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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Slow Food Southwest Florida Farm Tour Spring 2017

Slow Food is a movement started in Italy almost 30 years ago in response to a fast food chain wanting to open a restaurant near an important cultural and historical site in Rome. Since it's inception, Slow Food's present membership is over 150,000 in 150 different countries with 170 local chapters. They espouse a number of tenets such as the preservation of local foods and food traditions, seed banks to preserve heirloom food varieties, food education including teaching gardening skills among other beliefs. They really are a vision of everything fast food is not, hence the name Slow Food.

The Southwest Florida Slow Food Chapter was established a number of years ago though it's present iteration has been active for almost 1 year. They sponsor a number of activities and events in keeping with it's parent organization. These include promoting public awareness of locally sourced foods and producers, in addition to familiarizing the public about chefs using local products to make healthy and delicious foods.

One of these events will be a spring tour of local farms that will be held on March 21, 2017, the day after the first day of spring. This event includes tours of a local producer of micro greens, herbs and mushrooms, Herban Gardens (Farms), and a tour and tasting at Three Sons Ranch, local ranchers of beef and buffalo. The community restaurant Table and Tap at the first solar powered community in the United States, Babcock Ranch, will be open for a tour and tasting in addition to a tour of 31 Produce, a produce farm where patrons can pick their own from 31 Produce's fields or purchase from their retail store. Tickets are $65.00-75.00 pp and include tours, transportation, lunch in addition to food sampling and a raffle for participants. Attendance is limited to 45 people and the event is certain to be a sell out. For more information on Slow Food Southwest Florida and their spring farm tour, visit the following links.

Slow Food Southwest Florida Facebook Page

Slow Food Southwest Florida Farm Tour Spring 2017 Facebook Event Page

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Tale of Three Naples Barbecues

Nobody knows how grilled meats entered the food chain. Like coffee, anthropologists can only guess.The following is adapted from a posting of the history of barbecue from, a site dedicated to all things grilled (by permission of the author).

Ancient man probably happened upon a cooked carcass after a forest fire and liked what they tasted. In good time, it was understood that meats tasted better held over or to the side of their cooking source. Eventually it was common practice for ancient societies to "spit roast", or use meats suspended by wood racks above a heat source. This progressed to the Iron Age, where "gridirons" or the progenitors of grill "grates" were used in ancient Greece. It was eventually realized that smoked meats were an excellent method of preservation, like salting or drying. There have been other influences from Asia (Tandoor ovens) and Japan (Kamado urns), both ceramic cooking ovens heated by an open flame.

In the middle ages spit roasting was widely used in Europe, but the explorations of the "New World" by Spain really brought barbecue to the United States. The introduction of pigs into the "New World" in addition to Native Indian migration brought barbecue, originally called barbacoa through a misunderstanding of Native Indian language by the Spaniards, into North America. Further colonization by the Spanish and Indians brought barbecue into the Gulf States and the lower Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Migration up the Mississippi River brought this technology northward. Smoke houses and pit barbecues started to proliferate, the latter becoming a popular social gathering in the middle to late 19th century

The home barbecue cook really took off with the mass marketing of charcoal by the Kingsford Company in the early part of the 20th century. In the middle of the 20th century, portable barbecues like Hibachis and Weber kettle grills started to be mass marketed bringing portable charcoal barbecue to the home cook. Gas barbecues followed, and the rest is history! For those interested in a more complete accounting of the history of barbecue, go Here.

In Southwest Florida, there are many purveyors of barbecued meats. I have not sampled all of them but here are three I thought noteworthy.

