BY GINA BIRCH
FORT MYERS LOCAL EXPERT
A fantastic way to begin a night of romance is with a great meal. Not just mouthwatering food, but also an enticing atmosphere to ignite all of the senses. Perhaps romance to you includes historical settings or dimly lit spaces. Maybe it's linen table cloths and impeccable service; mellow music or water views. The Fort Myers dining scene offers all of this and more.
If vintage charm is your cup of tea, then the Veranda offers the right dose of romance. One of the most established and best known restaurants in downtown Fort Myers, this historic old home also has an inviting courtyard for dining under the stars. The Veranda has a long history of great service; a special occasion kind of place.
Waterside dining is always romantic, especially at sunset and definitely at the Mad Hatter. This beachside gem on the border of Sanibel and Captiva Islands is cozy and quant, offering some of the best service in the area. Although the menu changes often the quality never wavers.
Whether you're on a first date, celebrating a big anniversary or somewhere in between, check out these 10Best for the most romantic dining options in the Fort Myers area.
C Level is a small, laid back wine bar in an unassuming stretch of Bonita Beach Road, not too far from the Gulf of Mexico. Bathed in a warm blue glow, both the bar and main dining room are dark and comfortable. Bar seating includes views of a big screen projecting live concert videos from cool jazz and folk artists, among other genres. Beginning as a wine bar, C Level's by the glass list has an impressive forty selections, many high end, and more than 150 bottle choices from well-known producers as well as smaller boutique wineries. Start off with a cheese and charcuterie plate, or succulent New Zealand lamb chops. Popular entrees include miso sea bass, branzino, filet au poivre, and crispy duck.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Know for its outstanding wine selection and cozy seating, this small restaurant has also made a name over the years for outstanding bistro cuisine.
Gina's expert tip: The only spirits served here are beer and wine
SOUTH FORT MYERS
Photo courtesy of Roadhouse Cafe
From the moment you step into the Roadhouse Cafe, you'll forget you're in a small strip mall in Fort Myers. You might instead think you've been transported to a big city jazz and dinner club, offering something special every night of the week. The restaurant is spacious but still manages to keep an intimate touch; especially in "The Cave." It's a chic, semi-private room that can seat as many as six or as few as two. More public but quite fun are the seats around the grand piano. Not only can you dine and drink there, you'll be nice and close to the dance floor and have great access the musicians if you want them to play a special song.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: A cool atmosphere with talented chefs and world-class musicians makes this a desirable spot for cozying up to your date.
Gina's expert tip: Check out the live 'jazz jam' every Sunday night
Tarpon Lodge is a winding drive through Pine Island, getting there is part of the fun. Dining here gives you a glimpse into the so-called "old Florida," days gone by, where time slows down and superb service takes over. Bronzed Gulf shrimp, bruschetta and blackened "fish bites" get any meal going in the right direction, preparing the palate for the finer things yet to come. How fine? Try these on for size: pork chop with mango chutney, veal picatta, filet mignon with b�arnaise or even Pine Island Sound crab cakes. In addition to the outstanding fare, the lodge also delivers a friendly bar and spectacular views of the water, especially at sunset.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Finding this remote, historic, waterfront spot is half of the fun. The atmosphere is tranquil, the food expertly prepared; you'll want to linger.
Gina's expert tip: Book a room in the historic lodge for a complete evening of romance
Photo courtesy of Shari Brownie Photography
Twinkling tree lights, tiki torches and a lovely wine cellar greet your arrival to Tarpon Bay, the fine dining restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Estero. Even though it's fine dining, the atmosphere is casual with Old Key West style décor and architecture. You can cozy up next to your date in a booth, a quiet table or at one of only eight seats at the Ceviche Bar. Other romantic options include dining on the porch at sunset and watching the lighted fountain come to life in the middle of the estuary's lake. The menu places a heavy emphasis on regional seafood, but you'll be able to find other favorites like Maine Lobster and mouthwatering steaks. After dinner, linger around the fire pit and listen to live jazz on the weekends. You may even stay the night.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: A causal yet elegant beach cottage vibe with well plated, palate pleasing food and sexy jazz for entertainment.
Gina's expert tip: There are two fire pits close to the restaurant, one serves alcohol and the other, Smores.
