Sizzle SWFL Restaurant Week features Cape eateries
By KATIE EGAN
For two weeks, Southwest Floridians can take the price factor away and focus solely on participating restaurants’ menus.
The Winter 2019 Edition of Sizzle SWFL Restaurant Week is almost here and it’s a great excuse to cross the county line and drive over the bridges to try new food.
“Sizzle Week is really neat because we’ve eliminated the pricing problem,” said Guy, Clarke, co-founder of the Food Idea Group. “Now you’re really looking at the menu and picking where you want to go by the menu.”
And that unlocks countless food options.
From Dec. 2 to 15, each of the 67 participating restaurants throughout Southwest Florida will offer a three-course prix fixe dinner menu for $26 or $36, some with special upgrades. Restaurants may also offer two-course prix fixe lunch menus for $16 or $21, and/or brunch for $21 or $26.
Menus for participating restaurants can be found at swflrestaurantweek.com/sizzlemenus.
One dollar from each restaurant meal sold will also go toward the Sizzle SWFL FGCU Food & Beverage Scholarship.
This is the seventh semi-annual, charity-driven SWFL Sizzle Restaurant Week, which is put on by the Food Idea Group.
Along with the restaurants, suppliers and employees, Clarke and his partner, Rafael J. Feliciano, are the driving force behind restaurant week, which also has another event in the spring.
Now in its third year, SWFL Sizzle Restaurant Week has grown from 26 participating restaurants to more than 60.
This year during the Winter 2019 Edition of Sizzle SWFL Restaurant Week, powered by Linga POS, the presenting sponsor, patrons will see a couple of new Cape Coral restaurants on the list.
Gather will return and its sister restaurant, Fathoms Restaurant & Bar, will join them.
Gather’s appetizer menu will include crispy brussels sprouts, homemade chorizo devil eggs, coconut red curry pei mussel or watermelon and heirloom tomato burrata. For $4 more, patrons can upgrade their appetizer to sea scallops a la plancha or homemade wagu beef meatballs.
There are four options for dinner: roasted porcini mushrooms risotto, sesame crusted tuna tataki, New Zealand lamb meatloaf or sous-vide pork chop. For $7 more, you can upgrade your entre to pan-seared wild caught triple tail. Dessert includes red velvet doughnuts, Norman Love Confections tiramisu or Grand Marnier chocolate mousse.
“Gather has always been a part of it,” Clarke said. “They had such a great turnout, they decided to put Fathoms on the board, and we are really excited about that.”
For an appetizer, Fathom’s Restaurant & Bar will have a choice of crispy crab eggrolls, Fathom’s house salad or chicken liver mousse pate. For $4 more, patrons can order tomato and burrata or a tsunami roll.
Dinner is spicy Italian sausage and orecchiette pasta, chimichurri grilled ahi tuna steak or free-range wood stone roasted chicken breast. For $6, you can look forward to sterling silver sous-vide pork chop or Fathoms steak frites. Dessert is Norman Love key lime pie or a salted caramel gelato bun.
This year, Point 57 Kitchen & Cocktails’ new owner has decided to bring it back to restaurant week.
Its appetizer menu will include caprese dip, a house salad, crab and corn fritters, Caesar salad or shrimp ceviche. For entrees, guests can select pork chop, filet mignon, short rib, snapper or seafood risotto. For dessert, you’ll get the choice of strawberry shortcake or bananas foster.
Redfish Point Garden Bar & Grill is the newest member.
Patrons who dine at Redfish Point will have the option of these appetizers: French onion soup, caprese salad or a tuna poke bowl. Dinner includes Thai redfish, filet Oscar, roasted tomato and eggplant risotto or prosciutto-wrapped scallops. For dessert, there’s chocolate raspberry mousse or apple pie a la mode.
SWFL Sizzle Restaurant Week began with a more Naples-heavy restaurant list, but the goal has always been to keep expanding into Lee County.
Next year, Clarke hopes to add more restaurants from Lee, including more spots in Cape Coral, and he’d like to see restaurants on Sanibel and Captiva Islands get on the board.
“The growth into Lee has been good,” he said. “It’s not where we feel it could be, especially considering Cape Coral’s huge food growth in their food scene.
“We think this year coming up in 2020, between spring and winter, we will probably double the growth into Lee.”
Restaurant week raised a little over $20,000 last year for the Sizzle SWFL FGCU Food & Beverage Scholarship.
The scholarship aims to impact local high school graduates interested in attending Florida Gulf Coast University’s School of Resort & Hospitality Management. By encouraging students to complete the program and gain employment locally, the scholarship will help local restaurants by increasing the number of qualified staff in the area.
“Those students might want to stay here and become full time employees and FGCU is all for that,” Clarke said.
Sizzle SWFL Restaurant Week has raised more than $100,000 for local charities, with more than $25,000 of that going to the FGCU scholarship since its inception in spring 2018.
One difference about this year’s winter restaurant week compared to past events is that the Sizzle First Bite is back.
“People get to be the first to see and taste the menus,” Clarke said. “We sold out tickets this year. If you’re lucky enough to be the first to taste everything then that is a treat.”
This year, a couple more restaurants are doing lunch menus. Some are doing brunch.
There are also more vegan options.
Clarke says at least 12 restaurants are doing a three-course vegan menu.
“It’s really exciting to see how the food scene has changed this year,” he said. “This last year I saw a remarkable change in the acceptance of vegan and vegetarian dishes in mainstream restaurants.”
During restaurant week, it’s easier for consumers to really consider where they want to eat based on the menu.
This also helps the food scene grow.
Restaurants are now competing menu to menu, which means they have to be more creative to stand out.
“Then you really have to go hard,” Clarke said. “Making them really think about things if they want to compete in this scene.”
And it’s paid off.
Clarke has heard from restaurants that customers have gone back and asked for entrees made for the sizzle menu to be included on the regular menu.
Besides helping the restaurants out in an otherwise slower time, SWFL Sizzle Restaurant Week has had a trickle down effect to practically everyone involved.
“Restaurant week doesn’t just help restaurants out,” Clarke said. “It helps local farmers, food purveyors, and it’s not just restaurants that are benefiting. They have to buy food, get linens, wash dishes, buy dishes, the servers make more money. The trickle down effect has been astronomical.”
The overall goal of SWFL Sizzle Restaurant Week is to bring new people to restaurants who may not have been there before.
“Now we’re eliminating the price factor and evening the playing field,” Clark said.
“You could be like, ‘Oh, I heard about this. My friends told me. I haven’t been there. Now it’s only this amount of money so I’m going to go.'”
Clarke also wants to see the Southwest Florida restaurant scene keep growing and getting stronger.
“We want to start setting trends,” Clarke said. ‘Right now, we are steakhouse, seafood, Italian, somewhat snowbirdy and touristy. We want more. More ethnicity, more ethnic food, more crazy food.”
“We’ll never be that big and that’s fine, but we can have those choices,” he said
* * *
Participating Cape Coral Restaurants:
*Gather: 5971 Silver King Boulevard, Suite 116
*Fathoms Restaurant & Bar: 5785 Cape Harbour Drive, No. 106
*Redfish Point Garden Bar & Grill: 1520 Lafayette Street
* Point 57 Kitchen & Cocktails: 3522 Del Prado Boulevard South