Monday, December 23, 2013

Gourmet Gifts and Party Pleasers

It seems like no matter how much you plan for the holidays, you always forget something or somebody. So wether you need to put together a last minute gift basket or stock your kitchen with goodies to last through the rest of the year. I've recently found a few fun consumables that are also new to the marketplace in general. Impress your guests and your hosts with some or all of these treats.

You can never go wrong with putting bags of gourmet chips in your gift baskets and having extra bags in your pantry, for when celebrations lasts longer than anticipated or unexpected guests arrive. When I opened a box of English chips from Tyrrells, you would've thought I had a box of gold, the way my friends reacted. Tyrrells chips have recently been launched in the US with unique flavors like Mature Cheddar and Chives, Worcestershire and Sundried Tomato or Beetroot, Parsnip and Carrot with a touch of Sea Salt. What makes them different, besides the flavors is that they are cooked by hand in small batches. We couldn't wait to open them and dig in and I couldn't get enough of the Sweet Chili and Red Pepper. They run around $10 a bag.

On the sweeter side, look for Snappers, a delicious new product from the Milk Shake Factory by Edward Marc Chocolatier. They are the perfect flavor combination of salt and sugar. And the perfect texture combo of crunchy and chewy; made with pretzels, caramel and chocolate.  Until now, you've only been able to find these in the Pittsburg market. However, Costco has picked up the tempting treat and now sells Snappers at select locations for $8.99 a bag. They are turtle-like but without the nuts and also a bit messy but soooo tasty.
 To wash down both of these treats, try something sparkling, like a lovely Cremant d'Alsace from Helfrich winery in France. The grapes in this bubbly come from the oldest documented and northernmost Grand Cru vineyard in Alsace.  A bit yeasty with lots of minerals, flavors of green apples and in the $20 range, it's one heck of a great bargain for what's in the bottle. It's tre impressive! I could drink champagne or sparkling wine every day, all day, on it's own and with almost any food. In fact one of my favorite things, because it's so yin and yang, includes bubbles and chips!

Grab these for your Christmas or New Years celebrations and enjoy. Cheers.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Fab Finds; Bread Pudding, Butterflies and Bennett's

If you are visiting or have friends visiting the Southwest Florida area for the holidays, I have a few new Fab Finds to help you both entertain and feed the family.

Reuben's Catering is now open to the public, only it's called Reuben's Smokehouse! Look for it on US41 in Fort Myers in the former Miami Connection location. Reuben serves up amazing comfort food like cheesy mac-n-cheese, green beans, coleslaw, homemade rolls and LOTS of flavorful meat, smoked everyday! SO good!

Chef Reuben has even bottled his own hot sauce. The beer and wine license just came in so the stash is in the process of getting stocked!

One thing you DONT want to skip is dessert and  the carmel, chocolate chip bread pudding. It's good enough to make you wanna fight over so, get your own!

The Shell Factory Nature Park in North Fort Myers opened it's new Butterfly Garden this week. It was fun tasting Lobetia wines, that appropriately enough have a butterfly on the label,  while watching awkward kids try not to squish or step on the beautiful creatures during the butterfly release.

The Nature Park is a family friendly, local find with, some amazing animals like alligators, owls, big cats, birds and lots more. Oh, and you don't have to go the middle east to ride a camel, they have one of those too!

I also checked out progress on the new Bennett's Fresh Roast on Sanibel Island. The downtown Fort Myers coffee shop has gained international attention for outstanding, made from scratch donuts and fresh roasted coffee. It's also the place to see and be seen.

Bennett's much anticipated opening on Sanibel will happen within weeks. I've seen the space and it looks great! Lots of light and lots of seating including outdoors. There is even a parking spot where you can plug in your Prius!

Lobster Lady Seafood in Cape Coral has a new chef and work is currently underway on some new menu items. I sampled this tasty tuna appetizer this week and it was fantastic. The garlic sesame peanut noodles were a delight.

I can't wait to see what new creations come out of the kitchen.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wine Wednesday; Lobetia

I went to Spain for Wine Wednesday and didn't even have to buy a plane ticket. Although that would've been kind of nice.

I actually went to the grand opening of the new Butterfly Gardens at the Shell Factory Nature Park and was introduced to a "butterfly wine"; well kinda. It has a butterfly on the label.

