Here is the premise of my guide: When I go to a new place, I like to try local cuisine and flavors and search for things that I cannot readily find where I live. Another bonus about this is that local specialties are always fresh and prepared fresh, and do not come in frozen bags in the back of a container truck. So if you want to read about unique foods local in the area (and where to eat them and the preparation variations) read on (and I promise that there is a bonus entry at the end, which will worth your time - If you really want to create some of those delicacies at home, you can also check out preparation tips from online culinary classes) :
There are 3 fish local to the area, two of them you can find aplenty and in a variety of preparations and a third one that is for the adventure loving crowd.
Grouper is to South and South Central Florida as Cod and Scrod is to Massachusettes, Lobster to Maine and Pacific Salmon to Seattle. A mild fish with buttery flavor is prepared in many ways in Fort Myers.
For traditional preparations, Clancey's, on McGregor Blvd (closed on Sundays and Mondays), offers a grouper sandwich with the grouper either blackened, grilled or fried for $12.95. You can also add the fish prepared in any of those ways on top of any of their salads, opt for the dinner entree for $24.95 or get their "Famous stuffed Grouper" (stuffed with lump crab meat, peppers and onion and finished with a lobster sauce for $26.95. A little further away on Fort Myers Beach, the Beached Whale, in addition to a grouper sandwich ($13.95) and grouper entree ($22.95), offers grouper tacos for $12.95. Pincher's Crab Shack in several locations, offers a grouper basket for $12.99 as well as a sandwich at the same price, in addition to grouper nuggets, grouper tacos and grouper reuben. Grouper Paradise. 3 Fishermen Seafood at South Cleveland Ave, offers their lunch grouper filet or sandwich for $10.99 and has a special "Captain Paul's Grouper" for dinner, which is stuffed with crab meat and topped with Monterrey Jack cheese, for $14.99. Another place that offer grouper and grouper sandwiches in the $10-13 range are Skip One Seafood Market at South Tamiami Trail.
If these prices are high for your budget, the best bargain for grouper is Red Bones Bar and Grill on Palm Beach Blvd. You can get grouper fingers for $4.75 and a grouper sandwich basket for $5.50. Probably the most interesting grouper preparation is at the Prawnbrocker at McGregor Blvd. They serve grouper matanzas, which are filets of grouper dipped in egg, sauteed in lemon butter and topped with lump crab meat. Those will set you back $24.95.
Red Snapper is another mild fish with a bit of a firmer texture than grouper. Almost like sole/flounder firmness but thicker. You can find snapper filets in many of the aforementioned places, but for a treat, you have to look into Asian preparations.
Thai Gardens on College Pkwy and Welcome To Bangkok on S. Cleveland Ave, both offer four traditional Thai snapper preparations (all at market prices) which involved whole de-boned fish that is steamed or deep fried and prepare in a variety of sauces or curries that range from mild pepper and garlic, sweet and sour and spicy green Thai Curry. If you prefer Japanese flavors, Mr Mees on S Cleveland Ave, offers Snapper teriyaki, snapper tempura or Korean spicy snapper steamed with vegetables for $15.95 each.
Mr Mees also is a sushi bar and one of the few places where you can eat snapper sushi. They brilliantly use it to substitute for yellowtail in several rolls. Mr. Mee Roll (spicy tuna and cucumber inside topped with red snapper and avocado) for $9.95, Yami Yami Roll (with imitation crab, red snapper, carrot and green onion, all deep fried and served with eel sauce) for $6.95 and Puerto Rico Roll (tempura snapper, cream cheese, eel and cucumber topped with avocado) for $9.95. Snapper Nigiri sushi is $3.95, and other than the Puerto Rico Roll, snapper is raw. Blu Sushi, on McGregor Blvd and Town Center Drive, has only one snapper offering, snapper sashimi (or Nigiri) for $4.50. The third Sushi place in Fort Myers, Osaka Steak House on San Carlos Blvd does not have any snapper offerings, but we will talk about them in the next session.
