Prior to this past winter, Traditions on the Beach — located at the historic Island Inn — had been a private restaurant, open only to people staying on property and their invited guests.
However, as of Dec. 24, 2010, that "tradition" has changed.
"They way (the restaurant) used to be operated, it was run like a private club," said Andrea Mucciga, Food & Beverage Director at Traditions on the Beach. "We decided to open it up to the public, and the people have reacted fabulously."
According to Mucciga, an award-winning restauranteur with more than two decades of experience on the islands, the facility underwent several renovations in the fall. Among the most significant at the restaurant includes converting a closet into a new bar and lounge area adjacent to the main dining room.
"Before, people use to come here just to eat," said Mucciga, previously owner of Bellini's on Captiva as well as Dolce Vita and Riviera Restaurant on Sanibel. "Now they're coming in to relax, enjoy our expanded menu, listen to live music and do a little dancing."
Among the items featured on Traditions' menu are the jumbo lump crab, served with a white remoulade sauce, baked spinach oysters, sizzling escargot mushrooms, salumeria mediterraneo (imported parma prosciutto, salami, dolce gorgonzola, sopressata and melon), hazelnut-crusted tuna steak, oven crisp duck "au figs" and Moroccan spiced lamb chops.
"It's a light, Mediterranean/Italian menu... everything is made fresh, with fresh ingredients," added Mucciga.
On the dessert menu, Traditions features the "ultimate" Florida key lime pie, tiramisu, cappuccino truffle bombe glace and amaretto caramel flan brulee.
"People are telling their friends that if they really want to experience Sanibel, this is the place they want to eat," said Mucciga. "It's a very special spot, overlooking the beach. This is the best location I've ever worked at in my 23 years on the islands."
Chris Davison, Vice President of Operations at the Island Inn, agrees.
"This property is 10 acres... we have 550 feet of beachfront... but we only have 49 accommodations," explained Davison, who joined the Island Inn staff about a year ago. "We have the lowest density of any accommodation on Sanibel. We're a historic inn, but with modern conveniences."
Established in 1885, the Island Inn began as the home of Will and Harriet Matthews and their four children, who traded in the harsher climate of the north for the more temperate, year round weather of Sanibel. Constantly entertaining friends and relatives from the north who flocked to visit, the Matthews decided to turn their beachfront home into a boarding house.
Among the $250,000 worth of renovations completed over the past six months include landscaping enhancements, replacement of worn flooring in several buildings, flat screen TVs and DVD/CD players added to all rooms and complimentary Wi-Fi service for guests.
"The Island Inn has always had a special Sanibel charm for our guests," said Davison. "Many have been coming for more than five decades, and we wanted to upgrade the facilities while ensuring that our cottages and rooms could provide the level of comfort that modern guests have come to expect."
Davison noted that phase two of a four-part renovation plan will take place this summer, including the installation of new furniture and artwork to each accommodation, replacing carpeted flooring with tile and enhancements to the inn's entrance and reception areas.
"Even though we're not really 'new,' we are a place that has yet to be discovered by some local residents," added Davison. "We'd love for people to try out the restaurant, or spend a couple of nights here. Then, tell all their family and friends about us."
To inquire about Traditions on the Beach, open for breakfast Monday to Saturday from 8 to 10 a.m. and Sunday from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. (a Sunday Jazz Brunch is offered from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.), call 472-4559. Dinner is served Monday to Saturday starting at 5 p.m.
For more information about the Island Inn, located at 3111 West Gulf Drive, call 472-1561 or visit www.islandinnsanibel.com.
Longtime island restauranteur Andrea Mucciga, Food & Beverage Director at Traditions on the Beach, is proud of the restaurant's eclectic Mediterranean/Italian menu.