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Great seafood (with vegetarian options) in Fort Myers, Sanibel, or Captiva

Hi all,

I'm leaving for a 5-night trip to Fort Myers/Sanibel later this week. We're staying at the Marriott Sanibel Harbour. Since this seems to be a popular place for people to stay I've already read a lot of great reviews for places to eat in and around the area. But, I'm hoping to get a recommendation for a restaurant (or two) with great seafood and vegetarian options. I don't eat seafood or any meat, though I do eat eggs and cheese. I'm fine with a basic pasta, veggie burger, salad, etc. Basically, as long as there is something to eat I'm fine. But, my fiance loves seafood and I'd like to make sure that we get to at least one place with great seafood options. We're renting a car and are willing to drive 30 or so minutes for dinner if it makes sense to do such. Other preferences (though by no means requirements) are a quiet atmosphere, nice view, possible outdoor seating option, and kind service.

For those curious, here is a list of other places we're considering going. We haven't made any reservations yet (hopefully this won't prove to be a mistake!) and we won't get to all of them, but they all sound good based on online menus and reviews.

Mad Hatter
Greenhouse Grill
La Trattoria Cafe Napoli
Il Tesoro
Ford's Garage
Cibo

Since we're not going to have a kitchen and not looking to spend a fortune eating out at every meal, suggestions for inexpensive breakfast and lunch options are also definitely welcome. Thanks!

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  1. Just as a quick update, based on some additional research we are also considering Thistle Lounge, and perhaps The Lighthouse Cafe for breakfast. And, for clarification regarding the seafood request, I'm looking for a place that ideally has mostly non-fried seafood, as that is my fiance's preference. But, the type of seafood can be very varied, as he liked most kinds.

    Thanks!

    1. Sanibel Island: Sweet Melissa's has good vegetarian options.

      Recent visit to Il Tesoro were very disappointing. Really disappointing. They have a real attitude, which you do not get much here. Their other place is on the upper east side of NYC.

      La Trattoria Cafe has a great hand with fish but really specializes in Spanish dishes... they will prepare a vegetarian option for you. It would not be a good place for a vegan, however.

      La Casita is not far from you. tiny mexican place, fresh made things, a few vegetarian options.

      Ford's garage Veggie burger is gross. Just sayin.

      Cibo has a good hand with fish. vegetarian options are limited.

      Close to your hotel is a great supper club. The Roadhouse. Their seafood is some of the best in town. Not trendy. I've had just appetizers there for dinner and they would make a vegetarian feast.

      Depending on your age, some of these places may seem geriatric to you. That's the area. More retirees than others, including tourists. Just a warning. I'm in my 60's and sometimes I feel young <G>

      11 Replies
      1. re: LilMsFoodie

        Wow, thanks so much for all of this great information. I actually used some of your posts to build this list. A few questions, if you don't mind:

        1. Veggie burger aside, is Ford's Garage good? I believe it was a spot that you were excited was opening.

        2. Good to know about Il Tesoro. I'm not interested in an attitude and am okay to cross this off of the list.

        3. I think I checked Sweet Melissa's menu online yesterday and didn't really see any vegetarian main courses, but perhaps they don't post their full menu online. I know several people commented on how good the restaurant is so I will give it a second view.

        If we were to have one or two really "nice" meals, would you recommend The Thistle Lodge as one of them? It looked gorgeous online!

        We're in our early 30's, but are looking for a really relaxing trip, so I'm not too concerned about places feeling geriatric, though I appreciate the heads-up!

        1. re: Laura D.

          Thistle Lodge is just lovely. Yes I would recommend.

          Regarding Sweet Melissa's. A phone call to them might bring you a memorable meal. Ask what they might suggest for a vegetarian....

          If you like jazz, do not dismiss the Roadhouse.

          Ford's Garage is high concept, at least for Fort Myers. They are expanding rapidly and their efforts are on expansion. I've been several times and it the horn blaring ah-oo-gah and the backfiring gets a little old. I am a local so you might love it. If you are going I recommend going for lunch and hitting the Edison Ford Winter estates, before or after. Incredibly interesting...science and gardens and historic homes on the river.

          1. re: Laura D.

            just saw your mention of a view...almost none of the above fall into this...Mad Hatter....I haven't been for years so I can't comment. Charming location...beautiful sunset view. Thistle Lodge is romantic and gorgeous and you can walk out for sunset. Food can be spectacular, or only very good.

            Other places with a view: Bay Front Bistro on Fort Myers Beach. Just driving over the bridge to Fort Myers will give you a completely different vibe from Sanibel. More Myrtle Beach than Outer Banks. (I checked you out...you are from Philly)

            Sunset view from Bay Front is of the back bay, not the gulf. Very good to excellent resto. Nice way with seafood. They care about wine.

