Fall in Fort Myers; The Best Seasonal Dishes and Diners



Fall in Southwest Florida means temperatures drop from the humid 90's into the slightly drier 80’s, and even the 70’s. Locals get giddy pulling out their fashion boots and lightweight long sleeves. Even if it is not as cold here as in other places around the country, you can’t escape the excitement of the season.

It’s a time where anything with pumpkin and spice flies off the menus and the signature pumpkin spice doughnuts at Bennett’s Fresh Roast are no exception. The sweet pumpkin cream filling oozes out with each bite and makes the perfect  compliment to one of the coffee shops freshly roasted brews.

One of the best places to dine on seasonal produces is the Purple Spoon. The owner has a unique relationship with local farmers, hosting special dinners and a weekly market with organic and small production vendors. Eating Smores around the fire pits at Tarpon Bay at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point is a big hit for those with a sweet tooth.

While the landscape is still more green than orange and yellow from the changing foliage, fall is a pleasant time of the year to dine outside day or night, on seasonal goodies, without the fear of sweat or rain showers.



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Fort Myers Brewing Company
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


 

While this is not a traditional restaurant by any means, Fort Myers Brewery offers good eats in the form of popular, gourmet food trucks. At least one mobile kitchen is on site every day the brewery is open with a food truck rally every Thursday, and once a month on Saturdays. Located in an odd industrial park, Fort Myers Brewing Company is a perfect spot for casual fun. There are TV's to watch sporting events and oversized games like Jenga and the bean bag toss, to keep you company while you sample the award winning brews from the more than 20 taps. Corn hole, foot ball, beer, food trucks and lawn chairs (you can bring your own), the scene has fall written all over it.


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An old favorite downtown location for locals, this space has a fresh coat of paint and a new name. The Downtown Social House, or SOHO for short, is punctuated by exposed brick, a fireplace and a wall of old speakers inside. The outdoor garden is the newest feature, adding a space that encourages people to indeed be 'social' with one another. There are shared tables, a fire pit and games to inspire interaction. The craft cocktail program is ever changing, with seasonal concoctions that taste like the holidays have jumped right into your glass. The food consists of flavorful small bites with a few entree sized options.


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South Fort Myers


 

While dishes made with apples, pumpkins and squash are certainly popular in Southwest Florida for fall, what people here talk most about, is the opening of stone crab season. And one of the best places to get your fix is at Skip One, a fish market and restaurant on US41 in Fort Myers since the 80's. The building doesn't look like much from the road. Inside the ceilings are low, the tables close, and the seafood is some of the freshest you'll find. The owners operate one of the largest fleet of shrimp boats in the state. The chowders (New England clam or Bahamian conch) will warm your bones, so will the southern hospitality.


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Bonita Springs


 

Tarpon Bay offers casual, yet classy dining in a comfortable Old Key West style house on the grounds of the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs. The chef's special for two—14 ounce chateaubriand and 3-pound Maine lobster—is a special treat for the season. While dining inside is memorable, nothing says fall quite like sitting outside around the fire pit. Here you can order smores. The smell of toasted marshmellows, the ooze of melted chocolate, the crunch of graham cracker cookies, while sitting around a fire...quintessential fall. Add to this, a garden full of lush plants and twinkling lights, it doesn't get much better than this for atmosphere.


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Purple Spoon Culinary
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


 

The chef and owner of Purple Spoon, Kristina San Filippo, has a culinary mission of education, knowing where your food comes from and of supporting local farmers and purveyors. She changes her menu based on what comes in that week, what is in season and what she can source locally. She consistently has hearty seasonal soup, a table full of produce and the open kitchen always has something on the burners or in the ovens. Dinners are by reservation only, while Wednesday Market Day is a first come first serve. It smells like fall, it tastes like fall and feels healthful regardless of the time of year.


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Born in Florence, Italy, chef/owner Antonio Durante specializes in simply prepared foods from his homeland. Simple because the ingredients are few but they are of extraordinary quality and assembled in such a way that leaves you begging for more. Since fall is truffle season, Durante goes on a hunt for the best ones, delicately shaving them over his expertly prepared pastas and daily specials. He imports the finest meats and cheeses, and makes his own pasta in a kitchen that is remarkably small. The menu is manageable and changes often. The wine selection is mostly Italian and is full of gems. Located in a strip mall, the tables are limited but there is a bar if you don' t have reservations, and seats are usually available.


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South Fort Myers
Fancy's Southern Cafe
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


 

You don't have to go hunting this fall, or travel to a house in the mountains to see the leaves change, just drive to Fancy's Southern Café and sit in the wine bar to get a feel for the season. The occasional taxidermy mingles with rustic chandeliers, and repurposed doors and windows. The live music from the rafters and the comfortable couches below have a kind of fall ambience. And then there is the food...Southern comfort dishes such as deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes, pot roast, shrimp and grits, and the signature Chicken-n-Waffles. The large portions ensure you'll leave with a full belly, while the warm feeling of a home-cooked meal in an inviting atmosphere almost guarantee your return.


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Bennett's Fresh Roast
Photo courtesy of Bennett's Fresh Roast


 

Bennett's Fresh Roast has a bit of a cult following, off the beaten path in downtown Fort Myers. Owned by a longtime, local radio personality C. David Bennett, his donuts gained international attention on the Cooking Channel's Donut Showdown. A popular destination year round, regulars can't wait until fall when the cases contain his famous Pumpkin Spice Donuts; they ooze with a delicious pumpkin cream filling. The maple donuts are also perfect for the season, especially the ones topped with Nuewske's Applewood smoked bacon--to die for. Bennett also prides himself in his apple pies and bread pudding. You just can't go wrong when it comes to finding treats befitting the fall season.


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South Fort Myers


 

A farm to table establishment by popular chef Harold Balink, this intimate space only has room for about 30 diners at a time, many of whom are fans of Balink and know each other. Sometimes it feels like your a guest at a special dinner party, it's especially true in the fall. The menu changes weekly as chef seeks out seasonal produce and meats from local, small production farms. He is known for making carnivores happy, and the creative preparations found here continually impress critics and followers alike. The Roasted Pumpkin Pie with Bavarian cream will make you swoon. Wines selections are handpicked and not ones you are likely to find in the big retail outlets. The staff pays great attention to detail and always make you feel welcomed.


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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. When the temperatures drop and you want a big plate of comforting, seasonal food, this is the spot. The no frills, homey eatery serves the big portions and great quality that a Southern Grandma would, and they've been doing it since the 1960's. The lunch and dinner specials don't come with one side; they come with THREE. You also get a basket of corn bread and rolls. Enjoy belly filling mashed potatoes and gravy, and southern favorites like country fried steak, fried okra, collard greens and seasonal produce. This is a great spot for that apple or pumpkin pie you might be craving. The homemade desserts are a long standing favorite.


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Meet 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. 

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