Although our area is known for amazing and varied outdoor activities, our culinary scene continues to grow and excite.
In fact, there are so many stellar local restaurants in Punta Gorda that it’s been nominated for the 2020 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards - Best Small Town Food Scene. Not only that, it’s the only Florida town nominated!
Voting begins today, June 1, and is open until noon on Monday, June 29. The 10 winning small towns will be announced July 10.
In honor of this nomination, we’ve compiled a list of Punta Gorda restaurants offering exemplary food and drink, service, ambiance, and some special extras:
Carmelo’s Italian Ristorante: OpenTable named them as one of The 100 Best Al Fresco Restaurants in America and a quick look at the Awards page of their website reveals plenty of other accolades, including more from OpenTable and from Harbor Style and TripAdvisor. For their re-opening, Carmelo’s has re-done their floors and brick walls, and added hand-sanitizer stations and plexiglass guards. These safety measures serve as icing on the cake of the seriously-wonderful-food that is their menu. Visit their Facebook page for specials and updates and, try the Bada Bing Pasta. Trust.
Dean’s South of the Border is a family-owned and operated Tex-Mex treasure routinely recommended by locals and visitors alike. A community institution since 1992—with a brief hiccup in 2004 when their building was destroyed by Hurricane Charley and they moved to a nearby building, renovated, and reopened a month later—Dean’s is a comfortable, cozy, friendly neighborhood place with great food and a relaxed atmosphere. They're continuing their takeout service, and have recently started up live music again, with limited reserved seating. Whether you get the food to go or enjoy dining in, Dean’s always provides a good experience.Their Facebook page is chock-full of updates and enticing food images, check it out.
Fat Point Brewing is Charlotte County’s first craft brewery, producing a nice selection of fresh, local, hand-crafted, critically-acclaimed beers. Yes, this blog post is about food, but we need to give credit where it’s due: Fat Point’s beers have earned various medals: gold and silver at both the U.S. Open Beer Championship and Best Florida Beer Championships; silver and bronze at the 2019 U.S. Open Beer Championship; and bronze at the Best Florida Beer Championships. Their food, to get back on topic, is head-and-shoulders above “standard bar fare” and includes their own house-made beer cheese. Good eats, award-winning beer, a fun atmosphere, a pet-friendly outdoor beer garden, and periodic bingo and trivia nights, live music, and guest food trucks make Fat Point Brewing a must-visit in Punta Gorda. Visit their Facebook page for updates and schedules.
F.M. Don’s recently reopened their newly refurbished dining room, a lovely space where you can see the history of Punta Gorda on the walls. Chef/Partner Keith Meyer became a “Punta Gorda favorite,” soon after moving here. He uses French techniques and keeps his menu “fresh, varied and approachable.” You’ll sometimes see him in the dining room, revealing cooking techniques and checking in with diners, which demonstrates the restaurant's “…genuine desire to meet and exceed the expectations of [their] guests.” They’re already offering deals including their popular Filet and Cabernet special and live music on weekends; visit their Facebook page for more. Definitely worth a special trip.
Italia at River City Grill: the food photos on their Facebook page alone will make you want to visit, but there’s so much more! Italia buys most of their produce from local growers exhibiting commitment to “quality, organic living, and environmentally-friendly farming.” They also use fresh clams harvested from local waters, the finest Italian cheeses available, and only fresh mussels, fish, and chicken. They even raise their own Red Angus cattle at Onion River Ranch. After 17 years in business, it’s clear they know what they’re doing food-wise. Lately, they’ve also been creating an inspiring and fun video series on how to make some of their signature cocktails that made us very thirsty!
Nino’s Bakery is family-owned and operated and has baking roots going back seven generations, with ties to New York City. This full bakery also serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, has a full bar, and sells their wares at the much-loved Punta Gorda Farmer’s Market (also recently reopened). They’ve been voted the #3 bakery in Florida by BestThingsFl.com, and are often called a “hidden gem” (by FloridaLifeStyleNow.com for example). With new dine-in and takeout menus and a dedicated cleaning crew for their indoor dining room, Nino’s is ready to safely re-open but will continue their online ordering and pick up services. They hope to bring their weekly entertainment, High Stax Poker, and Karaoke back soon; follow their Facebook page for updates.