I bet you have not heard of Escolar before and there is a good reason (other than the fact that you can only find around Florida and the Caribbean) : Its consumption has been banned in Italy and Japan and in the US FDA does not allow it to be traded interstate. The reason is that its meat, other than the tail meat can cause severe food poison and diarrhea (rumors that it causes bilateral leg weakness have not been substantiated.) Escolar also goes with the trade name of "white tuna". It is a mackerel relative and thus fairly oily.
And the only way to eat escolar is raw, as in Sushi. Blu Sushi serves Escolar sashimi for $4.95, their It's All Good Roll (escolar, asparagus and avocado, topped with roe) for $8.95, their Blue Lightning Roll (eel, cream cheese, cucumber and tempura flakes inside, escolar and avocado with eel sauce and spicy mayo outside) for $11.95 and what they call "No Soup For You", a ponzu soaked raw escolar salad with sliced cucumber and daicon raddish for $9.95. Osaka Steak House also has escolar sashimi or Nigiri sushi priced at $5 for two pieces.
I will focus only on two shellfish, one that you can only pretty much find in Florida in the US (conch), and the other that is omni-present, but it is fresh on the Gulf Coast of Florida (shrimp)
Conch is a Caribbean delicacy that is rarely found in a menu outside south Florida, unless you happen to be in a Caribbean restaurant. It is a clam-like shellfish that can get pretty large and tastes a lot like clam.
The most common preparation (and there are as many variations of this as there are variations of crab cakes) and the one that you at least have to have a bite of, is conch fritters. Usually on the appetizer menu, you can find them on pretty much all of the places mentioned in the grouper section and cost from $5-9. Usually served with Remoulade. If you are looking for the raw variety, Blu serves Conch sashimi for $5.25 and their Bahama Roll (Spicy conch, cucuber and lemon) for $9.95 and Osaka serves conch sashimi and nigiri sushi for $5 for 2 pieces.
As I said, shrimp is omnipresent. One thing that it is not, is local Gulf Shrimp. If you are looking for Shrimp, look for dishes that mention gulf shrimp on the menu or ask your server whether the shrimp is gulf shrimp. Worth to try in any of your favorite preparations, but make sure you are not get Chinese frozen shrimp. For a southern variation try shrimp with grits.
This might not settle well with some, but 2 kinds are common in Fort Myers' menus: alligators and frogs. As far as gator goes, it is always fried and it is always an appetizer, unless you go to the best place in town to have gator, the Gatorbites Tail & Ale on Summerlin Rd. They offer gator bites in five ways (blackened, breaded, buffalo, grilled and bloody mary) for $7.95 any way, gator tail (blackened or grilled) for $12.95, gator roll for $10.95, Gator quesadillas for $9.95, gator nachos for $11.95 and a variety plate. They also have other food, but they are famous for Gator, so your non-gator eating friends will survive.
Frog leg appear in the Thai restaurants' and the Osaka steak house menu serves with a couple of different sauces over rice and usually for $15-17. Some places around town have deep fried frog legs. Eat at your own risk.
You can find grits (and cheese grits) for breakfast or sides pretty much in every place and it is worth a try and some southern staples, like fried okra and collard greens are in a lot of the diners in the area. But if you are looking to experience an authentic southern dinner or lunch, you have to go to Farmer's Market Restaurant. It is a real Southern chain (not like Cracker Barrel) that offers pretty unique southern/soul food, including Fish and Eggs for Breakfast, Fried Pork Chops, Fried Chicken Gizzards and the such at reasonable prices.
Here is the price that the patient readers who have been reading this long list get:
The best place to rub shoulders with Twins' major and minor leaguers. It has been a little secret, but now it is out in the open, and it is close to the Lee County Sports complex: Patinella's Chicken Grill or "The Chicken Grill" on Plantation Shoppes Drive. They offer grilled cut chicken on rice bowls with a bunch of veggies in different flavors or flatbread sandwiches. Pretty healthy fare for ballplayers. If you go to the web site, there is a buy one get one coupon for their sandwiches that can be printed and downloaded on a daily basis.
If anyone has any suggestions about food in Fort Myers, please add them in the comments section. I would super appreciate it!
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