Restaurant boom in Naples
A restaurant boom in Naples spices up local options.
Remember McCabe’s Irish Pub and Café? A truly grand pub, as authentic and cozy a chunk of old Ireland as any in Florida, built in Dublin and brought over piece by piece and lovingly assembled in the glitz of Fifth Avenue in Naples.
Well, forget it.
After almost two decades on Fifth Avenue, McCabe’s has been carefully dismantled and packed in storage. In its place is the most glamorous new restaurant on the West Coast, the glittering, glossy Avenue 5 with 18-foot glass walls of fine wines and a menu rich with lobster and foie gras.
Phil McCabe was always more than a publican; he’s a successful hotelier and has been a big player downtown for decades. Now Avenue 5 is the final touch on a $20-million redo of his Inn on Fifth properties and the addition of world-class executive level club suites across Fifth.
Avenue 5 is only part of a citywide boom that has added a half-dozen new spots, all keen on farm-branded ingredients, health trends and global spicing.
Pub grub is out; modern “street smart” cuisine is in, meaning burgers, luxuries and other comforts all done up as sophisticated as the décor. Grilled cheese is boursin, gruyere and aged cheddar. French toast is brioche.
The look is fresh and contemporary, all neutrals and big glass with pops of red brightening a large open bar and a 60-seat private dining room overlooking Sugden Plaza. But it could be Barcelona or Tokyo thanks to designer Jeffrey Beers, whose clients include star chefs Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Taste comes from chef John Welch who worked in Paris, the Naples Ritz-Carlton and repeatedly in Maine. That explains grilled lobster tail and tempura claws or delightful lobster sliders between fried green tomatoes, for those not up to two-bone pork chop or Scottish salmon with sweet potato hash.
Seekers of pub pleasures may enjoy the new kid on the next block, Hob Nob, modern in the rustic retro fashion. Paneled in scrap lumber and graffiti, outfitted with marble and metal and lit with Edison bulbs, Hob Nob serves the contemporary staples. You might call it urban farmhouse/ fishhouse, with wild mushroom pizza, mussels and chorizo, grouper and chips and duck with cornbread stuffing.
Since it’s Naples, you can dig into a $52 ribeye, but you can also nibble cheaply at the bar on yummy deviled eggs with candied bacon and tomato jam and crisp arancini rice balls.
North of town, Local’s chef waves the flag of farmand- sea to table vigorously in the middle of mall sprawl. Chef-owner Jeff Mitchell seeks out Gulf snapper, clams from Pine Island, organic produce from Worden Farm in Punta Gorda and Inyoni Farm in Naples, Providence beef from Tampa, olives from Provence and cheese from Winter Park Dairy. The Local smokes turkey and makes its own pickles and pierogies and squeezes lemonade and other agua fresca from fresh fruit. Prices are modest with early specials at $19, $23 and $29.
Mereday’s and Alto
Follow Fifth Avenue a mile out from downtown, and Naples Bay Resort hosts two new restaurants, both thanks to the genius of chef Charles Mereday, who was in top kitchens in France and the Caribbean before Naples. Mereday’s Fine Dining is a multi-course tour of contemporary luxury. You can choose two-, three- or four-course dinners ($55 to $95), which could lead from escargot in pistou cream through branzino and roasted pepper salad to sweetbreads and truffles to seared grouper and ratatouille and finish with Earl Grey sorbet and scone. A little more, and you get foie gras or paired wines.
After less than a year Mereday opened his second, Alto Live Jazz Kitchen, which serves straight ahead jazz and equally sax-y food that draws hungry fans — and occasional dancers — every night. Mereday’s No. 2, Nadir Sherwani, has put ample twists in his menu: He adds Florida lobster to classic veal tonnato, makes burgers 10-ounces big, Wagyubeefy and topped with fried egg, fires up pork shank with Moroccan spice and pairs monster porterhouse with Yorkshire pudding. Snackable apps and flatbreads run $12 to $24, burgers and entrees, $18 to $58.
But Wait — There’s More
Rusty Bucket, a fast-rising pub chain from Cameron Mitchell of Columbus, Ohio, will make Naples’ Mercado its first stop outside the Midwest. And top chefs Sarah Grueneberg from Spiaggia and Latin diva Carmen Gonzalez are revamping Angelina’s in Estero and Agave in Naples respectively.