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Fresh Catch Bistro knows how to keep customers happy

November 27, 2019
By NATHAN MAYBERG (nmayberg@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

For the last three years, Fresh Catch Bistro has been cleaning up at the Fort Myers Beach Observer readers poll awards. The restaurant at 3040 Estero Boulevard has taken home six Best of Fort Myers Beach awards the past three years. This year, their hardware included awards for best seafood restaurant, romantic dining, best appetizer and sunset dining.

After a recent invitation from owners Franco Russo, Jack Heins and manager Jerry Nolan to see what all the commotion was about, it was not hard to see why.

It all starts before the food arrives. The restaurant offers a perfect view of the beach from a spot where the sand runs deep to the backyard of the establishment. The dining room sits high above the ground, with guests having a choice of sitting inside or outside. There are shades on the windows to block out the glare of the sun while still offering a panoramic view outside beginning at 3:30 p.m. for happy hour. Dinner starts at 5 p.m. and the shades are drawn back after sunset. "People enjoy watching the sun go down," Nolan said.

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Fresh Catch Bistro manager Jerry Nolan (left) and executive chef Pablo Felix have been teammates at the popular restaurant since 2013.

NATHAN MAYBERG

The secret to the restaurant is its chef, Pablo Felix, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in New York and New Jersey. To regulars at the restaurant, he is far from a secret. Some call ahead of time to know if he is there and ask about his specials.

Felix puts together a different special each day, mostly concentrating on seafood. Fresh Catch Bistro's menu is about 80 percent seafood, Nolan said. Many of the top-wanted seafood items are available from several different varieties of shrimp to lobster, scallops, Alaskan king crab, grouper and oysters.

A self-taught cook, Felix excels in the spices, sauces and flavors he adds to some of the most popular standard bearers of the menu from prime rib to lamb.

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The chef gives nothing away. The flavors he uses for his sauces are closely guarded. For the pan Asian sauce which is offered for entrees such as the salmon and mahi-mahi, he will only reveal that there are 12 ingredients. That's just one choice for sauces. He also has citurus beurre blanc, lemon butter, tropical fruit salsa and mediterranean.

Felix started at the Fort Myers Beach restaurant in 2013. He points to the whitish sand outside and says "I tell my friends that this is my winter. The sand is my snow."

Before it was known as Fresh Catch Bistro, the restaurant was known as Anthony's On the Gulf.

"We were born because of the BP oil spill," Nolan said.

The Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 hurt businesses on the beach and so the owners, including Franco's late father Alfredo and Tony Scialdone, transformed the establishment from what Nolan called a "regular restaurant" to what it is now.

The building has been through several hurricanes, including Charlie in 2005. The owners also operate Junkanoo next door, which suffered extensive damage. The building has withstood tornados and the business has survived last year's red tide. "There are a million reasons why the restaurant shouldn't be here," Nolan said.

On a midweek late afternoon, the bar is full. Nolan entertains happy hour guests with trivia questions. The winner, Marilyn Brockschmidt of Fort Myers Beach, wins two free drinks after correctly guessing Kurt Russell.

The restaurant has an extensive wine list but it is primarily about the food. One of the top appetizers on the menu is the lollipop lamb chops. Felix serves the lamb with a honey-glazed demi which is a show-stopper.

"A lot of the snowbirds they want comfort food, something heavier in the winter," Felix said. For that, he has braised beef short rib on the menu served with creamy risotto, seasonal vegetables and finished with a sweet onion demi.

Felix says he is really able to use his creativity when it comes to his daily specials, which are chosen based on what his fish and meat providers are stocking.

"I infuse some Latin flare," he said. "I enjoy cooking everything. I even enjoy cooking a hamburger."

One of the most successful ways he introduced his ingenuity was with his spiced pecan and cranberry crusted grouper. "It was a hit," he said.

Felix expects to make some tweaks to the menu before Thanksgiving and is also open to adding vegan and vegetarian offerings to those who want it.

"I try to make everybody happy. It's not easy but I try."

 
 

 

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