Lobetia is a Spanish wine made from organic and biodynamic farming practices. We sampled two as we participated in the release of dozens of beautiful butterflies.

Tempranillo is Spain's signature red grape. This one was nice and light on a warm afternoon; with flavors of plums, cherry and mocha

The Chardonnay was unoaked, bright and fresh with flavors of tropical fruits and pineapples.  Both wines are in the $10 range and perfectly suited for the festivities of the day.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Wine Wednesday; Tasting Violets

It's a special Wine Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve. As I sat in my living room drinking a glass of Leese-Fitch Pinot Noir (research for my next wine column for TOTI Media) My parents were thumbing through current TOTI editions, getting caught up on my stories.

My Dad, peering over the top of his glasses, looked at my mom and said, "I want you to listen to what your daughter wrote." For a split second I went into little girl mode….oh no what did I do?  Think fast; did I say something obscene, risqué ? It was published, can't be THAT bad, not like a blog or a Facebook post.

He read aloud what I wrote about the 2010 Unus from my wine tasting at Mendel in Mendoz, Argentina, "It has a toasty, creamy nose and flavors of violets." He pauses and adds, "Apparently your daughter has been grazing in a field of violets."

I suppose it does sound strange. No, I haven't been eating violets, smelling them yes. I tasted their smell, but that takes up too many words and valuable space to explain in print. Wine critiques and descriptions often sound strange and define things you might not normally want to taste, like leather and dirt. But in the big picture it works.

My story on travel to Mendoza is in the Times Of The Islands edition currently on the stands (Nov/Dec 2013, pages 34-39).

Dad finished up with, "I'm very impressed with your writing and ability to graze on flowering plants." Reading the article again, I had a deep yearning to return to Argentina. So I pulled up some photos, opened a bottle of BenMarco from winemaker Susana Balbo and Dominio del Plato, toasted an amazing trip and being with my wonderful family on Thanksgiving. Cheers! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wine Wednesday; Glassy Gimmicks

A question for wine lovers: How many wine gadgets and gifts have you collected over the years?

A question for friends of wine lovers: How many of these kind of gifts have you given over the years?

I attended a private function at the Shell Factory in Southwest Florida this week where I found a plethora of wine paraphenalia and found myself, momentarily, in a frenzy. It just so happens I have also been working on a Christmas shopping story for 10Best, so perfect timing.

There is a fine line between cool and crap when it comes to any theme related, specialty gift. That was the question I was faced with when looking at this wine glass. Coming off a week of helping to take care of my two nephews, I still had family on the brain, plus I know how much both Grandma's like their fermented libations.

Would it be cute to have them pose for Christmas photos holding the above glass, while the kids held their plastic sippy cups and bottles? Or would it be tacky. I had consumed the perfect amount of wine at that time to be painfully indecisive. Perhaps you are on either side of the threshold and can advise me properly??

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wine Wednesday: Bonarda

Have you ever had a bottle of Bonarda or Charbono? They are the same grape depending on wether you are in Argentina or France, respectively. I admit to generally discounting Bonarda as a blending grape; until this week.

Bonarda is another one of those French grapes that is flourishing in Argentina, similar to the superstar, Malbec. On a recent wine whirlwind in South America, I learned a lot  about Bonarda and how many producers are adding it to Malbec in higher percentages. Its the second most planted grape in Argentina and apparently it's the next big thing, or clever marketers are trying to make us believe it is.

And now Bonarda is the new "house wine" for my brother and sister-in-law. For wine Wednesday, we got geeky and did a blind test of two bottles from Mendoza, Argentina; Tercos and La Posta. Tercos smelled musty, tasted a bit leathery with dark fruit but didn't have much of a finish. The La Posta smelled lighter than it tasted with a bit of a cherry cola nose. This wine had more flavors of dark berries and a longer finish. Being a frequent buyer of Tercos, my brother said it generally tastes better after being open a day, as do many wines. It was a close contest, but La Posta won the taste test. Both are in the $15 range and both are good food wines.

Do you have a favorite Bonarda to recommend? Happy Wine Wednesday!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Flipping Over "Flipper's"

Photo by Sharon Arnold 
People always ask me where to dine on Fort Myers beach. I typically ask, "Do you want barefoot beach food, fine dining or some crazy combination of both?"

