This guide was completed 10 days ago. All the bells and whistles added. Cherry put on top. Done.

Then I reached to hit the save button. Screen flashed, then crashed and dreams of publishing that day were smashed.

I've finally gotten time to sit down and pound this out again. I'm not at the park as the Twins and Tigers play, trying to stay in one place so my balky back can calm down. So here is the well-intentioned annual food guide to Fort Myers

Things have changed since the last list. Some places have closed.  Most notably, Nino's restaurant, located down the street from Hammond Stadium. It was a place with huge portions and awesome dished. A place where players, team officials and scribes dined.

But Ninos caught on fire during the offseason and suffered damage from the resulting water sprinklers. Also, I'm sad to write, that the owner, Graziano Buccini, passed away on Thanksgiving from complications following a heart attack. Smilin' Graziano will be missed. Nino's will be missed.

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No more Nino or Graziano is hard to handle, but time waits for no one.

The delay, however, allowed me to check out a few new places, and have added a couple to this list. Without further delay....

Breakfast

Remember, this is functional list. I got ripped a couple years ago by the foodie for the local paper here for naming chain restaurants. I'm serving multiple purposes here?

There’s an IHOP and a Perkins off Cleveland Ave. (it’s also called US 41 and is the main north-south drag in town). But one of my favorite breakfast places I’ve ever been to is First Watch.  It offers more than the standard breakfast options. 2019 UPDATE: Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I've been here a few times this spring to have the turkey omelet. It's quality. There are several locations in the area now.

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Denny's is not far from Hammond Stadium, on Daniels. But Bennett's is my fave when I don't need a big breakfast - and have time to drive downtown

Bennett's Fresh Roast The have great coffee, good breakfast sandwiches, internet access, great music - and they make their donuts from scratch, DAILY, They have a maple bacon one - yes, bacon strips on the donut! - that's is pretty tasty. 

I have frequently run into Boston Globe scribe Nick Cafardo, who covers the Red Sox, and we would talk about the happenings at our respective camps. I walked into Bennett's on Feb. 21, and there he was. He asked about Rocco Baldelli and looked forward to seeing him in a couple days when the Twins and Red Sox faced each other.

But Cafardo, later that day, collapsed. It was hard for everyone here to take.  Nick was aces across the board. Never saw him sweat on deadline. A pro's pro and a quality man. He'll never be forgotten - especially when I walk into Bennett's.

Mimi's Cafe finally has WiFi, so it's another option relatively close to the ballpark. They have a smoked salmon omelette (had one this morning) that is damn good. They also have crepes, if that is your jam.

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Reese's (no website) is located on Fort Myers Beach. So if you're up really early or are out really late this is a very good place grab a bite. The seafood omelette is good. CASH ONLY.

NEW ENTRY: Met my friend, The Coach, here because she loves the place. Skillet's just opened a Fort Myers location, and I was impressed. Everything is made from scratch. On March 10, I had a cajun chicken skillet with eggs on top of grits. It was really good. Coach said they do a great job with the potatoes.

How about a burger?

Fat Katz  Acting on a tip, I rolled into this place a few years ago, which has been converted from some drive through restaurant. Not a fan of the decor - sort of like a new sports bar that has a nice bar but no character. I ordered the mushroom and Swiss burger (which I normally don't order) and it was outstanding! The server told me the burgers are made out of three different kinds of beef that is grounded on site. I'm a fan of the food. Word is the flat breads are good too!

Italian

The post-Nino's era.....

Two Meatballs in the Kitchen: It's right down the street from where the Star Tribune headquarters are at this year. My guide for the night was the one and only Patrick Reusse. Great location, good service. Felt like a new place. Had the tortellini maria, and it was very good. A fine dining experience worthy of this list. Still give Nino's the edge here.

Il Pomodoro: This is located way down Gladiolus toward McGregor (before a street named A & W Bulb, actually). It's in a building that you'd think would house law offices, consultants and an interior design company, but it's in there. 