            Want it all? Fresh Catch Bistro...right on the beach....maybe outside. Check out Open Table...same for Bay Front. Have a great time. Remember, I think a local has a different perspective. Some of my greatest meals and experiences are not at the greatest restos. I am in a different place, with a different view, totally relaxed with no expectation...people tend to remember these moments. Doesn't matter if they are 5 star...they are memorable. LMF

            1. re: LilMsFoodie

              Wow, again, thanks! This is all really great information. And, I know what you mean regarding how some of the best experiences are not at the "best" restaurants. I think we'll definitely hit Thistle Lodge and Mad Hatter. I'll also look into Sweet Melissa's. And, I think we'll probably go to the Roadhouse since I think the jazz will be appreciated, Anyway, everything you've suggested sounds great so at least I know that we'll have lots of options if a certain place doesn't work out for us. Thanks again!

              1. re: Laura D.

                Laura, we are doing the same thing (Marriott) and I'm counting on you reporting back on your experiences! I'm also interested in some nice views and great food (price not irrelevant, but value---quality for whatever the cost---is most important) and any place withgreatfood AND a great view would be a bonus! Thanks!

                1. re: SueFH

                  Hi SueFH (and others),

                  Here is my (very long) report,

                  I’m only really going to report on dinners since we didn’t do anything special for breakfast or lunch. We mainly stuck with the hotel (which was fine, though pricey for what you got) or skipped lunch if we ate breakfast late.
                  On Thursday night we ate at the Cape Coral location of Ford’s Garage. It was a bit of a sensory overload when we walked in but, in general, we really, really liked it. Their beer list was a bit overwhelming but their food menu was certainly manageable. We started out with fried pickles which were really good. My fiancé had a basic burger (they have lots of specialty burgers, and a create-your-own option too). I had the chopped salad and a side of mac and cheese as my entrée. The salad was amazing. I’m not sure why, but it was huge, fresh, and filling. The mac and cheese was quite generous in size for a side and was delicious. This was by far our cheapest dinner (probably $40 or so), yet still really, really enjoyable.
                  On Friday night we ate at The Mad Hatter. The atmosphere here is fun, but this place was, in my opinion, overpriced for what it was. Based on limited vegetarian options we split the goat cheese pillows ($13) as an appetizer. They came with a strawberry sauce which was tasty, though had an undertone of curry which isn’t something either of us likes. We got two pillows, each about 3-4 bites, for this price, which seemed skimpy. My fiancé had a bouillabaisse for an entrée and I had the unlisted vegetarian option, which was a tofu entrée. Mine was good though not great, and seemed expensive ($27) for what it was. My fiancé enjoyed his though again felt like it was a bit pricey (I think it was about $40). We spent about $110 pre-tax, which included a glass of Prosecco and a glass of wine. Overall, the dining experience was okay but I felt like it was overpriced for what it was and likely wouldn’t go back.
                  On Saturday night we ate at The Fresh Catch Bistro in Fort Myers Beach. We requested an outside table, which was lovely, despite some of the precautions they need to put in place for nesting turtles (very low lighting, etc.) They don’t have a vegetarian main on their menu so I made a meal of sides and appetizers. I started with the bistro salad, which was very good but came without the advertised croutons, bell peppers, etc. My fiancé started with a Caesar salad which he said was good. He also got half a dozen oysters. For his main dish he took our waiter’s suggestion and got the spiced pecan and cranberry encrusted grouper. He loved it and said it was one of the best things he’s ever had. I made an entrée out of the tomato mozzarella tower, steak fries, and vegetable of the day. It was a weird combination, but I enjoyed it, despite the fact that it isn’t really tomato season. Dessert looked great so I got the volcano chocolate cake while my fiancé got the crème brule. In total we spent about the same amount as we did at The Mad Hatter, but enjoyed more (and maybe better) food, and a better atmosphere.
                  On Sunday night we ate at The Roadhouse Café in Fort Myers. This is a jazz café, with live music from 7-10. We were certainly some of the youngest diners there, but enjoyed ourselves. We started with the antipasto, which was good though oddly portioned, since there was a ton of prosciutto (which they were nice enough to put on a separate place), olives, and grano padano, but barely any tomato, peppers, etc. I had cappellini in pesto cream and my fiancé had the highly recommended scallops, which he really, really loved. We split the rocky roadhouse cake for dessert, which was good though not amazing. I think he had a gin martini, a glass or wine, and an espresso, though perhaps he snuck another alcoholic beverage in there. In total our bill was again around $110. We felt like this was a nice change of pace from a simple dinner out and would definitely go again.
                  On Monday, our final night, we had what I was expecting to perhaps be the best meal of the trip at The Thistle Lodge in Sanibel. This meal was, unfortunately, a huge disappointment. They were not seating anyone outside due to mosquitoes. I should have called ahead about this but didn’t, which is a shame as the outdoor seating was a huge draw. We sat in a pretty deserted dining room, meaning we were literally the only ones in this particularly dining room. There were probably only 5 other tables in the entire restaurant. We started with truffle fries as an appetizer (I’m not sure why, other than that we were in the mood for them). They weren’t great but that’s not a big deal. I had a tomato mozzarella appetizer again and my fiancé had the Caesar salad. Both were good but again, not great. For some reason my fiancé chose to order pasta, which was my only option but one that I recognize is not an ideal choice in this environment. He got the pappardelle bolognese with added sausage and I got the pappardelle pomodoro. Mine wasn’t bad but wasn’t really good either. The sauce was incredibly sweet and overall the dish was just kind of blah. My fiancé said his was okay but not great. We both only ate about ½ of our entrees before deciding to call it a night. With a single glass of wine and no dessert this meal also came out to about $110.
                  So, I would return to Ford’s Garage, The Fresh Catch, and The Roadhouse Café, but I would not return to The Mad Hatter or the Thistle Lodge as both were expensive disappointments.
                  In the event you are an ice cream lover you should definitely try Love Boat ice cream in Fort Myers, about 5 miles from the hotel. It’s homemade, and really great. We wanted to try Pinocchio’s in Sanibel but never got there when they were open. We tried Dolce Tesoro cupcakes in Sanibel, though, and thought they were great. Finally, in Fort Myers Beach we had lunch at Pete’s Time Out. I had a grilled cheese which was nothing special, but my fiancé had a lightly fried grouper sandwich that he loved. If you happen to be on the beach it has a great people watching location and casual vibe.
                  Enjoy your trip. And, thanks to everyone who provided me with recommendations! If we ever go back we’ll be sure to try some other recommended spots too.