While I wouldn't call Flippers On The Bay "barefoot beach food", it is a crazy combination of fine dining in a casual atmosphere. On Estero Bay, the al fresco establishment is all undercover, except for a small deck on the beach; perfect for those who come by boat. You can come in your shorts and T-shirt but people DO dress for the deck; at night it is even quite romantic.

I recently dined at Flipper's while writing a piece on waterfront dining for 10Best, a division of USA TODAY, and fell in love with Chef Juan Cruz; not just his food but his infectious laugh and inviting smile. Cruz has worked with famous chef's like Wolfgang Puck and Thomas Keller and has quietly been building a loyal following at Flipper's.

Chef brought out a bunch of small plates for us to sample so don't judge the portion sizes in the slide show below. Our appetizers included tender calamari prepared Mediterranean-style, with Kalamata olives and tomato; Yellow Fin Tuna Ceviche ($11.90) with a ginger avocado cucumber relish that was so fresh and had a nice little kick; a flavorful Spanish-style shrimp cocktail called Campechana that also had lump crab and avocado; and a glass of crisp Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Each was unique, well balanced and I would order again.

We switched to a Krug Chardonnay for the next round which included the Shrimp Sunset ($22.90); papadale pasta with shrimp in a creamy and delicious red curry, tomato basil and parmesan sauce. The popular Asian Chicken Salad was sweet and spicy, with a fresh crunchy texture. Two more hits!

About this time the breeze picked up, the sun started to set and the dolphins came out to play. Not only can you see the sunset from this dining deck, you can also see it rise in the east. Flippers serves breakfast and I'm dying to try the Lobster Eggs Benedict!

After pausing to honor Mother Nature it was on to red wine, Erath Pinot Noir, and one of my favorite dishes of the night;  Chilean Seabass ($32.90) in a citrus miso sauce. It melted in my mouth. The Bohemian Grouper was also quite good; served over mashed plantains, topped with a citrus pineapple relish then drizzled with a lemon beurre blanc. There are selections for land lubbers too, although not many.

Flipper's On The Bay is one of the best hidden gems in Southwest Florida. It is not well marked and not in the middle of the craziness of the beach. If you are visiting Southwest Florida you've got to seek it out, at the southern end of Fort Myers Beach, almost in Bonita Springs, across from Lovers Key State Park. If you live here, why aren't you there now!

ginab2u's Flippers album on Photobucket

Flippers on the Bay on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fab Finds; Sweet Ginger's Gelato

Have you ever had gelato? I mean REAL gelato! not the one that reads "gelato" in your grocery store freezer section.

It's one of the many amazing foods that Italians do so well. I remember being in Italy with my family years ago, drooling at the beautiful mounds of this sweet treat in gelateria's lining the streets; and my mother declaring with great enthusiasm, "I'm going to eat gelato every day!" And she did, sometimes twice a day. As a loyal daughter, I could not let her eat alone!

So when I heard a little buzz about a new gelato business opening in Southwest Florida, I was intrigued to say the very least. Now that I know the full story, I'm EXCITED.

Owner Denise Kulisz has a great story that you will be hearing more about; not just in SWFL but soon, nationwide. A former stay-at-home mom in Chicago, she decided to go into the food truck business to sell gelato. No, its not an "Ice Cream" truck it's a food truck; gelato is a food, a dessert food, but still food.

Success came quickly until someone pointed out that her "gelato" wasn't really authentic; a common problem in the US. So Kulisz went to Italy to see for herself. Long story short, she ended up in gelato school, bought the proper machines and then brought an Italian pro to Fort Myers to share his techniques and even some family recipes with her.

Kulisz then hired a well known local chef, Ruth Cohen, to lead her new, state of the art Gelato Lab in Fort Myers. Still practicing for perfection, I got to do a little sampling today and am in love. I tried cream, pistachio, hazelnut, chocolate and a non-dairy dark chocolate that tasted like a velvety mixture of mousse, ganache and pudding.....without milk or cream. Wow!

Gelato may taste rich but it actually has less fat than ice cream. Sweet Ginger's did not give me that sugary buzz and it was full of clean, distinct flavors. As of now Kulisz does not plan to have a local gelateria, but instead serve her cold elixir at special events, select restaurants and out of her food truck.

