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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Happy Hour at 7th Avenue Social

is a restaurant in Naples, FL.  From their website, it is a place to "gather, eat and drink". They have a happy hour that runs daily from 3-6 P.M., and one can sit anywhere in the restaurant for happy hour.

This can be in the dining area,

the bar, where they may have entertainment as they did that day,

or the common, or "social" areas of the restaurant.

Happy hour features 50% off tacos, salads and sandwiches from their Menu, in addition to a variety of beverage specials. I had heard this was a really good happy hour and wanted to come in to try it. The restaurant did not have happy hour when I came here and Blogged about my meal last year.

Hungry from a Chocolate and Wine Pairing just before, I tried a couple tacos and a salad.

The first thing I ordered was the short rib taco.

Barbecued short rib was topped with red salsa, Cotija cheese and Pico De Gallo. This was a very good, if not exceptional taco.

The next thing ordered was a Chili Verde pork taco,

with verde salsa, Cotija cheese and mango pico de gallo. Really good. Last was a salad, which was the restaurants version of a Cobb salad. I inadvertently ordered shrimp on mine, which made it even better.

They substituted Benton Ham for the traditional bacon and an herb vinaigrette in place of blue cheese dressing which can be too heavy. This was good and very filling. If you ever forget what is on a traditional Cobb salad remember the acronym, EAT COBB (egg, avocado, tomato, chicken, onion, bacon and blue cheese).

My dining companions (DCs) that day were not as hungry as I. A grouper taco was ordered

and was topped with green salsa, cabbage, poblano cream and mango pico de gallo.

A shrimp taco finished the taco tour.

These were seasoned as were the grouper tacos. Both DCs really liked their selections.

Just as with my first visit here almost a year ago, the food at 7th Avenue Social was very good to great, and made even better with happy hour pricing. For the pricing and food quality, 7th Avenue Social easily ranks in the top 10 for happy hours in Naples, FL. Highly recommended.

It's a wrap for the 200th post on Forks.

7th Avenue Social
849 7th Avenue S
Naples, FL 34102

Chocolate Tasting and Wine Pairing with The Old Naples Association

Old Naples is one of the original residential neighborhoods in Naples, FL. It is located near downtown Naples and the Gulf of Mexico. Ever since reconstruction began after Hurricane Donna in 1960 this area has become progressively more gentrified. Old Naples is now some of the most Coveted property in the area. 

The Old Naples Association (ONA) is a community group that represents both the civic and social interests of Old Naples residents. A friend who lives in the area wanted to find out more about them and invited me to one of their social events. That day it was a chocolate and wine pairing on the beach.

After attendees started to get together for the event,

we were given about a 30 minute presentation on some of the history and fun facts about about chocolate by an ONA member who was a Chocolatier, trained at the Ecole Chocolat.

Chocolate was brought back to Europe after being introduced to Cortes in the Sixteenth Century by the Aztecs. It was consumed at this time as a drink, and became sweetened by the Spanish after their discovery of sugar cane during their travels through the Caribbean. It took a few hundred years before someone figured out how to convert liquid chocolate into a solid food.

Chocolate is composed of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Cocoa butter melts at a relatively low temperature. To improve storage, manufacturers have been removing cocoa butter and replacing it with vegetable oils with a higher melting point. Additionally, the fat and sugar in sweetened chocolate can separate out depending on storage conditions and is called a chocolate Bloom. When this happens, the chocolate will have "streaks" in it. To stop this from happening manufactures will add Emulsifiers, further adulterating the chocolate.
In addressing these and other issues, the Bean to Bar movement was started. These are a group of artisinal craft chocolate makers, basically sticking to the methods used to make chocolate in the 1800's. Here is one reviewer's Take on some of these chocolates.

After this very interesting presentation, we were then treated to different kinds of chocolate originating from Vintage Plantations, a craft chocolate producer.

These ranged from 100% chocolate (no sugar) to 70% chocolate (30% sugar) among others to pair with our wines if we decided to bring any.

This was a very sweet event and really got me in the mood for dinner, but that's a topic for another blog post.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Old Naples Association
P.O. Box 110764
Naples, FL 34108

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Southwest Florida Farmers Markets and the UF/IFAS Extensions

Southwest Florida (SWFL) arguably consists of many different counties, but I prefer the Southwest Florida Regional Planning Council (SWFRPC) definition. What is the SWFRPC? It is a 36 member council of county commissioners, elected officials and gubernatorial appointees. They are an informational resource, and conduct "r and d" into the feasibility of implementing  local, state and federal programs in the SWFL area. There are 11 of these regional planning councils statewide. According to the SWFRPC, SWFL is comprised of 6 counties, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota. As of 2014, the population of each county was (x 1000) 164, 336, 12, 37, 653 and 387, respectively. I throw these numbers out to make a point later.

The University of Florida is a major academic institution in Florida that started about 160 years ago. One of their branches deals in agriculture, and is the University of Florida/Institute of Agricultural and Food Sciences  (UF/IAFS).

