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.
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.
Taste buds do the talking when it comes to making a burger, chicken sandwich, or grilled cheese at Cheeburger Cheeburger. That’s because customers, rather than cooks, design what's for dinner. After selecting a base—whether an all-natural Angus burger, a chicken breast, a Gardenburger veggie patty, or a type of cheese—customers deck it with their choice of more than two dozen complimentary toppings such as roasted red peppers, steak sauce, and chopped garlic. Customers can also tailor meals to their appetites, as the beef patties range from a modest quarter-pound to the Famous Pounder Burger, a full-pound behemoth that memorializes those who finish it with a picture on the wall.
Customers can also build their own salad or garden diorama with a choice of salad fixings. Freshly cut fries and onion rings round out entrees. For dessert, customers can blend Edy’s Grand ice cream with syrup and candies to create 1 of 1,258,000 possible shake flavor combinations. Thanks to its neon color scheme and oldies music, the restaurant brims with a vintage ambiance.
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.
The beach jumbo slice at Sharkie's Pizza and Sidewalk Cafe is jumbo in more ways than one. With a Chicago-style depth, the slice makes up one quarter of an 18-inch pie, holding a gooey field of cheese on a crisp crust. That combo, along with 10 available ingredients, helped Sharkie's Pizza and Sidewalk Cafe earn the title of Best Pizza at the 2013 Taste of the Beach.
Beach cuisine might be the best way to describe Sharkie's offerings. Whether at 8 a.m. or 2:30 a.m. the restaurant dishes up eats capable of fueling a day of surfing or a night of sleep-surfing. Traditional slices complement the jumbo slices, which in turn balance a menu of pizzeria classics, such as Philly-style cheesesteaks. Also available are Mexican specialties such as tortas—an amalgamation of a burrito and a hamburger that's more appetizing that combining the two in a blender. In the morning, the restaurant switches gears again to dish up European-inspired breakfast classics such as croissants and Belgian waffles.
Nestled within the massive, 8,000-square-foot DiamondHead Beach Resort & Spa, Chlöes Restaurant serves up fresh seafood and succulent steaks against a scenic backdrop of white-sand beaches and the Gulf of Mexico's azure horizon. Chefs drizzle delicately prepared fish in bright, Asian-inspired sauces, and they grill or slow roast Choice cuts of steak and prime rib until they’re tender enough to be featured on the cover of Tiger Beat. After dinner, the nearby Chlöes Lounge invites guests to spend an evening sipping adult-centric beverages from the full bar. On Fridays and Saturdays, guests can also watch the pianist tickle the ivories at the lounge's glistening grand piano.