Nothing like a sweet treat to make all of your cares disappear. Welcome Sweet Ginger's Gelato! Can't wait to see your food truck roll up the next event I'm at!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Stand Your Ground

Yesterday, I had a harrowing incident on bicycle involving a squirrel. I decided the best way to get over that trauma was to get back on the bike and ride. So today, I put on my backpack and rode to the grocery store for some staples.

My eyes darted left and right like a mad woman, on the look-out for rogue squirrels. I felt victorious as soon as I made it safely out of my community and once again tried to enjoy the sunny skies and low humidity. I made a slight detour into another neighborhood to get in some extra cardio when I saw another bicyclist coming toward me. I hugged the right side of the road as I had been doing since I departed. Funny thing, she was on the same side, doing the same thing. We were headed directly at each other. Did she sense I was an interloper? 

I thought, "Surely this woman knows the rules of the road and will move over." But not an inch. I double checked, yes I'm on the correct side of the road as all things with wheels move in the same direction; it's pedestrians that go against the traffic flow.

As we get closer she is still not moving over. Since it is more important for me to be right than to avoid another collision, I stay the course and maybe even pedal a little faster. Finally, she moves slightly and I cheerily bid her Hello while under my breath I say once again, "What the Hell?"

As I recounted this story to some friends over dinner, to my surprise they both said, "Yes, I ride against traffic so I can see what's going to hit me." Are you serious? Am I going mad?

Once again I'm left analyzing what I'm suppose to learn from this incident; besides the obvious idiocy in proving that I'm right. Its simple; STAY THE COURSE.  Just stay the course and eventually things will work out.

Good thing the lady coming at me didn't have the same philosophy.

Not sure I'm going to take out the bicycle again tomorrow, perhaps "it" needs a rest. However, it's given me such great stories and insight this week.....

Monday, October 14, 2013

Suicidal Squirrel

Photo from Lin's Domain
I have several friends who've been hit by cars while riding bicycles. But have you ever been the one to hit anything while riding? I mean other than random potholes, curbs or bushes?

After several hours behind the computer today, I decided it was time to move my body. I got on my bike and breathed deeply, enjoying the sunny blue sky and low humidity. About a minute into my ride, as I'm about to exit my neighborhood, my attention is strangely diverted to a squirrel ahead. He had moved quite quickly through the grass, paused and perched himself  at the side of the road.

"Don't you do it!" flashed through my mind. But the lil' bastard DID! He ran right in front of me so fast I had no time to brake. I felt a bump, felt his furry F-ing tail on my leg. I hit a damn squirrel on my bike! Who does that? I was horrified, didn't know what to do. I mean I couldn't look back and risk seeing that lil body jerking and writhing in pain from the impact of my powerful Mongoose. And if that was the case, what would I do? I certainly didn't have the guts to finish him off; kill him and put him out of his misery.
by George Coghill

I rode a few feet with my hand over my mouth, also wondering if any neighbors had witnessed the alleged squirrel massacre. Of course curiosity got the best of me. I just had to look over my shoulder; I had to know what happened to that furry guy. To my surprise, there he was sitting in the middle of the road upright, not twitching. Was it my imagination or was he looking at me like "What the hell?" Or was it really his mother looking at me like "What the hell, MY BABY"S DYING IN THE DITCH!!" My imaginary conversation continued with the mama squirrel, this time with me saying "What the Hell! Didn't you teach that boy not to play in traffic?"

Now my beautiful bike ride is mired in reliving the harrowing experience and analyzing what the near death experience with a squirrel was meant to teach me. When presented with openings in life you either have to make a mad dash, or wait for the traffic to clear and walk more calmly into it. But that moment of indecision, pausing on the side of the road, will get you smacked at best; more likely squished flat. I think I was being told to be patient, take a breath before making any more mad dashes.

Not completely satisfied with my conclusion I looked up the meaning of squirrel energy and found the power of the rodent is a "great gift" reminding us to lighten our load of things that are unnecessary and cluttering our lives. The last quote I read about squirrels on the website Lin's Domain confirmed what I had already figured out, "Take the time to stop and listen to your inner self, and don't forget to play." I got it! Hopefully you get it too!

If I ever decide to start a band, I'm calling it "Suicidal Squirrel".

