Recs for toddler-friendly, casual Fort Myers/Naples/Bonita Springs
My husband, almost-3-year-old and I will be staying in Fort Myers beach this weekend: a last blast of summer (we're from Minneapolis. It's definitely autumn here), and a chance to travel before our new baby is born (due early January). We like to avoid national chains whenever possible and look for good local places. Because we've got a toddler, we'd prefer restaurants that are casual and relatively speedy (it's not necessary that there be mac-n-cheese on the menu).
Here are some recommendations I've found trawling the Florida boards:
A Table Apart
Grouper & Chips
Pincher's Crab Shack
We're probably only going to get to a half dozen places. No doubt some places on the above list are too fancy/take too long/don't get a lot of toddlers. Please let me know if there are any you'd cut from the list immediately, or any places you'd add. BTW, my daughter is an experienced restaurant eater. She does pretty well in restaurants for up to an hour. Thanks in advance for any tips or recommendations!
Here's a recap of our Fort Myers Beach meals. Not as many as I'd hoped, but we did what we could. Parrot Key was BELOW AVERAGE. Great site overlooking the marina/water, good kiddie pina colada which my daughter enjoyed, and not much else going for it. We were there at 3:30 on Friday afternoon, so maybe the top staff wasn't in the kitchen. We started with the fried softshell crab which was really fishy tasting. Is that normal? I've had softshell crab in a sushi roll a few times and liked it. I don't recall a strong fishy flavor. Maybe the fishy taste resides in the crab's body or carapace? Anyway, we should've skipped it. My husband had the hungry native sandwich with blackened grouper. It was OK, not great. I had the shrimp aruba wrap. Really not great. It was really oily (the aioli?), oddly flavorless, and studded with unfresh cucumbers and tomato. All fries on the table were sprinkled with something that looked like seasoning, but they tasted like they didn't even have a light sprinkle of salt. They were bland and uncrispy. The caribbean slaw garnishing our plates tasted like refrigerator. My daughter had the kid's "buttered pasta." No salt, no butter flavor to be found (though I did see a small smear of melted butter on the edge of the platter). It tasted like Creamette pasta straight from the colander. I know that kid's buttered pasta isn't supposed to be chock-full of flavor, but this was actually flavor-negative, like a black hole that flavor had dropped into. We added salt and pepper at the table, but my daughter just wasn't into it. I think she ate 3 rotini.
The Heavenly Biscuit was ABOVE AVERAGE. We ended up going there twice. The breakfast biscuits are really good (I got egg, cheese and tomato, my husband got egg, cheese and sausage and my daughter had the plain egg and cheese. All terrific.) We went back the next day for fried chicken sandwiches and picked up one of the famous cinnamon rolls. The chicken sandwiches with home fries were good, though not as great as the breakfast sandwiches. The cinnamon roll was fantastic, as long as you avoid as much of the frosting as possible (and whatever you do, don't get EXTRA frosting.) It's just too sugary. Overall, The Heavenly Biscuit was great. Not to be missed. Very friendly service and fun, shacky atmosphere.
Randy's Fish Market in Naples was our second attempt at a seafood meal. It was AVERAGE. Our first batch of hush puppies were raw batter in the middle, but when we returned them and got our second batch, they were really tasty. (Is there coconut in the honey butter that comes with the hush puppies? The honey butter was really good.) I got the gulf shrimp sauteed in white wine, garlic and butter. Pretty good. The beans on my plate were limp and flavorless and my sweet potato side was just a plain, steamed sweet potato that could've used some love, but overall not bad. My husband got the blackened grouper meal which was fine. Nothing to go back for, but pretty decent. My daughter loved the kiddie hot dog. The french fries were crispy and delicious.
We had a surprisingly GOOD meal at The Beached Whale in Fort Myers Beach. I hadn't done any research on it, and we went into the restaurant only because it was open late (past 8) on a Sunday night, and it was close to our hotel. It was mostly-empty when we were there, but the food was really good. I had the southern-style pulled pork sandwich with a side of rice and beans. The rice and beans were really flavorful, but the pulled pork was the star of the meal. Sweet and savory tender pork, full of flavor and good piggy unctuousness, topped with creamy slaw. My husband had the cheesesteak sandwich (terrific) with fries, and my daughter had the kid's chicken strip basket. She ate a ton of her chicken and kept saying "this is really good," high praise from a picky eater.
