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Monday, September 30, 2019

Hungry is Not a Word After Eating at Bill's Cafe in Naples

BLT, Bill's Cafe
Bill's Cafe  (BC) is a restaurant in Naples serving breakfast and lunch. They have been open, as of this writing, for almost six years. Bill Salley, the proprietor, has been around the culinary block. With breaks in between, he has been cooking in Naples for over 30 years.

Chef Bill at his craft, Bill's Cafe
I had heard very good things about BC and decided to take a look.

The interior of the restaurant is very interesting; chock a block with mementos from presumably Chef Bill's past. I used to own many of the LPs on the walls. I wish I still had them.

Interior, Bill's Cafe
The menu is very straightforward, and has both breakfast and lunch items.

Menu, Bill's Cafe
On my first visit there, my dining companion (DC1) and I sampled a couple of sandwiches. Bill's famous BLT was one of these.


Nine pieces of bacon (1/2 pound) graced this sandwich. Tasty Oakes Farm tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and home made mayo made this sandwich over the top delicious. The added in house made home fries only made this sandwich that much better and this writer that much more full!

DC1 tried the brisket melt. This was white bread toasted on the griddle with brisket, shredded cheddar and jack cheese, grilled onions and mayo. Another over the top menu item full of deliciousness.

On my second visit, DC2 and I tried a couple of different menu items. The first was the breakfast burrito.

Breakfast burrito
The burrito was as big as a small dog, reminiscent of the burritos ordered in the Mission District of San Francisco when I lived there. The burrito was stuffed with taco-seasoned hamburger, red beans, jack and cheddar cheese, eggs, lettuce and tomatoes. It was very, very good and easily enough for two. Here is a cross section of this extraordinary menu item.

Breakfast burrito
DC2 ordered a taco salad. This was basically the filling of the breakfast burrito on home made tortilla chips without egg. It was another very good and overly filling dish.

The food at BC is great. It is all mostly made from scratch and has no pretense. The portions are huge as well as delicious and for what you get, a great value. I think any diner would be more than happy after eating here. If you eat a later lunch here, don't plan on eating anymore until the next day. Highly recommended.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Bill's Cafe
947 3rd Avenue North
Naples, FL 34102

Open 7AM-3PM Monday-Saturday, 7AM-2PM Sunday; All major credit cards accepted.

Brisket melt

Taco salad
Exterior, Bill's Cafe

Chef Bill's resume

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Ravishing Rations at Fat Katz in Fort Myers

Southwest Florida, as do many places, has an ever changing restaurant scene with many new restaurants opening yearly. It's easy to forget some of the more established places, even those that have outstanding food. Fat Katz Sports Bistro  (FK) could be one of these.

Fat Katz Sports Bistro
FK bills itself as a sports bistro. On a recent visit, they seemed much more of a bistro than a sports bar. What is a bistro you may ask? The more classical definition is a small restaurant serving moderately priced meals along with adult beverages. Besides being a sort of non-sports bar sports bar, the restaurant is a bit off the beaten bath. Not by geography but accessibility. If you've never been here, it's somewhat of a challenge navigating here, even with its proximity to a major thoroughfare, Daniels Parkway. What seems like a criticism is far from it. One of the most important foundations of any good restaurant, besides service, is the food, and what a foundation FK has. More on that in a bit.

FK has been around for about six years now. I live in Naples and many restaurants in the Fort Myers area are still terra incognita to me. Discovering FK for the first time was a very welcome breath of fresh air.

The interior of FK is a bit minimalist, with a few TV screens to watch presumably, sports broadcasts from the bar. I am neither a sports fan or TV watcher so the outside seating seemed just right.

FK's Menu is quite dense with a lot of great looking fare packed into it. They also seem to have at least a couple nightly specials as shown on the chalkboard outside.

Daily food specials
Having never dined here, we ordered off their menu. I did not know what to expect, but unknown to us, we were really in for a treat.

The first thing ordered was the short rib quesadillas.

