If it’s been a few months since you visited the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, there’s no doubt you’ll find that, like the tides, some restaurants have gone out and others have come in. Such is the nature of the business. Fortunately, there are some good new spots at which to grab a quick bite or linger over dinner and a nice bottle of wine. Here’s a look at some of them.
Bimini Bait Shack: Should you find yourself in need of sustenance before you cross the causeway, the Bimini Bait Shack is conveniently situated to the west of the toll booths. This sprawling two-story restaurant in the shadow of the Sanibel Causeway is the former SS Hookers and Summerlin Jake’s, although it’s hard to recognize. It’s now far more casual with loads of nautical knickknacks, a lively atmosphere, lots of seafood, munchies and a full bar.
Dante’s Coal Fired Pizza: Dante’s began as a modest pizza joint on Pine Island Road in Cape Coral and has branched out to the islands. It now occupies the space at the Sanibel Inn where the Sea Star Café used to be. Besides its well-crafted pizzas, it offers coal-fired wings (make sure to try these), salads, sandwiches, pasta dishes, a host of beers, including craft varieties from local breweries, and a full bar.
Sanibel Fresh: Bennett’s Fresh Roast has left the island (although it remains in downtown Fort Myers). In its place is Sanibel Fresh, the brainchild of chef Amy Visco Schmicker (Sunset Grill), who uses nitrate-free locally sourced meats, local eggs, honey from the famed Harold P. Curtis Honey Co. of LaBelle and other local ingredients. For every bag of oat grains she uses, one goes to the Harry Chapin Food Bank. You’ll find homemade blackberry jam, acai bowls, homemade granola and gluten-free options here.
Malia Island Fusion Café: This slightly off-the-beaten-path establishment at the Sanibel Island Golf Club became a don’t-miss dining spot when the Blue Coyote Supper Club moved in a few years back. Proprietor Mitch Schwenke decided to head on to other endeavors and sold it to chef/owner Jeff Samson and his wife, Kathy, who have quickly made it their own. Long-time restaurateurs from Michigan, the Samsons have created a restaurant that features a host of local ingredients, handmade pastas and dishes such as island fish stew, jerk lamb chops, roasted wild mushroom and farro salad and even green goddess dressing – when was the last time you saw that on a menu? The full bar also offers craft cocktails such as the Sanibel Smash (gin, tonic, cucumber and basil) and the Spray Tan Martini (orange liqueur and orange vodka).
MudBugs Cajun Kitchen: From the folks who brought you the Lazy Flamingo comes a new concept in the space formerly occupied by Sanibel Steakhouse. The ambience and menu have a zesty Louisiana flair. On the menu, you’ll find po’boys – choose from catfish, shrimp or oyster – mudbug (Cajun slang for crawfish) stuffed shrimp, jambalaya, chicken and andouille sausage gumbo, chargrilled oysters, crispy gator tail, bacon-wrapped steaks and crawfish crab cakes, among other things. There are even classic Hurricanes served in souvenir glasses. Laissez le bon temps rouler!
Traders 2: Chef Mike Patnode’s food has created a loyal following at Traders and now it’s doing the same thing at the longtime restaurant’s little sibling, T2. While there are a few crossovers on the menu, there are sandwiches, flatbreads, seafood and a variety of large plates here that make it worth a visit.
Sanibel Sprout: Whether you’re a vegan or not, you are sure to find something to delight the palate at this little gem hidden away in Bailey’s General Store. Try some fresh juice, a smoothie or latte and pair it with a hearty black bean burger, Thai spring rolls, soothing coconut Indian curry soup or chilled vegan berry lemon pie.
Paper Fig Kitchen: While you can order here and eat out on the porch, this is primarily a takeout and catering establishment that offers dishes ready to pop in the oven or on top of the stove and heat up for a quick, no-fuss meal. The list changes weekly so check out the Fig’s website, but there are always several soups (think chicken and wild rice or crab bisque), flatbreads (including gluten-free varieties with cauliflower crusts), tacos (stuffed with shrimp and chorizo or Korean-style beef short ribs), salads (like the popular Merlot poached pear salad), as well as cookies and other baked goods, beef Wellington, stuffed portabellos and various vegetarian options. Chef/proprietor Jeramie Campana and his wife and co-owner, Debra, have created a welcoming environment and some exceptional food.
Tidewater Bistro: The longtime Hungry Heron morphed into Rosy’s and then David Maudlin decided he wanted to run his own place – after helping run other island spots for many years – and so he bought it and created Tidewater Bistro. The renovated restaurant has a tropical feel and a menu to match, featuring items such as lobster bisque, gator tail, beer-battered shrimp, pulled pork sliders, baby back ribs, grouper piccata, lunchtime tacos and quesadillas and Sunday brunch with omelets, quiches, benedicts and griddle items.