Dining Outside the Home: Bonita Beach Balloon Bar & Grill in Bonita Springs, Florida! On your way back from the beach when you’re feeling as hungry as a shark and parched beyond feeling, make a stop at a friendly bar where open-air dining makes a spirit soar like a hot air balloon, no pun intended. The pub-style grub offers a delicious variety of flavors. It’s family-friendly and sits on the palm-lined main drag on Bonita Beach Road. It’s fairly new, since Covid anyway, but casual enough to feel like a neighborhood hangout. Get the taste of homemade with a southwest Florida twist. Take it from me, the grilled Shrimp Po’ Boy with a tangy Remoulade Sauce, toasted sub roll, fresh lettuce, and salty tomatoes did not disappoint. It’s Shrimpolicious.
Dining Outside the Home: Rusty’s Raw Bar & Grill in Estero, Florida! Just because a restaurant tells you they offer raw seafood doesn’t necessarily mean you have to order it. They do offer American fare that satisfies the burger-and-fries crowd. This cozy sports bar hangout seems to attract the “regulars” for their favorite brew as well as social connections for casual encounters. Face it, people enjoy small talk while viewing a game. It’s relaxing and comfortable. It’s actually fun to watch the bartender create drinks or talk about her current sunburn or newest tattoo. Alcohol can be a perk, and the comfort food is a bonus. Plus, a pause in the day has advantages. Attitude adjustments come free. If you drive by a place and see a row of cars and trucks in the parking lot, odds are it’s probably a pretty decent place and worth checking out. I did.
Dining Outside the Home: Naples Flatbread Kitchen & Bar in Estero, Florida! Whenever people get the choice to dine outside among potted palms and waterfall fountains, they choose it. The feeling of nature creates a calming atmosphere for casual conversation. Food seems to taste better, too. In essence, it’s almost like a mental vacation to embrace the ambiance. The food choices encompass cravings from Appeteasers to Gourmet Salads to Triple ‘B’ Burgers, Wraps, and Famous Flatbreads. But that’s not all… NFB spotlights a Tap Wall with over 50 domestic and craft beer choices available on a self-serve draft system. You’ll find beers, wines, hard seltzers, ciders, nitro cold brews, meads, and kombuchas. Seriously, if you’re a food and drink enthusiast, it’s time to check this place out. What have you got to lose?
Dining Outside the Home: Mel’s Diner in Bonita Springs, Florida! Flashback to the 1950’s where American Bandstand was popular for the best rock and roll music. Car Shows meant shine-up-your-car and put-it-on-display in the local park. Drugstore soda fountains served thick chocolate milkshakes, tangy lime phosphates, and cherry syrup-flavored cokes. Fast forward to current day where nostalgia is still popular at Mel’s Diner, a food joint popular from the movie “American Graffiti”. The menu highlights several burger options, pot roast platters with mashed potatoes smothered in brown gravy, beef liver and caramelized onions, black angus meatloaf, fried chicken, or anything else you can imagine for a taste of the “good ole days”. When you’re in the mood for comfort food, stop by for a meal that is worth the cost.
Dining Outside the Home: O’Quigley’s Seafood Steamer & Oyster Sports Bar in Destin, Florida! Question: What do you get when you combine fresh seafood with an Irish sports bar? Answer: A name that says it all. When you’re craving seafood and everyone has a different idea of what that might be, choose a restaurant that not only keeps the kids occupied with private tv screens in comfy booths, but also an incredible menu items plus a wide selection of crafted beers for the grownups. Sit back and relax. The portions are generous and the choices seem endless. Seafood can be prepared steamed, blackened, fried, or sautéed. Burgers, steaks, wings, and soups are other options worth considering. On second thought, better plan on taste-testing each other’s platters.
Dining Outside the Home: Snook Inn on Marco Island, Florida! Eating at a landmark location adds captivating charm and pleasant nostalgia to waterside dining. Years ago, this place was a secluded island retreat famous for its fresh seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. People flocked here “to get away from it all”. Originally, it was dubbed the “Snook Hole” simply because right off the dock, fisherman caught the common snook fish in abundance. An aggressive fish, the snook, gave quite a fight to the average sportsman. Yet it was the incredible white flesh that won people over. Over time, the Snook Hole evolved into an Old Florida beach bar. Mention the name to anyone around, and their eyes light up with fond memories of a popular gathering spot for cold cocktails, enjoyable food, and live music. Grab a seat at the Chickee Bar or bask in the sunshine from the upper deck as you wile away the day. This is a place for casual outdoor fun coupled with a great menu. The Fish ‘n Chips was a no-brainer, complemented by a trip to the Salad Bar. Is it any wonder it has become the talk-of-the-town for locals as well as tourists?
