The first new area restaurant to launch in the two weeks since Hurricane Ian’s landfall in Southwest Florida opens for dinner tonight on Bayshore Drive in East Naples.
The Med, a Mediterranean restaurant concept, has transformed the building and backyard vacated last spring by Sicilia Bar, Pizza & Pub, which operated for more than three years in a small space on the corner of Bayshore Drive and Lunar Street that previously was The Anchor Bar & Grill, Ozzy’s Place, Bayshore Breeze Inn and The Ship’s Inn Tavern.
Naples resident Mary Brandt, the longtime owner of Hotel Escalante and its Veranda E restaurant on the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue South and Third Street South, is behind The Med, part of the local renaissance of the Bayshore Arts District.
“We’re definitely geared to the community,” Brandt said. “We know there will be a lot of people walking to us and golf-carting to us. We’re just very excited to be there. It’s a wonderful location.”
The Med plans to support that area of East Naples still trying to dry out and rebuild after being damaged by Ian’s storm surge. “You can really tell it’s hurting,” Brandt said. “So, we’re going to be supporting Harmony Shores (a nearby mobile home park that was evacuated after flooding) during this time, too. That’s going to be one of our menu items. People can support them and we’re going to be participating in delivering hot food to them because they don’t have any power or water. It’s just so very sad.”
Brandt feels fortunate that her hotel and beachfront home in Naples received only minimal damage from the hurricane. “We are so blessed,” she said. “We are so grateful in so many ways.”
Ian’s storm surge mostly spared The Med although it damaged most of the organic greens and herbs planted in aeroponic garden towers outside the restaurant. “We were really fortunate at The Med,” Brandt said. “We had very, very little water. I had my tower gardens all planted. They were ready to go for like the first big harvest. So, I had to replant everything. Everything in that tower now, except some very large ones I was able to save, are all new plantings.”
The Med, branded as an “artisan eatery,” will feature an eclectic menu that changes weekly. “The menu is inspired by our favorite items from the Mediterranean,” said Brandt, noting that co-partner and longtime restaurant manager Tommy Francavilla is responsible for bringing to life many of the dishes. “He’s going to be in the kitchen. He’s culinary trained as well. He’s putting his final touches on everything, which is very exciting.”
Francavilla is classically trained in France and has worked with Brandt at Hotel Escalante. He oversees The Med’s kitchen, where a lot of the menu items will be based on his family recipes from growing up in Puglia, the southern region of Italy that forms the heel of the nation’s boot.
“We are in this together and he’s the inspiration behind the menu and will be the driving force for our operational success,” Brandt said. “He lives right around the corner, and we are equally passionate about making The Med a shining star on Bayshore.”
After enjoying her initial taste of The Med’s opening week menu, Brandt raved about the organic whole rotisserie chickens for two. Deboned tableside and served with roasted potatoes, the chickens are prepared with black truffles or lemon and rosemary flavor options.
Brandt also recommends pear-stuffed pasta with gorgonzola bechamel and toasted walnuts as well as the restaurant’s pizzas, making good use of the pizza oven left behind by Sicilia. “The pistachio pizza is incredible,” she said. “I was just in Venice, and I was showing everyone the pictures. It looks exactly like the pizza I had in Venice.”
The Med has three options each for rossa (red) and bianca (white) pizzas. The option mentioned by Brandt is a white pizza with mortadella, burrata and pistachios. Other white options have truffle essence or imported prosciutto. Pizzas with tomato sauce include vegetarian varieties with grilled vegetables and ricotta or mozzarella and basil, as well as a meaty choice with chorizo three ways: spicy, crunchy, and minced.
The initial menu features a dozen starters, including gazpacho, seafood carpaccio, scallops crudo, Greek salad, mussels, a charcuterie board and The Med dip platter with hummus, baba ganoush, tzatziki, feta and olives. The Med Bruschetta is topped with garlic-toasted Pugliese bread, heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini and peppers.
The Med has a half-dozen shareable “Land & Sea” options such as chicken souvlaki, lamb chops, whole branzino and eggplant parmigiana. The brief menu also has pasta choices, sides and desserts.
Although definitely different, The Med shares some similarities with its sister restaurant, Veranda E. “Excellent food, excellent service — that’s similar,” Brandt said. “Trying to be unique, having a uniqueness to it. Also, I think some people will see when they come in that it has a little bit of the same look, a little bit eclectic from a design side. Lots of gardens, tower gardens are there like they are at the Escalante.”
The Med, 3929 Bayshore Drive, is open only for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and closed Mondays. “We’re not doing reservations until later so it’s just first-come, first-served walk-in,” Brandt said. “That’s probably what we’re doing for the next couple of weeks. Nov. 1, we’ll be on Resy for reservations.”