Monday, February 21, 2011

Gloria's La Trattoria Café Napoli-Cooking with Love in Fort Myers, Florida!

Gloria Cabral-Jordan’s La Trattoria Café Napoli is one of the top five places to dine in all of Lee County, and one of my favorite spots in SW Florida.  Not bad, eh, for a spot that few in either county have heard of, and even fewer people have visited! Those that have visited are hooked,  for good. I call them “regulars.” Some call themselves “addicts.” You see, Gloria’s La Trattoria is the archetypal “off the beaten path” place you seek, that casual bistro that locals keep for themselves. For years, that was fairly easy to do, as such customers filled the ten tables nearly every night. Things have recently changed in your favor, so I’m  now here to tell you about Gloria’s.

Recently, Gloria expanded her restaurant into the adjacent storefront, more than doubling the overall capacity from ten to now over twenty tables.

As a bonus, a long bar was added. Think it’s easy to walk in and get a table on a weekend night? Guess again! In fact, some regulars pretty much have their name on some choice tables. Word’s out to many now, and reservations are still required!
The restaurant is hard to find at first, as the address falsely indicates it’s on the main drag of US 41. It’s not, it is really around the corner of the one story, orange- roofed Villas Plaza strip center, on Sunrise. Gloria’s is one store east of where Austin's Wines used to be.  Enter, and it still has the warmth of a “mom and pop” place, with warm mustard yellow and burgundy painted walls. 
 Paintings of bull fighters and flamenco dancers liven the walls. Spanish tile lines the floor. This bistro is Spanish and thoroughly Latin, from the tchochkes high on the wall's long shelf to Gloria’s Cuban, Spanish and Italian culinary offerings. They are open for lunch with over twenty sandwiches, as well as dinner-check the schedule for times and days. Depending on what’s needed, Gloria effortlessly morphs from Owner, to Executive Chef, Hostess, Sommelier, Server and  Busser-all in the same evening!
 Have a seat! Order a sparkling Cava, and sip Spain’s sun and soil in the wine’s bubbles. There’s a good selection of reasonably priced wines and beers. Open the menu, and see one of the main reasons people flock here-the prices are great! Nearly all tapas items are under $8, with the rest under $10. And all generous portioned main courses are $15 to $22, max. This is easy on the wallet. Better yet, this is fine comfort food for your mind, body and soul.  Gloria’s spicing is right on target. While many items like the clam appetizer have bold spicing, others are delicate like the salmon with pear slices, are careful to let the basic ingredient’s quality shine forth. Most of the fresh produce comes from a farm in Homestead.

Here’s some of the tapas I’ve tried, in a suggested order to try, from mild to bold. There’s not an average quality one among them. A new menu is still under construction with many new tapas to be added- prices will still be as friendly as noted above.

 Start light, with triangles of sliced smoked salmon topped with a slice of roasted pear and a dab of roasted beet puree.
 A squeeze of lemon and a light dusting of smoked paprika perks it up. I appreciate the simple symmetry and presentation-the still crisp pear complements the salmon, adding a subtle sweetness and crunch to each mouthful. The beet puree is understated, giving its rich mouth feel, lightly accenting both the salmon and pear.

The prosciutto salad is a sampling of Spain transported to Florida, with sliced mild chorizo, sweet paper thin ham, slightly sharp Manchego cheese, Manzanillo green olives, and roasted Serrano red peppers over spinach and mixed greens. The ham’s sweet earthy taste is accentuated by the olives saltiness. It’s a refreshingly tasty treat that is a light start to your meal.

Gloria’s Tostones come crisp, with crumbled chorizo and fresh diced tomato on top. Wow! 
 They are a  Latin riff on the classic Bruschetta Napolitana with tomatoes, basil and balsamic glaze on toast that also  hits the spot!
The new menu will feature other tostones, too… one with curried crab salad!  Gloria is very creative and skilled at balancing tastes and textures.
The cheese croquettes with spicy garlic salt are pure comfort food. The light breading is a crisp panko- a wonderful contrast to the warm, creamy-smooth tender trio of ricotta, mozzarella, and pecorino cheeses within. Six croquettes are served with roasted red peppers, it makes me homesick for similar fine home-cooked Cuban food I had as a child.  
 Next, savor the large portion of oven-warmed goat cheese served in an earthenware bowl surrounded by a rich red sauce. The warm cheese is rich like a triple cream, and smooth as silk. It’s wonderfully accented by the marinara-like Spanish roasted red pepper sauce with roasted red pepper strips.
 Be sure to combine a bit of soft cheese and red sauce on one of the herb-spiced  pita points for a wonderful taste treat in each bite. This generous portion is highly recommended.

