Best of Banner 2021: The top things we ate the first half of 2021
Like many folks, the pandemic had wreaked havoc on my diet in 2020. And also, like many, I vowed to eat better in 2021. And in doing so, I discovered some of the best dishes Southwest Florida has to offer.
Here’s the top dishes for the first half of the year. And a disclaimer for the restaurants who didn’t make the list: The competition was fierce and there’s no shame in not being included, and I think you’ll agree – these dishes offer something special. Also, of note, there’s more restaurants in the Naples/Bonita Springs/Estero-area than we can eat in during a given year, so some places weren’t even in the running. For those, we’ll see you in 2022.
One final note, we start with March because that’s when I first started writing about food for the Banner.
Bonita Beach Balloon Bar & Grill, Bonita Springs is a place I picked just for its fun name. The first thing you’ll notice is a friendly staff and a down home atmosphere with a celebratory spirit in the air.
Things got off to an appetizing start with Flo’s fish bites. You can get the bites grilled, blackened or fried. We picked the latter and they were a beautiful golden brown, nice and crispy with an amazing tartar sauce.
We also had the “Ollie’s Balloonin’ Onion” featuring a sweet Vidalia onion dipped in “Balloon’s” own batter and fried until crispy and golden brown. It’s served with a honey chipotle mayo. Think Outback with a much better sauce. Yum!
Mykonos Kuzina (North Naples) has some of the best Greek food you will find without purchasing an airline ticket!
We sampled not one, not two, but three amazing entrees, the shrimp saganaki, vegetarian dolmades and Makaronatha.
If we’d eaten there, the shrimp saganaki would have been flambéed table side, but even without the show, the dinner was a hit. The dolmades, vegetarian, so minus the hamburger meat, were topped with a lemonato sauce and served with roasted potatoes, which were the star of this dish (they absorb the sauce so well).
Makaronatha is a traditional Greek-style spaghetti with melted browned butter and grated kefalograviera cheese. OMG! Naughty and nice!
It’s no secret that Southwest Florida has a plethora of Italian restaurants, but Enzo’s Italian Restaurant & Bar in Bonita Springs stands out as one of the very best.
The “Arancini Toscana,” is panko-breaded risotto balls containing peas and Romano cheese. This is one of my favorite Italian finger foods, and Enzo’s does it justice. So yummy!
We also ordered some stuffed mushrooms. These caps are stuffed with mouth-watering lump crab and seasoned with panko crumbs, charbroiled to a crisp. Another triumph! You’ve gotta try ‘em!
Enzo’s pizza selections include something for everyone, from the traditional to the unexpected. You can get a 14- or 16-inch thin crust, a Sicilian (deep dish) or a gluten-free10-inch cauliflower crust. Wow!
We picked the 16-inch thin crust “Navona White Pizza” featuring mozzarella, garlic, thinly sliced zucchini (ala pepperoni) and artichoke hearts. Everything about this pie worked. And the crust? Baked to perfection. Perhaps the best crust I’ve had since my last visit to New York City. I wonder, do they import NYC water to Bonita Springs?
More:Best of Banner: The top things we ate in March
This was my first visit to Figs Grille (Bonita Springs), and we started off with the “Papa Rossa” ($9.95), featuring marinated beets, red onion, fresh herbs and topped with goat cheese and walnuts. I love beets, and these were super flavorful without a hint of earthiness. The ingredients combined into a beautiful melody. It may have been an appetizer, but it was one of my favorites dishes this visit.
We made the trek to Charley's Boat House Grill & Wine Bar (For Myers Beach) the Monday following Easter.
We arrived before sunset and the Gulf views from across the street were stunning and well worth the drive.
And the food? Things got off to an appetizing start with the grouper bites ($18), which we ate in the parking lot! What!? We were hungry! The dish features the fish, battered and golden brown, and served with either tartar or remoulade sauce. We picked the latter. The batter was crisp and amazing. The sauce was unique and delicious.
These were some of the best grouper bites I’ve ever had.
More:Best of Banner: The top things we ate in April
Lapa’s Costa Rican Bistro in Bonita Springs marked my first foray with Costa Rican food.
I instantly fell in love with the the empanadas ($2.95 each) and patacones (aka tostones, $5.95). For the empanadas, you can choose from shredded chicken, ground beef, potato or cheese. We picked the potato. Depending on the culture and region, empanadas can be made of corn meal or flour. These were flour, and the filling was a very yellow potato. And it was delicious.
The tostones are four fried green plantain patties served with refried black beans, which we spread on top – like jam on bread. This dish is the perfect blend of sweet and salty. I could have eaten my weight in ‘em.
True Food Kitchen (North Naples) is described as a “relaxed, eco-chic chain serving health-conscious fare, including vegan options, plus cocktails.”
An appetizer of note: the charred cauliflower ($9). It features harissa tahini, medjool dates, dill, mint and pistachio. It was perhaps the best cauliflower dish I’ve ever eaten.
More:Best of Banner: The top things we ate in May
During our visit to Naples Flatbread Kitchen & Bar at Miromar Outlets in Estero we discovered the “Pietro” ($20.99). It features prosciutto, goat cheese, mozzarella, black mission figs, arugula, caramelized onions, garlic parmesan aioli and a balsamic reduction.
The figs added an amazing layer of flavor to this truly exceptional flatbread.
Another exception flatbread came from Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant in North Naples. It was the roasted vegetable and goat cheese flatbread ($11.99), featuring mozzarella, roasted grape tomatoes, pesto, basil and a balsamic glaze. The crust was nice and crisp, like a flour tortilla, and the toppings plentiful.
More:Best of Banner: The top things we ate in June
Next week, we’ll bring you the second half of this column. And it’s already written, for those of you looking for late-game moves. Until then, happy eating!
This newspaper pays for all meals related to dining reviews. We do not solicit or accept free food. Not all dishes are featured in print, but you can find a gallery of all reviewed dishes online at marconews. com.
If you go
Bonita Beach Balloon Bar & Grill
- 9070 Bonita Beach Rd. SE, Bonita Springs
- 13510 Tamiami Trail N. #1, Naples (Behind Walgreens at Wiggins Pass Rd.)
Enzo's Italian Restaurant & Bar
- 4351 Bonita Beach Rd. SW, Bonita Springs
- 25987 S. Tamiami Trail #109, Bonita Springs
Charley's Boat House Grill & Wine Bar
- 6241 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach
Lapa’s Costa Rican Bistro
- 26251 S. Tamiami Trail, Bonita Springs
True Food Kitchen
- 5375 Tamiami Trail N., Ste. 15, Naples
Naples Flatbread Kitchen & Bar
- 10801 Corkscrew Rd #520, Estero
Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant
- 11905 Tamiami Trail N., Naples