A farm to table establishment by popular chef Harold Balink, this intimate space only has room for about 30 diners at a time, many of whom are fans of Balink and know each other. Sometimes it feels like your a guest at a special dinner party. The menu changes weekly as chef seeks out seasonal produce and meats from local, small production farms. He is known for making carnivores happy, and the creative preparations found here continually impress critics and followers alike. Wines selections are handpicked and not ones you are likely to find in retail outlets. The staff pays great attention to detail and always make you feel welcomed.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Harold's is a special place, from the personable chef/owner to the professional staff and the superb food in a cozy atmosphere.
Gina's expert tip: Check the chalk board on the wall for rotating wine specials
Il Cielo means "the sky" and the stars seem to always shine at this Sanibel Island spot. The bar is dimly lit and stocked with unique spirits as well as wines from around the world. The glasses are polished, there are linens on the tables, the staff is courteous and knowledgalbe, and the soft piano music each night is the icing on the top to the welcoming ambiance. The menu has a big focus on seafood with both Mediterranean and Asian touches. However the steaks are quite special as well. Desserts are a big part of a romantic night out and Il Cielo has their own pastry chef. Beautifully prepared and presented, they are the perfect end to a fabulous meal here.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Nestled behind tropical foliage, Il Cielo has intimate seating, live piano music, a well trained staff, and a talented kitchen crew making any night special.
Gina's expert tip: Sunday brunch is offered seasonally
Part of Lovers Key Resort, Flippers On The Bay is a hidden gem between Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs. The dining is alfresco and more upscale than one might imagine after taking a gander at restaurant on stilts. As the sun goes down, the low lights come on and the soft breeze begins to blow, it becomes amazingly romantic. While it sits on the Estero Bay, you still have a clear view of the Gulf of Mexico, the sunset, and it's one of the best spots to see the dolphin show, presented by Mother Nature. The food is uniquely influenced by Chef Juan's worldly travels and it never disappoints. This small space fills up fast on the weekends so call ahead for seating.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Flippers is the best hidden gem on Fort Myers Beach with an award winning chef and views of both the sunrise and sunset
Gina's expert tip: Call ahead seating is a good idea on the weekend since reservations are not taken.
Angelina's screams elegance from the moment you pull up to the building. It has plenty of parking but you're on a date, use the valet. If you are dressed beach casual, you may find yourself excluded from eating in the dinning room since there is a dress code, but the bar and patio both have the same great menu, style and romance along with live piano music. You might also enjoy booths with curtains in the main dining room, so you can block out the rest of the world. Wine lovers will be giddy over the 4,000 fantastic selections and the thirty foot wine tower. Try the award winning ravioli stuffed with butternut squash and mascarpone cheese, topped with a citrus tomato butter and truffled almonds; to die for. Molto Bene!
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: An award winning restaurant for both food and wine, where dining is a special event.
Gina's expert tip: Happy Hour is a big deal in the bar where you'll find half off on some appetizers and discounts on bottles of wine
Occupying two old homes dating back to 1902 (they were joined by Peter Pulitzer for his long-time fishing buddy, Fingers O'Bannon, in the early 1970s), the Veranda provides a charming atmosphere and classic cuisine. Specializing in regional flavors and seafood, a restaurant favorite is artichoke fritters stuffed with blue crab. Try the classic table side dessert service for decadence and excitement. The personal yet professional service will enhance your dining experience whether you choose to eat indoors or in the romantic outdoor courtyard. The dining room is in one house, and the lounge is in the other; it features live piano Wednesday to Saturday. This is a perfect place for amore and quiet conversation.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: Charming, romantic, and in a beautiful downtown Fort Myers setting, this restaurant makes for a special evening out.
Gina's expert tip: The general manager has a secret stash of wine, if you want something extra special that is not on the menu.
A beach side dining spot that for decades has been an island favorite for the perfect combination of food and romance. With only about a dozen tables, each one has a spectacular view of the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. The vibe is cozy, with dim lighting and exquisite attention to detail. The menu changes frequently with lots of fish offerings, always a hit, and the bouillabaisse consistently gets rave reviews. Start with a glass of bubbly or another selection from the high-end wine list and perhaps order the foie gras. Other tempting specials include lamb, duck and decadent homemade desserts. Sunset seatings fill up fast so by all means make a reservation. This is a true, waterside gem.
Recommended for Romantic Dining because: This romantic, beachfront den has some of the best food in the area with breathtaking views of the sunset.
Gina's expert tip: The owners often close the Month of September and on Monday's during the off season