With sautéed gator, housemade crab cakes, and coconut french toast, Sanibel Cafe doesn’t let guests forget that they’re dining on a tropical island. This selection continues the tradition of homestyle cooking that the café established when it first opened in 1978 as the Pancake and Omelette House. This stage of its life ended in 1984, and, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, the eatery reopened as Sanibel Cafe. For more than two decades now, Sanibel’s kitchen has been keeping diners coming back with savory island-inspired cuisine for both breakfast and lunch.
In addition to signature items such as sautéed gator, morning diners fork into more traditional eats such as strip steak escorted by hash browns and stacks of pancakes that diners can scarf down or transform into smiley faces to convey the exact level of their happiness. At midday, the kitchen begins piling burgers and sandwiches with country-fried steak, charbroiled beef patties, fried shrimp, and grilled fish. Just like its seafood-laden kaiser rolls, the café’s decor pays tribute to its tropical location: joining hanging plants and cerulean pendant lamps, one-of-a-kind tabletops feature intricate patterns of fossilized seashells handpicked and patterned by artist Sue Stephens.
The Dunes Golf & Tennis Club transports players to a tropical 75 acres of water-hemmed fairways and greens, enticing club hefters of all skill levels to confront its par 70 PGA-rated course. Redesigned by 10-time PGA Tour winner Mark McCumber in 1995, the verdant range challenges swingers to mediate between focused ball launching and equally competitive sightseeing. The back nine holes roost within a wildlife preserve, recognized by the Audubon Cooperative Society, where keen gazes can conduct reconnaissance on colorful birds and other fauna while riding through on the provided cart. Classic hazards, such as ever-present aquatic traps and conniving packs of terrestrial barracuda, challenge golfers, who can look to the staff of PGA professionals for help at any time. After venturing through the green, guests can quell insistent stomach gurgles at The Dunes Steakhouse & Seafood, the only Sanibel Island restaurant serving certified Angus beef, or satiate their appetites for golf equipment at the full-service pro shop.
The Caribbean Pearl's staff deftly crafts island-influenced dishes and libations with fresh MSG- and preservative-free ingredients. Enticing smells fill the thatched-roof patio and envelop the welcoming tiki bar, increasing appetites. The extensive menu showcases tapas, sandwiches, and signature entrees. Guests can demonstrate a belief that sharing is caring by opting for small plates ($7–$15) such as the Bahamian conch fritters with raspberry-chipotle sauce, which sound like the ocean when held to the ear and taste like delicious seafood when fed to the ocean ($10). Banana and panko encrust the signature grouper Caribe, which braves its crème-de-banana flambé to repose on a bed of island rice, nestled beneath a frizzled sweet-potato garnish. The jerk-marinated free-range chicken, accompanied by a coconut-curry aioli, delights taste buds in either half portions ($13) or full portions ($18). A gorgonzola cream sauce shines atop the grilled 6-ounce Black Angus filet mignon, enhancing the steak's flavor and attractiveness to mates ($25).
More than 20 years ago, Rich and Deana Citrola opened Citrola's Italian Grill & Pizzeria in Times Square. Today, they oversee the operation of three different locations, but their customers can still count on the same traditional pastas and pizzas they've enjoyed all these years. The chefs toss pizza dough and roll calzones by hand, sealing both with house-recipe sauce. The bread for their sub sandwiches is baked fresh every day, and the pasta dishes sate appetites with classic iterations, such as linguini with clams and penne with vodka-cream sauce.
Chip's Sanibel Steakhouse quells the longings of beef buffs and seafood savants with its menu of appetite whetters and hunger-pang decimators. Begin the gustatory proceedings with a round of appetizers, including Oysters Rockefeller ($8/four) and beef carpaccio with microgreens, parmesan cheese, capers, and an oregano vinaigrette ($12). The elegant eatery’s hit parade of classic cuts—including filet mignon ($33 for 7 oz.), rib eye ($24 for 12 oz.), New York strip ($32 for 12 oz.), Porterhouse ($36 for 22 oz.), and a 14-ounce Kobe steak when available ($45)—are aged in house and flash-seared at 1700 degrees to prevent rogue juices from escaping. Dress up steaks with creamy Maytag blue cheese butter ($2), piquant red-wine demi-glaze ($1), or a decadent monocle and top hat combo.
Executive chef and restaurateur AJ Black got his first job in the restaurant industry at age 6. That's when he began washing dishes at the restaurant his family ran in their small seaside town in Sicily. Black also joined his grandparents as they fished for the eatery's catch of the day, reeling in tuna, anchovies, and other fresh seafood.
These experiences sparked a passion for cooking that eventually led Chef Black to the Italian Culinary Institute. He opened his first restaurant at the tender age of 19 before heading to Le Cordon Bleu to study classical French cooking under Paul Bocuse.
From Beaches to Borders
Fresh, seasonal ingredients inspire daily specials that let loose Chef Black's creativity in the kitchen. For the regular menu, however, he draws on tried-and-true traditions from across Italy, from the sunny beaches of the south to the French-Italian border. A dish of whole, lightly fried sardines with a dusting of chili flakes takes its inspiration from the Sicilian seaside, and a hearty order of duck leg confit with freshly made gnocchi hails from the mountainous North.
Il Tesoro's faux-stucco walls and striped awnings capture the casual spirit of an Old World bistro. Oil paintings burst with images from bucolic countryside scenes to vases of blooming flowers. The simple wooden chairs surrounding each white linen-draped table exude a homespun charm, as do the solitary brass lamps that adorn the tables.