Herb's Best BBQ

Herb Small, proprietor at Herb's Best BBQ
Herb Small has been cooking in Naples for 40 years. Starting off as a dishwasher at age 14 in St. Pete, he moved to Naples and has cooked at venues from Morrison's Cafeteria in the mid 1970's to private clubs and commercial venues, both personally owning the latter and/or working for them. Most noteworthy were his days at The Shore Club, the sole restaurant for a time in Venetian Village, The Port Royal Club and La Playa.  He presently cooks for the schoolchildren at  First Baptist Church of Naples. Saturdays, he cooks barbecue at Fogg's Nursery, East of Collier Blvd. on Immokalee Rd. He has been religiously cooking weekly barbecue along with his wife Ellen going on 6 years,

His barbecue features pork ribs, pulled pork, brisket, chicken and even sometimes fish. Sides, such as baked beans, slaw and collards are also available. Homemade breads and sweets, in addition to Herb's homemade barbecue sauces are also served. This is good solid food, and is what I would call more "traditional" barbecue. Give yourself a little time when ordering at Herb's on Saturdays. This is a very popular event, and the wait can be up to 15 minutes for your order. Most patrons get food to go though there is limited outdoor seating.

Herb's Best BBQ
Fogg’s Nursery & Mulch Supply
10270 Immokalee Rd.
Naples, FL 34120

Saturdays, 11-630 PM; All major credit cards accepted; pet and kid friendly

Menu, Herb's Specialty Catering and Best BBQ
Racks of pork ribs, Herb's Best BBQ

Pulled pork sandwich, baked beans and mac n' cheese; Herb's Best BBQ

Porker BBQ

Chris Jones, proprietor, Porker BBQ Food Truck

The proprietor of Porker BBQ, Chris Jones, is an accomplished chef and has been known in town for more sophisticated cooking methods such as molecular gastronomy. With Porker BBQ, Chris had told me he was tired of plating out dishes with a tweezers and wanted to go back to more culinary roots. I can not think of any other better way to do this than with seminal cooking methods such as barbecue. Make no mistake, though perhaps simple on the surface, this project was close to 3 years in the making, and it shows.

Partially prompted by a visit to Kansas City, his style reflects Kansas City style BBQ, which centers on slowly smoked meats combined with BBQ sauces.
Chris's menu has evolved a bit, and though more traditional barbecue is served off menu, the present iteration of Porker BBQ adds a bit of culinary flair. When there recently, my dining companion ordered the pig tacos and the nachos texicanos.  Both items were delicious. The tacos (3) were made up of barbecued carnitas, cilantro-chipotle crema, pineapple and cotija cheese. The nachos were even better; the serving almost enough to feed 4 people. Layer upon layer of corn tortilla chips, barbecued carnitas, pinto and black beans seasoned with barbecued meats (frijoles gordo), pickled red onion, cilantro and queso blanco. 

We even sampled a side of in house made "porker tots", home made chorizo-cheddar potato tots covered with chipotle crema and cotija cheese. Another interesting and very delicious dish.
A variety of barbecue sandwiches are available, as well as a more traditional barbecue offering known as the "meatfest plate" (inquire as it is served off menu).

Chris serves out of his mobile kitchen at Naples Beach Brewery. The food and craft beer pairings are an almost unbeatable combination; highly recommended,

Porker BBQ Food Truck
4110 Enterprise Ave. #102
Naples, FL 34104

Fridays and Saturdays, from 530 and 1 PM, respectively, at Naples Beach Brewery;  All major credit cards accepted; Kid and pet friendly

Menu, Porker BBQ Food Truck
Porker BBQ food truck at Naples Beach Brewery
Pig tacos; Porker BBQ

Nachos texicanos; Porker BBQ
Porker tots; Porker BBQ
Pit Commander BBQ
Stephan Nedwetzky, proprietor, Pit Commander BBQ

Pit Commander BBQ is a Central Texas import to the area that has been here since November of 2016. Stephan had been flirting with barbecue for many years in between other endeavors and decided to jump in with both feet about 3 years ago. He had told me it's much too cold to cook outdoors during Central Texas winters. Having relatives in the area, he decided to set up shop here for the winter months.

His barbecue methods are unique in Southwest Florida, and are in the style of contemporary "gods" of Central Texas barbecue such as Aaron Franklin and John Mueller. Central Texas barbecue draws heavily on rubs, lots of smoke and low and slow cooking. Barbecue sauces are just gravy or condiments used on the finished product.