                  1. re: Laura D.

                    Thank you so much for responding so thoroughly! Funny about the underwhelming high-end spots. I had thought of Thistle and Mad Hatter as options for our "nice" dinner, appreciate the heads up! I actually have a reservation for Fresh Catch on the night we arrive, your endorsement makes me happy! One of the things I relish is a fried groper sandwich so the Time Out is a great rec also.

                    Anywhere have stone crabs? I realize it isn't the center of the stone crab world, but as long as we are there, and the husband is a paying!

                    I too will report back.

                    1. re: SueFH

                      virtually all boats in San Carlos bay have crab traps and catch stone crabs all the time....twist off a claw and back in they go. Almost all good seafood places will have them Fresh Catch will.

                      I'm glad for someone to make a realistic report about Mad Hatter. I don't comment on it as I haven't been for three years or more. Last time it was mediocre to me and ridiculously expensive considering the other options. There is a great small place across from the Mad Hatter. Sorry I didn't mention it sooner. We have had great dinners there and you can see the sunset but the road is in between.

                      http://www.sunsetgrillsanibel.com/

                      1. re: LilMsFoodie

                        Thanks. I am sort of reluctant to make too many real plans because we do want to have some flexibility and my husband is way less a foodie, but I don't want to end up someplace icky because I'm unprepared!

                        Sunset Grill can't get the menus to come up, will try again.

                        1. re: SueFH

                          Just want to quickly share that we were at Beach Front Bistro tonight, it was really good, especially the pecan/cranberry crusted grouper, but they did NOT have stone crabs. A place a bit closer to Summerlin did advertise on a sign that they have em.

                    2. re: Laura D.

                      Just FYI....it's almost always tomato season in SW Florida. The seeds I planted in August are full grown plants and have ripening tomatoes on them. Strawberry season starts in a few weeks. We always have fresh strawberries for Christmas.

                      Glad you had a good time. Your experience at Thistle Lodge is like many others. Inconsistency has ruined many fine restaurants.

          2. Home from our too-short visit to SW Florida and wanted to report in with my results since so many here were kind enough to share their thoughts in response to requests.

            Thursday: Fresh Catch Bistro was terrific, I loved that pecan/cranberry crusted grouper! My husband had a sea bass that he enjoyed, it didnt make an impression on me though and I couldn't describe it, sorry. Our only complaint was the chocolate mousse cake dessert was incredibly dense; the mousse was heavier than cheesecake and not mousse-like at all. Good flavor but definitely not what he wanted.

            Friday we ended up at Mucky Duck. Got there in time to grab the last chairs on the beach for sunset and after hearing parking was terrible everywhere, we decided to stay for dinner. My fish was fine but my husband didnt care for his food at all. The chowder tasted like it had a cream of chicken base, not clammy at all. He found the offerings on his combo platter to be underwhelming. And the noise level was unbearable. Our least favorite meal of the weekend.

            Saturday we ended up going to Pinchers for lunch. I really wanted stone crabs and they just were nowhere else to be found. Luckily, they were nicely done at Pinchers. The shrimp was good as predicted, and while not exactly a mind blowing meal we felt it was a reasonable value. Dinner was at The Prawnbroker. We were surprised at how good it was. Their crab-crusted grouper was fantastic and a huge portion. Not a lot of atmosphere and definitely an older "not-hip" crowd, but our best meal of the weekend.

            Ice cream at Love Boat was good. Only wish we had time to get to Heavenly Biscuit....next time.

            Thanks to all for your guidance.