Look, I don't want to gush too much about this place because of my love for Nino's, but I ordered the Fettuccine Mario, and....Wow....

UPDATE: The place has been sold and there is a new chef. Have not been there yet to see if anything has changed.

UPDATE: Went there on Feb. 22 with some scribes. The Fettuccine Mario was really good once again. Our photog liked his spaghetti and meatballs. But someone ordered the Bolognese and was not impressed.

Trattoria Mia: Multiple people raved about this place not far from the ballpark that I had to try. Went there for lunch and had the bologna and was very satisfied.

NEW ENTRY:  Leopardi's. This stand alone building near a Barnes and Noble has been two bars and a comedy club over the last 15 years and none have lasted. It's now a restaurant. We checked it out in late February, and everyone seemed pleased. Two of us had the Seafood Fra Diavolo and really liked it. A third liked his lasagna.

Seafood

The Lighthouse. A little pricey but outstanding. One friend said it was the best calamari she's ever had. A buddy said he had the best ribeye he ever had. I had the yellowtail snapper and it was very good. I had scallops the next year and they were excellent. Highly recommended for you couples.

The Blue Pointe. This place is a little pricey too but very. very good. Located in the Bell Tower Shopping Center, located at the intersection of Daniels Road (the main road coming out of the airport) and Cleveland. About three miles from the park. Liked the Herb Rubbed Salmon. They also have a limited sushi menu.

The Prawnbroker. This spot and Nino’s were the first places I was told to go to during my first spring training in 1998. Here’s the menu.

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The University Grill. There’s actually a little bit of everything here - plus a good martini menu. Haven;t been here in awhile.

The Bonefish Grill.  Order the Bang Bang Shrimp for the appetizer. Had the Imperial Longfin. It was excellent. Again, order the Bang Bang shrimp. Get there early - and order the Bang Bang Shrimp,

SOB Very good food. Former Beached Whale employees work here, so it's a lively atmosphere!! There's a place two doors down called the Yucatan that I've never been to but it's supposed to be good. And it's always busy. SOB has changed something in its Oysters Rockefeller that has disappointed me.

The Mucky Duck. If you don't mind a little drive, head out to Captiva Island to catch the sunset here (the island rubes APPLAUD the sunset!). Haven't made it there yet this year but was very good last year. Had the Scallops Au Gratin, yum.

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Skip One Seafood I was berated for years by one loyal reader for not trying this place. I've driven past it - it's located off US 41 a couple miles south of Six-Mile Cypress - and have seen lines spilling out into the parking lot. But I've blown it off. I finally went in three years ago. It's a run-down looking shack with worn-out tables inside. I ordered clam chowder and the fried grouper bites - and immediately kicked myself for not trying the place years ago. The grouper bites are, indeed, fried but are moist and flavorful. And the chowder was very good. Skip One has now opened a new location next to that monstrous mini-golf course you pass on the way to Fort Myers Beach.

NEW ENRTY: Doc Ford's: I just visited this place for the first time on March 5. It used to be called The Bridge because it's right before the bridge to Fort Myers Beach. The Bridge on Sundays would be jam packed to listen to what had to be the WORST reggae band I've ever heard. Come to find out years later that it was a popular place for potheads. Who knew? Anyway, it became Doc Ford's a few years ago.  The owner also runs the Beached Whale, and I haven't approved of some of the changes there through the years some have deliberately have stayed away. But my friends were in town from Minnesota and love the place. And they talked me into going. We ordered different appetizers and passed them around. I went for the shrimp scampi flatbread and fish fingers - and both were awesome. My friends go there for the Yucatan Shrimp - and they were awesomely awesome. This place was busy too, but no band. And no potheads, I think.

NEW ENTRY: Nervous Nellie's: My Minnesota friends were still in town, and brought me here March 11. Never been here. We crushed more apps here - Shrimp and scallop bruschetta, ceviche' , bang bang shrimp, coconut shrimp. All were good. It's right by the water - as in, you could fall into the water here. Drinks were a little pricey. But the setting at the end of the day could not be beat.