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wine Wednesday, Everyday Finds

For Wine Wednesday this week I attended a fund raising, wine tasting for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer at Fresh Market in Naples, FL. They closed the store and put on a beautiful event with lots of good food to boot. Navigating the different tables set up throughout the store, I was reminded of some great everyday wines that I sometimes forget about like; Casa Lapostolle, Oyster Bay and Bogle.

But I really enjoyed bouncing between the Joel Gott and Ferrari Carano tables, thank God they were side-by-side and in the cheese section of the store; Heaven. I may or may not have ended up in the case at one point.

The Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc was not the citrus explosion you might expect from a California Sauv Blanc. It had lots of stone fruit and a nice $13.99 price tag.  In Florida, you can never go wrong with that one or the Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc ($14.99); peachy with a little spice on the finish. One of my long-standing favorites.

As for reds, my favorite was Ferrari Carano Cabernet ($24.99); cherry, smoke, tobacco, yum. And the Joel Gott Red Blend ($17.99). It was juicy and nicely balanced.

After picking up a few bottles of red, I picked up some chocolate in the bulk food bins. It was a beautiful sight to see this morning on my kitchen table! Is it 5:00 yet?

ginab2u's Making Strides Wine Tasting album on Photobucket

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wine Wednesday, Zaha

Ah, another Wine Wednesday and another maddening dilemma of what to write about, especially since I'm fresh off of the Fall Show for Opici Wines. I tasted so many amazing wines yesterday!

One of the things I love to do is let you know when something new is coming to the area, the area being Florida. If you are in other states or countries, I certainly hope you can find this fantastic Malbec, ZaHa.

It's no secret I'm a fan of Malbec from Mendoza and this is now one of them. Its not a typical Malbec though. While it has good fruit like black cherry, it is smoky with a bit of coffee and spice. While ZaHa is 90% Malbec, it has just a touch of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot to round things out.

In the $40 range,  the 2010 got 92 points from Wine Advocate. ZaHa means heart and it got mine!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fab Finds; Desserts, Diners and Dining in style

There is a sweet new addition to the shops and restaurants in downtown Fort Myers. This week Irresistible Confections owner, Justin Shafer, finally opened the doors to his new Broadway Factory.

Besides the beautiful treats on the right, Broadway Factory serves up old favorites like haystacks and chocolate covered pretzels. Next week he will be adding adult beverages to the line up, as chocolate and champagne make for one heck of a happy combo.

There is also a yogurt wall with more than half a dozen self serve flavors. The do it yourself toppings bar has an abundance of sweet and crunchy toppings as well as syrups. You pay by weight. I was trapped inside by a raging thunderstorm, it was delightful torture.

Doing research for a story I'm working on about breakfast spots in the area, I ventured to a new place (at least for me) in Cape Coral called Jill's Joint.

The diner is not easy to find, sitting behind the tall fences of an industrial park. I felt like I was somewhere I wasn't suppose to be, especially for food.  Several blue collared workers sat at the small counter, a salesman with his computer at a small table, a cop in the corner reading the paper and now me, in my high heels and Black House White Market dress.

Everyone was minding their own business until I showed up. I polled the crowd on what to order, announcing it was my first time, as if it wasn't obvious. I was given a styrofoam cup for my coffee that was more suited for a soda, and helped myself at the drink bar. Have I ever mentioned that I hate styrofoam?

With the help of the very nice staff, I decided on the Strangled Eggs Supreme. It's described as a gastronomical adventure on the menu and I'm always up for one of those. A mash of meats, cheeses, veggies and home fries; covered in sausage gravy and topped with two eggs; I could not conquer the breakfast beast but gave it a good try.

Perhaps the best Fab Find for me this week was in Naples; it was two-fold. One of my favorite wine reps invited me to have lunch with her at Mereday's, where we were to taste wines with National Sales Manager Edd Lopez from Whitehall Lane.

When I walked in the door and spotted chef, I had a moment of confusion. I first met Charles Mereday when he was hired as Executive Chef at Southseas Resort on Captiva Island. Now he has his own spot in Naples and it is beautiful.

The Salmon Tartare with olives, capers and shallots was fantastic with the Sauvignon Blanc. The wine was crisp, the acid moderate; it was a bit floral with apricots and lots of stone fruit. It's a great bargain at under $20 a bottle. Loved both.

