If it has ever swum in the sea, Swan River Seafood carries it - fresh - for lunch (seasonally) and dinner. The team is proud of its crab cakes, and rightly so. Pure crab patties are lightly bound and served with a nice, homemade tartar sauce. Try it as an appetizer or platter. Sandwiches and seafood entrees come with a choice of house-made sides; the potato salad and creamed spinach have their own unique twists. Fish comes from New England, Florida, and beyond - prepared lightly dusted and fried, blackened, grilled or, on the day's specials, creatively paired with seasonal fruits and veggies. Landlubbers find plenty to please on the extensive menu, which includes such end-of-meal pleasures as Belgian dark chocolate cherry pudding cake and upside-down apple walnut pie.
Recommended for Seafood because: With its own seafood market, it's inherently fresh and New England-focused.
Chelle's expert tip: It's known for its purist crab cake, but the North-South chowder - half New England clam, half Key West conch - is definitely worth a try.
A dozen or so picnic tables on the dock outside the fresh seafood market afford guests the best catches and views. Some of the tables at deck's edge have seating only on one side for the optimal overlook of the river and its working waterfront. There's also upstairs air-conditioned seating (no handicap access) with table service for breakfast. In season (November through mid-May), it's open for dinner, too. The rest of the year the restaurant and cafe close at 6 p.m. For lunch, you must place your order in the fish market. Order up generous servings of soft-shelled crab, cracked conch sandwich, soft shell crab sandwich, oyster po' boy, pulled pork sandwich (for landlubbers) or baskets of cracked conch, clam strips, frog legs or fried 'gator.
Recommended for Seafood because: Its seafood market right on Everglades City's working waterfront attests to its commitment to freshness.
Chelle's expert tip: Stone crab comes directly from fishermen's traps to City Seafood Oct. 15 through May 15. Avoid ordering them outside of those dates as they'll likely have been frozen.
One of Marco Island's hottest spots for dinner, Fin Bistro lives up to its name by carrying and preparing fresh, fresh fin fish in a nice variety, along with local shellfish. In most cases, the fish comes simply prepared but lovingly complimented with seasonal vegetables and original side dishes such as the bacon-wrapped arugula potato cake with the Key West swordfish blanketed in Calvados stone ground mustard jus. Meat-lovers find a treat in the cider brined pork tenderloin. The atmosphere, too, veers toward simplicity - tile floors, white linen tablecloths, dark wood chairs and minimal wall decoration.
Recommended for Seafood because: The restaurant's name makes a fishy statement that the menu bears out.
Chelle's expert tip: For dessert, the warm white chocolate apple croissant bread pudding steals the show with bourbon caramel sauce.
Who would believe that a restaurant can pull off submarine decor and do it tastefully? But that's not all that's tasteful about this small, strip-mall restaurant that has a faithful following. USS Nemo's seafood tastes fresh, and there's a freshness to the way it is prepared. The diver scallops come with orange-scented pepper carrot coulis and pine nut tabouli, for instance. Prime tuna gets Eastern, Western and Indian treatments. Regulars rave about the signature miso sea bass. And the even better news is price. Away from the posh downtown neighborhoods and upscale shopping centers and resorts, its price point is also easy to swallow. Meat-lovers, don't worry. There's plenty for you to choose from, too.
Recommended for Seafood because: Its tagline is "Underwater Cuisine & Adventures," and its devoted fan base will attest.
Chelle's expert tip: For dessert, hit Norman Love's Confections next door for decadent truffles and desserts.
Cleverly disguised as a casual beach club at a small resort, the Turtle Club exceeds all expectations to dwell in that vaunted culinary territory known as a local secret. To start with, there's the location, which deserves to be described in triplicate: location, location, location. Not because it's all about location, but because there are gorgeous gulf views from every table of the small, intimate dining room and sunny patio. You CAN order meat here, but the seafood rules. Choose from magnificently crafted temptations such as roasted Chilean sea bass with grilled pineapple, lightly blackened scallops with apricot horseradish glaze and roasted grouper with lump crab and citrus beurre blanc.
Recommended for Seafood because: It serves seafood masterpieces within eye-shot of the Gulf.
Chelle's expert tip: The "famous oysters 'Turtlefeller'" truly are famous and delicious, thanks to their creaminess and apple-smoked bacon.
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, plus lobster, caviar, grouper smothered with crawfish, miso-glazed sea bass, salmon bearnaise, and broiled swordfish steak, plus fine steaks and chops. Certain specialties such as the Oscar Royale - prime steak topped with caviar, king crab, asparagus and bearnaise sauce - combine surf and turf. The restaurant also features nightly live entertainment and is famous for its happy hour specials.
Recommended for Seafood because: Seafood governs here; crab and other seafood come from all corners of the world - one of the best selections in town.
Chelle's expert tip: Don't miss the stone crab (Oct. 15 through May 15 season) - Truluck's owns its own nearby fishery. It's that fresh!
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 coast-y 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. Upcoming: a boutique hotel and event space are planned on campus.
Recommended for Seafood because: Its crab-obsessed bar raises the "bar" on its devotion to seafood.
Chelle's expert tip: For a casual setting, make your reservations for the riverside patio or the Claw Bar Tierney's Tavern.
BALEEN gives a global twist to its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. The setting couldn't scream Southwest Florida more succinctly with its Gulf of Mexico and white sand views. You can even dine with your toes planted in the sand should you desire. At breakfast, eggs with crispy tomato rice and crab Oscar benedict show off. Sunday brunch brings a three-course menu of creative seasonal dishes. The lobster Cobb salad dazzles on the lunch menu. For dinner, start with the beef carpaccio "ravioli," then the truffled lobster risotto or blackened grouper. Whatever you do, leave room for the key lime pie, it's buttery and delicious and in a class all its own.
Recommended for Seafood because: Overlooking the gulf is the best way to enjoy fusion-forward local and imported seafood.
Chelle's expert tip: Call in advance for porch and beach seating, preferably times for sunset.
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 sea salts 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 outdoors to in. Salt candle holders light the indoors, which is decorated in colors from the beach and sea. The 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 Seafood because: Whether it came from the gulf or the Mediterranean Sea, the seafood is top fresh and prepared in the most creative guises.
Chelle's expert tip: For a grand splurge, reserve the Chef's Table in the kitchen with a group of friends. Chef Aielli will cater specifically to your palates.
"Excellence" describes the new Sails Restaurant from start to finish. From start: Owners meticulously sourced decor items such as a Greek marble bar in the shape of a sail, dishware, and the finest seafood and steaks to create a modern European coastal setting and cuisine. Guests select their own fresh seafood, its poundage and its preparation: wood-grilled, salt-baked or seared a la plancha. Artistically presented seafood towers, crudos and tartares launch a memorable experience. Courses of seafood salads, house-made pasta and global entrees ensue. Try the Peppered Tuna Rossini with seared foie gras, black truffle and charcoal-roasted onions; or prime tomahawk rib steak with garlic confit. An exacting wine list and decadent, modern dessert menu are the final excellence icing on this lovely cake.
Recommended for Seafood because: Owners stock local and rare seafood from around the world.
Chelle's expert tip: Order a seafood tower for two - a stack of clams, tuna tartare, prawns, crab and lobster - to share for starters and the deadly sinful chocolate Grand Marnier souffle to finish.