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Like every year, 2013 saw a flurry of activity in the dining scene. Banana cake recipe with sour cream Scores of restaurants opened and closed. Best vegan banana bread recipe And, as we do each year for our dining issue, the Gulfshore Life team set out to survey the culinary landscape for the coming year.

Banana nut bread with cream cheese In doing so, we were struck by one nagging question: Where should we eat now?

We all know the old standards, the venerable establishments that have served us countless wonderful meals over the past years. Moist banana cake recipe with sour cream But where are the new places, the up-and-coming gems, that deserve to be elevated into that pantheon of dining?

So after looking at all the places that opened since November 2012, we came up with a short list of a few dozen places and passed it around to folks in the know—chefs, gourmands, people whose taste buds we trust. Banana bread recipe self raising flour They helped come up with our inaugural list of the 10 best new restaurants in Southwest Florida.

Chef Charles Mereday’s eponymous restaurant has taken dining up a notch in Naples.

With a lot of restaurants—especially buzz-worthy places—it can sometimes be easy to question all the fuss. Rachael ray chocolate chip banana bread After hearing raves from your friends, you have a lovely but otherwise uneventful meal and wonder why everyone was so glowing.

Let’s get this out of the way: Whatever you’ve heard about Mereday’s Fine Dining, it’s so much more. Easy vegan banana bread Once you get past the unconventional menu, devised into three-, four- and five-course meals, and start eating, you’ll wonder what took you so long to get there.

And if chef/owner Charles Mereday lives up to his word, pretty soon we won’t be calling his eponymous spot in Naples Bay Resort the best new restaurant in Collier County; we’ll just be calling it the best restaurant.

“We’re not even 50 percent of where I want us to be in terms of refinement,” Mereday says shortly after serving an impeccable tasting menu featuring the best seared scallop I’ve ever eaten and a luscious foie gras with a raspberry demi-glace that has just the right amount of acid to combat the fatty indulgence of goose liver.

Much more refinement and Naples might have its first place worthy of a Michelin star. Healthy blueberry banana bread And that’s what Mereday’s Fine Dining is angling for. Banana bread with cream cheese recipe Mereday came up cooking at The New York Times-rated four-star Ryland Inn in New Jersey and the three-star Michelin-rated La Maison Troisgos in France. Banana bread with cream cheese Everything on the plate is carefully calibrated for maximum flavor and enjoyment.

Take the simple tomato salad with goat cheese. Healthy banana blueberry bread This humble five-bite offering seems nothing special at first glance. Banana blueberry bread healthy But by pairing a different variety of basil microgreens on each bite, Mereday offers a treatise on the complexity of a humble herb most often thought of as a pesto component or casually tossed in a long-simmering pasta sauce.

All of this great food can be paired with a small but very drinkable wine list that includes some unexpected treats. Paleo blueberry banana bread You don’t see a lot of white Riojas outside of Spain, but there’s a bottle nestled amongst the more commonly seen chardonnays and sauvignon blancs. Mini banana bread recipe It’s a little touch that shows how carefully curated everything is despite the sommelier calling the list “on training wheels.”

Inside, the space hasn’t changed a lot since it was L’Orient or Olio. Vegan banana bread applesauce The Asian inspirations have been stripped away in favor of cool whites and casual blues, all of which showcase the real star of the interior, the views of Naples Bay.

For many restaurateurs, being tucked in the back of Naples Bay Resort would be a difficult sell. Gluten free banana bread recipe Little foot traffic and no roadside presence are definitely a hindrance in drawing crowds. Dairy free banana bread recipe But those are actually selling points for Mereday.

“We want this to be a destination restaurant,” he says. Best vegan banana bread “We want people to plan on dining with us, to make the commitment to enjoy what we have to offer.”

Fish, 4360 Gulf Shore Blvd. Simple vegan banana bread N., Naples. How to freeze banana bread 263-3474,

Most people had high hopes when Sal Sinzieri said he was opening a seafood spot near the Venetian Village location of his lovely Italian place, MiraMare. How to store banana bread But when the expansive menu came out, a few people privately wondered how on earth a restaurant could offer such an enormous selection and make it work night in and night out. Banana cake recipe nz Anyone who doubted has now been convinced otherwise. Banana bread with olive oil Fish offers the best of the Gulf and beyond, prepared simply with great ingredients. Dairy free banana cake recipe Dishes such as alder-wood-grilled rainbow trout with wild mushrooms, bacon, almonds and brown butter or pan-seared, herb-crusted black grouper with tomato confit and braised white asparagus have made Fish the best new seafood place to open in Southwest Florida in the past five years.

