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: 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.
Dining Outside the Home: Tavern on the Bay in Naples, Florida! Imagine yourself on a sunny afternoon, perched at the edge of a patio, under a swaying palm tree, sipping on a refreshing beverage with a panoramic view of Naples Bay. Ahhh. These are the moments when Time stands still. Notice the Mediterranean-style architecture, the brick-laden pathways, the gurgling fountains, and the waterfront activity. It practically feels like an oasis in the middle of paradise. Feeling hungry? The Tavern on the Bay menu has you covered. The freshest ingredients are used in an ahi poke bowl, chopped salad, prime rib slider, snapper sammie, or shrimp taco. It sure makes choosing something a tough decision. No worries. There really isn’t a wrong choice. Sit back and enjoy.
Dining Outside the Home: Island Gypsy Cafe & Marina Bar in Naples, Florida! Take a side turn off the main drag and you’ll find yourself on a winding road to the magical Isles of Capri, a charming waterfront community as sought after as a coveted treasure map. The Island Gypsy Cafe is recognizable by its weathered bar, salvaged from the stern of an original sea vessel destroyed by a hurricane years ago. Once upon a time the Island Gypsy was a 65-foot fishing boat. Absorb the history of yesteryear among the ambiance of present day. The outdoor Café serves a delightful array of fresh seafood, including coconut shrimp, citrus crusted tuna sashimi, and macadamia nut mahi-mahi. Anyone who has a taste for onion rings will want to add a basket of hand cut batter-fried onion rings to share. The cocktails are as tropical as the desserts are famous. Find your path for hidden riches. And don’t forget to pack your appetite.
Dining Outside the Home: Steamers in Naples, Florida! For New England-style seafood in an unpretentious setting, it always helps to get a tip about where the locals go for incredible clam chowder with a side of fried clam strips and hush puppies. The menu offers way more than steamed scallops, sautéed shrimp, fried clams, blackened fish, and lobster tails. Unfortunately, I can’t get past the taste of my favorite combination enough to find out how delicious everything else is. What I can confirm, is that people stand in line or meander around the busy strip mall to wait for a table inside or out. It feels like family the way the staff interacts with customers. When you get the craving, remember Steamers for outstanding seafood at a pretty decent price.
Dining Outside the Home: Divieto Ristorante in Estero, Florida! Whenever a meal is prepared table-side, things are bound to feel a little bit different at this 1920’s version of a classic Italian restaurant. Their signature dish, Ruota di Parmigiano, is a creamy fettuccine Alfredo specialty tossed in a parmigiana-reggiano cheese wheel. The steamy homemade pasta is poured into the hollowed out cheese wheel over a layer of freshly scraped parmesan shavings. As the pasta is gently mixed in, the buttered noodles are coated in the creamy decadence causing the customers to practically drool uncontrollably. But mind your manners, take a sip of water, and wait patiently until the server ceremoniously transfers the traditional pasta dish before you as though you were royalty.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Fab Foodstuff: Orzo Shrimp Salad! In case you did a double-take, this is not a rice dish. Orzo, for those who are new to its origin, is a rice-shaped pasta popular in Italy. Most often it is used in soups, chilled salads, and pasta recipes. It is not gluten-free, if that is important to you. Because of its unique texture, the flavor of orzo bonds wonderfully with olive oil or butter and fresh herbs. Make it early in the day or right before supper. Either way, the taste is incredible with garden fresh veggies and cocktail shrimp. A little orzo goes a long way.
ORZO SHRIMP SALAD
1/4 cup lemon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup uncooked orzo
1/2 pound precooked jumbo cocktail shrimp
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dill
1/2 teaspoon tarragon leaves, chopped
4 ounces asparagus, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed
1/2 cup frozen English peas, thawed
Lemon slices for garnish
For dressing, whisk together lemon olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, kosher salt, and black pepper. Set aside. Prepare orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Transfer to a platter and cool 10 minutes to room temperature. In a skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Remove shells from shrimp tails. Place shrimp in a single layer in the skillet. Sprinkle with dill and tarragon. Lightly brown, turning once. Reduce heat to keep from burning. Remove from stove. Let shrimp cool. Meanwhile, in a steamer basket, bring water to a boil. Add asparagus, sugar snap peas, and English peas. Cook 2 minutes until bright green and tender crisp. Immediately transfer vegetables to an ice bath. Drain. Toss together shrimp and vegetables with orzo. Drizzle with lemon dressing, to taste. Toss to combine. Serve chilled or at room temperature. Garnish with lemon slices.
Dining Outside the Home: Mango’s Dockside Bistro & Sushi Bar on Marco Island, Florida! It’s a tough decision when you need to think about sitting outside with a backdrop of the local marina or inside where you can watch exotic salt-water fish swim by in a huge aquarium. Try a tropical appetizer like the Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp Jalapeños. Spicy, with a touch of natural saltiness. It’s a nice starter along with the Yellowfin Tuna over Seaweed Salad. Quench your thirst with a crafted cocktail like the Key Lime Pie Martini. It’s more like a dessert for those who enjoy a touch of sublime sweetness. After all, isn’t that the reason you walk two miles along the beach every day? Eating out is fun and something everyone looks forward to for socialization. The Tropical Island Salad makes quite a statement served in a fresh pineapple boat over a bed of mixed greens. A scoop of Mango’s famous chicken salad takes center stage surrounded by juicy strawberries, crushed walnuts, and Gorgonzola crumbles. The menu goes on and on to satisfy every palate.
Dining Outside the Home: Pinchers on Marco Island, Florida! Stumbling into a place that boasts Happy Hour Every Day All Day is definitely an unexpected pleasure if you appreciate liquid refreshments and crave seafood. At Pinchers, their motto is “You can’t fake fresh!”, which is important when you’re located steps away from the Gulf of Mexico. It helps that local fishermen keep the restaurant supplied with fish from local emerald green waters. When the wait staff rolls out a sheet of brown paper to cover the table, it’s practically unspoken permission to eat with your fingers. Slightly chilled peel ‘n eat shrimp, dunked in a homemade cocktail sauce, is good enough to devour in one bite. Save room for more, though, because the clam strips are coated in a tasty batter and deep-fried to a golden brown; crispy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. Even if you have to share, the meal wouldn’t be complete without the favored Floridian dessert, Key Lime Pie.