Trying to stay atop the perpetual parade of local restaurants opening and closing this year was enough to give anyone indigestion.
Although you won’t see all of their names here in this regional recap of the year’s highlights, local restaurants coming and going in 2011 are saluted in “Now Open” and “Sorry, We’re Closed” photo galleries.
I don’t pretend that these galleries are inclusive. In fact, I’m sure I’ve missed some restaurants that flew under the radar with soft openings this year or quietly slipped away into the night, as is often the case.
But I think the compilation is fairly representative of the local market. It serves as a second salute to the new eateries and a fond farewell to those who threw in the dish towel this year.
One of the biggest local dining stories of 2011 covered a longtime Naples restaurant that was closed for more than 10 months of the year. The Mangrove Café was destroyed by a propane tank explosion Jan. 10 behind the Fifth Avenue South restaurant, shuttering it until it could be renovated and reopened in November.
HERE — AND GONE
At least two North Naples restaurants both opened and closed in 2011. Fabulous Pita opened June 6 in the Promenade at Naples Centre and closed five months later. Mother Cluckerz Chicken Kitchen (& Other Eclectic Edibles) closed this year in Naples Park after staying open only about 10 weeks.
A short-lived breakfast spot in East Naples may take the cake, or pancake, this year. Vermont Pancake House closed suddenly in September after opening only about a month earlier in Naples Towne Centre.
As has been the case in the last few years, the area lost some longtimers, too. Artichoke and Company closed May 31 after serving gourmet sandwiches and wine for 25 years in the Village at Venetian Bay in Naples.
Two other restaurants that closed operated for at least 13 years each in the Pine Ridge Crossing shopping center. Remy’s Bistro closed suddenly at the end of February, followed by China Tokyo about a month later. The former location of Remy’s is now a dental office, and China Tokyo soon will be the new location for La Bamba Mexican Restaurant when it relocates from across the street.
Another former longtime restaurant location in that shopping center was razed this year to make way for a Chase Bank branch. Joey’s Pizza and Pasta House closed in May 2010 and was torn down this summer.
Similarly, a longtime restaurant that closed four years ago was leveled this summer for another building project. The former Pippin’s property on U.S. 41 in Naples is slated to become dental/medical offices.
Gatsby’s Pizza in North Naples closed to merge with Island House Café in Bonita Springs, but closed again two months later. Look for Gatsby’s to reopen soon elsewhere on Bonita Beach Road.
Little Caesar’s Pizza closed its North Naples location in Bed, Bath & Beyond Plaza in September after operating for 24 years. Wildside Café, which operated nearby for many years in Carillon Place at Airport-Pulling and Pine Ridge roads, also recently closed.
Brothers Frank and Vincent Palmese, who ran Wildside Café and formerly operated La Villa Pizzeria & Cafe in North Naples and Il Posto Ristorante in downtown Naples, have temporarily given up on the Naples market and have returned to the Bronx to open a gourmet deli. They have had their fill of the seasonal roller coaster and high rents here, Vinny Palmese said.
Local chain Stevie Tomato’s Sports Page closed its Bonita Springs location in May.
FROM THERE TO HERE
Some restaurants remained open but moved to new locations this year.
Most notable was the English Pub, which moved in November to new East Naples digs after operating for more than 30 years on Linwood Avenue. The new location is on U.S. 41 East, about three miles south of the original. Likewise, Taco Bell closed its longtime East Trail location and opened a colorful new one about two miles south, at Lakewood Boulevard and U.S. 41 East in East Naples.
Casa Mia Italian Steakhouse relocated this fall from inside the Lakeside Inn on Marco Lake to 1000 N. Collier Blvd. in Heritage Square shopping center on Marco Island.
Randy’s Paradise Shrimp Co. in Bonita Springs moved this summer to a new, larger location in Bonita. Months later, though, it closed because of permitting issues. It is hoped that it reopens soon, according to the message on its telephone answering machine.
Many local eateries opened second or third area locations this year, including China Express, El Rincon de Mexico, Empire Bagel Factory, Falafel Grill, Grace & Shelly’s Cupcakes, Margarita’s, Norman Love Confections, Simply Cupcakes, Toast, and Zookies Sports Pub & Grill.
