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Aug 1, 2010 12:17 PM

The Veranda Fort Myers let the howling begin....

Let the howling begin: The Veranda is not a chowhound fave. Lots of snarky remarks over the years about this old "establishment" restaurant in the legal district and I have been amongst them in the past.

It is difficult to make a go of things these days in the restaurant biz. We had a small group dinner at the Veranda on Wednesday night last week and it was excellent. The restaurant was packed and it wasn't all people on oxygen tanks and walkers (G) The bar was lively even if the piano wasn't playing and there were as many 2 tops as large tables.

The restaurant has not waivered from their style over the years and I, for one, like it when a restaurant knows their strength and plays to it, rather than trying the next new thing. The Veranda is southern restaurant with a few contemporary touches to the menu. I had the hogfish (a really delicious Keys fish) last night which was served Oscar style with broccolini as well as the traditional asparagus. Large lump crab meat topped the mild filet as well as lemon bearnaise. Others had rack of lamb or yellow tail snapper. Southern influenced appetizers included southern grit cakes with andouille sausage and artichoke fritters stuffed with blue crab. Killer desserts included peanut butter chocolate pie and just a lovely glass of fresh berries and real whipped cream barely sweetened.

This not a restaurant that will ever be interested in "foam" or molecular cooking. Just classic continental cuisine. The wait staff is classically trained and attentive without being familiar.

The interior is old fashioned, which I suppose some do not like but it reminds me of classic New Orleans restaurants and no one expects them to update their look. The patio in season is evocative of the Court of the Two Sisters in New Orleans but thankfully the food is much better than that tourist trap. Could they stand to change the carpet? I suppose, but I like the look. If I were still doing interiors I'd probably have them do a custom carpet to look like it was from the 50's. <G>

Ok Suzy....have at it. LMF

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  1. LMF,

    I ate at The Veranda last week with a friend, and we enjoyed being at the grande dame of Fort Myers.

    Wish there could be even one other restaurant in Fort Myers that offers top service and food at a commensurate price. The place was full at 7:30 pm, as other spots in town were hoping to be even half full. The youngest person there was in her early 50's. Except for a splurge on prom night, the entree prices in the $30's are steep for many younger people.It's easy to spend $120+ for two. Similarly, it's not a spot for children, who can run out of "sit" quickly in a dark place.

    I have only praise. I recommend 7 pm seating by the windows for the garden view. The escargot in puff pastry were pretty, taste bland to delicate, still nicely done. The fried crab with artichoke was great. Both the lamb chops, and the Jack Daniels beef were wonderful. Enjoyed the pinot noir and malbec-not shy on pours.
    We were too full for dessert. Our waiter was a little stuffy, I felt he wanted to speed things up. He didn't cross the line and become pushy. My friend noted that many of the servers are "lifers" here-to go anywhare else is a big drop in tip income.

    A complaint? I place food and service quality way above anyone's dress, as restaurants have little control over patron's styles. Still, men dressed a little too, um, casual, with some tacky short sleeved shirts and pants that had seen better days. Nearly all men had short sleeves-it is summertime. Only one man had a jacket. Women do dress nicer then their menfolk.

    1. I have eaten at The Veranda since 1990, off and on, depending on where in Florida I was living at the time. I've always found it to be dependable and classy. I particularly like the bread served with meals, which appears to be made in-house. It has a crusty outside and and a chewy, whole-wheat inside, with a slightly sweet glaze. Anytime I go with a group, the bread doesn't last very long and more is always requested.

      The grit cakes are another favorite, probably baked rather than fried, with a crispy outside and smooth, delightfully "corny" inside.

      As you said, LilMsFoodie, The Veranda is never going to be anything but a classical southern place, but what's wrong with that?

      1. I've lived in Fort Myers for a few years now, and I haven't yet been to the Veranda, but from the way you describe it, I may check it out. I like traditional food done well, and I see no problem with a place holding true to its roots, even if it does make it a throwback.

        With regards to dress though, this is SW Florida, not exactly the most hospitable climate for dressing to the nines in the middle of summer. If I'm going to spend real money on a meal, I'm going to be comfortable while I'm eating it. I'm not condoning coming in looking like a slob, nor smelling like you've spent the day doing manual labor without a shower, but I think 95 degrees and 90% humidity can preempt the need for a jacket and a tie.

        1. After 30 years of running around the downtown area of Ft Myers, The Veranda has always been on my radar as a southern belle. Yes, some of the staff has been with the company, in one restaurant or another (Smitty's comes to mind) for 30+ years. Yes, there have been times when lack of going with the latest food craze was notably absent. But where else can you get grit cakes and fried green tomato salad here?