Mr. Nedwetzky has seemingly perfected his craft, even bringing 2 cords (i.e., a lot of wood) of Texas post oak with him so as not to "taint" his smoker with foreign flavors. He also sources his meats, which are USDA prime, from a Texas supplier. 
He prefers to cook beef, such as brisket and beef ribs, though pork items are also served. These include baby back ribs and pulled pork. A "Texas tornado" may appear from time to time. These are a tasty twist on a "jalapeno popper". Jalapeno peppers are filled with brisket and cream cheese, wrapped in bacon and smoked. Very nice.
Nothing is forever; in this case 2 cords of Texas post oak and a smoker. Unfortunately, once the wood is gone so is Stephan. He anticipates being here until the latter part of March. He emphasized to me that he is "a barbecue cook and not a chef". That he very much is.  

Pit Commander BBQ
12 PM to sellout   
Peppers Deli and Butcher
4165 Corporate Square
Naples, FL 34104

12 PM to sellout
Millennial Brewery
1811 Royal Palm Ave.
Fort Myers, FL 33901

All major credit cards accepted; kid and pet friendly

Typical menu; Pit Commander BBQ

Brisket; Pit Commander BBQ
Beef ribs; Pit Commander BBQ
Texas pinto beans flavored with meat from the smoker, Pit Commander BBQ
Baby back ribs and Texas pinto beans; Pit Commander BBQ

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fort Myers Brewing Company Four Year Anniversary Party

Tap room, Fort Myers Brewing Company

The craft beer scene has been rapidly expanding in The United States since the early part of the 21st century. In 2015, craft beer sales were 13 percent of the total volume of beer sold accounting for 21 percent of all monies spent on beer in this country. Certainly, 2016 will prove to be an even better year for craft beer producers.

In 2013 Southwest Florida's first craft brewery opened in the Gateway area of Fort Myers. Since that time, Fort Myers Brewing Company has evolved into a major area beer producer offering at any one time up to 30 different styles of beer in their tasting room. In 2016, they also won a variety of accolades including not only recognition for two of Florida's best beers, but best large brewery at the prestigious Best Florida Beer Championships in Tampa.

On Thursdays, Fort Myers Brewing Company has a wonderful community event where the tap room is open late and local food trucks rally providing various dishes for patrons.

From Thursday, February 23rd through Sunday, February 26th, Fort Myers Brewing Company will be celebrating their four year anniversary party, virtually extending their Thursday night food truck rally all weekend. Entertainment will also be provided nightly. A beer drinking, 4 lap, mile long "Beer Mile" run will also be open to those interested on Sunday. Up to 12 different food trucks will participate in this event at various days over the weekend including The Nosh Truck, Organically Twisted and The Sizzle Truck. Up to 30 different craft beers will also be available for sampling.

This promises to be a great family- and community-oriented event. Seating is limited; bringing your own seating is highly recommended.

Fort Myers Brewing Company
12811 Commerce Lakes Dr., Ste. 28
Fort Myers, FL 33913

Hours: Thursday, Feb. 23rd and Friday Feb. 24th, 3-10 PM;  Saturday Feb. 25th, 12-11 PM; Sunday Feb. 26th, 12-8 PM.

All major credit cards accepted in the tap room; Either cash and/or credit cards at food trucks; Kid and pet friendly; Self parking.

Tap room, Fort Myers Brewing Company

Typical menu, The Nosh Truck

Korean BBQ tacos, The Nosh Truck

Organically Twisted food truck

Curry in a hurry salad; Organically Twisted

Crowd; Thursday night food truck rally

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Naples Originals Winter Gift Certificate Sale

Naples Originals is a consortium of almost 40 locally owned restaurants. The main purpose of Naples Originals is marketing member restaurants. To this end, they promote fostering an appreciation of local restaurants as well as other businesses. At the end of the day, locally owned restaurants and businesses enhance their environments by providing a diverse and unique experience for patrons.

Quarterly, Naples Originals restaurants and catering services donate Gift Certificates to be sold at a 30% discount from face value to the public. This is done to market member restaurants and to provide monies for charitable concerns. The face value of these certificates is generally $50.00, $25.00 and $15.00.