We continued to taste a brand new blend called Tre Leoni, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and the Reserve Cab. Chef Mereday served a perfectly cooked duck course with blackberries and chèvre over a butternut squash puree. I tried it with all three reds and it worked each time. These reds from Whitehall Lane are all fantastic and extremely affordable considering where the grapes come from in Napa.

I love the concept of Mereday's. You get to pick from three to five courses with the option of a wine pairing. Each course offers you several choices and the prices range from a flat $55 to $115. The restaurant is full of natural light, sitting along the marina at Naples Bay Resort. The decor is trendy and the food is spectacular. Mereday's has a great Wednesday wine event too.

Check out these Fab Finds when you get a chance and be sure to share yours also.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wine Wednesday; NEW from Whitehall Lane

I've been a long time supporter of wines from Whitehall Lane in Napa Valley, California. So when I found out National Sales Manager Edd Lopez would be in Southwest Florida for a wine dinner at Cru tonight I was super excited. That is until I realized I couldn't go.

When I was invited to join him for lunch at Mereday's in Naples, the car on the roller coaster was back at the top of the track. Just as exciting, finding out Executive Chef and owner, Charles Mereday, is the former Executive Chef at South Seas Resort on Sanibel. I interviewed him when he first came to town. More on his new joint later this week, it is Wine Wednesday after all.

Whitehall Lane is well know for it's outstanding Cabernets among other things. However, they've never produced a blend with all of that good fruit, until now. Tre Leoni is a Cab based blend, made from estate fruit grown in Napa. Seven grapes flow together seamlessly in this new project. It's just being introduced to Florida this week.

Lopez said women were the inspiration for this wine. He used the words finesse and elegance, and that's all I needed to hear. I immediately smelled vanilla in the glass and tasted it too; along with plums and red fruit. There is a hint of cedar on the finish, it is fresh and darn good. Tre Leoni is already sold out at the winery so don't bother trying to order it. You can, however,  find it at Decanted in Naples and Mereday's will be serving it as soon as the delivery truck arrives.

Big thanks to Chef Mereday and his staff along with Heather from Opici Wines for pulling it all together. Happy Wine Wednesday! CHEERS!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fab Finds; New food and new designs

Pot Roast French Dip and Hogfish Rueben 
New food and new decor arrived at two of my favorite Southwest Florida Bistro's this week. Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers is in the middle of revamping it's menu and rolled out some new lunch specialties that are not just filling but fulfilling on every level.

The Pot Roast French Dip was among my favorites, stuffed full of flavorful meat and cheese. You could share one with a friend and each try a salad or soup too.

Twisted Vine's new chef now smokes his prime rib for another meaty and delicious new sandwich and the Fried Green Tomato BLT was perfect.  Yes, I tried all of them and then some.

A little further south in The Bell Tower Shops, Bistro 41's doors have been closed for two weeks for a facelift. I had to check it out the day it reopened and it feels good. Gone is the carpet, the blues and golds in the dining room; replaced with wood and warm, earthy tones. The bar is back lit and the lighting has been updated.

They were still working on a few finishing touches and hope to have all the "little things' taken care of by this week. New decor, but thankfully the same great staff.

One more find, one more Bistro. I stopped in Blue Water Bistro at Coconut Point in Estero this week for a little happy hour libation; BTW they have some really good, early dining specials right now.

When the oyster appetizer arrived, even the bar tender marveled at one of the massive molluscs on the plate; it clearly dwarfed the others. After some blue humored remarks, the negotiations began on who would tackle the big boy. As my friend and I began to eat around it, it seemed other patrons were now taking note, watching and waiting for the final, big slurp. This would not be a problem at the beach,  but it takes some finesse to do these things at a fancy restaurant. For the record, it was a success and it was delicious.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Seeking Seafood Suggestions

I'm very excited about my newest freelance gig; local editor/local expert for USA Today's 10Best. I get to help steer visitors to some of the best places in the Fort Myers area; from beaches to restaurants and everything in between. I'm just starting to update a couple of categories but none are complete yet. 

While working out of my second office this morning, Bennett's Fresh Roast, I was discussing the difficult task of updating the Best Breakfast category. There are sooooo many amazing breakfast spots, how do I narrow it down to just ten? You can bet Bennett's will be on there.