Short rib quesadillas.
They don't look like much from this picture, and I wish I would have opened one of the tortillas for this shot. The quesadillas were loaded with shredded short rib. Caramelized onion and a blend of cheddar and jack cheese filled out the flavor profile. This was just delicious. I could not believe how much meat came with this dish. Most recommended.

We moved onto the Fat Katz cobb. If you ever wonder what is in a cobb salad just remember the acronym, eat cobb (egg, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon and blue cheese). The cobb at FK had little to do with a traditional cobb salad but was still good.

Fat Katz cobb salad
The salad, served on spring greens, had jerk chicken (and a lot of it), red onions, chevre, pineapple, tomato, crasins, tomato, cilantro and sunflower seeds. A lime vineagrette is served with it. This is a very good, solid salad that any salad lover will like.

We moved onto the fish tacos. My dining companion, literally a San Diego citizen, knows them well. San Diego is pretty much the home of fish tacos.

Crunchy fish tacos
They had all the elements of a classic San Diego fish taco. Fried fish (snapper), corn tortilla, pico and cabbage, lots of cabbage. Mango salsa also graced these wonderful tacos served with a side of black beans and rice. I think these are some of the best fish tacos you will find east of the Mississippi. No, this is not hyperbole.

We finished with a wine "oh" burger. 

Wine "Oh" burger
This was another of the establishments half pound patties on their signature brioche bun. What makes it a wine "oh" are the Cabernet-infused baby portobello mushrooms. Fig jam, caramelized onion, manchego cheese, bacon, sauteed spinach and garlic lime mayo seal the deal. As an old candy bar commercial coined; indescribably delicious. This age old advertising slogan definitely applies here.

Besides great food, they also have a very good rotating selection of draft beers, some of them very unusual. I ordered a Dragon's Milk. This is a very heavy duty stout, clocking in at 11% ABV. I have never seen this on tap, and it really stood up to the burger and quesadillas served here. They have other selections that will keep any beer aficionado happy. 

The food sampled at FK was very good to excellent. The menu is very culinary dense and the beer selections will keep any beer fan happy. The service was good and the prices, for what you get, more than fair. If you have never been here go. If you have, please come back to try something new. I don't think it's possible for FK to disappoint. FK is another culinary Rock of Gibraltar in the Southwest Florida restaurant scene.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Fat Katz Sports Bistro
100800 Daniels Interstate Court
Fort Myers, FL 33913

Open 11AM-10PM Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday; All major credit cards accepted; Kids meals available.

Interior, Fat Katz Sports Bistro

Thursday, September 26, 2019

21st Century Indian Cuisine at 21 Spices

21 Spices  (21) is a restaurant that features contemporary Indian cuisine. Contemporary Indian cuisine is in part due to chefs from India incorporating culinary training in Europe or other geographical areas into their food repertoire. This may include Indian/French culinary hybrids that use French-style mother sauces in their preparation or Indian/Spanish type dishes that produce more tapas-like presentations of Indian fare. Contemporary Indian cuisine is also usually served in a more refined setting than traditional Indian cuisine more akin to fine dining.

Dining area, 21 Spices
The owner/Executive Chef of 21 is Asif Syed. Chef Asif has been in Southwest Florida for many years, opening up 21 in the winter of 2016. He has appeared nationally on Food Network shows with Guy Fieri and Bobby Flay. Recently, he has been invited to showcase his talents at The James Beard House in New York City for a special Dinner featuring a multi-course meal as a visiting chef.

Having never dined at 21, My dining companion and I were anxious to try some of the offerings here. The restaurant has a rather interesting Dinner Menu. They are not open for lunch, but do offer a Happy Hour Menu featuring tapas-style items and drink specials in their bar area from 4-6 PM.

An amuse bouche, if you will, was brought before our order. 

Papadum with sauces

This was a very generous serving of papadum, those sort of "Indian potato chips" made from fried mung bean flour. The papadum was served with a variety of toppings. These were (counterclockwise) mint/yogurt, pineapple/mango and tamarind/date sauces. They certainly got our taste buds in the mood for more 21 fare.