          Off of the lunch offerings, my favorites are either the grilled portobello mushroom or the beef & blue salads. The bread just sparingly coated with honey compliments quite well.

          10 Replies
          1. re: MartiniGenie

            these are the smitty's folks who own this?

            1. re: alkapal

              Paul Peden opened Veranda and still owns and runs it today. I don't know if he owned Smitty's...if you mean one of the serial disasters at the Fort Myers Country Club. LMF

              1. re: LilMsFoodie

                no, i meant the *real* smitty's, that was downtown in the 60's, then moved over to the riverfront on w. first street. gosh, that was a great restaurant, smitty's, and we still bemoan its closing (in the 80's).

                1. re: alkapal

                  as i mentioned in this thread , with a (now-defunct) link to the news-press article on the subject, rib city is run by the people who used to run smitty's.

                  so...the former smitty's folks now run rib city.

                  ps, is peden's (ex-?)wife still at veranda, "hostessing"? <irony alert, irony alert!>

                  1. re: alkapal

                    "Brucie", haven't seen her lately (ex Mrs. Peden) a trip

                    1. re: LilMsFoodie

                      The Peden's owned the original Smitty's downtown for almost 35 years along with a sister restaurant in Pt Charlotte and after leaving the FM location, the disaster one at the CC. Can't seem to think of anyone who could make that site go; politicians have no business building a restaurant. No good server would stay due to really bad layout.

                      The Peden's have been quite successful with the Rib City franchises. Brucie has not been at the Veranda for some time. Seems she must have PO'ed Paul's new girlfriend one to many times... ;)

                      1. re: MartiniGenie

                        thanks for the insight.

                        we adored smitty's, and i have wondered why a similar kind of place has not emerged since smitty's closed. who can beat consistently good quality prime rib, seafood and loaded potatoes, and crisp salads with the house dressing? dad loved the roquefort dressing, though. ;-).

                        i grew up going every friday to the downtown one, being treated by my parents to a shirley temple before dinner. i remember the music combo that played in the corner. it was quite grand for a kid! dad also belonged to the elks club upstairs.

                        we enjoyed smitty's throughout its downtown existence.
                        is rib city privately held? they seem like a decent franchise; we like to eat there a lot.

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Glad you had great experiences at the Old Smitty's. I served for them 25 years ago and fought like the dickens with the old girls to get into the "lounge". Waited on Craig P before he was old enough to drink. Worked for him there 15 years ago right before they closed up to go to the CC. Still keep up with the old crew on an occasion. Had to give up the biz, though. Tough on the old bones.

                          Ah, the upstairs Elks. Right above Victoria Pier. Used to throw peanut shells on the hardwood floor and sometimes, with enough libation, at the tin ceiling.
                          I remember mourning when it burnt to the ground...
                          I think Rib City is privately held. I know the Pedens started franchising out to other states, but they started here. I would bet that the Lee, Collier and Charlotte Counties restaurants are held and run by them.

                          1. re: MartiniGenie

                            hi, martini genie,

                            i just recall reading in the news-press that vincent d'onofrio (law & order actor) had an ownership share in one of the restos (nevada?), and learned that his mom lives in cape coral (and his sister, too?) -- i recall some auto accident a few months ago where two older "d'onofrios" [a couple] were killed (or badly injured), but they were from naples, as i could gather, and no "relation" was mentioned).

                            as to the elks over victoria pier? where is that -- w. first?

                            the elks club was directly above smitty's, when i was a kid -- at the very original location [hendry and bay or thereabouts?]. i don't know about the elks once smitty's moved to the w. first street spot on the river.

                            i don't know why i didn't realize smitty's had gone to the country club location -- maybe because we never ate at that location (strangely).

                            PS, i see your "dinner party dish" is olives with a tweak, and i thought you might want to know about making your olives this way: you brine in gin, vermouth (and maybe a couple of juniper berries) -- then you could stuff *those* with blue cheese? works for me! ha!

                            1. re: alkapal

                              Hi Alkapal,

                              Missed the News Press story. Maybe he ran into a RC here and decided Nevada needed a southern BBQ place. Cool.

                              Victoria Pier was on Bay & Hendry where the parking lot is for the Harborside. The guy that owned it moved to Shooter's on W 1st after the fire and made it quite the local hot spot. I remember the cigar boats from the other coast pulling up to the dock while the band was playing. Then the folks that owned the Holiday Inn decided they could run it better, kicked him out and proceeded to kill the business. Oh Well.

                              btw, I'll give the brined olives a try. Sounds good to me.