UF/IAFS has extensions in all 67 counties in Florida. Some are better that others, but from these there is a wealth of agricultural information, classes and other activities geared toward the food-inclined. I urge readers to visit their local UF/IAFS website to see what it's all about.

I was interested in local farmers markets,

so I searched the various UF/IFAS extension websites to try to get more information on farmers markets in SWFL.

It seems, in general, the more urban an area is, the more farmers markets it will have. I suppose in more rural areas people have more land and will have more of a proclivity to just grow their own.

Here are some very good listings of farmers markets in SWFL provided by UF/IFAS extensions.

Farmers Markets In Sarasota County (this is a bit verbose including other counties, but there is some good information here)

I had contacted the UF/IFAS extension in Charlotte County, and although no link, here was the list given to me by them.


Punta Gorda Farmers Market
Saturdays, 8 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Taylor St., across from Charlotte County Courthouse
Englewood Farmers Market
Thursdays, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Downtown Englewood
300 Dearborn Street, Englewood 34223
Boca Grande Farmers Market
Fridays, 9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
305 Wheeler Road Ball Field

I had contacted the Hendry Country extension and was told there were no farmers markets there. Paradoxically, 78% of Hendry County's workforce is employed in agriculture. I suppose there are no farmers markets because virtually all of the people employed in agriculture must work for large agribusiness concerns.

I have as of the this writing not heard from the Glades extension but would imagine it would be the same.

I would hope this would be useful information to readers that were interested in farmers markets and fresh produce and didn't have a complete and updated resource for them.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kickoff Dinner of Meet and Eat SWFL at Zen Asian BBQ

Meet and Eat SWFL is a group that evolved from the Facebook foodie group, Paradise Coast Foodies. Meet and Eat SWFL will be starting up a number of interesting activities, mostly centered on helping locally owned restaurants succeed and allowing easier access to them by the public.

I am all for mutually beneficial relationships, and one focus of their business model is to have restaurants provide gratis or for a minimal cost their wares to a number of reviewers in exchange for their opinions on social media. To allow easier public restaurant access, they will also be selling restaurant discount cards. For a small yearly fee, diners can enjoy a substantial discount at participating local restaurants with priority seating. Finally, they plan to organize publicly accessible dining events at local restaurants at a substantial (15-20%) discount. Not only will these events help local restaurateurs, but also be a good outlet socially and financially for local diners as well.

The kickoff event for Meet and Eat SWFL was held at Zen Asian BBQ in Naples, FL a restaurant I had recently Blogged about.

As attendees sat down and waited to be served,

the kitchen staff and the sushi chefs,

were preparing food for us from a very special menu.

Before we started eating, the founders of Meet and Eat SWFL, Randy and Jamie Mandra and Guy Clarke in addition to the manager of  Zen Asian BBQ, Michael Cardascia (background) introduced Bill Barnett, current City Councilman, former mayor and current mayoral candidate. Interestingly, former Mayor Barnett was one of the first food critics for the local newspaper here.

The first thing that was served was the spicy garlic edamame.

I am not a big fan of Edamame but these were not bad. The sauce that the edamame shells were coated with saved the day. Who doesn't like salt, garlic and chili oil?

Spicy tuna tacos were next.

It was a very nice presentation. Creme Fraiche, guacamole and jalapeno highlighted this dish. Due to the portion size, I reserve judgement on this dish until I come back and try them again.

Crispy Brussels sprouts were served for the third course.

I love roasted vegetables, and was all over this. Roasted Brussels sprouts were mixed with candied walnuts, bacon, and a fish based Yuzu Miso sauce. Tres Yum!

Tuna Pizza was next.

Ahi tuna was served on a grilled tortilla with tomato, red onion, tomato, cilantro and an Aioli made from a traditional savory and spicy Korean condiment, Gochujang. This was good but the flavors were not very expressive. It was not my favorite of the night.

Hokkaido Ramen followed, and is a noodle soup dish served here. Literally, it is a noodle soup dish served from one of the Northernmost islands off the coast of Japan. I do not know if this is true but it was really good.

17 hour broth (I assume they spend 17 hours making it), house made noodles, seafood, garlic oil, bean sprout, scallions, egg, and corn. This was some of the best food of the evening. The broth was so rich and delicious, highly recommended.

The lamb massaman curry was the sixth course.

Rather than have this served in a bowl with a lot of sauce they went with a minimalist approach which I liked a bit better. Rib chops of lamb were coated with the most delicious cinnamon peppered massaman curry sauce, with potatoes, carrots and avocado. The curry sauce tastes like candy and is excellent. For those that like their rice, a small side of curry sauce would have been good as a condiment for it.

While everyone was enjoying the food and the evening,

 we were brought one more course, a Bulgogi Ramen nacho.

This was really great, and was barbecued bulgogi beef with ramen noodles, Parmesan cheese and a siracha aioli, among other unknown but delicious ingredients. Upon bringing to the table, this dish was was to be immediately mixed before serving. Outstanding!

Green tea creme brulee finished the meal.