The first item ordered was a soup, the tomato dhania bisque.This was very good and a traditional Indian soup with a twist. Dhania is another word for cilantro; the soup being redolent with its flavor. Following contemporary Indian cuisine, the soup was a bisque, melding a traditional French preparation with those of India. It was very good and very hearty.

We also ordered the palakwala chaat.

Palakwala Chaat.
Traditionally, chaat is based on fried dough with other ingredients. Loosely translated, the dish means the one (chaat) with spinach. The dish here is flash fried spinach coated in chick pea/lentil dough and topped with yogurt, tamarind and dates. The  chickpea/lentil dough pays homage to a traditional Indian chaat. This was a very unusual and very good starter.

We ended our sample of starters with a progressive chicken 65. 

Progressive chicken 65
Chicken 65 has much speculation as to what it really is. Some say it is from a 65 day old chicken (peak flavor), others 65 chilies in the dish while an alternate take is it takes 65 days to prepare the marinade. Whatever the true origin the important thing is the end product. Typically, boneless chicken thighs are marinated in ginger/garlic paste with lemon juice and yogurt. The chicken is fried and can be spiced before with turmeric, cumin, fennel and cinnamon. At 21, they are also spiced with curry leaves, ginger and chili/garlic sauce. This was again, an excellent starter.

As an aside, curry leaves are interesting. They have nothing to do with curry powder or curries, though taste like it. They are the leaves of a sub-tropical tree used as a spice in South and Southeast Asia.

From the poultry entrees we ordered the chicken tikka masala. This was very good. Traditionally chicken tikka is chicken marinated in yogurt and spice and is cooked in a tandoori (clay) oven at high temperature. Masala is just a mixture of spices. Typically the sauce is pureed tomatoes, cream, coconut cream and at 21, perhaps Chef Asif's famed 21 spice mixture. Highly recommended.

We finished with one of the Hyderabadi biryanis, the Dum pukht goat biryani. Biryanis are rice dishes. In Hyderabad, a Southern Indian region, instead of cooking everything separately and putting it together, the meat and other ingredients are cooked in with the rice. Dum pukht is a Northern Indian cooking technique of cooking ingredients in a (preferably) clay pot and sealing it with a layer of dough. This helps preserve the nascent flavors of the dish. At 21, the cooking pot is sealed with naan dough. This adds another level of flavor and texture to the dish. This is another example of contemporary Indian cuisine fusing differing cooking techniques from different Indian geographical regions. The biryani was served with a cucumber/coriander/tomato dressing and a saffron coconut curry sauce in addition to chopped peppers per your taste of condiments.

Dum pukht goat biryani

Table side presentation, Dum pukht goat biryani
Again, another excellent and highly recommended dish.

Our dinner at 21 was very good. The interior of the restaurant is beautiful, the service great and the food intriguing and full of flavor. Although it has been open for almost three years, if you haven't been, go. If you have I am sure most will return. 21 is a very welcome addition to the Naples culinary scene and I cannot wait to try more of their menu items.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks

21 Spices
4270 Tamiami Tr. E.
Naples, FL 34112

Open Monday-Saturday, 4-9PM, Sunday, 5-9PM; Happy hour Monday-Friday, 4-6PM; All major credit cards accepted

Split portion, tomato dhania bisque
Bar area, 21 Spices
Exterior, 21 spices

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

A Wonderful Lunch at St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant in London, England

St. JOHN Bar and Restaurant (SJ) is an establishment right around the corner from Smithfield Market in London, England. Although closed when we were there, the market has been operational since the tenth century, then mostly as a livestock exchange. It is the UK's largest wholesale meat market and occupies around a two block area. There are also satellite establishments of SJ but the Smithfield location is the original and the mother ship.

