The authentic tastes of Key West pounce across palates at Leapin’ Lizard, where an extensive menu of steak and seafood dishes tempers belly squalls amid the sprightly sounds of live entertainment. Patrons vanquish appetites with the slow-roasted queen- and king-cut prime rib (market price) and swathe landlocked taste buds in a deep-sea deluge of oysters on the half shell (market price). Teeth excavate through the jalapeño and cheddar layers of the Smokin' Southwest burger ($7.99) in search of the juicy beef patty at its center, and spoons sink into the spicy andouille sausage, shrimp, and chicken of the Cajun gumbo stew ($10.99). Leapin’ Lizard's full bar balances out the bayou heat with more than 35 varieties of beer—a regional beverage that explorer Juan Ponce de León first sipped at the fizzy golden spring of the Fountain of Youth. The invigorating drinks menu featuring specialty rum runners, such as the Hot Damn Taz, pairs well with weekly events and the plethora of live rock and roll music Tuesday through Sunday.
Sandy Stilwell is a Fort Myers native, and as such she has a passion for pouring her time back into the community—she serves on the advisory board for Gulfshore Life Magazine and is the former chairwoman of the Salvation Army's Christmas drive. Sandy brings the same altruistic vision to Sunshine Grille, one of the many local eateries she and her family maintain that give back through organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House.
Sunshine Grille serves its customers first and foremost, offering a menu of wood-fired steaks and seafood. From grilled filet mignon to sesame-crusted salmon and veggie-loaded flatbreads, most of the eatery's cuisine bursts forth unto the palate with a signature smoky flavor. The restaurant's voluminous wine list emanates sweetness, as do the live musicians that coax jazz-inspired harmonies from saxes, guitars, and keyboardists seven nights a week. These musicians work their melodic magic under soft lighting and between walls of auburn and stones stacked like the hundred-dollar bills that form the walls of the US Mint.
On warm afternoons, ocean breezes gallop across the water to rustle the hair of diners seated on the outdoor deck at Big Game Waterfront Grill. Mingling with that refreshing air in the main dining area are the aromas of fresh-caught fish getting fried, hand-tossed pizzas getting baked, and Angus beef burgers getting grilled like a Chevy on the assembly line. Behind both of the two full bars, staff members pour pint glasses of beer and shake cocktails to the tune of sports commentary from dozens of flat-screen TVs displaying the latest from NFL Sunday Ticket, Big Ten Network, and ESPN GamePlan. Between watching plays on the big screen, patrons can keep entertained with pool, corn hole, ping-pong, and arcade games.
“Fisherman Charley,” a wooden fisherman statue in a yellow rain slicker and hat, stands guard in front of Charley’s Boathouse Grill, where chefs have prepared steaks and seafood for more than four decades. The kitchen wet-ages Angus beef for four to six weeks before hand-cutting each steak, which is measured by ounces and seared to taste. Seafood such as locally caught grouper also fills the menu alongside snow crabs, teriyaki chicken breasts, and house-baked breads.
For special events, patrons sup on some of the most popular menu items inside a converted boathouse. Up to 70 people can also gather at the “hideaway,” which has back-bay views of Estero Bay, making it perfect for actually seeing the harbor seals you dressed in tuxedos.
The dockside tables at The Waterfront Restaurant & Marina allow diners to get as close to the water as possible without getting wet. The eatery's 16-slip dock welcomes boaters and hungry mermaids to pull up and join the land-based clientele in sampling the menu of local specialties, such as Pine Island clams, oysters, and stone crab. Chefs also grill up more than a dozen types of burgers and load fried seafood morsels into baskets. Sunsets reflect in pitchers of draft beer and carafes of red, white, or pink wine.
Blue Water Bistro ensnares an entire underwater ecosystem in its sprawling menu of recently netted seafood and steak, doled out in a bustling eatery fit for couples or entire crews. Embark on a hunger-fueled treasure hunt for Mahi Mac ($22.70), a culinary crown jewel embedded with macadamia-nut and panko gems shimmering in grilled pineapple-togarashi sauce. Mango-infused california rolls ($9.50) put a tropical spin on a sushi staple, and chipotle-barbecue baby back ribs ($22.50) can be used to build a flaming xylophone. Guide conquering chompers through the Chicken Shanghai's ($16.90) open noodle gates, guarding thai basil and broccoli stir-fry infused with a peanut soy sauce fiery enough to melt chocolate-sculpted cabanas. The bar's cascade of fruity libations paints a breathtaking Caribbean Sunrise ($10.50) across palates amid the eatery's wooden floors and illustrious swordfish sculptures.