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Sunday, April 14, 2024 at 1:12 PM

SWFL Esteemed Chefs Dish Out Their Favorite Bites

SWFL Esteemed Chefs Dish Out Their Favorite Bites

Channeling their passion, expertise and countless hours into crafting culinary wonders over the roaring flames of gas stoves, these culinary enthusiasts showcase their devotion with each carefully crafted meal. The question arises: Where do these culinary virtuosos go when it’s time for someone else to do the cooking? In a quest for answers, seven esteemed Southwest Florida chefs were engaged to share their dining preferences.

¦ Burak Çakir 

Burak Çakir

Ephesus Mediterranean Grill 

Port Charlotte

Chef-owner Burak Çakir was 18 years old when he moved from Turkey in 2007 to accept a kitchen position at the Gasparilla Inn in Boca Grande. He met his wife, Michelle, in Florida and decided to stay. 

 In 2014, they opened Ephesus, serving authentic Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine made from age-old recipes dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Chef Çakir learned the recipes for shawarma, doner kebab, baklava and other traditional dishes from his mother.

 The operation has grown, thanks to an appreciative fan base who has discovered the off-the-beaten path gem. Belly dancers and other live entertainment often add ambience to the ornate Turkish-decorated dining room and its bakery next door. 

 When the Çakirs head out for a special-occasion dinner, however, they target a different cultural flavor at Nicola’s Italian Kitchen in Englewood. 

 “It’s owned and operated by an Italian family with amazing atmosphere,” said Chef Çakir. “You can almost forget that you are in America. My favorite dish is chicken marsala.” 

 For something more casual? Mango Bistro in Englewood Beach is his go-to. He lauds the owners’ care, their always fresh ingredients and flavor that is “out of this world.”

¦ Jeanie Roland

The Perfect Caper 

Punta Gorda

Jeanie Roland
Courtesy photo

Like most busy chef-owners, Jeanie Roland doesn’t find much time to dine out. “When I do go out, I am usually starving and want something good. I love supporting Chef Stephen at Italia and River City Grill,” said the frequently James Beard-nominated chef.

Besides the superlative cuisine, Italia at River City is close by her restaurant, and it’s open on the days The Perfect Caper is not (Monday and Tuesday), making it ultra-convenient. Chef Roland says a salad and some chicken parm, and she’s good to go. 

She and her husband, James, opened The Perfect Caper in 2002 and immediately set a new standard downtown Punta Gorda. They debuted another restaurant in Westerly, Rhode Island, in 2012. 

Since then, Chef Roland has published two cookbooks, the most recent during COVID lockdown, when everyone was at home cooking and looking for new recipes to try. Thus, “The Perfect Caper Home Cooking.” 

Although a Culinary Institute of America grad who has sampled cuisines around the world, she’s a self-admitted fan of American diner cuisine. In Port Charlotte, she gets her fix at Little Good Times, a strip-mall joint where she she’s been going faithfully many years for breakfast and Mexican specialties. 

¦ Bob Boye

Liberty 

Fort Myers 

“Over the past few years, I’ve been a lot pickier with my dining out spots, as going out to dinner has become quite expensive,” says chef-owner Bob Boye, who has evolved into a Fort Myers culinary fixture starting with his run at Cru, where he began as a bartender and ended up as chef-owner six years later. 

He bases his dining choices on quality and places that accommodate his busy schedule, especially chef-owned and -operated restaurants like his own. “I’ve been very surprised with some of the little spots I’ve found,” he says. 

Known for his truly original, alternative style of small-plate cuisine at Liberty, Chef Boye admits a penchant for barbecue, and he counts off-the-beaten-path Big Nick’s Barbecue in Fort Myers among his favorites. In the pizza food-group, he picks Uncle Rico’s and Fine Folk Pizza & Restaurant, both in Fort Myers. 

“But when we are celebrating something, I usually get in touch with my friend and former co-worker Josh Zeman at Sea Salt in Naples and ask for a tasting menu,” he says. Otherwise, “date night” means a trip to Namba Ramen & Sushi, also in Naples, where “literally anything and everything” pleases his discerning palate.

¦ Adam Nardis 

Coldwater Oyster Market

Fort Myers

Adam Nardis
Stephanie Davis / Florida Weekly

Chef-owner Adam Nardis has established himself as a chef of passion and extraordinary expertise in both Naples and Fort Myers. Not to mention Block Island in Rhode Island: His six summers at The National Hotel sparked a love for northern seafood and the genesis of Coldwater Oyster Market. 

In 2021, he realized his culinary dream by opening a restaurant alongside his wife, Erin and their four children. This achievement came on the heels of an impressive tenure as an executive chef at M Waterfront Grille (the sister restaurant of the National Hotel) and Crave Culinaire, both located in Naples.

That Block Island connection runs deep as cold water. Chef Nardis’ loyalty to past colleagues makes Dos Sabores Restaurant, a Mexican experience in Estero, a favorite, but it also has to do with quality. 

