A Busy Season is in the Air
Even though traffic is still flowing freely, all up and down the beach there is a definite buzz in the air. Like the calm before the storm, visitors and residents alike can sense, hidden in the soft breeze, a quiet crackling of energy, of something building. As Halloween costumes are donned there is an awareness that soon, very soon, Estero Boulevard will be filled with cars and our island will play host once again to our northern friends and season will be upon us. Many businesses have spent the last couple of months preparing for this by sprucing up their shops and updating their menus - kind of the beach version of spring cleaning - so this week we decided to check out what a few have been doing to prepare for what many hope to be a very busy season.
Down at Skye's - located in the newly repainted Santini Marina Plaza - owner Sylvia Steiger closed her popular Mexican eatery for 20 days in order to completely scrub down the kitchen and install a beautiful new bar.
"We normally close every September and clean, but this year Sylvia decided she wanted to increase liquor sales so she got Randy's All Island Glass to replace the back bar with six new glass shelves and a full mirror back so all the bottles can be seen,” said manager Kathleen Green Hill. "We also repainted the entire interior and disassembled and scrubbed the kitchen from top to bottom.”
Hill told us that Steiger never lays off her staff during cleaning times, but instead pays them an hourly rate to come help be part of the restaurant's transformation.
"We've only been open for three years but we are always evolving,” Kathleen said. "This year we also put in a new wine box and Sylvia contracted with an artist in Sarasota to create our new 'greeter' out front.”
Traveling north on Estero to Junkanoo's, patrons will no doubt notice a classier entrance to the popular beachfront restaurant, along with new menu items and a brighter, airier dining area. Owner Alfredo Russo told us that the improvements are a way of making the eatery more efficient and to showcase the new lunch and dinner selections - which focus on maintaining Junkanoo's reputation for being the place to go for fresh, locally caught seafood.
"We remodeled the kitchen including putting in a new floor, repainted the entire place, replaced the wood on the outside deck and even put in a new, outside kitchen because we are in the process of getting permitted to serve on the beach,” he said. "We figure we will see a lot more customers who want to use the outside area, and we also wanted to improve the kitchens to accommodate all the changes.”
Russo told us that Junkanoo's uses only locally caught pink Gulf shrimp, fresh caught Black Grouper and all of their burgers are made in-house.
"Our new look represents all of that,” he said.
After passing a newly painted and spiffed up Sea Grape Plaza, readers will see a new look at Terra Nostra. Going with the idea that first impressions are the most important, owner Fernando Uva decided that the best way to get folks to come in and try his great food was to upgrade the appearance of his establishment.
"The building was starting to look pretty old, so we decided to beautify the outside by giving it a new look,” he said. "We repainted and put in all new plants and flowers - even the parking lot got an upgrade.”
At the Gulfshore Grill, the improvements were more of the internal variety but patrons will undoubtedly notice because they will be reflected in the new menu, according to Chef Peter Harmon.
"We gave the kitchen a new floor and new fixtures, updated the electric and plumbing and brought ourselves well into the 21st century,” he told us. "Since we've reopened, we've rolled out our new crab cake which I believe is the best crab cake on the beach.”
Unlike other crab cakes that almost appear to be more of a flat crab fritter because they contain more breading than crab, Harmon's cakes are made Maryland style - chock full of 100% lump crab meat to the point where they flake apart.
"We've also added some signature burgers to the menu at the Cottage and will be serving a roasted red pepper hummus with baked pita chips to keep up with our customers' changing tastes,” Harmon said. "Some of our menu items - like the Calusa Gulf Shrimp (hint, they are great) - just came out of us playing around in the kitchen with what we thought folks might like.”
Some places made smaller improvements simply to improve their guest's comfort, only to find those areas become extremely popular. Such is the case with the Yucatan, who last year added a new smoking deck that patrons liked sitting on so much they went back to Town Council to get additional permitting to serve alcohol there.
The Smokin' Oyster Brewery added a deck this year not so much to attract new customers, but to make their many regulars happy.
"We're still waiting on permitting for the canopy/roof structure, but the new area is so popular already that people wait for a table out there,” said owner Bill Freeman. "It's a great place to sit and watch everyone walk through downtown and everyone loves it.”
Last but not least on our list is Nervous Nellie’s, who will also be breaking out a new menu shortly but have completed improvements to the entire restaurant.
"We wanted to have a new look for a new season,” said owner Rob DeGennaro. "We upgraded the interior including all new flooring, furniture, tile and paint and put in a new deck up at Ugly's.”
These are just a few of the many ways island businesses have been preparing for the coming season. Get ready, Fort Myers Beach, and let the good times roll!
Keri Hendry Weeg