The new local restaurant that created the earliest buzz this season opened Tuesday in Mercato.
Masa’s soft opening is hard to ignore. The upscale restaurant for contemporary Mexican cuisine is destined to be the talk of the town, a bright spot for a North Naples development known for its radiant destinations.
Even before entering Masa, one can’t help but notice how it sets itself apart with its living wall of plants reaching outside. Masa immediately conveys urban oasis in the former location of Pure, which closed last December after operating for nearly two years in suite 7135 of 9123 Strada Place, across from Silverspot Cinema.
Masa even opened on schedule, which alone is a feat for most local restaurants. A few other places planning to open this month have pushed off openings until later next month or early next year.
Considering Masa has an experienced team behind it, its progress is not so surprising. The new dining spot joins three other D’Amico & Partners’ restaurants in Naples — D’Amico & Sons, Campiello, and Café and Bar Lurcat — and it follows the lead of a 7-year-old sister, Masa, in Minneapolis.
The new Masa’s veteran chef, Mike Mueller, has worked at the Minneapolis Masa as well as at Café Lurcat locally and restaurants in New York City. He traveled extensively throughout Mexico to create a menu with authentic dishes such as pork Veracruzana, flash-grilled octopus confit and suckling pig.
“The menu at Masa will be complex and innovative, yet remain true to Mexican cuisine,” Mueller was quoted in a news release to launch the eatery. “Much of what passes as ‘Mexican’ in the U.S. is actually Tex-Mex and would be unrecognizable in Mexico. Our goal with Masa is to create authentically delicious Mexican cuisine.”
The interior and exterior “living walls” are more than just cosmetic. Chef Mueller plans to daily use herbs growing on the walls in his cooking. The plants at the entryway include the Mexican native agave, providing a hint of Masa’s more than 100 tequilas available inside.
Masa is open daily for lunch and dinner. Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day. Dinner is served 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
For reservations, call 239-598-0887 or go online to www.masa-restaurant.com/reservations-FL.html.
Q: What have you heard about a boat-friendly restaurant/bar opening on the bridges next to Joe’s Crab Shack? Thanks.
— T.M., Naples
“It was considered a destination restaurant. Everybody was excited about it,” said James Riddle, manager for the Docks on Fifth. “It wasn’t just another restaurant. It was a really good fit.”
Guanabanas’ developers had planned to open the restaurant’s second location here. Its first is in Jupiter on Florida’s east coast.
The open-air restaurant and bar features a laid-back atmosphere with tiki huts in a tropical setting.
The developers spent many months formulating plans for what would have been a 7,200-square-foot restaurant on 2.4 acres at the foot of the Gordon River Bridge before they abruptly ended the project more than a month ago.
“I don’t know what happened. Everybody is kind of shocked,” Riddle said. “It was right on track. Just out of the blue, bang, they pulled out.”
Riddle said obtaining city permits for live entertainment might have been an issue because it was a hitch from the beginning.
But, he said, they were two-thirds through the process when they just pulled out without an explanation.
At the time Guanabanas walked away, the waterfront property was in foreclosure and the lease was in default, said Naples resident John Passidomo, the restaurant company’s land-use attorney. He said it was a confluence of factors that led to the decision to drop out of the contract.
“They spent a lot of time and money and made substantial progress, but they ultimately decided to go in a different direction,” he said.
If the property became available again under different circumstances, Passidomo said he thinks the restaurant developers would reconsider it for their unique project, which he described as a lushly landscaped venue evocative of the funky fishing village Naples was in the 1920s.
“They probably would be able to pick up where they left off in the zoning part of the process,” he said. “They loved the location. It’s very similar to the location they currently enjoy in Jupiter.”
Riddle said the property was free and clear when Guanabanas walked away, and he didn’t get an indication they would reconsider the Naples location.
“I’d like to see somebody take it up and do something like they did,” he said. “Right now, we are just regrouping and it’s back on the market and we’re taking inquiries.”
Have a local question? Email it with your name and city of residence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"In the Know" is published Mondays and Wednesdays in the Naples Daily News. Find a complete archive of "In the Know" columns at naplesnews.com/intheknow.