Pan Seared Scallops at Brew Babies
One of the other categories I'm currently working on poses the same problem; Best Seafood Restaurant. I live in a beach community, there are dozens. I stopped by Brew Babies in Cape Coral recently for a little nosh and glass of vino. The scallops were phenomenal but I can't classify this place as a seafood joint. I just wanted to take a minute to brag about how fantastic this dish was and post a photo.

Back to the problem at hand and a call for help. If you had to pick the best seafood  restaurants in the Fort Myers area. Which ones would be on YOUR list. You don't have to give me ten, just a few.

You can post here or email my trusty AOL account,

I can't wait to see which are your favs! Thanks and stay tuned for the update. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Fab Finds: Wining and Dining

Ladies selling out The Joing
Always on the hunt for fabulous finds with food and wine, I found one heck of a great deal this week at Ladies night at The Joint in Cape Coral. This Ladies Night does not involve free, cheap booze or bawdy entertainment, there are plenty of spots for that.

This is a three course wine dinner the last Thursday of the month.  Last night I had a Crab and Lobster Cake with a Chilean Chardonnay, grilled lamb lollipops with an Australian Shiraz and a chocolate cherry "come to mama" dessert with a chocolate martini.

It gets even better, all that for only $20! Now that's a FAB FIND! I hesitate writing about this one because I don't want to get booted from my seat next month now that the word is out and reservations will surely fly in.

Chocolate Cherry Elegance, Creme Anglaise

Life is good for two other great dining establishments in Southwest Florida as they are in the middle of expansion projects.

Fancy's Southern Cafe is expanding into space next door formerly home to a deli. It's not more restaurant seating but a comfy, cool wine bar.  This part of the Daniels Road corridor needs a spot like this. Great for an after work cocktail and even better for patrons who aren't keen on lounging outside while waiting for a table.

And one of my favorite breakfast spots, CRaVE, is opening a market next door. So when you are plagued by a long wait on Saturday or Sunday morning, you can pop into the market and get some of their signature dishes and other goodies to go! Another BRILLIANT idea.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wine Wednesday: Delectus, its Delicious

The Delectus Bear Crossing Cabernet is so fantastic, it knocked me off my feet, literally.

I was fortunate enough to take a vineyard tour of Delectus while in Napa Valley over the weekend and thought it was the coolest thing ever to be drinking the Bear Crossing Cab, in the Bear Crossing Vineyard, while looking at the actual tracks from the crossing bears.

The wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, harvested from two vineyard blocks at the highest elevation on the ranch.

I found out just how high that elevation was when I took one too many steps backward. My feet slid down the dusty, gravely soil and I ended up flat, face first.

"MAN DOWN" but the wine was saved. At $130 a bottle you bet your ass I held on to that glass, for dear life. The only bit wasted was a splash on the side of my face, that gathered more dust as the day went on. It gave the appearance that the accident had been much worse. It was a great tale to relive and laugh about on the long flight home. But back to the wine....

The Bear Crossing started with lovely dark chocolate, oak and then a little dust, but that was just in my glass. It's drinking like a champ. Don't just buy one bottle, buy two. These wines have great aging potential.

Thanks to Unfiltered Unfined Wines for a fantastic time.

Happy Wine Wednesday. Cheers!

Thanks for joining me on the ground Tom!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pushing Pizza In Naples

It's no secret that I LOVE pizza. While there a number of good places in Southwest Florida to eat it, not all have good ingredients. By good I mean organic, fresh, vegetarian and even gluten free. That is one reason I enjoy Pizza Fusion; you have all of these options and more.

Tonight I went to the opening of the new Pizza Fusion in Naples. And while I should be packing for my 5:45am flight tomorrow, I want to take a moment to rave about the new space on US41 and Golden Gate, by the Coastland Center Mall.

We started with a delicious roasted beet and arugula salad with feta and candied walnuts. Then we sampled the spicy Sausage and Tricolor Pepper pizza, The Farmers Market veggie pizza and the garlicky Spinach and Artichoke on a crisp Multi-grain crust. Full of flavor but not too filling, the thin crust was just right.

The newest Southwest Florida pizza franchise has a distinct local flare. Local artists took delicate pages from books about Florida and molded them with sturdy iron for unique chandeliers in the middle of the restaurant. The bulbs used are famous Thomas Edison design.

The new Fusion carries several local beers on tap, as well as a balanced, affordable selection of wines from around the world.

