La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Hungry in Fort Myers? Try this guide.

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: March 5, 2012 - 11:44 AM

I have been critcized for ignoring downtown Fort Myers dining in my annual food guides. It is not intentional. But there are so many choices not far from Hammond Stadium. And my car usually drives itself toward the Gulf when I decide to leave a five-mile radius.

But with the Twins playing a night game tonight, I decided to head north in search of a simple-yet-comfortable breakfast spot.

Acting on a tip from Boston beat writer Nick Carfado, I think a found a good place.

If you like to get up in the morning, head toward downtown for Bennett's Fresh Roast, a coffee spot that you have to cut through a neighborhood to get to. I grabbed a cup of really good Costa Rican Hard Bean and a breakfast sandwich. The sandwich was...functional. I wished they used more eggs. But their specialty are the muffins and donuts, which are made from scratch DAILY.

I had a maple walnut donut today that was fluffy and tasty. The staff told me their Boston Cremes are the most popular. The place has wi-fi and plays a variety of music. This particular morning, I've listened to jazz, blues and a little Hall and Oates. A good place to catch up on some work or have a conversation over a cup of Joe. I'm on it.

Welcome to LEN3's guide to dining in Fort Myers in 2012. Believe it or not, I haven't gotten around to every place on this list. Most of them? Maybe. This IS my 15th spring training covering the Twins. after all. This list is the result of many years of hard eating.

I also rely on testimonials for this list. I made the controversial decision last year to add Two Meatballs in the Kitchen despite my undying love of Nino's.

I still haven't been to Two Meatballs. But a very serious man, whose opinions I take seriously, told me last week to stick with Nino's. So if you ask me where to go to eat Italian, I will acknowledge that Two Meatballs exists - then tell you to go Nino's.

I'm sure there are other places fans want on the list. Feel free to express your opinion below. But if you're coming down to The Fort to catch the Twins in spring training, this list might be useful to you!

Breakfast

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.

I have been wearing out the Denny's that's not far from Strib HQ down here..... because it has free WiFi. And free WiFi is important in today's never-ending newsgathering cycle.  But Bennett's is my new fave when I don't need a big breakfast.

Italian

There’s only one place I go to down here - Nino's. Great service. If you see a round, smiling Italian man walking around, that’s the owner, Graziano.  He treats every customer like family. 

The Shrimp Aurora and Lobster Ravioli are excellent. Joe C. likes the lasagna. The pizzas are very good. The trap is eating all the salad and a couple pieces of bread before the main course arrives. You’ll end up taking half of it home. The preferred location off Daniels Road has expanded and is right down the road from Hammond Stadium, too!

Tried the Clams Posillipo last week. Very good. Ask to have it with clam sauce, It's a little lighter.

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 last  year and it was very good. I had scallops this year and they were excellent. Highly recommended.

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. Joe C., Jim Souhan and I crushed it last week. 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.

The University Grill. There’s actually a little bit of everything here - plus a good martini menu.

The Bonefish Grill. Hadn't been here in awhile but went last week. Order the Bang Bang Shrimp for the appetizer. Had the Imperial Longfin. It was excellent. Again,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. Oysters Rockefeller.

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.

Sushi 

Tim’s Magic Wok . Located next to Nino’s. Very friendly staff. I'll never forget the time I ran into Matthew LeCroy here and watched him eat rolls with his hands. The sushi here is sneaky good. Great lunch special: Three rolls for 12.95. Boom.

Blu. Good sushi. Has become a trendy evening spot. Especially the Gulf Coast Town Center location. Lots of funky specialty drinks. They have Zulu Shrimp as an appetizer, which is similar to Bang Bang Shrimp.

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..  

BBQ 

If you want something in town, Rib City has a few locations to visit. And Wednesday is quarter beer night.

But if you want top BBQ, I strongly urge you to head down to Naples one night and dine at Michelbob’s.

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.  As far as BBQ goes, this comes with my highest recommendation.

Lee Roy Selmon's

Another new addition, this place is more like a southern style eatery than BBQ joint. Former Twin and current food critic Michael Cuddyer suggested the Sweet Heat Fried Chicken sandwich,and it is very good. Joe C, likes the pulled pork sandwich. This place has a bunch of TV's around the bar - and WiFi. Again, WiFi is key. I always get a cup of gumbo with the meal.

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? 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, but it’s still worth a visit, especially if you are on the beach during the NCAA hoops tournament. Bands play there nightly.

Stevie Tomato’s. To be honest, I’m not 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.

Pott’s Sports Cafe. Definitely better food than Stevie Tomato’s. Watch out on Wednesday’s - that’s Karaoke and Beer Pong night. Eek.

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. Notice I held back mentioning the Wild....

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. But if you want a good pizza and want to watch sports, this is worth the visit.

Big Al's City Grill Been here a couple times and it's not bad. Had the Primetime Philly, and it was solid. Joe C. and I rolled in and asked to have the Wild game put on, and they did so within a few minutes (thumbs up!). I'd rank this place over Stevie Tomato's.

Other

Just down the road from the 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.

Cigars

I enjoy a good cigar now and then. And there’s no better place to have one than The Cigar Bar. There are two locations in town. In recent years, I can be found at the Gulf Coast Town Center location. I prefer Rocky Patel cigars, in case anyone wants to buy one for me! Actually Rocky lives down here and will stop by from time to timer. Dino and Randy are managers there and are great guys. One of the bartenders, Jaimie, is from Buffalo, Minn. and remains a huge Twins fan. Luis Tiant, who has his own cigar line, stops by every couple of weeks.

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. JUST ADDED: Connor's Steak and Seafood. Been told it's pricey. There’s Bar Louie, where the beautiful people go to. Blu sushi is across from Bar Louie, so the beautiful people bounce between the two locations, then the older members of the beautiful people club wander around the corner into The Cigar Bar.

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

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