Betulia should know. A Naples resident and working chef here for 17 years, the native of Italy has opened three popular concepts on 5th Avenue South in the last few years: Osteria Tulia, specializing in Italian; the adjacent Bar Tulia; and, in early 2017, The French Brasserie Rustique. All three are thriving.
As is the overall dining scene on the Paradise Coast. In just the last couple of years, Naples restaurants have earned a generous helping of national recognition. Conde Naste Traveler placed Naples on its Top 20 Best Foodie Cities list. USA Today ranked the city No. 9 on its survey of Best Small Town Food Scenes in the U.S. Naples also starred in an episode of Emeril’s Florida for The Cooking Channel and the Food Network.
“America is really waking up to the idea that the culinary world doesn’t boil down to New York City, Chicago and San Francisco,” Betulia says. “Being the sleepy beach town that Naples was — and in some ways still is — shows that there’s a culinary revolution taking place.”
A French Twist
The 230-seat brasserie — known simply as “the French” — incorporates Italian influences in a pasta dish like Pappardelle with Braised Rabbit, and also offers staples such as Steak Frites, Escargot with puff pastry, Beef Tartare, and French onion soup. The place does robust business year round. “Naples has become much less seasonal in the last five years or so,” says the chef/owner.
Betulia has seen a transformation of the Paradise Coast’s restaurant clientele in recent years. “The customer evolution is very apparent,” he says. “The locals are very well traveled. And the visitors, even ones coming to spend a weekend, are more discerning. They have elevated their game, so it’s extremely important that we stay on top of our game. Not just me, everyone.”
Elegant Indian Cuisine
While 5th Avenue South might be restaurant row, there are great eateries throughout Naples, Marco Island, The Everglades, and, for that matter, all of Collier County. Case in point: 21 Spices by Chef Asif, just 10-minute drive southeast of downtown.
Definitely not your typical Indian restaurant — 21 Spices occupies a big, beautifully appointed space with an adjoining bar. Chef Asif serves upscale Indian food. Tandoori chicken is juicy and succulent. A revelation. The Biryani (chicken, veggie, shrimp or goat) mingles with basmati rice and fragrant spices in a doughy shell.
A White-Tablecloth Meal … right on the beach
It’s not everywhere that you can enjoy a sophisticated meal with your toes in the sand. That’s why the Turtle Club, on the water in North Naples, can be advanced booked for two to three weeks during peak season. (The restaurant recommends reservations for dinner, but does not take them for lunch.)
The Turtle Club is not a place that serves typical beach fare. Its menu includes Pan Seared Low Country Shrimp & Sausage, Roasted Grouper & Lump Crab, Grilled Florida Mahi Mahi & Shrimp, and other delectables.
Eating this well on the sand has become very popular. “We have visitors eat here, then make a reservation for the following year,” says GM Curtis McCreary.
The Gulf of Mexico laps onto the beach about 100 feet from the Turtle Club’s 14 outdoor tables. And that means … sunsets. They go quite well with a fine meal.