Never had lunch at Parrot Key and never had anything you mentioned. Sorry. Fort Myers Beach is mainly a middle to lower middle class tourist destination no matter how hard they try...something needed very much in Florida. I like the funky, tacky beach town look (not every place has to be "upscale") but I am a local and seldom eat on the beach area proper, never in Times Square, and avoid late at night as there are some very tacky bars with rowdy crowds. Think of the Lani Kai, The Mermaid , the Surf Club.
Good food has always been a problem there. Occasionally a restaurant trying to have better food will open on the beach only to close after a year or two.
I have had some great dinners at Parrot Key, namely the swordfish with parsley pesto and the scallops. They have a mediocre wine list, but I wouldn't expect anything more from this sort of place. The dinner shows are primarily what people go for. Never have done lunch there and at 3:30 I think you might get sides that have been hanging around.
Lots of hounds love Randy's, however my experience is similar to yours. The Beached Whale must have made a miraculous turnaround. Good for them. You can at least see the Gulf from their roof top location.
I certainly agree with you on the sugar shock from the cinnamon roll. I got one once years ago and never did again.
Hopefully the beach was decent, it has had such problems this year with clearing the pass for larger ships that the water turbidity has been awful.
Thanks again for the recommendations, LMF. The beach was great. Yes, the water was cloudy, but it was warm, and the minimal surf made it very comfortable swimming and playing for my daughter. Saw a ray and some dolphins close to shore. Lots of osprey and a couple of spoonbills. We'll be back.
As for the bad meal at Parrot Key and the good one at The Beached Whale, well, that's the fun and frustration of dining out, right? It's a moving target. Good places can serve up crap if someone in the kitchen is asleep at the stove, and bad places (though this seems a bit more difficult and rare) can theoretically serve food that is adequate or even surprisingly good. (New chef? New food supplier? Kitchen mojo?) Even a long track record is no guarantee...
I laughed at your comment about the view from the Beached Whale's rooftop. Right. A good view, sweet location or fun show can definitely add a star to a dining experience. In the end, though, for those of us who care about the meal, the food had better not be a waste of calories.
I like the middle class vibe of Fort Meyers Beach. It's comfortable. Too bad places with TRULY good food tend to come and go in the Times Square area. Just because you don't need uppity doesn't mean you want to eat Bubba Gump. While I'm on the topic, I despise those end-of-the-pier joints that fleece each hungry tourist once. They don't worry about return business, they just serve up cheap, mediocre slop and hope the next group of out-of-towners haven't done their research.
Anyway, thanks again for your input, I appreciate your time and thoughts. Next time we're in the area (probably in a year) I'll have a place to start as I search for good eats. Much obliged!
You might have one night at Parrot Key. I've seen many little children have a great night with their daddies at the evening performance by Frank Torino. It is actually seared in my mind. Little girls dancing with Daddy to Elvis , etc. etc. Food is actually better than it need to be at this mecca on Fort Myers sort of Beach.
Standout on your list above would be Flippers. Your child will love watching the wildlife. I hope we have a cool front come through for you. It has been very hot.
For breakfast I recommend The Heavenly Biscuit, a tiny little place in an old house. Cooked to order breakfasts on good biscuits. Inexpensive. Cinnamon Rolls made each morning. It is on Estero Blvd. near The Shamrock a bit away from the Times Square madness.
Wyld's closed for the summer months and I'm not sure if they are open yet. I can't recommend Pinchers, at least the one on San Carlos going to Fort Myers Beach.
Buzz's Lighthouse is casual but it would be a trek from Fort Myers Beach for someplace not that much different than Flippers, but without the dolphin, pelican show.
Crave is a good place for families. Pretty good comfort food.
Angelina's is a more formal place and I not particularly kid friendly. I've been there about 6 times and recall no small children.