Q: Can you please print people’s suggestions for “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives”? It would be nice to know what restaurants people pick.
— T.P., Naples
A: At least 25 area eateries were named by readers when asked about six weeks ago to nominate their favorite local diners, drive-ins and dives.
Joanie’s, in Ochopee in southern Collier County, is notable not only because the longtime cafe serves good food and cold beer, but because it is pleasantly lost in time and space. Located in the middle of nowhere — way out on the East Trail, three miles east of State Road 29 — the remote roadside diner is a throwback to simpler times.
One doesn’t have to squint to picture Guy Fieri driving up to the Everglades’ oasis in his classic Camaro convertible for a taping of the “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” Food Network TV show. It’s remarkable that it already hasn’t happened.
Undoubtedly, Fieri would sample Joanie’s original “Swamp Combo” — alligator nuggets, frog legs, crab cakes and Indian fry bread with Joanie’s famous salsa. After all, Joanie’s claims to be home to world-famous 5-ounce Everglades crab cake and the best gator in town — or even out of town, as the case may be.
Of course, Fieri wouldn’t want to pass on the garlic blue crabs, hush puppies or “Joanie’s Featured Shrimp Creation” — 10 fresh shrimp sautéed in olive oil with vine-ripened tomatoes, onion, and red and green peppers, then served over rice.
“That’s off the hook in Flavor Town,” the “Triple D” host might exclaim.
You can take it from here, Guy.
If Joanie’s is too far out, readers recommend other diners closer to civilization.
Another top spot is Nana’s Diner on Collier Boulevard in Golden Gate. Folks have raved about Nana’s “Southern food with an attitude” and huge portions for many years. It’s especially favored as a breakfast spot, specializing in homestyle hankerings such as biscuits and gravy, home fries and grits.
Honorable mentions go to Buffalo Chips Restaurant on Old 41 Road in Bonita Springs, Farmer’s Market Restaurant on Edison Avenue in Fort Myers, Goldies Restaurant on Taylor Road in North Naples, Joe’s Diner on U.S. 41 North in Naples Park, Pastrami Dan’s on U.S. 41 in Naples, and Taqueria San Julian on Bayshore Drive in East Naples.
Other eateries making the list, in alphabetical order, include Alva Country Diner in Alva, Capt’n Con’s in Bokeelia, Castaways Backwater Café in East Naples, Crazy Flamingo on Marco Island, Daniela’s Restaurant in North Naples, Fine Fixins Restaurant in East Naples, Harold’s Place in Naples, Jack’s Seafood Bar & Grill in North Naples, Little Bar Restaurant in Goodland, NewsStand Café in North Naples, World Bakery & Cafeteria in North Naples, Porky’s Last Stand in Golden Gate Estates, Skillets in North Naples and Bonita, and Taco Mix in Bonita.
Q: There’s a “for sale” sign in front of Cracklin’ Jack’s. Are they planning to relocate?
— Barney and Peggy Lipps, Naples
A: No. The longtime local restaurant at 9080 Collier Blvd. has a long-term lease for that East Naples location, but the property is for sale.
Cracklin’ Jack’s, a down-home eatery known for its fried chicken and other comfort foods serves family-style with “vittles,” or side dishes, has been operating for nearly 30 years in that former home, which was built in 1971.
The 4.62-acre narrow strip of rural property is on the market for $1.8 million or best offer, said Robert Knudson of Naples Realty Services. The land, owned by Walter G. Zarzycki Jr., has only 150 feet of frontage on Collier Boulevard, but it extends 1,220 feet eastward, according to information from the Collier County Property Appraiser’s Office.
In May 2002, Cracklin’ Jack’s manager Rod Ellis bought the existing business, described as a “hole in the wall carved out of the wilderness,” and finds himself in the kitchen most days. When a recent Daily News column by Doris Reynolds singled out Cracklin’ Jack’s as having the best fried chicken in the area, Ellis was kept busy once word got out.
“I’ve never fried so much chicken,” he said.
Ellis also said he would be honored if TV foodie Guy Fieri followed readers’ nomination for the restaurant to be featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
“It would be neat if he thought we were worthy of that,” he said. “I’ve never really sought out that kind of promotion. Some customers have called them. It’s a good show.”
In the meantime, Ellis doesn’t plan on going anywhere and said the new owner would have to honor his restaurant’s lease. “We may end up buying the property from the guy,” he said.
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"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.