Dixie's Fishouse: Located next to Doc Ford's, this place is a very good option as well. And there are collard greens on the menu!!!!

 

Sushi 

Blu. Good sushi. Has become a trendy evening spot. There's used to be some crazy drink special for women on Thursdays that packs the place. Not sure if it's still there. They had Zulu Shrimp as an appetizer, which is similar to Bang Bang Shrimp.  They used to have an all-you-can-eat lunch special off a limited menu that hits the spot. 

Origami Know some people who believe this is the best sushi around.

Mexican

Cantina Laredo. Excellent. One of my favorite places in the area. You can order the guacamole to be made right at your table!

Iguana Mia. It’s no Cantina Laredo but still solid good. UPDATE. Friend went thee recently and said it has digressed. So visit at your stomach's risk. 2019 UPDATE: It has made a huge comeback and some now think it is better than Cantina Laredo.

BBQ

 I strongly urge you to head down to Naples one night and dine at Michelbob’s.

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They import their ribs from Denmark, and it comes off the bone so easily and I’m salivating as I write this. The owner is from Minnesota and I’m friends with his son-in-law, Lou Bavaro. Lou has worked hard the past couple of years to get Michelbob’s available at Byerly’s and Lund’s in the Twin Cities, so some of you might recognize the name.  But now he's at the Naples location, waiting for me with a bib. As far as BBQ goes, this comes with my highest recommendation.

SOUTHERN STYLE

Fancy's  I have been ordered by Patrick Reusse, the only sportswriter I know to take off his shirt in the stands during a spring training game, to keep this on the list. He loves the chicken and waffles and says there are other excellent items on the roster as well. Located next to Two Meatballs.

Sports Bars..or sort of

The Beached Whale. This was the first place I visited the first time I drove over to Fort Myers Beach. Looks like a burger joint but is a little more than that. For happy hour, half-priced wings and flatbread are very good. The daily dinner specials usually are pretty strong. The writers from the Associated Press like the Cuban Whale sandwich. JoeC, back in the day? Pulled Pork and the Blackened Grouper sandwich. After a brief absence, Oysters Rockefeller are back! The deck is a great place to hang out. There are TV’s everywhere to watch sports. Some of my favorite staff members have left The Whale, and they have stopped cigar smoking and live music. Yes, they have taken the fun away!!!! But it’s still worth a visit, especially if you are on the beach during the NCAA hoops tournament. 

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UPDATE: The Whale has added Lobster rolls to the menu, and they are excellent!!! 

UPDATE: Have not been there this spring, but heard they have pulled flatbread off the happy hour menu, which angers me. I used to hit happy hour, get the shrimp scampi flatbread and mussels (for half off) and dip the flatbread into the mussel sauce (all the feels!). Then I ran into a manager from there, and she begged me to give them another chance. I'll try.

Stevie Tomato’s. I wasn't the biggest fan of the food here. The only purpose it serves is that it’s a good place to watch sports. Note: Stevie T's has moved to a location near I-75 - between Hammond Stadium and jetBlue Park - and the food is better. !

Pott’s Sports Cafe. Definitely better food than Stevie Tomato’s. Sandwiches hit the spot. A certain father of a certain recently-retired local superstar loves the wings there. Watch out on Wednesday’s - that’s Karaoke night. Eek. But great to watch NCAA tournament games. And they will look for Wild and Gophers games to turn on,

Shoeless Joe’s. This is located in the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the Bell Tower Shops. Fritz is the manager there. Good guy. Good menu, It also has wi-fi (key!). They have all the sports packages, so the scribes have been meeting here to watch Wolves and Gophers games.

Ron Dao's. Short story. I was looking for a place to get some work done a few years ago while watching soccer. Did a search and found this place - with WiFi!!! Walked in...and it is huge! TV's all over the place. I ordered a pizza with shrimp on it, and it rocked! The only drawback is that it's out of the way (UPDATE: not anymore, since I now rent right down the road). But if you want a good pizza and want to watch sports, this is worth the visit. This is one of the places to be during the NCAA hoops tournament. The coach and I will be here for the first round.

