Giving residents of the 239 a casual introduction Saturday afternoon, The 239 Naples hosted an open house to share a little taste of what is coming soon to the new restaurant and bar at Mercato in North Naples.
The locally sourced farm-to-table concept with a motto of “Thoughtful Local Dining” plans to launch within the next few weeks in the completely redesigned space that formerly was home to Zoës Kitchen and Taps in the mixed-use lifestyle center off U.S. 41 and Vanderbilt Beach Road. The new venue next to Cavo Lounge and Kilwins promises fresh, clean eating with artisanal foods and craft cocktails locally sourced from a collection of farms, ranches, dairies, hatcheries, bakeries, fisheries, breweries and wineries in Southwest Florida.
“I’ve spent countless months working with all the farms around here, dialing in what it is that they do and what is that they do best and coordinating with them on seasonality, what they grow and how I can apply that to the menu,” said Executive Chef Richard Holdridge said. “We know in winter we’re very vegetable-heavy. During the summer, you’re going to see some more tropical items.”
Visitors to the weekend open house sampled ceviche made with grouper and Gulf shrimp from Captain Jerry’s Seafood in Naples, avocado toast topped with blueberry-peach salsa from 12 Seasons Farm in Fort Myers and plantain chips from Farmer Mike’s U-Pick in Bonita Springs. Most of the restaurant’s menus for brunch, lunch, dinner and late-night bites are created around products within the 239 area code. The left side of the menus even lists many of the other local partners that the restaurant supports, such as Angelic Desserts, Care2Grow mushroom farm, Colusa Farms, DeRomo’s pastaria, Dilly’s Seafood, Inyoni Organic Farm, Jimmy P’s Butcher Shop and Rubee’s Raw Florida Honey.
The 239 owner Steve Sinchek has a home in Naples and in Palo Alto, California, where he operates a similar dining concept, Local Union 271. Sinchek said a little more juggling on the local produce end was necessary here compared to California. “But, there’s a lot of great stuff out here. I think it will be a place to bring all the local folks together,” he said.
Born and raised in Fort Myers, Chef Holdridge previously was executive chef at Paseo Country Club in Fort Myers and front-of-the-house manager at Bayfront Bistro on Fort Myers Beach. He predicts that one of The 239’s most popular items will be the burger made with Jimmy P’s Kobe beef. “Once they start trying different things, our mushroom polenta is going to be phenomenal. Our Florida lobster is going to be phenomenal. Avocado toast with seasonal toppings is going to be great, he said. “Really, everything on that menu is going to be elevated to the point where Southwest Florida hasn’t seen before.”
The former fast-casual Zoës was transformed into a more upscale, modern look with a gastropub feel. “It’s night and day. It didn’t look anything like this,” said General Manager Scott Kanerva, who previously was food and beverage director for Verandah Golf Club and Paseo, both in Fort Myers.
The 3,215-square-foot restaurant will have nearly 200 seats in an open environment with a full, indoor-outdoor bar along its western wall. Garden parties are planned on the patio, where the majority of the seats will be available.
Kanerva said their product is going to separate The 239 from other dining spots. “We’re actually a little bit of everything,” he said. “We probably have the most aggressive craft cocktail program in Naples. We’re also going to have a heavy culinary focus. This is going to be a place to come if you want artisan, well-crafted food that’s set apart from anywhere else. We also have an aggressive wine list with some high-end bottles. So, there’s a little something for everybody here at The 239.”
Kanerva personally really likes The 239’s take on chicken and waffles. “They’re outstanding,” he said. “It’s got that comfort food vibe. It’s a little bit trendy, too. It’s such a good version of it.” The gluten-free dish is made with a panko-breaded chicken thigh, a corn waffle, hot honey butter and micro arugula.
“We want this to feel like home,” Kanerva said. “This is the area code. Our name is literally the area code, so this has to feel like home for everybody.”
The 239 Naples, 9108 Strada Place, Suite 14110, will be open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.