Masa, 9123 Strada Place, Suite 7135, Naples. South african banana bread recipe 598-0887,

Another home run from the D’Amico gang—proprietors of Campiello, Cafe Lurcat, and D’Amico and Sons. Quick banana cake recipe As with its previous restaurants, the company took a concept it perfected in Minneapolis and brought it fully realized to Southwest Florida. Moist banana walnut bread So when Masa opened, it hit the ground running, churning out amazing, authentic Mexican cuisine in a tremendous Mercato location. Allrecipes com banana bread Since then, it’s hard to walk by without seeing a packed house. Banana bread with peanut butter It’s worth going just for the chips and salsa alone, which outpace other spots in town by several orders of magnitude. Banana nut loaf recipe We love the kick of the habanero-infused Diabolita margarita and can’t get enough of the pork steamed in banana leaf.

With a modern, comfortable dining room and food made from local vendors, The Local has quickly become one of the must visit restaurants in Naples.

The Local, 5323 Airport-Pulling Road N., Naples. Banana bread no butter 596-3276,

We waited for what seemed like years for the folks behind this locally sourced restaurant to get up and running. Fluffy banana bread recipe Turns out getting the permits to revamp even a former restaurant location is tough. Banana muffins with buttermilk But when it finally opened, our patience was rewarded tenfold. Banana cake no butter Founded by two chefs who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, the food has been spot on from the start. Banana bread recipe jamie oliver From the simple touches—a decadently creamy white bean puree offered instead of butter with fresh bread—to the big dishes—braised lamb with house-made silk handkerchief pasta, peas and mint pesto—the flavors are bold. Super healthy banana bread Add in a sleek, stylish dining room and the feel-good factor of knowing you are supporting local farmers, all of which make The Local one of our favorite new spots.

Osteria Tulia, 466 Fifth Ave. Banana loaf recipe jamie oliver S., Naples. Banana cake recipe jamie oliver 213-2073,

Chef Vincenzo Betulia wowed us for almost a decade at Campiello, with his sophisticated take on classic Italian food from around “The Boot.” But since he opened his own spot last year, he’s really come into his own, cooking the rustic cuisine of his Sicilian heritage. Coconut flour banana bread recipe We can say without reservation that his pastas, made in-house daily, are already the best in Southwest Florida, offering the perfect balance between tender and chewy and soaking in the flavors of his amazing sauces. Nutella banana bread recipe Try the torchio—aptly named for their hollowed out torch shape—with Portuguese octopus, bone marrow and red wine sauce. Banana oat bread healthy Or perhaps you’d prefer the tortelloni with roasted beef short rib, foie gras emulsion and marsala wine. Cream cheese banana bread recipe We dare you to find better.

The Chapel Grill, 811 Seventh Ave. Easy healthy banana bread S., Naples. 2 banana muffin recipe 206-4310,; Thai Udon Cafe, 5926 Premier Way, Suite 116, Naples. Banana bread made with cake mix 596-7331,; Veranda E, 290 Fifth Ave. Soft banana cake recipe S., Naples. Banana date nut bread 325-3474,

Chef Marbin Avilez pulls from a variety of influences to take diners on a culinary journey at The Firestone.

You won’t hear a lot of restaurant owners cite a theme park as inspiration, but Mike McGuigan says he took a lot of what he and his partners are trying to accomplish from the Epcot Center.

“Everything there is an immersive experience,” he says. Simple healthy banana bread recipe “When you are in China, you feel like you are in China.”

So McGuigan, and his partners, the Kearns family, set out to create immersive dining experiences named for some of Fort Myers’ most famous former residents. Gluten free banana nut bread Although they kicked off their domination of the downtown dining market with Ford’s Garage (see p. Gluten free banana bread mix 125 for more), The Firestone is clearly the crown jewel of the empire.

With three floors of dining and bars, plus the best rooftop bar this side of Miami, the restaurant is built to offer something for everyone. Fluffy banana cake recipe The attention to what the customer wants is so acute that things change depending on the time you arrive.

“Our servers’ uniforms change slightly based on the time of day,” McGuigan says. Best banana bread machine recipes Zak Kearns, the company’s VP and son of partner Daniel Kearns Sr., says that how the spaces are used changes, too. Banana bread in a bundt pan Some of the seating areas on the rooftop Sky Bar go from casual gathering places to VIP, bottle service areas once the shift is made into nightclub mode.

Inside the main dining spaces on the first two floors, the aesthetic is sort of industrial chic, with acid-washed steel walls and a conveyor belt moving tires overhead. Moist banana cake recipe from scratch The light fixtures are customized to look like something McGuigan saw in an old photograph.