The next sale will be Thursday, November 9th, 2017. Be sure to get to their Website early (6 A.M. or so) as this offer sells out very quickly.
Cheers and have a very pleasant dining experience at Naples Originals restaurants.
Salade niçoise, Bleu Provence. A Naples Originals member restaurant.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Windows on Wine: The Coffee Culture

Here is another installment from local retired Master Sommelier Barrie Larvin's wine blog, Windows On Wine. To read a bit about how wine, coffee and though not mentioned here, foods, have seemed to meld, go Here.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Lunch at Catch 41 Bar "n" Grill

Catch 41, Naples, FL
Catch 41 Bar "n" Grill is a restaurant in the Ramada Inn in Naples, FL. The Executive Chef is David Lani, and he was kind enough to invite a dining companion and I to sample some of the items served there. As of this writing Catch 41 has been open for about one week. David has been in some very good kitchens, and was kind enough to tell us a bit about it.

After working at La Côte Basque as a Poissonier, or cook of fish and shellfish and their sauces, David attended the CIA in Hyde Park, NY. This included an internship for celebrity chef David Burke at Park Avenue Cafe. He then moved on to Aureole at Mandalay Bay and Postrio at The Venetian in Las Vegas run by chefs Charlie Palmer and Wolfgang Puck, respectively. 

After furthering his business skills as Executive Chef of Aramark, a global food service corporation, Chef Lani undertook an entrepreneurial venture as Executive Chef of Skinnyfats. Skinnyfats was a unique restaurant concept, with items that were 150 calories or up to 10 times that on the menu.

Having moved to Naples, David developed the initial menu at 7th Avenue Social, winning numerous accolades for both himself and the restaurant. Now at Catch 41, I think he has incorporated bits and pieces of these experiences into the restaurant's menu. One of Catch 41's concepts is quality food at reasonable prices. I could not wait to try some of the establishment's fare.

The restaurant has a nice indoor dining and bar area best described as Florida casual. Even better is the outdoor seating poolside, perfect in the winter months.

The first thing served was a recent signature dish, fried burrata in Puttanesca sauce accented with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The flavors and textures of this dish almost hit you over the head with the cast iron frying pan it is served in. This was a lovely dish; comfort food to the nth power. 

Catch 41 smokes meats in house. My dining companion and I sampled the in house cherry wood-smoked ribs with a bourbon barbecue glaze. Tender and falling off the bone, the ribs were nicely complemented by garlic Hawaiian rolls to seal the deal. Another very good menu item.

More comfort food to the nth power was next. Multigrain bread was topped with spreadable Brie cheese, an avocado shmear, pastrami smoked salmon, poached egg, capers and a jalapeno Hollandaise sauce. Terrific, terrific, terrific; another wonderful meld of flavors and textures.

An appetizer followed, deviled eggs in 3 "flavors". Maple bacon, spicy crab-flying fish roe and white truffle-chive. These were also "egg" cellent in both appearance, texture and flavor. If you are an egg lover, this is a must order!

Despite the threat of acute hyperglycemia at this point, we sampled a bit more of Catch 41's menu items.

The steamed bao bun trio served to us was very good. Wild mushroom-hoisin, shrimp-kimchi and bourbon bbq-glazed pork belly with garlic aioli were the 3 fillings for this dish. There is something here for everybody. One caveat, this dish was hard to share. If you have this in mind, order two!

We finished our taste of the appetizers and mains with a ceviche duo. This was the kitchen's take on a Caribbean-style ceviche (shrimp) in a sweet tomato cocktail sauce and a traditional Peruvian style ceviche (mahi/shrimp) in a more citrus/cilantro base. Separated by perfectly ripened avocado slices, these dish was terrific and served with in house made tortilla chips. If you are a ceviche lover, this dish is for you.

We finally finished with a strawberry shortcake cheesecake which was remarkable. Another great meld of textures and flavors.

They also serve a number of craft drinks. In house made lemonade and a key lime martini were two of the items we sampled. The latter was made from vanilla vodka, coconut milk and lime, finished with graham cracker crumbs on the rim of the martini glass.

