurant ships 90% of it's ingredients in from the Windy City. The walls are decorated with cityscapes and photos of sports heroes. Aurelio's is deceiving from the outside. It looks like a small, ordinary spot. But once inside, it keeps going and going with seating for more than 200. The full bar and happy hour make this a great spot for adults, the balloon artists on the weekends make it a fun place for the kids as well. Gluten free diners will be happy to know there are selections for you that actually taste great. Aurelio's is at Gulf Coast Town Center, less than fifteen minutes southwest of the stadium. (239-274-8446)
Rock'n Sushi Asian Bistro
Situated in a business park (just five minutes east of the stadium) that bumps up to a golf course, this seems an unlikely spot for a restaurant of any kind. But Rock'n Sushi is just that....rock'n. Not in the rock-n-roll sense, but the sushi sense. Try the Lobster Roll, full of delicious chunks of meat or the Daniels Preserve, baked with spicy crab, salmon and eel. Besides sushi you will find popular Thai dishes, Pho and delicious desserts. You can also choose from a good selection of sake and sake based cocktails that accompany the dishes perfectly. It might take a little effort to find this sushi restaurant but you'll happy you did. (239-561-6566)
The Boulevard Tavern is probably the closest place to eat outside of JetBlue Park. However, it isn't near any other establishments and is in the opposite direction of the interstate, if that is your ultimate destination. Bearing resemblance to an old world pub inside, there is also a good amount of outdoor space to grab a bite and watch more sports on the mounted TV screens. The Tavern serves everything from mouth watering Rueben's to Ahi Tuna to Nachos. It can get quite packed with residents living in the nearby Gateway community on the weekends, when there is often live music. (239-561-7444)
Two Meatballs In The Kitchen
Owner Sal Basile has been at the helm of a number of successful Italian restaurants in Fort Myers and definitely has a following. He is known for great, hand tossed pizza and cranks them out at Two Meatballs. The garlic rolls are infamous but save room for your big main course. You'll find almost all of the Italian staples here along with things like grilled chicken topped with goat cheese sun-dried tomatoes and a lemon butter sauce, served with potatoes instead of pasta. This is perhaps Basile's largest Italian restaurant and it's almost always buzzing inside. The bar is trendy and has a great happy hour. Gluten free fans will be glad to know that this restaurant can accommodate you. They also do a great lunch. ((239) 489-1111)
Specializing in Mexican cuisine, Salado Pedro's is a popular party stop at Gulf Coast Town Center, a short drive from the Red Sox stadium on Ben Hill Griffin Parkway, or one exit south on I-75. The bar here can accommodate lots of baseball fans and so can the outdoor patio. The decor is authentic along with the food. If you're a tequila lover you will be impressed with the selections here, and the Margarita's are made with fresh squeezed juice. Try the guacamole prepared tableside and the fish tacos. If you want a laid back, fun place, good for people watching, you will be happy to sit at Salado Pedro's for hours, reliving the highlights of the game. (239-314-8226)
Locals laud Origami for its service, authenticity, creativity and quality of the Asian cuisines served here. If sushi is not your thing, try the Korean BBQ, stir fries or Thai dishes. This restaurant was in an unassuming strip mall for some twenty years, but in the summer of 2013 moved to a larger, more ascetically pleasing location a few miles away, and almost half way between both Fort Myers Spring Training Stadiums on Daniels Parkway. There are two large bars right inside the front door; one serves cocktails, the other sushi, perfect for pre or post game. You'll often find live music in this space. The dining room can accommodate large parties and the gracious owners welcome baseball fans. (239-482-2126)
Fancy's Southern Cafe
Sometimes in Florida, it can be easy to forget you're still in the South. A trip to Fancy's Southern Cafe will most certainly remind you. "Southern Sophistication" is the name of the game, a theme that includes both food and decor. In fact, the restaurant is worth visiting for its rustic design alone, with clever use of re-purposed old doors, windows and more. But it's the authentic Southern cuisine that keeps people coming back for more. Entrees include comfort-food favorites like pot roast, shrimp and grits, and the 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." In addition, Fancy's has a wine bar that also serves craft beers. (239-561-2988)
Blu Sushi Gulf Coast Town Center
This sexy sushi bar sports sleek furniture, mod design and walls that recall the deep blue sea. Complementing the visually stunning interior are the beautiful people you find here from night to night. It's not unusual for some of the pro players to show up for the party as popular DJ's spin the hottest tunes and patrons dance wherever they can find space. The skilled sushi artists take pride in their evocative creations and so do the bartenders with the imaginative creations like the spicy Ginger Cosmo, Great Pear Sakatini and Blu Aquarita. There is more than just sushi on the menu at Blu as there is a full kitchen cranking hot, Asian inspired dishes. Coming from the game, there is plenty of outdoor seating if you're still feeling a need for fresh air. (239-334-2583)
Fat Katz Sports Bistro
Located in an old Starbucks building, just southeast of I-75 on Daniels Parkway, Fat Katz is a fun, local find for Spring Training ticket holders. A popular place year round to catch a game on TV, the indoor bar can get cramped, the outdoor patio is spacious and provides shelter from the sun. You can get great burgers here, but try the pierogies, cuban sandwhich or gumbo for a change. Beer lovers enjoy the large selection and are able to taste anything on tap before making a decision. If you are afraid of loosing your beer once you decide, Fat Katz offers lanyards so you can wear your glass around your neck; a liquid tie. (239-768-3541)
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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