You could sum up the fishing town of Goodland in one word: idiosyncratic. Likewise, the Little Bar, one of three watering hole restaurants that tourists love as much as the (idiosyncratic) locals do. Because besides the usual frog legs and seafood Everglades fare, its dry-erase board menu lists some Old World folk foods such as liver and onions, kielbasa and kraut and marinated herring. There's yet another dimension to its menu - finer fare such as crab cakes with lobster cream sauce and blackened shrimp. The setting is every bit as quirky. Outside, the view is bay waters, fishing docks and crab traps. The interior is cobbled together with salvaged wood from a historic boat, pieces of pipe organ, stained glass and various other components with a past.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Its tables occupy lots of different indoor and outdoor spaces from intimate to waterside.
Chelle's expert tip: For a true taste of Little Bar, come in summer for Spammy Jammy. Think people in pajamas competing with Spam culinary and architectural creations.
Have a seat in the European-style courtyard or make new friends at the communal table inside. Known for its authentic Italian pizza and gelato, it equally excels at a select menu of pastas, seafood, meats and sandwiches. This is cousin to Sea Salt just down the street – the casual one in the family. But the food is every bit as complex and creatively conceived. Start lunch with chicken liver pate with fig truffle jam and crostini or arugula salad. Order a glass of wine from the extensive cruvinet offerings. The signature pizza holds eggplant, pork sausage, fresh tomato and buffalo mozzarella. Or go for the herb marinated octopus with burrata and tomato-black truffle jam paninimini (small sandwich). Seafood lovers go for the Ligurian Seafood platter – Maine lobster, shrimp, octopus, mussels and spaghettini in a light tomato brodo. But remember to leave room for at least a scoop of creamy, silky gelato.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: A communal dining table is available indoors, plus there's lots of room in the courtyard to group up.
Chelle's expert tip: It may sound extreme, but you have to try the dessert pizza – sweet pizza dough with hazelnut-flavored Nutella, caramelized bananas and whipped cream.
Rodes began as a rickety roadside stand and has grown into a fish, produce and gourmet market and restaurant complex now in business for more than 25 years. Purists go for the steamed clams and shrimp, mussels, stone crab and other raw bar items. And they know full well to leave room for the key lime pie. If you're more interested in the "fancy" part of the equation, order shrimp stuffed tilapia or chargrilled Chilean sea bass basted with key lime butter. The "fresh" part weighs heavier on the menu, which specializes in Old Florida style fried seafood and fresh fish with your choice of preparation.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Call ahead to request a large table in its ample dining room.
Chelle's expert tip: Start your meal with something from the raw bar and end with some of the best key lime pie around.
This Midwest chain opened its first Florida restaurant in Naples summer 2014. It offers one of those menus that makes you wonder how the kitchen can possibly cover so many bases with any proficiency. It seems to succeed, nonetheless, in creating all the American favorites from wings and hand-pattied burgers to pizza, meatloaf and steak and ale with great attention to freshness and detail. With vast dining areas indoors and out, it exudes a happy bar-fly atmosphere, where the game is on everywhere you look. Like so many restaurants these days, it touts its selection of craft beers, plus pours nearly 20 drafts, including a local Fort Myers Brewing beer.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Its vast indoor and outdoor seating areas accommodate big groups of friends getting together for the games.
Chelle's expert tip: The menu weighs heavy, but for something light and delicious, try the Asian tuna wrap.
The only town with two Ritz-Carlton resorts, Naples benefits from the brand's fine, precise influence on its restaurant scene. At the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Lemonia has a slightly more relaxed feel than The Grill at the cross-town beach resort. But the level of kitchen excellence is "on par." Mediterranean is the over-arching influence on a tight menu that succinctly appeals to many appetites. Start with the amazing crispy jumbo crab cake and the Georgia peach and beet salad with fried goat cheese croutons. Decide between the sea and the land for entrees such as grilled Atlantic salmon with white asparagus nage and morels or pan-roasted lamb loin with mint pistou. Finish with a light seasonal fruit panna cotta and a sigh of utter satisfaction. The restaurant also opens for buffet and a la carte breakfast featuring healthy and traditional dishes.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Call in advance to reserve space in the main dining room or private room.