Other restaurateurs opened second restaurants that didn’t mirror their first ventures that are still operating. Stanley Pate opened Pate’s House of Prime Rib in Coastland Center, while changing the name of nearby Pate’s Steakhouse to Pate’s Pub.
Don and Angela Smith, the Naples couple who created Angelina’s Ristorante in Bonita Springs, opened Agave Southwestern Grill in North Naples.
Sam Tadros, co-owner of Sam-Bucco Bistro in North Naples, opened Figs Grille in Bonita.
Earlier this month, the owners of Le Lafayette French Gourmet restaurant in downtown Naples opened Paris French Bistro and Bakery at 2500 U.S. 41 N., the former Plaza Walk location of Amador’s and Maximo’s.
HERE, AND BIGGER
Many restaurants underwent major renovation or expansion projects this year.
At least two Fifth Avenue South restaurants — Café Luna and Altin’s Café and Grill — added space.
Joey D’s Italian Restaurant & Bar in Green Tree Center nearly tripled its size this summer.
The Bay House added Tierney’s Tavern and Claw Bar in North Naples.
El Morro Cuban Cuisine in Golden Gate reopened in a larger venue after being closed for nearly a year.
Ruby Tuesday at the Marketplace at Pelican Bay just opened Monday after being closed for three months for extensive remodeling.
Many local restaurants changed owners and/or names:
■ Bert’s Seafood and Chowder House became Aqua Seafood & Steaks in downtown Naples.
■ Cafe Italia Ristorante in North Naples became Latitude Fusion Cuisine & Piano Bar.
■ Luna Rossa in North Naples became Toast.
■ Mister Five Restaurant in East Naples became Capt. Marcos Seafood & More.
■ Capri Ristorante and Lounge in North Naples became New York Pizza & Pasta.
■ Little Prague Bistro in Naples became Jana’s Little Prague Restaurant.
■ Jona Cafe in North Naples became Chrissy B’s.
■ Central Avenue Grill in Naples became Valento’s Pizza & Hoagies.
■ Cgrape Coffee and Wine Bar became C Level Coffee and Wine Bar in Bonita Springs.
■ Bimini’s Beach Club restaurant on Marco Island became Toucan’s Bar & Grill in November.
■ Gourmet Catering & Takeout in Naples became Five Star Gourmet Catering.
■ A Taste of Brooklyn in Bonita became Pino’s Pizzeria.
■ Bohemian Schnitzelhouse in North Naples became Heidelberg Bistro this summer.
■ Cilantro Tamales became the short-lived Mother Cluckerz.
■ Chrissy’s Bianchi’s in East Naples became Freddie Rebel’s 2 and then Chrissy’s Courthouse Tavern.
■ Olympia Grille and Sports Lounge in Estero became Stoney’s Sports Café again.
■ Golden Leaf Chinese Restaurant and Table 82 of Naples both changed owners.
National chains that closed an area location this year included Little Caesar’s Pizza, Long John Silver’s and Paciugo Gelato & Caffè. Outback Steakhouse on U.S. 41 in Fort Myers remains closed because of a March 16 electrical fire in its attic.
Some restaurant chains opened their first locations in the Naples area this year. Many local fanatics got excited about the region’s first Chipotle Mexican Grill, which opened April 12 in Mercato. Anticipation grew when the burrito chain postponed its opening day more than once.
In addition to Chipotle, the list of new chains here includes Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, Menchie’s Frozen Yogurt, Papa Murphy’s Pizza and Seasons 52.
Local franchises of national chains adding more area locations included Dunkin’ Donuts, Five Guys Burgers & Fries, Moe’s Southwest Grill, Olive Garden, The Pita Pit, Rib City and Subway.
As another year comes to a close, the area restaurant landscape continues to change. In fact, Flava Restaurant, Bar & Lounge just opened Tuesday night on Seventh Avenue South in the former location of Eric Pate’s Backstreet Bar & Grill. Flava will usher in the new year with its European cuisine.
Incredibly, I can think of more than 20 restaurants that plan to open in our region in 2012. And, of course, the ones we already know about are just the beginning.
Happy New Year!
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