Fresh and Fabulous: Southwest Florida Seafood Pleases the Palate
By Gina Birch
Fort Myers Local Expert
Fort Myers has had much success in cultivating great restaurants and has created a substantial market for Seafood. You will find everything from fried fish served in a basket, to grilled crustaceans drizzled with gourmet sauces, served on fine dinnerware. Whether you are dressed in high heels or flip flops, there are plenty of locally owned restaurants committed to serving only the freshest catches.
For the sun burned beach, goers with sand still in their shoes, the S.O.B. or Smokin' Oyster Bar, is no fuss and all fun. Visitors love picking up S.O.B. memorabilia after a few drinks. For the freshly showered, out for a special occasion crowd you can’t beat the long established Prawn Broker for consistently good quality and service.
Two things you must try while dining in the Fort Myers area are locally caught shrimp and Grouper. You'll find it on the menu of almost every seafood restaurant here, in some form or fashion.
You’ll also find some of the best local seafood haunts are nowhere near the water, instead they are miles away, tucked in obscure strip malls. Don’t be afraid at what you’ll find inside. 10Best has your back and some extra tartar sauce to boot.
10 Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille
Doc Ford's fame is in the name; a tropical crime fighting character in 20 books written by author Randy Wayne White. White is a silent partner who can occasionally be found in the bar at any of the three island locations. The fictional character might be the original appeal for some diners, but its the fresh food that keeps Doc's rocking. An upscale sports bar serving food with a Caribbean flare, the sauces are all made from scratch. The Yucatan Shrimp is award winning. Don't forget, Doc's is also a rum bar, serving more than 40 selections. Enjoy live music and be sure to save room for the Keylime Pie (239-472-8311)
9 The Clam Bake Restaurant
New Englanders will feel right at home at the Clam Bake, but you don't have to be from the northeast to appreciate the fresh seafood and fun atmosphere the restaurant offers. Once you've tasted the crowd-pleasing lobster roll, you'll think you're on the coast of Maine, not in a nondescript Southwest Florida strip mall. The clam chowder, lobster bisque and fried haddock are other mouthwatering favorites that aim to please. The Clam Bake offers lots of happy hour drink specials as well as select daily specials until six. You can't beat this deal; an entree, chowder or salad, and side for just $11.99. ((239) 482-1930)
8 Gulfshore Grill
The Gulfshore Grill is one restaurant with two great vibes. The indoor portion provides quiet, the comfort of air conditioning and views of the Gulf of Mexico from every seat. The outside deck, also called The Cottage, serves the same menu, however, shirts are not required here and there is live music almost every night. Whether inside or out, you get front row seating for some of the best parties on the beach. Start with the famous Beach Bread then try the Grouper Platter. The Gulfshore Grill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Take advantage of the valet service as towing companies are active in this area. (239-765-5440)
7 The Oyster Shell
The Oyster Shell is a local diner, a seafood diner. Serving Southwest Florida seafood lovers for three decades, it's in a small space off of the well-traveled McGregor Boulevard. The location is not the most easy to find, however, when you do, you'll not soon forget it. The chowder is a favorite and so are the fried oysters. You'll find a lot of fried specialties on the menu, fried but not greasy. There are broiled and steamed options as well. If there is something in particular that you are craving, like soft shell crabs or crab legs, it never hurts to call ahead. Since it's so small, the Oyster Shell occasionally runs out of these items. (239-481-2040)
6 Smokin Oyster Brewery, SOB
Situated between the Gulf of Mexico and Estero Bay on Fort Myers Beach, the Smokin' Oyster Bar or S.O.B. has been shucking oysters since 1997. The beach cottage has live entertainment on the front patio; the inside is small and cozy. Besides fresh oysters, the S.O.B. is known for it's variety of seafood steamer pots and it's messy, delicious garlic crab claws. Get a side of potatoes and let them soak in the bottom. There is paid parking on the street and a few free spots on the east side of the building. Be sure to ask for a signature S.O.B. drink coozie to keep your beer cold. (239-463-3474)
5 Lobster Lady Seafood Market and Bistro
Diners pack into the Lobster Lady Seafood Market and Bistro like sardines, pun intended. In an unassuming strip mall, just over the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral, The Lobster Lady's popularity has exploded. Multiple tanks full of lobsters line one wall, a case of fresh seafood lines the other. Also along the perimeter you'll find a decent size bar and space for live entertainment. On Friday and Saturday nights expect a crowd to gather on the sidewalk. Good thing there is someone there to take drink orders and keep you hydrated while you wait for a table to open up. Shorten your wait with call ahead seating. (239-471-0136)
4 Fish Tale Grill By Merrick Seafood
For more than two decades Merrick's Seafood has provided fresh fish to dozens of Southwest Florida restaurants. The owners finally decided to take advantage of the their fresh catches by serving them, not just selling them. In February 2013 they opened a restaurant right next to the market, calling it the Fish Tale Grill. Enjoy both outdoor and indoor seating while dining on affordable seafood fresh off of the boat. The Seafood Cobb salad is loaded with shellfish and the lobster bisque is rich and creamy. Currently, Fish Tale's is open for lunch only but there are plans for dinner service soon. (239-257-3167)
3 Skip One
A fish market and restaurant on US41 in Fort Myers since the 80's, In the hot summer of 2013 Skip One added a new, more upscale location on the way to Fort Myers Beach. The market has the same fresh seafood but has wine, cheese, baked goods and more. Separated by a glass window, the restaurant serves lots of "pink gold" AKA Florida shrimp. The owner also operates the largest fleet of shrimp boats in the state, so you know the catch at this restaurant is fresh. Be sure to try the fish tacos and ask about the daily specials. (17650 San Carlos Bou)
2 Red's Fresh Seafood House
There were high expectations for Red's when it opened on Pine Island in 2005, by the original owners of the famed Mc T's Shrimp House, formerly on Sanibel Island. The expectations have been met. The Red's Steamer is impressive; a plentiful mixture of shellfish and sausage steamed in white wine, garlic and scampi butter, poured out of steaming beer pitchers. There are pages and pages of menu items to choose from, heavy on the seafood side but also lots of land lubber selections. The wine choices and specialty cocktails options are notable. From the drive on to the island, to the friendly staff to the fabulous food, the entire experience at Red's will be a memorable one (239-283-4412)
1 Prawnbroker Restaurant and Fish Market
The Prawn Broker has a long-standing reputation for delivering freshly prepared seafood favorites as well as unique specialty items. Enjoy a cocktail at the cozy bar then move to a table on the covered patio or a comfortable inside spot. Be sure to start with the house made Smoked Fish Dip. Then consider the Grouper Matanza; a fresh, local fish, egg dipped and sautéed then topped with crabmeat and a lemon beurre blanc. The Prawn Broker's award winning cuisine as well as the owner's and manager's deep commitment to community keep both the tourists and locals coming back season after season. (239-489-2226)
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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