The farm-to-table movement has swept the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel, enticing food lovers with the intense flavors that result from eating locally sourced, freshly picked produce, seafood that’s never been frozen and animals that have been raised humanely on small family farms.
It wasn’t long ago that purists raised a skeptical brow when ambitious farmers and restaurateurs set about creating a farm-to-table movement in the Sunshine State where, it was long thought, the sandy soil couldn’t sustain year-round crops to keep a restaurant going.
It’s fortunate that neither the farmers nor the chefs paid heed to those dire warnings because there are some excellent farm-to-table restaurants operating around the Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel these days. In some cases, the farms themselves offer meals. In others, they partner with area restaurants. Either way, diners win by being able to savor the vibrant flavors of the region.
Here are some places to go for farm-to-table and other authentic local flavor experiences:
Buckingham Farms; This 50-acre hydroponic farm and country store offers American fare using ingredients grown onsite. Breakfast and lunch served on site and you can order dinner for pickup on Fridays (limited dinner menu).
Caffe Toscano; The menu at Caffe Toscano is relatively small because most of the dishes are specials. Chef/owner Antonio Durante either sources his ingredients from his native Italy or uses local seasonal foods, which might include wild boar, just-caught hogfish, Pine Island clams, pappardelle Bolognese, fresh vegetable soup, lemon tarts and luscious olive oil cake with plump grapes.
Fish Tale Grill; It would be hard to find fresher fish unless you caught it yourself. Fish Tale Grill is adjacent to its retail business, Merrick Seafood, where fishermen clump in in their white rubber boots to deliver their catches through the back door. Plump pink Gulf shrimp, snapper, grouper and clams are well represented on the menu along with northern species such as lobster, Ipswich clams and other favorites. Dine inside or out at this spot with a casual atmosphere but a serious kitchen.
Harold’s;Chef/owner Harold Balink has created a 35-seat oasis of imaginative cuisine crafted from seasonal mostly local ingredients. What isn’t local is still sustainable and/or organic, sourced from responsible farmers and fishermen. If he has it on the menu, try the lionfish, an invasive species that’s similar to hogfish in flavor but more satisfying to eat because it is such a threat to local waters. Beer and (an exceptional) wine list available.
Jack’s Farm to Fork; Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, this farm-to-table restaurant offers fruits and veggies from local farms, Gulf-caught seafood and humanely raised meats from Iowa’s Niman Ranch, among other sources. Feast on Gulf shrimp and warm corn salad, Pine Island clams, roasted chicken, braised short ribs and other seasonally available dishes. Even the children’s menu is locally sourced.
Point 57 Restaurant & Cocktails; Chef/owner Matt Arnold worked with famed chef Lidia Bastianich for several years and is a culinary school graduate, all of which shows in his made-from-scratch food. He smokes his own pork, fish and chicken (you must try the sweet-tea-brined and smoked chicken with potatoes and green beans), grinds his own burgers and bakes his own desserts (try his version of Cracker Jacks or a black and white brownie with ice cream). The fantastically stocked bar has some truly imaginative drinks as well.
Purple Spoon; Chef/owner Kristina San Filippo calls Purple Spoon a culinary hub, a gathering place for local farmers, top-drawer culinary professionals and community members who love healthy food prepared in fresh ways. An accomplished chef – and alumna from the Culinary Institute of America – she uses locally grown organic ingredients and the farmers are often present as she leads a cooking class, holds a wine dinner or monthly community dinner (first Monday of the month) during which you pay what you can and sample a variety of dishes made with what was fresh and available that day. On Wednesday afternoons there’s a farmers market. Prepared foods are available as well.
Sanibel Fresh;Chef/owner Amy Visco Schmicker has run the kitchen of Sunset Grill on Sanibel for a decade but now she also has a place that satisfies her passion for ultra-healthy local fare. Here you can find acai bowls, tuna poke with fresh vegetables and pickled onions, veggie burgers, cashew slaw, homemade blackberry jam and other made-from-scratch items.
List Distillery; Thomas and Renate List have created a charming little boutique distillery using locally sourced crops and organic ingredients. They make a variety of rums, whiskey, gin and hazelnut liqueur. Call ahead to arrange a tour.
Wicked Dolphin Rum Distillery; This up-and-coming distillery has won an impressive number of awards for its rum, which uses 100 percent Florida sugar and local ingredients. It offers tours, showing how it makes its products, and offers tastings as well.