Two Chances to Dig In to Cuban Cuisine
Fernandez the Bull, Midtown: 3375 Pine Ridge Road, Naples, (239) 653-9097; North Naples: 1201 Piper Blvd., Naples, (239) 254-9855; fernandezthebull.com
Photo courtesy of Fernandez the Bull
WHY WE LOVE IT: More than 30 years ago, the Fernandez family woke up, smelled the flowers and opened their first Fernandez the Bull, starting what would become Naples’s fascination with their generations-old recipes for stiff Cuban coffees, sweet plantains and more. Over the years, the Bull has made a few bold charges—opening a small spot on Immokalee Road, closing the original location, and, most daringly, adding a newer, bigger eatery on Pine Ridge Road a year ago. Both restaurants are open for black bean soup refills and copious helpings of simmered beef at lunch and dinner, but the younger Bull is the greater showman.
IDEAL MEAL: At the new location, start with a Cuba Libre (an appropriate cocktail, given the island has finally pried open its doors). Unlike the North Naples counterpart, the Midtown café has large, fully stocked indoor-outdoor bar that’s perfect for a tête-à-tête with your favorite colleague or catching a soccer game after work. You can’t go wrong with the de facto national appetizer, ham croquetas, picture-perfect with a golden crust and creamy interior—or the family’s melt-in-your-mouth twist on the ubiquitous Cuban yucca that’s stuffed and deep-fried. When it comes to flavor so intense you’ll find it hard not to run back the next day for seconds, take your pick of three traditional entrées—the picadillo (spiced ground beef), ropa vieja (tomatoey shredded flank steak) and lechon asado (pork braised with lemon).
VIBE: Loosen your tie, roll up your sleeves and dig in. It’s laid-back without being sloppy, and the bar gives the dining room a burst of energy. There’s no shortage of memorabilia, including the front of a 1957 Chevy Bel Air and framed articles reminding guests of the family’s rich history in town.