Monday was the 60th anniversary of my arrival in Naples. I arrived in Naples on Oct. 1, 1952, and began my life in what was considered America's last frontier.
Naples was a beautiful, unspoiled haven for a group of sophisticated and worldly people who chose simplicity, quietude and freedom from a structured and traditional society. Yes, Virginia, there was a movie theater, two grocery stores, a substantial charter fishing fleet, plenty of boats, a library run by the Women's Club, several bars and restaurants, one school, sidewalks, one traffic light, one doctor, a pharmacy, a weekly newspaper and even electricity, inside plumbing and telephones (albeit there were no dial telephones and one had to get the operator to make a call.)
The first restaurant was established in Naples by Rudy Bomer in 1928. Rudy's offered a blue plate special, priced at 35 cents consisting of freshly caught mullet, corn bread and three fresh vegetables. If you craved a slice of Winnie Bomer's tasty pie, be prepared to pay 15 cents more.
The phrase "gourmet restaurant" had not come into the vernacular during those halcyon times. The old Naples Hotel by the Pier had a top-notch chef and he prepared Luculian feasts. Every Sunday evening, during the season, one could dress up in fancy duds and partake of a buffet that cost a staggering $6. William Schultz, who had been Barron Collier's chef, presided over this spectacular banquet.
The Fish House was established in 1953 with Jacque Elmore as major domo. She was a flamboyant, earthy woman who was not in the least impressed by the rich, famous and infamous. I met Jacque the first night I came to Naples and had dinner at the Flamingo Grill, where she was manager. No stranger in Naples in those days went unnoticed, and when she asked me what I was doing in town (it was early October) I told her I was the new chamber of commerce manager. Her retort was that she didn't think I looked old enough or smart enough for the job.
The greatest excitement on the culinary front in the late 1950s was the opening of a genuine barbecue restaurant, Andy's BBQ. It took the place of a bistro, club or roadhouse, especially on Saturday nights, when practically the whole town gathered for ribs, steaks and luscious sandwiches and beer.
Cooking with Doris Reynolds
When the word "gourmet" was used, it was always in connection with the Seminole Market, located in Old Naples, now the site of Campiello's restaurant. This was the location of the first food market in Naples, but back when it was founded in 1919, it was called the Commissary. The Bowling brothers bought the store in 1926 and renamed it the Bowling Brothers Store. It became the Seminole Market in 1946 when George DeBussman and Al Sturges purchased the grocery and operated it until 1958 when it closed forever. This was an old-fashioned market that stocked fine meats, gourmet items, imported cheeses and other hard-to-find vittles.
Although the town was small, there were plenty of places to eat. The Rexall Drugstore downtown had a popular luncheonette that attracted business people who gathered to share the latest gossip. Mrs. Caruthers presided over the kitchen and she made the finest pies and rich soups this side of Miami. Down in Old Naples on Third Street, Arnold and Margaret Haynes owned the Quonset hut that they turned into a movie theater. Next door was the Beach Store, where every Saturday afternoon the entire population of Naples brought their children for hamburgers, milkshakes and the matinee.
There is much to miss about those good old days. And good they were. There was a Chinese farmer out in the boonies; now busy Goodlette-Frank Road. He not only had freshly picked vegetables and fruit but kept chickens, which could be ordered ahead of time. These were range chickens that were also fed special grains so they were fat and rich and delicious. The eggs were big and brown and were still warm as he placed them in cartons. Later, the Sterritts came and opened an egg ranch in Pine Ridge. Bea was Naples' egg lady, delivering fresh eggs to the markets and often to private homes.
Glen Sample, the developer of Port Royal, owned a citrus grove on Goodlette Road and one could go and pick all manner of fruit for a pittance. And, wonder of wonders, Naples used to have its own dairy, also out on Goodlette Road, which was considered "country."
Homer Jones died several years ago. He was mourned by those who remembered him as our beloved friend and milkman. Homer faithfully appeared every day with milk in beautiful, sterile glass bottles. Along with the milk, there was cottage cheese, butter and other dairy products. If we were lucky enough to be home, he'd fill us in with the latest gossip and some good, solid advice. If we weren't at home, we'd leave the door open or he'd have a key so he could store the stuff in the refrigerator, close the windows if rain were threatening, pet the dog and go on his way.
Little wonder I celebrate Oct. 1. For 60 years, my life has been a never-ending adventure in the nation's last frontier transformed into one of the world's most beautiful cities.
Doris Reynolds is the author of "When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried" and "Let's Talk Food". They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also for sale is a four-part DVD, "A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds." Contact Doris Reynolds at email@example.com