St. John Bar and Restaurant-Smithfield. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The restaurant was started in 1994 by chef Fergus Henderson and partners. Fergus has never had any formal training or worked under any other chef. Although using all parts of an animal in cooking has been known for thousands of years, SJ was the first to popularize this and coined the phrase nose to tail. Chef Henderson has famously quipped, "If you're going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing". Seems reasonable to me. The restaurant was awarded a Michelin star about ten years ago. Besides offal which put the restaurant on the map, many other items are served here. The food presentations at SJ are deceptively simple, but more on that later.

I have always wanted to eat here but on previous visits to London I didn't seem to have the time. Although the latest visit to London was short, my traveling companion and I were determined to make it here this time.

As you walk into the restaurant there is a courtyard that has a bar, which is open when the restaurant is not or when the dining room is full that has a menu of its own. There is also a bakery that has off-sale (take out) baked items and wine. The restaurant formerly housed, among other tenants, a smokehouse. The proprietors had decided to keep the original look of the smokehouse (painted white brick with no art on the walls). This sort of minimalist look really complements what is served on your plate when dining here.

Bar, St. JOHN
Bakery, St. JOHN
The dining area of the restaurant also maintains a minimalist look. If it looks empty it really wasn't. The host insisted that I aim my lens where there were no diners. Fine with me.

Dining room, St. JOHN

The menus change daily. Here was the lunch menu that day.

Lunch menu for September 14, 2019, St. JOHN

You may notice a few different things on the menu. Potted pork is one of them. What is this you may ask? Its pork that's cooked low and slow for many hours, then mixed with clarified butter and homogenized into a spread similar to rillettes. Lamb faggot is basically a lamb meatball made from pork offal cuts (heart, liver and pork belly), wrapped in caul fat (abdominal membrane of a pig) and baked. Eccles cake is a pastry crust filled with currants. You may notice the menu is structured (top to bottom) with starters, mains and puddings (desserts).

The dish that SJ is most famous for is their roast bone marrow and parsley salad.

Bone marrow and parsley salad
As mentioned before, the presentations here are deceptively simple. Veal bone marrow is spread with a Marrow Spoon on toast, lightly salted and topped with a parsley, shallot and caper salad dressed with a lemon/olive oil dressing. It was delicious. I have had this stateside with the bones cut longitudinally. The dish was hard to eat at the two establishments previously sampled due to over salting by the chefs. It's much better to let the diner salt their dish as is done here. After some thought I really think the brilliance of this dish is to get something that costs one GBP, make it taste really good and charge people a lot of money for it. The late Anthony Bourdain has described the bone marrow and parsley salad served here as what he would request for his last meal on death row. He was not far off.

The braised cuttlefish, a special that day, was next.

Braised cuttlefish

The cuttlefish is braised in red wine and its own ink and served with onion and a dollop of garlic aioli. Another excellent starter.

We really wanted to try everything on the menu but of course, that was not possible. We split the braised rabbit with mash and the roast hogget, Jerusalem artichokes and pickled walnut.

Braised rabbit with mash
Roast hogget, Jerusalem artichokes and pickled walnut
Both of these items were excellent, though heavy duty, suited for after a long day in a farm field in autumn.

The rabbit is braised with bacon, shallots, 30-40 cloves of garlic, white wine, chicken stock and thyme, parsley and bay leaf.

Hogget is officially a sheep that is between one and two years old. The cut here came from the leg. Pickled walnuts are green walnuts that are brined, turning them black. They are then pickled in some sort of vinegar solution to finish them. They were perfect on the shallot/arugula salad, dressed with olive oil/lemon vinaigrette. I do not eat Jerusalem artichokes too often, and they paired perfectly with the meat and salad here. Jerusalem artichokes are not really artichokes, but a root vegetable from a species of sunflower. Full of flavor, they taste like, well, artichokes!

A side of greens were also ordered, that day it was hispi cabbage. It is wilted then sauteed in butter. It is a thicker leaved cabbage variety. Rather than be mushy, it stood up to the meats served to us and was another excellent vegetable pairing. 

To finish the meal (and us) off, we ended with a bread pudding topped with butterscotch sauce.

