Cork and Barrel
15880 San Carlos Blvd., Fort Myers, (239) 208-8889, corkandbarrelfortmyers.com
Why We Love It: If a Napa tasting room and a spacious suburban restaurant had a love child, we think it’d come out looking and feeling a lot like this. Wine barrels doubling as coffee tables, cork panel accent walls, a large bar plus plenty of four-tops, it’s a place to commune after a long day—and unwind over wine, cocktails and gourmet small plates. With several long tables in the dining room and a philosophy based on sharing, it is also an ideal spot for larger groups.
Ideal Meal: From when the doors open daily at 4 p.m. (except Sunday, when it’s closed), the kitchen churns out an impressive array of tapas, but these are not the kind you’d find in Spain. The menu seamlessly fuses clever twists to comforts from your favorite sports bar, like wings with a sweet chili glaze (plus a hot sauced version for purists), and appetizers from your favorite datenight restaurants, such as bacon-wrapped scallops, gnocchi enveloped in smoky bleu cheese and the signature deconstructed onion soup (crunchy purse pockets bursting with sautéed onions served alongside cheesy crostini). Everything from flatbreads to New Zealand lamb “lollies” is designed with nibbling in mind: Order a few plates, then more depending on how hungry you are— but if you can’t leave without a piece of meat and vegetables to call your own, the daily specials most resemble traditional entrees.
Vibe: Arrive in your suit, stay until you loosen your tie. “When people come in for the first time, we explain the plates are smaller—it’s about conversation, spending some time together,” says owner Richard Howard. “We don’t push people to turn tables over. Our approach is more, ‘come in and relax and meet some new people.’”