Members of the media gathered on a warm autumn day on the well-scaped grounds of Rabbit Run Farm, a hydroponic Buckingham nursery, to hear about the Lee Country Visitor & Convention Bureau's latest project designed to help the local economy and boost tourism.
The group's inaugural Restaurant Week 2012 will expand over the course of 11 days at more than 30 restaurants throughout Lee County, offering guests a unique one-on-one experience with some of the best and most highly acclaimed chefs and restaurateurs in the industry.
Six of those participating restaurants are located on Sanibel. The six are: Thistle Lodge Beachfront on West Gulf Drive; Sweet Melissa's Cafe on Periwinkle Way; Traditions on the Beach on West Gulf Drive; Matzaluna on Periwinkle Way; The Timbers Restaurant & Fish Market on Tarpon Bay Road; and the Blue Giraffe on Periwinkle Way.
Matzaluna Italian Kitchen is one of six island restaurants participating in Restaurant Week by offering three course prix fixe lunch and dinner menu items over the next 11 days.
"The purpose of Restaurant Week is to gain exposure for the VCB, participating restaurants, and Lee County while promoting sustainable and local foods and produce," said Tamara Pigott, executive director of the VCB. "Restaurant Week features deliciously local and sustainable culinary celebrations involving local chefs and a wide variety of area restaurants.
"Special three-course prix fixe lunch and dinner menus and one-of-a-kind culinary experiences are available, along with wine tastings paired with live music, exclusive cooking demonstrations, tours and classes. These are just a few examples of what happens when you combine amazing food with the perfect location."
Starting on Friday, Oct. 5, and continuing through Sunday, Oct. 14, visitors and residents of Lee County have a chance to experience a unique way of getting to know the culinary industry and taste special dishes at some of their favorite local eateries.
Bonita Springs mayor Ben Nelson, owner of Survey Cafe, spoke about visitors to Lee County.
"When people come to work and play down here, they want to enjoy all we've got - especially in our restaurant industry," he said. "We have such great restaurants around here, and Restaurant Week is such a great way to boast that. I think all of our county's cities should join us in this special event. The economy is back It's back, and people are here."
Other area participating eateries include: Bubba's Roadhouse Saloon in Cape Coral; Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island; 3 Fishermen in North Fort Myers; Wisteria Tea Room, Yanos and Twisted Vine in downtown Fort Myers; Matanzas Inn Restaurant, Parrot Key Caribbean Grill, Chloe's Fresh Seafood and Steaks, Shoals Restaurant and Wine Bar, Flippers on the Bay and Bayfront Bistro on Fort Myers Beach; Artisan Gelato, Blue Window French Bistro, The Melting Pot, DaRuMa, University Grill, The Prawnbroker, 3 Fishermen, Bistro 41, Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, LaMotta's Italian Restaurant, Rabbit Run Farm and Sunshine Grill in Fort Myers; Survey Cafe and A Table Apart in Bonita Springs.
Denise Muir, owner of Rabbit Run Farm, gave media guests a tour of her several-acre hydroponic farm where she and farmers grow anything from semi-organic carrots, radishes, beans, lettuce, unique cauliflower and eggplant to Asian greens, micro greens, wheatgrass, squash, spinach and the farm's signature plant - Okinawa purple sweet potatoes, which take nine months to grow and mature.
Rabbit Run Farm supplies local residents, visitors and restaurants with its fresh-grown goodies.
The tentative schedule of entertainment, classes and events to date include:
Twisted Wine Bistro Unplugged and Uncorked with Paul Cullen of Bad Company
Thursday, Oct. 4, 7 p.m.
$82 per person, visit PaulCullen.net
The complementing combination of funky jazz and outstanding wines encourages one to relax and enjoy the good life. The Twisted Vine will be serving a perfectly paired meal with Paul's Wines and musical accompaniment.
Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort - Tarpon Bay Restaurant Dinner for Two; Friday to Sunday, Oct. 5 to 14, 5:30 to 9 p.m.; $69 per couple, visit CoconutPoint.Hyatt.com
Tarpon Bay Restaurant is at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort recently awarded Florida Green Lodging's Three Palm eco-friendly certification. This indulgent dining experience features sustainably harvested seafood and produce.
The Sandy Butler and Shoal's Restaurant and Wine Bar - Saturday, Oct. 6 and Oct. 13, 11 a.m.; $40 per person, visit SandyButler.com
Join Chef Michael Ragusa for this rare opportunity at The Sandy Butler and Shoal's Restaurant. Guests will be able to shop for ingredients in The Sandy Butler, a gourmet specialty market, and then take those ingredients next door to Shoal's Restaurant and Wine Bar for an interactive experience of preparing lunch with the chef.
A Table Apart Dinner and Seafood Demonstration by Chef Jeff Acol - Monday, Oct. 8, 6:30 p.m.; $99 per person, visit ATableApart.com This unique dining experience will feature a presentation by Chef Acol about sustainable seafood choices and why it is such an issue of importance to all societies. Following, guests will enjoy a multi-course dinner featuring sustainable seafood, complimented with a wine pairing.
Survey Cafe Lunch and Historic Society Tour of Downtown Bonita Springs - Tuesday, Oct. 9, 10:30 a.m.; $26 per person, visit TheSurveyCafe.com
This culinary experience will start with a guided tour led by the City of Bonita Springs Mayor Ben Nelson to explore this charming downtown area filled with history and personality. Following the tour, lunch will be served at the quaint Survey Cafe, a restaurant created by Lori and Ben Nelson in 2009 in a 1940s Florida-style house in the heart of Historic Downtown Bonita Springs.
Rabbit Run Farm Tour and Culinary Class - Thursday, Oct. 11, 10 a.m.; $40 per person, visit RabbitRunFarmLLC.com
Guests will experience a tour of the hydroponic Rabbit Run Farm in Buckingham, to learn about the variety of heirloom plants grown and how the vertical-growth system works. Chef Kristina San Filippo will demonstrate a selection of recipes using Rabbit Run Farm produce. Guests will then enjoy a salad and vegetarian entree for lunch, featuring the recipes presented in the culinary class.
Dockside chat with Chef Barton Seaver - Sunday, Oct. 14, 8:45 to 10 a.m.; $5 per person, visit BartonSeaver.org
Chef Seaver will speak on how we can use the sustainable seafood movement to reconnect consumers with the source of their seafood. Guests will enjoy coffee and light refreshments at Parrot Key Caribbean Grill overlooking Matanzas Pass.
Speaking of Sustainable Seafood with Chef Barton Seaver - Sunday, Oct. 14 11 a.m.; free admission,
The public is invited to Edison State College for a complimentary presentation by Chef Barton Seaver.
Chef Barton Seaver book signing - Sunday, Oct. 14, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.; free admission.
"For Cod and Country" is part of Seaver's mission to help the public engage in a more sustainable food system on nearly every level.
Chef Barton Seaver at Sweet Melissa's Cafe - Sunday, Oct. 14, 6 p.m.; $100 per person.
For the finale to the LCVCB's 10-day culinary celebration, Chef Melissa Talmage will host an eloquent evening of eclectic dishes, delectable wine and the chance to be up close and personal with Chef Barton Seaver to learn more about the critical issues of the World's seafood supplies. This dinner will be held at Sweet Melissa's Cafe on Sanibel Island. Each of the four courses will be paired with a complementing wine.
The exhibition kitchen will allow guests to observe Chef Melissa and her kitchen brigade prepare the meal while Chef Barton shares his ocean friendly and holistic approach to enjoying the bounty of the sea in a sustainable and healthy manner.