Chelle's expert tip: Do not miss the crispy jumbo lump crab cake – all meat encased in crispy-fried filo shavings with avocado relish and Romesco sauce - a savory moon pie. Brilliant!
Chef Fabrizio Aielli comes from a stellar background that covers Italy, the Caribbean and two of his own highly hailed Washington, DC, restaurants. At Sea Salt, he conceived dining centered around the sea. To carry the concept, he stocks more than 100 different varieties of salt and infused flavored salts. Dinner at Sea Salt begins with a three-flight sampler of salt to season dishes to come. Convivial and inspired by chef's Venetian birthright, the setting transitions from the outdoor, pet-friendly patio to indoor casual elegance via a bar that circles outdoor to in. Colors from the beach and sea decorate the sweeping interior. The seasonal main menu intertwines cultures - charcuterie, sea urchin poached in duck fat, ravioli stuffed with braised veal, salt-encrusted branzino, akaushi beef and whole fresh fish from the showcase.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: You can reserve the Chef's Table or the private dining area.
Chelle's expert tip: For a grand splurge, reserve the Chef's Table in the kitchen for a group of friends. Chef Aielli will cater specifically to your palates.
Charles Mereday has done some reorganizing in recent months. He has exited his fine dining restaurant at Naples Bay Resort and moved Mereday's Brasserie from Coconut Point to the former location of his Alto's Jazz Kitchen at Bayfront. True to its name – brasserie means "brewery" in French – the bar serves a number of craft beers on tap and by the bottle. True to its French allegiance, its wine list spells out a carefully curated selection of French vintages.On the food end of things, small plates, pizzas and entrees such as Creole Shrimp & Grits, Vegan Pad Thai and Orechiette Carbonara comprise the compact menu.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Mereday's expansive dining area has lots of rooms for large groups.
Chelle's expert tip: The Green Tea Terrarium dessert - charred orange cream, chocolate short bread and cardamom ice cream - comes highly recommended.
Part of a small, Texas-based chain of restaurants, it is anything but cookie-cutter. The dining room seems oversized at first, but its popularity fills the warm, welcoming space at the back of Inn on Fifth most nights. They come for their fix of various varieties of crab, lobster, New Orleans BBQ shrimp, miso-glazed sea bass, Scottish salmon bearnaise, cioppino and Idaho trout amandine, plus fine steaks and chops. The restaurant professes a commitment to sustainable seafood. The "Chilean sea bass," for example, comes from South Georgia. Every afternoon from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Truluck's Stone Crab Lounge runs its Cocktail Hour specials, which include half-priced drinks and a specially priced appetizer menu.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: The spacious dining room can hold groups easily if you reserve ahead, plus there's a 22-seat private dining room.
Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the stone crab - Truluck's owns its own nearby fishery. It's that fresh!
Opened in February 2014, it replaces the well-loved McCabe's Irish Pub at the Inn on Fifth. Residents grumbled at first, but now they hail the light, airy space with walls of glass and wine bottles. The menu matches the contemporary setting with imaginative platings such as cedar planked Scottish salmon with smoked tomato butter and fine steaks. Both the dinner and lunch menus feature a Maine Lobster selection of dishes. At lunch you will also find a wide selection of salads, burgers and sandwiches such as grilled swordfish caprese. The restaurant also serves Sunday brunch.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: Groups can reserve the Chef's Table or fashionable private dining room, plus the main dining room is large and open.
Chelle's expert tip: For a true fine-dining splurge, reserve the Chef's Table, with a set menu of well-crafted dishes and select wines.
Overlooking serene Cocohatchee Bay, the Bay House - as it is most commonly known – is regarded as one of the city's most spectacular seafood restaurants. This charming eatery serves fresh, Southern-inspired and bistro-style seafood dishes, as well as steak and chicken options. Most tables in the main dining room - decorated coastily with wooden boats hanging from the ceiling - and patio offer views of the surrounding waterway, ensuring patrons a scenic setting on top of a sensational meal. Tierney's Bar offers an alternative cozy setting of fireplace and dark wood. Live entertainment plays in the bar Wednesday through Saturday evenings, and private banquet rooms are available.
Recommended for Group Friendly because: There's plenty of room inside and out, plus a private dining area you can reserve.
Chelle's expert tip: For a casual setting, make your reservations for the riverside patio or the Claw Bar Tierney's Tavern.