1200 5th Avenue South, Naples, FL
If you go: Riverwalk
1200 Fifth Ave. S. at Tin City
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Cuisine: Tropical island fare with an emphasis on seafood.
Atmosphere: Outdoor casual, but busy during peak times.
Service: Accommodating to requests, borders on slow during peak times.
Prices: Lunch fare, $8.95-$14.95; dinner, $14.95-$23.95; kid’s meals, $7 or $9.
Recommended dishes: Lobster salad sandwich ($14.95), down-island BBQ shrimp ($19.50) and your choice of fish from the daily market ($18.95-$22.95).
Verdict: Location is the draw, food is a reason to come again
Location, location, location — that’s what attracts diners to Riverwalk at Tin City. But stick around for the food, because you’ll feel like a tourist visiting a tropical land in your hometown.
Riverwalk is a waterfront, open-air restaurant, situated on Naples Bay of the Gordon River with views of charter fishing boats and sightseeing boats. Decorated with nautical artifacts and animal carvings and featuring planked wooden floorings, Riverwalk sets the mood of being transported back in time to when Naples’ founding fathers were making their mark on the area. Looking out onto the water, diners may conjure up images of clam boats full of bounty pulling up to Doxsee’s Clam Factory, one of the first businesses in Naples — and which once sat where Riverwalk does now.
Riverwalk’s extensive array of seafood entrees and its tropical island fare had this local channeling her inner tourist. The first time I visited Riverwalk, years ago, I actually was on vacation. Coming from landlocked Kansas at the time, I opted for fried shrimp ($17.95), which I tried again on a recent return visit. The plump, juicy shrimp crunched with crispness, with an ever-so-light breading that allowed the shrimp to stand out. It is served with fries and coleslaw.
Continuing a tour of shrimp, the next sample was of the shrimp fritters appetizer ($8.95). Piping hot, the little balls were burning to the touch (a good thing), and packed quite a punch when dipped in the mango mojo sauce. But the dish was either poorly mixed or lacked in the shrimp department; these fritters were mostly breading and corn with a few chunks of shrimp here and there.
Grouper is a Naples staple, so when my companion ordered grouper tacos ($14.25), I was eager to sample it. While the fish was fresh, the serving was dainty, comprising a skinny piece of grouper garnished with shredded cabbage and chipotle aioli rolled into a flour tortilla. But the black beans and rice were moist, with bold flavor.
Other lunch options include the Riverwalk burgers: a half-pound Black Angus hamburger ($10.75), a turkey burger ($9.95) or the yellowfin tuna burger ($11.95). Or you can try the grouper sandwich ($14.95), served blackened, grilled or fried. That portion is much larger than what was in the tacos.
One menu item that caught my eye was the lobster salad sandwich ($14.95). Its filling is shredded lobster mixed with celery, onion and mayo and served on a pita with green leaf lettuce, tomato and double smoked bacon. Only complaint: The bacon was too well-cooked for my personal taste. But who can complain when the sandwich had so much meat stuffed inside that it came falling out?
The Riverwalk also offers lighter dishes, like its Gulf shrimp and crab Louie salad ($14.50). For Caesar salad lovers, the options are plentiful. And special requests are accommodated with ease: My companion requested a Caesar served with blackened salmon, a combo not on the menu. (There was a small up-charge.) My companion said the dressing was just right, not too much or little.
Selections from the daily fish market include grouper ($21.95), mahi mahi ($18.95), salmon ($18.95), ahi tuna ($20.95), tilapia ($16.50) and sea bass ($22.95); you can have it grilled, blackened, fried or bamboo-steamed. Diners pick the fish, sauce and a side to accompany it. But don’t bother with the Thai chili cream sauce; it lacks robust spice one would expect.
Other main entrees are Key West bag and bake ($21.95), which is grouper, shrimp and mahi mahi baked in parchment paper with julienned veggies, tomato and key lime butter. The down-island BBQ shrimp ($19.50) is served with mashed sweet potatoes, sautéed spinach, Barbados-style barbecue sauce and fresh mango.
For kids, Riverwalk is more a place for entertainment than for food. My son loved watching the hustle and bustle happening on the water, paying more attention to it than to his plate of macaroni and cheese ($7). But considering it appeared to be an overcooked, boxed version, I wasn’t too upset he didn’t eat, except that it cost $7. Maybe tourists don’t care how much a child’s meal costs; it didn’t seem to faze the other parents sitting nearby. (It did come with a side of fries and a cup of fruit, which he did eat.)
The tables at Riverwalk are so crammed together that you could easily carry on a conversation with the party next to you, and if you have small children or high chairs, it makes the close quarters even more intense.
All in all, Riverwalk should be on every local’s itinerary, even if only to get in touch with our inner tourist.
Contact Leigh Tahirovic at naplesnews.com/staff/leigh-tahirovic.