The food sampled at Catch 41 is both unique to the area and for the most part, excellent. Chef Lani and crew have seemed to perfect the notion of "comfort food". The food served to us on our visit was aesthetically and texturally appealing, the likes of which hard to come by if at all locally. As an added plus, most menu items can be had for under twenty dollars. The price points here are close to 60% of most local establishments for foods of this caliber. I think Catch 41 is a real winner on the local food scene. I cannot wait to go back and hope readers will dine here. The food served at this establishment will not disappoint both in price and quality.

There are also good happy hour specials in addition to entertainment; please inquire.

Catch 41 Bar "n" Grill
1100 Tamiami Trail N.
Naples, FL 34102

Open 11 AM-Close; All major credit cards accepted; Lunch and dinner served; Kid's meals

Bar area; Catch 41 Bar "n" Grill
Outdoor dining; Catch 41 Bar 'n' Grill

Fried burrata in Puttanesca sauce

In house cherry wood smoked ribs
Multigrain bread,avocado, Brie cheese, smoked salmon, onion, capers, poached egg and jalapeno Hollandaise sauce
Deviled egg trio
Bao bun trio
Ceviche duo
Strawberry shortcake/cheescake

Key lime martini

L-R: Executive Chef David Lani; Owners Heather Leek, Lawrence Merlino and Samantha Leek

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Dinner at Triad Seafood Market and Cafe in Everglades City

Triad Seafood Market and Cafe, Everglades City

Triad Seafood Market and Cafe is a restaurant and market in Everglades City, FL. Triad specializes in, as the astute reader would guess, seafood. Having read good reviews online my dining companion and I decided to stop here on our way to a night sky outing at Big Cypress National Preserve, but more on that later. Triad has been serving in the area for over 30 years, a very good sign.

The seating at Triad is mostly outdoors, though they do have a screened area in back overlooking the Barron river. This helps to keep the bugs at bay, especially during sunset.

The first thing we tried was the restaurant's conch chowder. This was very good and nicely spiced with aromatic vegetables, bay leaf and oregano. I could have had a second bowl, but there were many other things to try on the menu.

We split an order of blue crab fingers. These were blue crab claws that were breaded and fried. This dish was absolutely delicious, made even better by the in house made tartar and cocktail sauces served with it. Once we started eating this, it was very hard to stop!

Triad is known for it's all you can eat stone crab specials, which are priced at $80, $120 and $160 dollars for medium, large and jumbo sizes respectively. I thought this a bit much and at retail prices, you would have to eat almost 5 pounds of jumbo crab claws just to break even. As such, we opted to buy a couple of the large claws from the market to eat later. Expertly cracked and very sweet and meaty, the claws were very good and highly recommended.

We finished up ordering a fried oyster sandwich and a fried seafood basket. The oyster sandwich was delicious, and came with about 8 large fried Apalachicola oysters. Fries, hush puppies, lettuce, pickles onion and tomatoes completed this dish. The fries and hush puppies served here were also very good; the exception rather than the rule.

The fried seafood basket was also very good. Grouper, shrimp and clam strips came with fries, hush puppies, tartar and cocktail sauces. Both the sandwich and seafood basket were excellent.

With it getting dark, my dining companion and I continued on to the night sky outing at Big Cypress National Preserve. These are ranger guided tours of the night skies over Big Cypress by laser pointers and telescopes. Being in between Naples and Miami, Big Cypress has some of the darkest skies in the Eastern United States. It was recently granted Dark Sky Park status by the International Dark Sky Association, a group dedicated to the protection of night skies from light pollution and maintaining the fragile ecosystem of the areas.

This was a very good night out and highly recommended. I am not much of an astronomy aficionado, but appreciated the night sky over Big Cypress and really being able to see the stars and constellations. We were even able to see a few satellites passing by. These could be differentiated from a plane as it was traveling across the sky without any anti collision lights. Views like this are something not possible over virtually all urban areas. Even better, the tour is offered at no charge and is open to the public. The remaining two tours for the 2016-2017 season will be given February 10th at 7 PM and March 25th at 8 PM. As a courtesy to others, try to bring red lighting. This will not affect others light/dark adaptation when star gazing. Chairs and insect repellent are also helpful.

