More and more restaurants in the Fort Myers area have become more and more accustomed to accommodating diners with special dietary restraints and choices. Gluten free (GF) has become one of the fastest growing eating categories and local restaurants and café have been jumping on the culinary trend.
The Veranda is one of the oldest, most prestigious dining establishments in downtown Fort Myers and one of the few in the neighborhood to produce an entire gluten free menu. Enjoy choice meats, veggies and traditional dishes prepared sans the flour and wheat, while served in a romantic setting.
While chefs at most higher end restaurants are able to adapt dishes for GF patrons, there are some places that specialize in it. Burger 21 for instance, has color-coded utensils and bins in their kitchen to be sure to eliminate any possibility of cross contamination. The cafe at Ada's Fresh Market has a large selection of gluten free options with a variety of spices and ingredients, all served in a casual, market atmosphere.
While not all restaurants have a separate GF menu, most have some options that fit the bill. Whether you have an allergy, an intolerance or a dietary preference, you’ll see by this 10best list that gluten free diners are not limited to salads and cheese trays while eating out in Fort Myers.
If you want healthful breakfast that is served all day, then First Watch is the place for you. This is one place where you can order off a gluten free menu along with cholesterol free eggs and egg whites as substitutes in any dish, and not face additional charges. You'll find lots of turkey on the menu as well as turkey bacon and sausage. Other healthful options include power bowls, yogurt and lots of fruit. This Florida based restaurant also serves great lunch options such as large salads and savory soups. There are three locations in the Fort Myers area. (239-274-5551)
You might not think about pizza being a healthful dining choice, but the pies found here are cuts above the rest. This pizza restaurant is committed to serving organic and sustainable vegetables and other products. Even better, the gluten free pizza crust has good flavor and a pleasing texture. The salads are satisfying and creative while the wraps are wholesome and the chicken wings free range. Vegetarians will love the meatless antipasto, while meat lovers will enjoy the traditional GF version. The restaurant also has a nice wine selection if you're looking for 'those kind' of antioxidants. And whey you are done dining, the gluten free brownies are a delectable way to satisfy a sweet tooth. ((239) 337-7979)
There's something about the hand washing station at the front door that gives you an indication this place cares about quality and cleanliness. The commitment to gluten free patrons is impressive, with separate fryers and utensils in the kitchen to avoid even a hint of gluten contamination. Meals are even delivered on designated GF trays. With 21 burgers on the list, plus salads, 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. (239-437-8590)
Roy's Bonita Springs
Roy's serves food inspired by the Pacific Rim, with unique flavors and magnificent presentation. The small plates range from a variety of cold sushi rolls to the butterfish lettuce wraps with cool cucumber and a "sizzling vinaigrette." Roy's does an amazing job with fish, both local and Pacific, but if you are a vegetarian or a carnivore, you'll also find a good list of "hot" tapas to get your taste buds going. And the full menu is loaded with healthful dishes that aim to please the GF crowd. There is plenty of space in the bar for a few small bites and a couple of cold cocktails to get your evening off to a good start. (239-498-7697)
Cru is not only a local favorite to see and be seen in Fort Myers, it also is a favorite for getting healthful, gourmet cuisine. The chefs seek out local, quality ingredients and love to create new things. If you are gluten free or have other special dietary considerations, book a chef's table and sit at the counter around the open kitchen. Here you can interact with the chefs, tell them exactly what you want and let them work their magic, no menu needed. But if you choose the menu options, be assured that the GF choices will be some of the best tasting, well presented in town. ((239) 466-3663)
Chops City Grill
You almost expect a good steakhouse to have lots of gluten free options, and this one does. With a designated GF menu, Chops has lots of options that are prepared to perfection, with service to match; not to mention an outstanding wine program. A longtime favorite, local establishment, the large bar is perfect for glass sampling or enjoying one of the more than 400 worldly bottles. Chop's is known for having great cuts of meat, locally sourced vegetables, fish and other superior ingredients. Be sure to make a reservation in the winter and spring as the main dining room fills up quickly. If it is nice weather, ask for a table on the patio. (239-992-4677)
Occupying two old homes dating back to 1902, for years the Veranda has provided a charming atmosphere as well as consistently good cuisine. The well established restaurant is certainly not stuck in the past as it was one of the first downtown to offer a gluten free menu. 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)
Happiness Healthy Cafe
If you're not careful, you might just drive right by this small cafe in an aged strip mall off of the busy US41. The bright interior is a good representation of the lively flavors you'll find in the food, much of which has an Indian touch. The family owned restaurant serves carnivores, vegans, vegetarians and gluten free diners while providing a nutritional guide with information on the calories and fat of most items. Be sure to add the homemade Rayta, a yogurt sauce with cucumber, tomato, onion, garlic and spice. You'll also find traditional curries, daily soup specials and 100% real juice smoothies, no added sugar. Open for lunch and dinner, this café also has a convenient online ordering system making pick up easy. (239-362-2075)
Ada's Natural Market
Ada's is a family-run health food market and cafe that has been in the Fort Myers area since the late 70's. It has changed hands a number of times and briefly shut down before coming back bigger and better than ever. The Green Leaf Cafe at the front of the store offers table service with selections that include lots of gluten free options. Choose from black bean burgers to grass feed beef dishes including a beef roulade stuffed with spinach, artichoke and goat cheese. The sandwiches made with GF bread, and salads are fresh, flavorful and plentiful. This cafe offers more than veggie and fruit juices, you can also find wine if you don't care to go back to work after lunch. ((239) 939-9600)
Chef Brooke's Natural Cafe
This funky cafe full of colorful art with Faerie Houses hanging from the ceiling has been serving healthful foodies for more than five years. Chef Brooke cooks for all causes including but not limited to gluten free. On a raw diet, paleo, vegan, vegetarian or just want a burrito with organic ingredients, you'll find it here. The Buddha Bowls have become quite popular with combos like the Caveman, loaded with protein, nuts and veggies. Chef Brooke makes eight soups a day, and has a delicious spread of sweet treats, many are grain and sugar free. And if you're looking for fresh juices including wheat grass, you wont be disappointed here. Open for breakfast and lunch, the cafe often hosts special events at night including healthful cooking classes. (239-332-2433)
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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