Duffy's I guess this chain is popular on the East Coast and is now opening spots on the other side of the state. Tried the Bacon Mushroom burger, and it was good. But this place is known for two other things: A ridiculous amount of huge HDTV's and 2-for-1's all day long.  Had Cajun pasta. Just O.K. Service was shaky. So if you are a fan of sports viewing, burgers and two-for-ones, this is your place.

Other

Just down the road from Hammond Stadium is a Sun Harvest Market.Friends have stopped by there and have raved about the fruit and juices. I finally stopped in here last week. The strawberry stand is right near the entrance, so the smells hit you right away. Also...there are FREE juice samples! There's also a U.S. Post Office outlet, for reasons I don't know.

El Gaucho Inca This place has been around for a few years, and it was an awesome experience. A menu with Peruvian, Argentinean and Italian dishes. Unbelievable. The carpaccio was excellent, we should have ordered more. Had the Pasta a lo Macho, and was not disappointed. I also tried the......blood sausage, just because my buddy Mike Petrich likes to make them. Not bad, it's an acquired taste. i really had a good dining experience that night.

Cigars

I enjoy a good cigar now and then. And there’s no better place to have one than The Cigar Bar. There are three locations in town. In recent years, I can be found at the Gulf Coast Town Center location, but will stop by the one in Cape Coral because it's a little closer to where Strib HQ is. I like Rocky Patel cigars, in case anyone wants to buy one for me! Actually Rocky lives down here and will stop by from time to time. Luis Tiant, who has his own cigar line, stops by every couple of weeks.

Burn Rocky Patel has his own place in Naples. If you want to rub elbows with the beautiful people, there's no other place. A DJ comes in on weekends and the place hops.

More options

If you are looking for dining, shopping and other things rolled into one, here are a few places to remember:

Belle Tower Shops. This is where the Blue Pointe and Grimaldi's are. By the way, I'm a Chicago guy who loves deep dish pizza. Grimaldi's is not deep dish but some of the best pizza I've ever had.

Coconut Point. Opened a couple years ago and is south of Fort Myers. Lots of shopping. The Blue Water Bistro is excellent.

Gulf Coast Town Center. A very popular place just one exit south of Daniels Road off of I-75. There’s a movie theater, plenty of dining (I like P.F. Chang’s and but not big on the Miller Ale House) and evening activities.

Connor's Steak and Seafood  (Major Update) I've been here three times. The first time the food wasn't that great and the service spotty. The second time was great. The third time came March 14, 2015.

I had six friends down from the Twin Cities. Dinner peaked at the apps. After that service was terrible and a few of the dishes weren't prepared as requested. Let me backtrack. Five of us ordered lobster bisque. One ordered a salad. We were finished with our bisque when the salad finally arrived. Then came the faulty meals. I ordered the parmesan encrusted Alaskan halibut, which was a mistake. That's my fault.  But the members of the dinner party weren't happy about the meals and the service and let the manager know about it. And, after investigating, the manager picked up the tab for the food, which was impressive. We had to pay for the wine.

So....we had ordered a bottle of wine that was $39.00. The server screwed up and grabbed a bottle of $140.00 wine! We get the drink bill and ask for the manager again. Again, he agreed and just were charged us $39.00.

I was impressed with how management handled this, and will go there again. After all, they gave us a $50.00 gift card as part of the deal, and since everyone was leaving in a day or two, they slid the gift card over to me. I just think we just were paired up with a bad server that night....

UPDATE: I drive past there occasionally, and the parking lot remains packed. So it must be doing something right!

2019 UPDATE: I recommended this place to a friend, and she took her parents there last week. Again, crappy service.  Dad got his steak. Mom and daughter? Forgot their salads! They must have trouble finding good help. The food is good... when you get it.

That's it folks! Let me know if you run across any other spots you like down here!

 

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