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Wheat Brioche Burgers! Why brioche buns, you’re thinking. First of all, you must admit a hamburger bun that crumbles into your hands is very frustrating. After the first bite, you’re afraid to put it down in case it turns into a heaping mess on your plate. From that point on, a fork is your only option. Amirite? Brioche buns are rich, chewier, and a little more dense. The golden texture alone is soft and buttery while leaving you with an element of light consistency. Now that’s a way to compliment a savory, grilled burger. Wouldn’t you agree?
WHEAT BRIOCHE BURGERS
1 pound ground chuck beef
2 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons water, boiling
2 eggs, beaten
6 Ritz crackers, crushed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 gourmet wheat brioche hamburger buns
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 leaves romaine lettuce
1 large tomato, sliced into 8 rings
1/3 cup mayonnaise
In a small bowl, dissolve bouillon cubes in boiling water. Stir. In another bowl, combine ground chuck, bouillon water, and beaten eggs. Fold in crushed crackers. Divide beef into four portions. Form into patties about 1/2” thick and 1” wider than the burger buns. Indent with a thumbprint in the center of the patty. Sprinkle with black pepper. Chill for one hour. Preheat grill on high heat to 400°. Grill patties, indented side up, for 6 minutes. Juices will accumulate on top of burgers causing them to sear. Do not smash down. Flip; reduce grill temperature to 325° for another 6 minutes. Turn grill off, leaving burgers on grill for 4 minutes longer. At this time, spread the cut sides of the brioche buns with softened butter. Place buttered sides down on grill for a couple minutes to toast until golden brown. Meanwhile, coat romaine lettuce leaves with mayonnaise, gently turning. To assemble burgers, transfer buns to a platter. Add more mayonnaise, if desired. Layer hamburgers with grilled meat, romaine leaves, and tomato slices. Top with toasted buns. Serve immediately.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Foodstuff Redefined: Hand-Packed Burgers! For a hamburger worthy of a gourmet chef, begin with a low-fat lean meat. Divide the ground beef or sirloin into four equal portions. Form each one a little wider than the bottom bun to allow for shrinkage during grilling. Press your thumb into the center to create a small well, or dimple. If you’re a perfectionist, choose a jar lid slightly larger than the hamburger bun. Line the lid with plastic wrap, press the meat into the shape, flip the patty, and continue on to the next one. That’s way cheaper than buying a hamburger press. The secret’s out. Now you choose.
1 pound ground sirloin or lean ground beef
1 beef bouillon cube
1-2 tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon steak seasoning mix
1 tablespoon olive oil
Sesame Seed Buns
Cheese of choice
Heat water to boiling. Add beef bouillon cube. Stir to dissolve. Fold into ground beef. Sprinkle steak seasoning into meat. With clean hands, mix gently until all ingredients are combined. Divide into quarter-pounders. Hand-pack ground beef into equal size patties. Rub both sides with olive oil. Refrigerate one hour before grilling. To cook, preheat gas grill on High heat. Place burgers directly on grate; cook for 4-5 minutes; flip and cook 4 minutes longer for medium doneness. Do not press on burger to flatten because it will release all those flavorful juices. Transfer to a platter. Immediately top with cheese of choice. Add sliced onions, tomatoes, and romaine lettuce leaves. Dress up with ketchup, mustard, and mayo. You’ve just made the best backyard burger!
Dining Outside the Home: The Cabana Bar & Grill in Koloa, Kauai! Word is getting around that an open-air restaurant, with a backyard of Poipu Beach, is the place to go if you’re looking for a good time. Delicious food and tropical cocktails make this hotspot part restaurant, part beach bar. At The Cabana Bar & Grill seafood offerings and humongous burgers promise to make your mouth water as soon as the plate hits the table. No worries. There’s plenty of time to savor every bite as you sip the time away. After all, you’re in paradise and you’re not homesick. It doesn’t get any better than this.