Four area restaurants are kid-friendly and serve up affordable meals

Scott McIntyre/Staff 
 Wayne Keller, right, checks with his grand daughter Taylor Strickland, 6, about what she might want for dinner at Spanky's in Naples.

Photo by SCOTT MCINTYRE, Scott McIntyre // Buy this photo

Scott McIntyre/Staff Wayne Keller, right, checks with his grand daughter Taylor Strickland, 6, about what she might want for dinner at Spanky's in Naples.

As every parent (and grandparent) can attest, dining out with children goes one of two ways: They are either perfect little angels or such terrors that dirty looks from nearby patrons make you cringe. As for me, I pray my "little angels" keep the squealing, food throwing and otherwise embarrassing behavior to a minimum.

Dining out can be a teaching lesson, one during which proper manners and good eating habits are enforced — just like at home, but with less forgiveness. Still, when I do get the notion to eat out, I look for a child-friendly establishment. The place should:

be large enough to accommodate multiple diners,

feature its own reasonably priced kids' menu,

have accommodating acoustics — the better to stifle the reverberation from those inevitable squeals that do escape.

We haven't had a chance to test nearly as many restaurants as we'd like to. But here are four places that are kid-tested and have this mommy's stamp of approval:

SPANKY'S SPEAKEASY

My little rascals love the old-fashioned gas pumps and signs, original-styled barber chairs and miniature airplanes dangling from the ceiling that decorate Spanky's Speakeasy restaurant and bar on Airport-Pulling Road in Naples. They love it so much that food takes a back seat here for the 3- and 4-year-olds.

We dined for lunch one Saturday after a morning at C'MON, the Golisano Children's Museum of Naples. Worn out from playing, they were famished, as was I from chasing them. Since it was a rainy day, we opted for indoor dining rather than sitting outdoors on one of Spanky's famous glider booths that overlook a canal.

Spanky's lunch menu features sports bar options such as hamburgers, hot and cold sandwiches and an all-you-can-eat salad bar, which sits inside an antique Ford Model T.

Ever the salad-bar lover, I opted for a single trip and to share a Philly cheesesteak sandwich ($9.50) with my mom, who dined with us. You can make the soup and salad bar a meal for $11, or have chili and the salad bar for $13. The meat on the sandwich was a bit dry for my personal taste, but tasty and oversized. The salad bar seemed a bit pricey for lunch, as it lacked some of the more fancier salad bar fare such as sprouts, Gorgonzola cheese crumbles or sliced meats, but the items on it were fresh and crisp.

My kids chose baby back ribs and fries ($8.50) and hamburger and fries ($6.50). Both portions were large enough to satisfy older kids.

Warning: Drinks are not included in the kids' meal price, and children are charged the same as adults for a soda ($2.50), which comes in a child's cup. Additional charges also apply for refills. So parents may want to order water — or let their kids split a drink, if sharing isn't a danger zone for them.

Where: 1550 Airport-Pulling Road, Naples

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; closed Sundays

Information: 239-643-1559

RIB CITY

It's a rare treat when kids eat free, but I look for restaurants that offer it. At Rib City, children 4 and younger receive their meal free. It includes one piece of chicken and fries. Often, I ask for a healthier option of corn on the cob instead.

The free meal is just right for my wee ones, and I don't feel like I just tossed good money in the garbage when they don't eat much. This normally doesn't happen at Rib City (unless I make the mistake of ordering soda for them), because they love chicken.

Older kids can have riblets ($6.99), barbecued chicken ($3.99) or a shrimp basket ($4.29) as well as others. Each meal is served with a kid's drink and two sides.

For adults, the lunch options are affordable and just as tasty as an evening meal. They range in price from $6.69 to $8.99. Usually, it's the beef sandwich for myself ($6.69), which is served on Texas toast and with one side. I love the baked beans — yummy!

Rib City also offers a daily lunch special, even on Saturdays.

Where: 3871 U.S. 41 E., Naples, 239-417-9090; 9191 U.S. 41 N., Naples, 239-591-3500

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-9 a.m. Sundays

CHUEY'S TACOS

We love outdoor malls. The kids get a bit of sunshine and I get in some shopping. And when it's time for a little lunch, the outdoor eatery, Chuey's Tacos, at Coconut Point Mall in Estero, offers a nice spot for a break. Located on Fashion Drive near Hollywood Theaters, Chuey's Tacos is a freestanding hut-like place with four tables nearby. It doesn't look like much, but the tacos are tasty, and the kids' meals are affordable.

It was a hot day in July when I dined there, but after a smart observation, we opted to sit at the southernmost table. It was right outside the Hollister Co. door, where blasts of air conditioning would hit us.

I opted for the tacos combo ($6.95) — two crunchy tacos and a drink. My shopping companion chose the taco salad ($6.95). My son chose a taco combo ($4) and my daughter chose a cheese quesadilla ($4.25). Both were served with apple juice, tortilla chips and melted nacho cheese. Can you guess what the kids ate first? Of course, the chips!

Chuey's is a step away from authentic Mexican and a step closer to Tex-Mex, which is my favorite kind of food. The homemade salsa was burning hot — I asked for extra. Let the kids try it sparingly until you are sure they can handle the heat.

Coconut Point also has a covered play area featuring a 14-foot-tall walk-in castle, with a giant dragon guarding the entrance. And the space, located near Gymoree, is fenced-in!

Where: Coconut Point Mall, Estero

Hours: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, noon-6 p.m. Sundays

Information: 239-947-2572

IL PRIMO PIZZA & WINGS

Most kids love helping in the kitchen. That "helping" usually amounts to making a mess, but what mom doesn't want some cheap entertainment? For me, that cheap entertainment occurs every Wednesday, when kids can make a pizza themselves at Il Primo Pizza & Wings.

Given a box filled with an 8-inch-size pizza dough (stretched out), some sauce, cheese and pepperoni ($4 with drink), kids can construct their own personal pizza. With some adult supervision, the kids return the pizza to the counter and in 10 or so minutes, voilà!

The Naples Il Primo locations have big-screen TVs, and often, there is a cartoon or Disney movie playing. Since television-watching during meals is off-limits at home, the kids especially enjoy eating and watching the movie. Plus, they get to play with their food!

Enjoy your final days of having kids at home: School starts today in Lee County and Aug. 20 for Collier.

Where: 5248 Golden Gate Parkway, Naples, 239-354-0025; 2464 Vanderbilt Beach Road, Naples, 239-254-9800; 15275 Collier Blvd., Naples, 239-353-9779

Hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays

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