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Fall in Fort Myers; the best seasonal dishes and diners



Fall in Southwest Florida means temperatures drop from the humid '90s into the slightly drier ’80s and even the ’70s. 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 Harvest and Wisdom at the historic Shangri-La Springs. Much of the produce comes from the gardens on the property. 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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10
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 ambiance. 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 guarantees your return.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: You might feel you're at a more sophisticated hunting lodge during the fall season, with comforting food and a warm atmosphere.

Gina's expert tip: Foodservice can be suspended at the wine bar if the restaurant is on overdrive

Read more about Fancy's Southern Cafe →


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, football, beer, food trucks and lawn chairs (you can bring your own), the scene has fall written all over it.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Sitting outside, playing corn hole, drinking local beer, watching football, eating gourmet food from trucks spells fall in Southwest Florida.

Gina's expert tip: Look for a Panther Crossing sign on Daniels Parkway as a marker for the turn into this obscure industrial park

Read more about Fort Myers Brewing Company →


8
South Fort Myers
Skip One
Photo courtesy of Gina Birch


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 '80s. 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 fleets of shrimp boats in the state. The chowders (New England clam or Bahamian conch) will warm your bones, so will the southern hospitality.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Fall means stone crabs to Southwest Floridians. With the season officially open, Skip One has them to dine in or take home.

Gina's expert tip: The seafood market offers seasonal selections at competitive prices.

Read more about Skip One →


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Angelina's Ristorante
Photo courtesy of Angelina's Ristorante


Angelina's screams elegance from the moment you pull up to the restaurant and hand your keys to the valet. The dining room is large but still intimate and the polished servers know exactly how to navigate it. You may want to ask for direction from the sommelier when choosing from the nearly 4,000 fantastic bottles housed in the thirty-foot wine tower. The food is plated to perfection, with attention to detail, and tastes as good as it looks. A season favorite and must-have is the award-winning ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and mascarpone cheese, topped with a citrus tomato butter and truffled almonds. If you are dressed a bit too casual, you may find yourself being guided to the bar and patio for dining, both have the same great menu and atmosphere.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Warm, comfortable and classy, regulars can't get enough of the decadent and award-winning butternut squash ravioli.

Gina's expert tip: Enjoy piano music in the bar before dinner Tuesday through Saturday.

Read more about Angelina's Ristorante →


Cafe Toscano


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, so does his inviting personality. Since fall is truffle season, Durante goes on a hunt for the best ones, delicately shaving them over his expertly prepared pasta 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 special gems.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: The handmade pasta at Cafe Toscano get that extra special touch of truffles when they come in season for fall, and diners can't get enough.

Gina's expert tip: Tables are limited but there is a bar if you don't have reservations, and seats are often available here.

Read more about Cafe Toscano →


5
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 marshmallows, 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Tarpon Bay feels like an upscale beach house with outdoor fire pits adding to the ambiance, especially when toasting marshmallows for your Smores.

Gina's expert tip: You don't have to be a hotel guest to enjoy the delicious dining here.

Read more about Tarpon Bay →


4
Bonita Springs
Harvest & Wisdom
Photo courtesy of Harvest & Wisdom


Specializing in fresh, local and organic ingredients, this farm to table restaurant is lead by Michelin-starred chef Allen Fisher. Located in the historic Shangdi-La Springs, a facility founded on the concept of wellness, the expansive property has an impressive no-till garden where most of the ingredients served in the restaurant come from. Other food products are carefully sourced from providers with similar philosophies of taking care of the environment and commitment to quality. Most of the proteins come from local farms specializing in raising grass-fed animals. The result is food that is creative, well presented and full of flavor for the fall season. The restaurant is spacious and bright, opening to a charming deck for outside dining.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Specializing in local and organic, most of the produce is grown on-site and picked fresh daily.

Gina's expert tip: The gardens here are lovely. Take some time to explore them before dining.

Read more about Harvest & Wisdom →


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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Regulars come in droves during the fall when the coffee shop debuts its famous Pumpkin Spice Donuts.

Gina's expert tip: Dogs are welcomed on the deck.

Read more about Bennett's Fresh Roast →


2
South Fort Myers
Harold's
Photo courtesy of Gina BIrch


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 you're 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Harold's is warm and cozy with a chef/owner who has clout. Then menu changes weekly with seasonal produce and enough meats for a fall feast.

Gina's expert tip: A chalkboard on the wall has rotating wine specials, many are hard to find selections

Read more about Harold's →




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 1960s. The lunch and dinner specials don't come with one side; they come with THREE. You also get a basket of cornbread 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.

Recommended for Best Restaurants for Fall because: Nothing says fall like a big plate of hot comfort food, seasonal vegetables, hearty meats and big slabs of homemade desserts; find it here.

Gina's expert tip: Check the website for daily specials such as the popular Chicken and Dumplings (Thursdays).

Read more about Farmer's Market Restaurant →


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Meet Gina Birch

Gina carries the rare title of "Native Floridian". Living in Southwest Florida for more than 20 years, she is a well known, award winning radio and TV personality. She also writes for a number...  More About Gina

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