The presentation of this dish was beautiful, but it did not live up to it's potential in texture and flavor. No matter, I am not much of a dessert person so no big deal!

This was a very, very good night out. The food, on the whole, at Zen Asian BBQ was excellent. Additionally, the concept behind Meet and Eat SWFL is a good one. Once embraced by both restaurateurs and diners, Meet and Eat SWFL has the potential to be beneficial to everyone.

It's a wrap for another post on Forks.

Zen Asian BBQ
10812 Tamiami Trial N.
Naples, FL 34108

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Happy Hour at Cavo Lounge

is a restaurant in the Mercato, a mixed used commercial/residential development in Naples, FL.

My dining companion (DC) that day and I decided to check out their happy hour Menu which I had heard good things about.

There is plenty of outdoor seating at Cavo Lounge,

which is great for taking advantage of the exceptional weather in Southwest Florida in the winter months.

The interior of Cavo Lounge is very interesting,

and seems to draw from a very eclectic collection of materials giving it a feel somewhat unique to the area.

As it was a very nice evening that night, DC and I decided to eat outside. We sampled a number of things off the Menu that are discounted for happy hour, that runs from 4-7 P.M.

The first thing ordered was the spicy tuna tartare.

This was raw Ahi tuna served on a base of a sweet chili/avocado mixture, spicy mayo, wontons and soy dipping sauce. It was ok, but not my favorite of the night.

DC ordered mini chicken gyros.

I never eat gyros trying to be calorie conscious but they were good. I am of the philosophy that if you are going to eat gyros, go all in, do it right and at least have the beef version. Just my 2 cents.

I am a big fan of Burrata, so that's what I ordered.

It was really good, served with roasted pears. arugula, toasted bread points and a honey vinaigrette dressing. The richness of the cheese blended well with the sweetness of the fruit and the dressing.

Korean chicken lollipops were next.

Chicken wings were treated "Asian style" in a soy/ginger marinade, garnished with white and black sesame seeds and served with green onions. Not bad.

DC ordered the chef's special blend sliders and they were great.

Mini burgers were topped with tomato jam, bacon, white cheddar, arugula and served with fries and ketchup. Highly recommended.

I love octopus, so that is what I finished up with.

Grilled octopus was served with potato, artichoke hearts, piquillo peppers and a mayo/piquillo pepper sauce. This was my favorite of the evening. The octopus was cooked perfectly and the vegetables and sauce served with this dish complemented it nicely.

After all this food DC and I decided to check out that evening's concert series featuring The Appleseed Collective

with everyone else that evening.

The happy hour at Cavo Lounge is great, offers discounts of 16-30% off normal prices and is one of the best (food-wise) happy hours in town. Highly recommended!

Another evening of food and music and another post on Forks.

Cavo Lounge
9108 Strada Place STE 14120
Naples, FL 34108

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Dinner at Salsa Brava

is a restaurant in Naples, FL serving Mexican Cuisine. When I arrived, even though it was a Sunday evening and the weather was dreadful, the place was packed! A very good sign.

This almost never happens, but my dining companion (DC) and I were treated to a number of items both off and on the Menu and special board that day

in exchange for a review of the food. Fair enough.

Chips and Salsa Verde were brought to the table,

and were not bad. I am very carbohydrate averse, so I am not a good judge of tortilla chips. DC thought they were homemade and very good. Pico De Gallo was next, and was excellent.

It was really fresh, and flavorful. Ceviche was on the menu, which I assume was this dish with seafood added to it. If this is correct, even better!

Next on this tour de force of Mexican Cuisine was Queso Fundido.

This dish was melted cheese, similar to a combination of Monterey Jack and Mozzarella, and roasted Poblano peppers with a little onion and garlic. DC, being lactose intolerant, left me with the lion's share of this dish. Not used to eating a lot of cheese, this dish was very heavy duty and filling but delicious.

Elotitos were next,

and are a popular Mexican street snack. Corn on the cob is flavored with cheese, mayonnaise, chili and salt. Again, not being a carbohydrate fan this was not my favorite but this dish was different, interesting and tasty.

A Pastor taco and a Tinga chicken Sope were next.

These were both really good and thankfully, I could just sample the fillings. I loved the tinga chicken with it's chipotle seasoning.

As if all this food wasn't enough, DC finished off with Costillas De Cerdo (Riblets) with baby cactus.

 and I had the Mole Negro.

Both of these dishes came with of course, rice and beans, and were delicious. It had been many moons since I had eaten mole, and I really enjoyed the heat and complexity of this dish.

What was served to DC and I that evening was excellent, and after doing research for this blog post, authentic Mexican food, somewhat unique for this area. The service was good and the prices are reasonable. Additionally, should you have a favorite Mexican dish you cannot find on the menu, I am sure the restaurant would in most cases be able to accommodate. If you are a fan of Mexican food, Salsa Brava will not disappoint.

That's that for another post on Forks.

Salsa Brava
10265 Tamiami Tr. N.
Naples, FL 34108