“I worked with Chef Ramiro Ruiz for years on Block Island and at M,” he says. “His food is alive, honest and cooked with heart. He also understands proper seasoning and balance. The wet burrito there is the best I ever had.” 

When it comes to “the ultimate special occasion restaurant,” he picks Wylds Café in Bonita Springs. It is, after all, where he proposed to Erin, and the Tenderloin Saga makes his top hits list. “The combination of rich bleu cheese fondue and frites!” he exclaims. “The tenderloin is, you know, tender. So, you don’t get texture from the meat, but the rest adds just the perfect amount of texture.” But then, again, there’s that creme brulé to contend for favorite.

¦ Brandon Schewe 

The Bohemian Restaurant 

Downtown Coffee and Wine Company 

Bonita Springs

Brandon Schewe
Stephanie Davis / Florida Weekly

Chef-owner Brandon Schewe and his wife, Caitlin Emery-Schewe, have helped change the culinary landscape of downtown Bonita Springs. First came Downtown Coffee and Wine in 2019, followed in 2022 by The Bohemian, which has all Southwest Florida raving. To their kitchens, Chef Schewe brings the know-how learned in elite local restaurants such as Tulia, The French and BALEEN.

The Bohemian takes its name and theme from a menu that creatively wanders global cuisines. When the Schewes head out for a nice dinner, they prefer Passage to India nearby in Bonita Springs, which Brandon terms a chef-owned and -operated hidden gem. “Chef Boran makes every single meal himself,” he says. “I have never had a bad meal there.” His favorite dishes? Scallops malaee and sweet naan. 

For a more impromptu dining experience, he returns to the scene of one of his former workplaces, downtown Naples’ Bar Tulia, and often orders the lamb sausage pizza. “It has good vibes and good food galore,” he raves about the establishment. “You can go there late night and still get the best food in town, sit back and enjoy friends and craft cocktails.

¦ Tony Ridgway 

Ridgway Bar & Grill 

Tony’s Off Third 

Bayside Seafood Grill & Bar 

Naples

Tony Ridgway
Courtesy photo

Often considered the “godfather” of the modern-day fine dining scene in Naples, Tony Ridgway capped off his S50-year restaurant career in 2019 with the publication of a cookbook — nay, a cook-tome of 500-plus pages titled “Kitchen Privileges.” 

Self-taught in the ways of kitchen wizardry, Chef Ridgway purchased his first Naples restaurant, Wurst Place, in 1971, then went on to raise the bar for Naples dining with Truffles Café and Ridgway Bar & Grill’s predecessor, The Chef ’s Garden. 

He knows a thing or two about fine dining, so when the occasion calls for pulling out all the stops, he reserves a table at Fuse Gastrobar in Naples. 

“Fuse is a great example of a local restaurant that is beloved by its clientele. Co-owners Greg Scarlatos, who runs the kitchen, and Monika Czechowska, who runs the bar and front of house, know all their best customers, and they work hard to turn every new customer into a best customer,” said Ridgway. “The menu is diverse and full of unique flavors. Monika’s cocktail program is as good as it gets.”

Another local favorite where he and his wife, Wynne, dine on a regular basis, Alexander’s Garden Restaurant is not only close to their home, but serves consistently good food. The garden setting seals the deal for Chef Ridgway, who recommends the sauteed veal.

¦ Todd Johnson 

Nosh on Naples Bay 

Naples

Todd Johnson
Courtesy photo

“Every time I go to Barbatella, I tell myself I’m going to order something new,” says Todd Johnson, chef-owner of Nosh since January 2022. But inevitably he ends up ordering the Rigatoni Alla Norma at the Third Street fixture, subtitled a “spirited Italian trattoria.” 

The pasta, the tomato sauce, the eggplant: He can’t help himself! He’s also a fan of the Artichoke La Plancha appetizer, served with parsley and garlic aioli. “I like the comfortable neighborhood vibe of Barbatella,” he says. 

Chef Johnson cut his culinary teeth at some of Naples’ finest restaurants, including Chef ’s Garden and Bistro 821, and later made a name for himself at Fort Myers’ Bistro 41 and most recently at his Rumrunners restaurant in Cape Coral for 18 years. Now back in his hometown, the Johnson & Wales University (North Miami) graduate lives out his love for small plates and creatively paired fine ingredients at Nosh. 

Running their own restaurant leaves little time for Chef Johnson and his wife, Dana, to schedule in fine-dining nights out, but when they do manage to steal away, they often make The Cave Bistro & Wine Bar in Naples their destination. 

“It’s a little more intimate than most places – smaller and not as crazy,” said Johnson. The Johnsons, known for their love of exploring culinary delights, savor the expansive array of wines and appetizers. As a standout choice for a main course, Johnson highly recommends the perfectly seared scallops. 


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