Congratulations Brown Thompson and staff on a successful opening and best wishes for much success at your cool new spot in Naples.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Fab Finds: Chocolate, Sippers and Sliders

Open Faced Tuna Sliders at Restoratives Cafe
I get to see and experience so many new things each week and I never seem to have enough space to write or time to broadcast everything. Then I remembered I have a blog, DUH.

Last week I went to the Grand Opening of Restoratives Cafe in Estero, FL. Brothers Jay and Tim Gillmore are serving up breakfast. hot soups, fresh salads and gourmet sandwiches. One of my favorites is the Open Faced Tuna Slider, sprinkled with Goldfish Crackers.

You might remember Chef Jay from hot spots such as Bistro 41 and Cru. Restoratives is on US41 just North of Corkscrew in the former Lush Bakery location.

Hanging out in downtown Fort Myers, FL last week I snuck in the construction zone of the new Broadway Factory; it's on Broadway between Starbucks and Hotel Indigo. Local chocolatier Justin Schaffer (Irresistible Confections) is teaming up with entrepreneur Mike Bartholomew for a crazy confection shop. Besides chocolate, you can also get yogurt but what I'm really excited about is the champagne bar and chocolate fountain. The creative brains behind some of the cool decorative concepts at The Firestone are helping with some fun features for the space; it will be impressive. And it will be opening next month.
Women and Wine and Sip and Send

Do you dread having to wait in line to send packages? You wont if use Sip & Send on Santa Barbara in Cape Coral, Fl. The shipping store is contained within a cafe, wine bar and retail shop. I'm suddenly finding lots of things to ship to friends and family out of state.

Once a month Sip & Send has a Women's Wine night. I check it out last week with my fun friend at Opici, Heather Smith. She talked and I sipped some of my favs from Clayhouse and Buried Cane, all of which were available that night for a discount. You have to reserve a seat for these events since the space is small.

Let me know about YOUR Fab Finds too!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Yum Yum Rum, National Rum Day

It's National Rum Day. Not like anyone needs an excuse to drink the festive spirit, but just in case, now you have justification.

I used to pass this spirit off as a sweet party drink sure to give me a raging headache, make me wonder what happened to my sunglass and how I got a fist-full of beads.

My whole perception of rum changed when I attended a rum dinner two years ago at Hemingways Island Grill in Estero, FL. I met Francisco "Don Pancho" Fernandez  the so-called rum czar and sipped on a 25-year-old barrel aged Panamanian spirit that sells for $400 a bottle: Panamonte.

Panamonte drinks more like a cognac than a rum, those rich oak flavors give it a silky quality and I can assure you there are no headaches. I tried Panamonte again this year at it's debut party in Panama, the country, not the city in the Florida Panhandle. Owner Jim Wasson also makes an overproof rum that you can actually sip on its own, called Panama Red.

Country music star Kenny Chesney is also a rum aficionado. He has just launched a line of spirits called Blue Chair Bay Rum. The portfolio includes a White, Coconut and Coconut Spiced selections.

If you look on the shelves in your local liquor store you'll see more and more flavored rums. Malibu is out with the first low calorie selection called Island Spice. It is made with Truvia. There is even a new rum distillery in Southwest Florida called Wicked Dolphin.

When you sit down at happy hour today and are asked, "What are you having?" start the night with a festive rum cocktail, or a refreshing splash over ice. Cheers!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wine Wednesday, Big Basin

Balance is the key to most things in life, wine being one of them. It was the topic at a seminar I attended this week hosted by Premier Beverage and Augustan Wine Imports at Bayfront Bistro on Fort Myers Beach. I'll share more about the event later.

Since it's Wine Wednesday I wanted to feature one of the vineyards I was introduced to during the course of the day; Big Basin. These wines are brand new to Florida and I'm so glad they are here. Only 169 cases were produced of the Coastview Vineyard Pinot Noir ($45). It smelled a little like cola but tasted of raspberry, lots of minerals.

I also really enjoyed Big Basin's Homestead Red; a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. It smelled a bit sticky and juicy. It was a bit acidic with lots of dark fruit and a long delicious, cherry finish. Hate to be a tease, but on the winery website, it is sold out. Call your favorite restaurant or wine store to see if they can get it for you

What's in YOUR glass for Wine Wednesday??