What do you get when you combine die-hard customers, dedicated restaurateurs and staff who stick around no matter what? In Naples, it's called Mangrove Cafe.
Owners Diane and Douglas Amaral, along with chef Jamie Evanoff and the rest of the staff, seem to have recovered after an explosion stilled restaurant operations for an extended period last year. After nearly a year since reopening, the restaurant shows no signs of the incident — and, in fact, was packed on a recent Wednesday night, despite it being September, the slowest month of the year for restaurants in Naples.
Mangrove Cafe is about signature dishes that diners come to expect and demand, and that's why the menu changes only about once a year, according to Evanoff. Last week, one of the restaurant's patrons, who happens to love short ribs, made a reservation. Diane Amaral quickly shared with the chef about his pending arrival, and short ribs magically appeared as one of the specials.
It's those mainstay choices and attention to the people who have stuck by them that keep customers coming through the Mangrove Cafe doors. Dishes run the gamut from a French staple appetizer to Asian influences. Having so many choices within a global menu can seem all over the place in print, but it's one of Mangrove Cafe's strong suits.
On the appetizer side of things, Mangrove Cafe's flash-fried calamari ($8.95) is prepared with banana and Peppadew peppers, which are a sweet and spicy. The must-have accouterment with the mussels appetizer ($10.95) is the garlic crostini, which is perfect for dipping in the savory broth. Chinese five-spice seared tuna ($10.95) showcases savory-spicy-sweet flavors with a seaweed salad, pickled ginger and Asian dipping sauce.
If you go
Where: 878 Fifth Ave. S., Naples
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. The restaurant will expand hours to seven days a week in January.
Prices: $6-$10.95, starters; $19.95-$27, entrées; $5.95-$7.95, kids meals
Information: 239-262-7076 or www.themanrovecafe.com
Portobello mushroom lovers who prefer a heartier version of the fungi receive stuffing of ground veal, beef and pork with peppers, onions and Parmesan cheese ($9.95). The mashed potatoes are a staple side dish at Mangrove Cafe and vary depending on what's available. The restaurant's other popular side dish is the orzo pasta.
Mangrove Cafe's menu features several homestyle dinners, including meatloaf ($20) and pot roast ($20), slow cooked with onions, carrots, celery, garlic, red wine and beef stock. Sliced pork tenderloin ($22) is one of the cafe's most popular dishes, prepared with apple and red currant sauce and served with the cafe's trademark mashed potatoes and green beans. Veal Marsala ($25) and rigatoni Bolognese ($19.50) give a nod to the Italian side of the menu, while Mangrove's beef tenderloin entrée ($27) is from a whole roasted tenderloin prepared with a savory rub with a side of risotto and sweet shallots.
On the healthful side, an herb-and-citrus glazed, crusted salmon ($23) is served with yellow rice and green beans with a lemon beurre blanc sauce. The sweet and sour snapper ($25) prepared with a savory-sweet mango-balsamic glaze and served with poached asparagus. The haddock Nova Scotia ($22) is baked and served with a seafood compote and glazed.
The full menu is available online at themangrovecafe.com, but there are daily specials. Mangrove Cafe is no longer open for lunch. Dinner is served Tuesdays through Saturdays during the offseason until January, when the restaurant will be open seven days a week.