Dining Outside the Home: First Watch in Estero, Florida! You can always tell breakfast is going to be good when you know the workers get up with the chickens, which means the crack of dawn. The oven heats up for freshly-baked pastries, the cage-free eggs get whipped for super-light lemon ricotta pancakes, and the smell of hardwood smoked bacon stimulates the appetite as succulent fruits and garden vegetables are chopped, sliced, or diced for the menu of the day. But that’s not all. Smell that coffee. Once you place the order, an aromatic pot of steaming coffee is set before you to drain at your leisure. This is how to enjoy the morning cuppa joe. As you can imagine, word has gotten out, so sometimes there’s a wait. No worries, it takes that long to decide what to choose. Besides, this is Florida and the weather brings a healthy disposition.
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: Rosati’s Pizza in Estero, Florida! You learn a lot about a business by talking to the owners. Perhaps that is why I sometimes visit a restaurant in the off hours of the day. You are more apt to find the owners working face-to-face with customers. Rosati’s Pizza is owned and operated by a family who not only strives for perfection, but also cares about the people who walk through their door. When they expanded their business in Estero for dine-in service, Covid hit with a vengeance and caused them to shift to delivery and carry-out service only. That takes a chunk out of overhead, which translates to selling a boatload of pizza. Yet, they endured. And thrived because they do things the old-fashioned way: like sourcing local ingredients, fresh mozzarella, and homemade crusts. Their story goes all the way back to the first pizzerias in Chicago; Italian roots to the core. So proud, they live by the motto, “We don’t cut corners, just slices of pizza.” Dine in, smell the aromas, chat with the staff, and over-order so you have extra servings for leftovers. Don’t forget to add a jar of the Hot Giardiniera. It is ah-mazing!
Dining Outside the Home: Vergina Restaurant in Naples, Florida! Italians are known for their food culture as well as their leisurely meals. Located on 5th Avenue, a few steps away from the Sugden Civic Theater, is a great place for meeting people. It’s known as Vergina’s. The neo-classic architecture provides lovely patio dining as well as intimate gatherings inside along the u-shaped bar or at tables located throughout. Vergina’s crafted martinis by personable bartenders, an euphoric wine list, memorable cocktails, and leisurely Italian courses are reasons enough to stop by for social interaction or that weekly “date night”. Unwind where the music is lively, without drowning out personal conversations, and the appetite is fully sated.
Dining Outside the Home: L’Olivo Ristorante in Naples, Florida! Located in the heart of Fifth Avenue is an authentic Italian restaurant where Happy Hour, Three-Course Specials, and Featured Entrees make it a memorable place. Although there is a main menu, sometimes it’s a good idea to go with the flow, especially when the chef suggests preset combinations. The portions were reasonable in order to keep a steady pace from one specialty to another. The Bruschetta Prosciutto with shaved parmesan cheese was an easy start, allowing time for sipping on an Aperol Spritzer. The oven-baked Lasagna with bolognese sauce and melted mozzarella cheese was hearty, down to the very last dredge of crusty bread across the marinara. As a finale, there’s always room for dessert when it’s Tiramisu. The espresso-soaked ladyfingers are like eating air. Grazie!
Dining Outside the Home: Nauti Parrot Oasis in Fort Myers, Florida! Have you ever been on your way to someplace else and noticed an open-air thatched roof tiki hut that just so happens to offer live music, serve bar bites, and keep the drinks cold? The Nauti Parrot Oasis is open every day for that getaway you’re seeking. They invite music lovers to drop by anytime. And, to be honest, you can get quite a variety of food from pizza and wings to lasagna and veal piccata. The entertainment changes often, yes even during the afternoon. There’s a nice little waterfall fountain for ambiance as well as tiki totem poles offering hospitality. Conversation is encouraged, but not required. For laidback island fun and a positive outlook on life, escape to this hideaway resting place in plain sight.
Dining Outside the Home: Aqua in Naples, Florida! You can’t miss this Fifth Avenue restaurant because of the stunning cobalt blue goblets placed atop white tablecloths for open-air dining. Look above them and see the restaurant name: AQUA followed by Seafood & Steak. That says it all. The Mediterranean-style gourmet dishes satisfy whatever mood you’re in. Begin with a luscious bowl of New England Clam Chowder. Follow it up with the lightly grilled Romaine Caesar Salad. Ask for anchovies; you won’t regret it. Move on to the Chilean sea bass, lobster tail, crusted snapper, king crab legs, or calamari. There is no wrong choice. Others might gravitate toward a juicy filet mignon or perhaps a Berkshire pork chop. From land to sea, the choices are endless. It’s best to make it date night so you can nibble off each other’s plates. The night simply isn’t long enough to try everything your heart desires.
Dining Outside the Home: Alberto’s on Fifth in Naples, Florida! There’s nothing that makes me feel more special than dining on white linen tablecloths. Call me crazy, but I simply love it. Now, imagine this table in the mountainous part of Northern Italy where the chef is transforming ordinary food into spectacular dishes. The secret, you wonder? Fresh, local vegetables, pasta, and seafood with fewer processed ingredients. Traditions are important, cutting corners is not. Each dish is a form of art. Creamy mozzarella, salty prosciutto, and fresh basil leaves will literally drive your tastebuds crazy. Listen to the chatter. Crowd-pleasers are everywhere. Linger over the delicious Italian balsamic vinaigrette drizzled over a garden salad. The aromas seduce the palate with a slightly spicy taste. Aging is the secret, of course. But it doesn’t matter what I say, it’s the velvety texture on the tongue that is the judge. Take smaller bites to enjoy the meal longer. It has profound effects that will find you enjoying the meal with satisfying results.
Dining Outside the Home: Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille in Bonita Springs, Florida! Have you ever eaten in a tiki hut along the waterfront? The open air seating is a sought-after request for a stunning tropical view. It feels like being on a river in the tropics the way the trees embrace the shoreline like an island oasis. There’s no doubt atmosphere affects our perception of being carefree and downright sexy. At Coconut Jack’s the local seafood is fresh, the cocktails are thirst-quenching, and the experience is memorable. Oftentimes, the chef features a daily special that will leave you smiling all the way home. If seafood is your go-to choice, there’s plenty to choose from and more to look forward to on a return trip back.