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Thursday, May 23, 2024 at 9:28 AM
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Some of our favorite chefs share their favorite spots

They slave over flaming gas stoves and spend their spare time balancing budgets and dreaming about food. Our kitchen warriors: Where do they go when it’s time for someone else to do the cooking for them? We talked to seven Southwest Florida chefs to find out.
Some of our favorite chefs share their favorite spots

Burak Çakir 

Ephesus Mediterranean Grill 
Port Charlotte

Burak Çakir  I COURTESY PHOTO

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,” says 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 I COURTESY PHOTO

Like most harried chef-owners, Jeanie Roland doesn’t have a lot of time to frequent restaurants. “When do I go out, I am usually starving and want something good,” says the oft-nominated James Beard chef. “I love supporting Chef Steve (Ladevaia) of Italia at River City,” she says.

Besides the superlative cuisine, Italia at River City is close-by to her restaurant, and it’s open on the days The Perfect Caper closes (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, R.I., 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 two 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 and Industry Beer & Barbeque in Naples 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 (Chef Boye recently tied the knot with his favorite dining partner, Nichole). 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 Marke 
Fort Myers

Adam Nardis I 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 Stock Island in Rhode Island: His six summers at The National Hotel sparked a love for northern seafood and the genesis of Coldwater Oyster Market. 

He opened his dream restaurant with his wife and mother of their four kids, Erin, in 2021, on the tail of serious chops as executive chef at M Waterfront Grille (National Hotel’s sister restaurant) Crave Culinaire, both 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 I TEPHANIE DAVIS / FLORIDA WEEKLY

Chef-owner Brandon Schewe and his wife, Caitlin Emery-Schewe, are changing the culinary landscape of downtown Bonita Springs. First came Downtown Coffee and Wine in 2019, followed last year by The Bohemian, which has all of 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 spur-of-the-moment dineout, 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 I COURTESY PHOTO

Often considered the “godfather” of the modern-day fine dining scene in Naples, Tony Ridgway capped off his nearly 50-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 of Naples dining with Truffles Café and Ridgway’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 The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, and orders bone-in filet or the Dover sole. (The Grill is currently closed for renovations until mid-2023.) “It’s elegant, the service is exceptional, and you feel transported out of Naples,” he says.

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 I 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. 

Before it closed for renovations, The Grill at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, was THE destination restaurant for Chef Johnson and his wife, Dana. “We made it there at least once a year for our anniversary and some times more,” he says. “We love listening to the piano in advance while enjoying a nice cocktail. We can hardly wait for the reopening.”


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