Peace River Seafood: this community gem recently re-opened for indoor and outdoor dining, to the excitement of many locals, seasonal residents, and visitors alike! Those who like seafood know that Peace River is the place to go, just read a few of the reviews on their website. They’re happy to be offering some fun new beers in addition to their much-loved regular menu. Bonus: you can find locally-sourced honey, cold-pressed juice, and more at their produce and seafood market, which is running again as well. Word of advice: do not miss the Blue Crabs! Follow them on Facebook to get clued in.
Sandra's Restaurant - Authentic German & European Cuisine: talk about legit! Sandra’s is German-owned and operated, and serves authentic German and European cuisine using their own traditional family recipes. They also offer partially-baked Authentic German Breads made with fresh, natural ingredients and no artificial preservatives, flavoring or coloring. (Bake at home for 20 minutes—give or take, times vary—for a perfect fresh-baked loaf of bread, pretzel or pretzel roll, German roll, or apple strudel.) Their warm and relaxing dining room reopened May 6, and they’re starting lunch again the week of June 1. They’ve created a lot of summer specials which can be found on their Facebook page, and are back to featuring live music on the weekends. Pro-tip: Schnitzel night is Wednesday.
The Celtic Ray Public House has been recognized as one of the best Irish Pubs in Florida and the food, beer, and atmosphere are appropriately amazing (do we even need to say, “Fish and Chips?" Didn’t think so!). What’s newly intriguing is the podcast series on the life of publican Kevin Doyle. Professionally conducted and produced by Zimco Entertainment—the go-to Trivia Night company for our area and other southwest Florida destinations—this is seriously interesting listening. There are six episodes so far, all of which can be found here. Enter “Doyle” in the search box or look for “Kevin Doyle – You’ll Be On The Celtic Ray.” Find them on Facebook for updates, event schedules, and more.
The Ice House Pub is an authentic English-styled pub housed a building built in the 1890s that was, indeed, an ice plant. With 26 taps dispensing the best beers from around the world (like Guinness, Boddingston's, Stella Artois, etc.), British-style pub entertainment including competition-style dart boards, and a full British-themed menu of staples like Fish 'n Chips, Cottage Pie, and Bangers & Mash (as well as American favorites like cheeseburgers, steak sandwiches, and giant salads), The Ice House Pub is a destination in itself. Excellent reviews on their Facebook page extol the virtues of everything from the food and atmosphere to the beer and servers. They have also hosted numerous dart tournaments for the benefit of local schools and organizations. The Ice House is definitely a community asset.
The Perfect Caper: the lauded Asian-French cuisine at The Perfect Caper is inspired by Chef Jeanie Roland’s world travels. A multi-time nominee for a James Beard Foundation Best Chef in the South award, Chef Roland did actually beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network show Beat Bobby Flay, and has competed on Iron Chef Gauntlet. The Perfect Caper is the only Charlotte County restaurant to earn a Golden Spoon Award, Florida’s top culinary nod. Chef Roland and her husband/business manager James Roland are working to safely re-open their exquisite display-kitchen restaurant. You can purchase her cookbook, Butter, Love & Cream, online. Follow their Facebook page for updates on their re-opening so you won’t miss your chance to experience truly top-notch dining.
The Pier at Fishermen’s Village: the executive chef at The Pier is Todd Stolpe, who has been on the culinary teams of four Super Bowls and many other prestigious events, including high-end private dinners for Prince Albert of Monaco and former U.S. presidents Bush, Clinton, and Obama; he was awarded the Culinary Medal for Excellence in Service by Obama himself! Chef Stolpe’s menu is a healthy twist on “Florida food” married “with the traditional flavors and cooking techniques of Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and the Pacific Rim,” resulting in fresh, beautiful, and surprising entrees. Understandably, the reviews are very good. There’s also some fun to be had on The Pier’s Facebook page, including Chef Ryan Spaulding sharing some of his background, philosophy, and a “fun fact,” and Chef Noah Copenhaver—a graduate of the local culinary program at Charlotte Tech—making scrumptious-looking sushi in a cool high-speed video.
Of course, we’ve barely scratched the surface of our splendiferous food scene, so we encourage everyone to explore our entire area for new and different restaurants and experiences. And of course, we hope you’ll vote daily for Punta Gorda!
Bon appetit, and stay safe, everyone!