“Everything we do is meticulously researched and carefully thought out,” he says. Gluten free banana bread That’s the only way to get the immersive atmosphere.

Of course, none of that would matter if the food was bad. Banana muffin recipe 2 bananas “The menu is really the heart of what we are doing,” Zak Kearns says.

To create the vision of an upscale eatery, without the soaring prices (all dishes come in at less than $30), the partners hired Marbin Avilez. Banana bread no baking powder Although he learned his trade at his grandmother’s side in his native Nicaragua, his cooking draws from myriad influences. Low fat low sugar banana bread You’ll taste the French flavors in a wood-fire-grilled scallop with a roasted tomato and Boursin cheese sauce. Good food banana bread His butter fish, the restaurant’s biggest seller, skews Asian with a soy sauce glaze and wasabi mashed potatoes. Food network banana bread Then there are vegetables by way of, well, everywhere—wood-fired broccoli smothered in a sauce made from bleu cheese smoked on site.

All of which is to say that, although The Firestone might lure you in with a hip interior, a ravishing sunset view of the Caloosahatchee and top-notch service and amenities, you’ll keep going back for the food.

The signature etouffee at Fancy’s Southern Cafe is just one of many down-home classics that have made the restuarant one of our favorites.

Fancy’s Southern Cafe, 8890 Salrose Lane, Fort Myers. Bbc food banana bread 561-2988,

We’ve long pined for some Southern flavoring in Southwest Florida, and the brothers behind Fancy’s have certainly obliged. Food processor banana bread A quick look at the menu—peppered with items such as frog legs, chicken and waffles, catfish and deviled eggs—lets you know the kind of meal you have coming. Mini banana bread muffins The charming, down-home chic atmosphere coupled with a mean etouffee go a long way in our books to making Fancy’s a regular stop. Bread pudding with bananas But really, they had us at deep-fried cheese grits and crispy fried chicken. Bbc good food banana bread That all but two entrees top out at less than $20 means our wallets stay as robust as our waistlines.

Fish Tale Grill, 1229 SE 47th Terrace, Cape Coral. Food wishes banana bread 257-3167,

Merrick’s Seafood has long been a go-to spot in the Cape to grab some quality fish to take home to cook. 100 days of real food banana bread But what if you aren’t in the mood to do the work? By taking the same super-high-quality seafood it is still selling to local restaurants and cutting out the middle man, Patrick and Kerry Krieg have created the Cape’s best new seafood place. Wholefood simply banana bread Rare is the dish that doesn’t best its pricier competitors, thanks to two talented chefs hired away from CrU. Vegan banana nut bread The Kriegs hope to keep expanding the restaurant and menu to take advantage of their bountiful catches. Mini banana bread loaves That’s good news for seafood lovers in Lee County.

Ford’s Garage, locations in Fort Myers, Cape Coral and Estero. Banana bread with coconut flour

This local chain has quickly taken Southwest Florida by storm, jumping from one location to three in less than a year, with more on the way. Banana bread with wheat flour The concept is simple. Banana bread with rice flour Ford’s is just a neighborhood burgers and beer joint. Best banana cake recipe nz The execution is what sets it apart. Banana bread using pancake mix The ingredients are top-notch, the beer selection bold and diverse and the atmosphere anything but cookie-cutter. How to make banana pancakes with pancake mix There’s just enough kitsch, with the old-fashioned gas pumps and early-model cars, but the substance is thoroughly modern and fun. Banana bread with baking powder instead of baking soda Another great concept from the folks behind our best new restaurant in Lee: The Firestone.

Mad Fresh Bistro, 12995 Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers. Banana bread made with almond flour 362-2363,

Last season, the owners of what was Mad Fresh Urban Takeout decided it was time to stop the in-and-out churn of customers at their shop just north of Bell Tower Shops. Three ingredient banana bread So they closed it down and reopened with their take on a modern bistro. Sweet potato banana bread The results are the same fun, funky menu in a vibrant atmosphere. Buttermilk banana bread martha stewart If you are looking for a quiet, staid dining experience, then Mad Fresh isn’t for you. Gluten free sugar free banana bread But if you are looking for bold flavors and a lively crowd, you’ve hit the right spot. Moist banana muffin recipe Just typing out descriptions for dishes such as the Euro Meaty—Serrano ham, chorizo, salami and arugula salad open-faced on French bread and topped with a rich house specialty spread—or the MadFresh quinoa salad—with walnuts, tomatoes, scallions, red onions, red peppers, baby spinach and a shallot vinaigrette—makes us hungry. Banana bread taste of home Edit Module Show Tags

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