Bread pudding with butterscotch sauce
The bread pudding is made from stale raisin bread, suet (sort of a type of lard), allspice, rum, butter, eggs and brown sugar with other ingredients. The butterscotch is made from double cream, sugar and butter. Vanilla ice cream seals the deal. I didn't even want to think about how many calories were in here but the dish was exceptional. This comes from a person (myself) that never eats desserts. Wow!

I have been wanting to eat at SJ for many years and finally did. The cuisine here is inventive, reasonably priced (for London fine dining) and delicious. If offal is not your "cup of tea" there are many other things here to eat. As it was too early in the day we did not sample any of the wines but the Wine List looked very good and is all French.

I can see why SJ is considered a culinary temple that most are all too happy to go back to. If in London, a must do. They will not disappoint.

St. JOHN- Smithfield
26  St. John St.
London, UK EC1M4AY
011-44-207251-0848 (from the US)

Lunch: Monday-Saturday, 12-3PM, Sunday, 1230-4PM; Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 6-11PM, closed Sunday for dinner; Bar:11AM-11PM, Monday-Friday, Saturday, 6-11PM and Sunday, 12-5PM; all major credit cards accepted, Reservations highly recommended.

Hispi cabbage
Bar menu

Bakery menu
Smithfield Market

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

A Great Sunday Brunch at American Legion Post 135 in Naples

American Legion Post 135, Naples, FL
The American Legion was started in 1919 as a veteran's organization. Since that time, it has grown to over two million members and almost 13,000 chapters (posts). Primarily a social organization for some, The American Legion offers veterans discounts on various goods and services, support services and is very much involved in community philanthropy like the Special Olympics.

I am an avid bicyclist and ride through many areas of Naples. On occasion, I pass by things while riding that deserve a second look. A sidewalk sign advertising American Legion Post 135 (AL135) Sunday brunch was one of them. An all you can Sunday breakfast for nine dollars was certainly intriguing.

I invited a few dining companions one Sunday and they were all "in". I had no idea what was in store for us that Sunday and was pleasantly surprised upon entering the post.

Interior, AL135
The brunch, as some other meals, are open to the public but more on that later. Being a private club, they still allow smoking, though it's only at the bar in the front half of the post. To those that may wonder, this had no effect on our meal in the main dining space.

There are many items available for their Sunday brunch. All of the servers and cooks are volunteers for this and other events. The best of the Sunday brunch here is their made to order eggs. Shane, one of the volunteers, ran the egg station that day and did a marvelous job.

I ordered the everything omelet which included tomatoes, onions, scallions, mushrooms, ham and cheese.  There were a number of other brunch items including French toast, grits, bacon, corned beef hash, sausages and country potatoes. Mixed fruit was also served. Shi! on a shingle (SOS; chipped beef and gravy) and also sausage gravy were available for the biscuits served

Sausages and country potatoes
Everyone was very friendly, with two couples asking us to join their table when we were about to sit by ourselves. One was a veteran of World War Two, the other The Gulf War. Both  couples shared some great stories and experiences with us. The camaraderie that day was priceless.

They also serve lunch daily, with a number of very affordable daily options.

Daily lunch menu, AL135
I was told the hamburger here was excellent, and is only six dollars. One of my dining companions also mentioned they were told that by their hotelier when they were visiting Northern Florida.

The Sunday brunch/breakfast at AL135 is wonderful. The food is good and at least that day, the conversation with the post's members entertaining and enjoyable. I would recommend it highly. Not only is it a bargain at nine dollars for all you can eat, but the opportunity to share some of the experiences of the legion members is a real treat. You will not find anything like this anywhere else in Naples. During the winter months (season) I am told the brunch line stretches out the door, and for good reason.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

American Legion Post 135
2296 Tamiami Tr. E.
Naples, FL 34112

Lunch 11AM - 2PM daily, Sunday brunch 9AM- 12PM; Cash only, ATM on site.

Bacon and corned beef hash
Mixed fruit
Chipped beef (SOS) and sausage gravy for biscuits

Bar area