Triad Seafood Market and Cafe
401 School Dr. W.
Everglades City, FL 34139

Open 1030-6 PM Monday-Saturday, 1030-5 PM Sunday; All major credit cards accepted; Kid's meals served; Closed in the summer months, please inquire.

Big Cypress National Preserve
33100 Tamiami Trail E.
Ochopee, FL 34141

Enclosed dining area, Triad Seafood Cafe

Fried oyster sandwich

Fried blue crab fingers

Large stone crab claws

Fried seafood basket

Ranger guided astronomy tour; photo courtesy of The National Park Service
Night sky, Big Cypress National Preserve; best viewed full screen

Friday, January 20, 2017

Happy Hour at Ocean Prime

Ocean Prime, Naples, FL

Ocean Prime is a restaurant in The Inn on Fifth in Naples, FL. It was once part of The Inn on Fifth as Avenue Five, but was leased out to an independent restaurateur. Ocean Prime has about 14 locations nationwide, and looks to be an upscale dining destination somewhat like Darden's restaurant brand, Capital Grille.

Aesthetically, the restaurant is beautiful and retains the charm of the former Avenue Five. After a perusal of their menu, their happy hour offerings looked intriguing. My dining companions and I decided to take a peek.

Please keep in mind for happy hour, all their bar menu items are fair game and $5.00 off from their normal price. There are also reduced prices on select drinks along with beer and wines. Happy hour is served in the bar area, either at the bar or at the tables and booths adjacent to it.

Initially, we were brought a bread basket. The breads were very good, with both cracked wheat sourdough and pretzel bread. Popcorn was next, and was seasoned with truffle oil.  Although tasty, the vast majority of all truffle oil is synthetic. That being said, it kind of bursts your bubble. Curried popcorn may have been better.

The first item ordered was the lamb lollipops. These were delicious, easily the best of what was ordered. These were served with a soy butter sauce, and a slaw made from cilantro, bean sprouts, carrots, sweet red pepper, carrots and snap peas and seasoned with a wasabi mayonnaise dressing. Highly recommended.

The tuna roll was next, with avocado and cucumber inside, and finely chopped spicy tuna on top garnished with fish roe seasoned with wasabi. A nice plating of eel sauce and spicy mayo finished the dish. I thought the roll was OK, my dining companion didn't really like it. That's alright, more for me!

We finished up with the fish tacos. The tacos were filled with a jalapeno slaw similar to the one described above, and breaded fish. Unfortunately, the breading on the fish was so heavily salted both my dining companion and I thought there may have been an accident in the kitchen. We ordered a replacement but to no avail. We both agreed next time we would try something else.

My other dining companions ordered the crab cake sliders. Too often, crab cakes ordered out are long on the cake and short on the crab. Not at Ocean Prime. The crab cakes were made as they should be with mostly lump crab meat and very little binder/filler. My dining companions gave these two thumbs up,  and the sliders were made all that much better with Cheddar cheese, tomato and a jalapeno corn tartar sauce.

The happy hour at Ocean Prime is not bad; the food served in one of Naples's most aesthetically pleasing restaurant spaces. Although pricing here is at the high end of the spectrum for Naples restaurants, the happy hour discount does give some relief from this. Should you want to try the happy hour here, I would suggest getting here fairly early, as it does tend to be crowded, especially in the winter months.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Ocean Prime, Naples, FL

Ocean Prime
699 5th Avenue South
Naples, FL 34102

Happy hour daily from 4-7 PM; All major credit cards accepted; No kid's meals for happy hour; Valet parking at The Inn on Fifth, or at 6th Avenue South behind the restaurant.

Bar area, Ocean Prime
Dining and bar area
Dining area

Bread basket, happy hour
Popcorn with truffle oil, happy hour
Lamb lollipops, happy hour
Tuna roll, happy hour

Fish tacos, happy hour
Crab cake sliders, happy hour
Happy hour crowd, Ocean Prime