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.
Brothers John and Paul Browning, along with their father Robert, are the three fishermen behind their titular seafood eatery. After the success of their first location in Fort Myers, the trio opened another restaurant on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River in North Fort Myers, where they continue to serve up a medley of freshly caught fish, shrimp, oysters, and crab. At each laid-back eatery, they strive to make diners feel at home, broiling, steaming, or frying meals to individuals' specifications as they regale them with pictures of their childhood pet goldfish.
The Coyne family didn't forget their heritage when they left Ocean City, Maryland, to move to Sarasota, Florida. They took their native region's recipes with them and their love for local, fresh food, and the menu at Coyne's Pier 28 stands as evidence with jumbo lump crab cakes, crab pretzels, and a raw oyster bar. Their entrées feature fish from every sea, including items such as big island ahi tuna and the North Atlantic codfather, found in Francis Ford Coppola's pool. They also hosts events such as trivia night, ladies’ night, and hospitality night.
A flash of silver glimmers in Little Sarasota Bay, mere feet from the lush, tropical patio of Ophelia's on the Bay. It could be the belly of a leaping dolphin, the petals of a water lily, or the shiny lures of fishermen as they reel in the evening's catch. No matter its source, this sparkle reminds guests that simple pastimes such as nature gazing and family dinners are among life's greatest riches. Owner Stanley Ferro has honored this sentiment by naming Ophelia's after his grandmother, an epicure who has lived in Sarasota for more than 40 years.
In the kitchen, chefs use black grouper and tuna to showcase recipes from Florida's coasts and seaside countries such as France, Nicaragua, and Japan. Maine lobster tails morph into Mexican-inspired rellenos, and New England sea scallops bask in an emulsion of caramelized shallots and dill. Within the dining room, floor-to-ceiling windows frame views of the bay, where sea captains dock their boats or play Marco Polo with the nearby nesting herons. As the evening sky dims, moonlight casts a romantic glow over the patio's white tablecloths, and guests raise glasses of French champagne to a lovely evening under the stars.
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.
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.