The stuffed artichoke hearts are slightly crisped, almost caramelized on the bottom, and stuffed with mild Italian dolce gorgonzola cheese. It’s a happy marriage of the two, a simple yet luscious comfort food, especially when drizzled  with olive oil,  pesto and spices. 
More piquant are the pancetta-wrapped dates, stuffed with Spain’s cabrales cheese, caramelized onions, and mild chorizo! Layers of taste are built with the addition of balsamic glaze and olive oil, accented with parsley, sage and other herbs. Delicious! 
 The caramelized onions and balsamic glaze give a rich sweetly-tart contrast to the concentrated earthy quality of the fine, crisped prosciutto. The luscious center of goat cheese makes for a wonderfully rich and savory appetizer. Highly recommended.

The quartet of camarones al pil-pil is a classic Spanish tapas with  generously sized peeled, roasted shrimp, smoked Spanish paprika, mild chiles, oregano, parsley, touch of red chili  pepper olive oil and roasted garlic. It’s a hit, especially with a squeeze of lemon!
 Be sure to savor the concentrated garlicky sauce with its splash of Madeira wine, which accents the shrimp’s sweetness. **BTW, there are other ingredients that I taste in this and the other dishes-I choose to leave some things for your imagination, and let you discover the other ingredient’s identity and contributions.

Many of these recipes are 100 years old, as Gloria’s father’s aunt, Pilar, compiled a cookbook of family recipes back then, that Gloria cooks with today. Where else can you find dozens of family sauce secrets as delicious as this?  I’d love for Gloria to translate the cookbook in to English-the copies would sell like tostones, er, hotcakes!

Other tapas include the chicken empanadas looked good, served to the next table. How about stuffed plums with gorgonzola, wrapped with prosciutto? Mmmm! Or fried calamari with spicy red dipping sauce?
  Or Andalusian mussels with chorizo, tomatoes, herbs olive oil and Madeira wine? Tender pork ribs with light garlic sauce is on my list to try next. The list seems endless! 

Okay, now you’re ready for the bold oceanic taste of the steamed clams, served in an earthenware bowl, topped with salsa verde’s simple salt and parsley-it’s all they need. Bread slices are key to sopping up the delicious clam’s liquor!
After trying the tapas over a week’s time, I’m amazed that most of the tapas  are $6-8, all are under $10, with the exception of seared tuna. These prices would be 50% higher at other restaurants, and not have the fine equality. These truly are “tapas prices,”  easy on the wallet so you can sample many different plates.

Ready for main dishes? Gloria is famed for her signature Paella Valenciana. It’s the bomb! And, for only $20, it’s a steal of a tasty deal- so rich with tender mussels, scallops, shrimp, fish, and grilled red bell peppers. The underlying moist, rich saffron yellow long grain rice with peas and bits of grilled red pepper is wonderfully flavored and feels more like a risotto than the usual dry rice favored by some chefs. 
Slices of grilled chorizo (firm Spanish sausage) contribute a smokey warmth, adding another award-winning layer to the savory, bold taste. It takes a very good chef to have the chicken breast, grilled shrimps and other seafood stay tender. The mussels alone just melt in your mouth. It takes a top chef to cook with such love, making the rice so moist, so tender, and so wonderfully spiced that I took the rest home and savored some every night over the next week! Highly recommended!

The evening’s special, pork chop, Giambotta-style, (aka Gambotto, and often pronounced “jam-boat” by some) is tender and  juicy. Scant spicing needed to accent the pork’s natural sweet taste. While some serve a pork chop “tower” with layers of chops alternating with vegetables, Gloria serves hers with a twist, with two chops on a bed of seasonal fresh vegetables, roasted garlic, onions, mushrooms and mild pepperoncini (Tuscan peppers).
 There’s said to be a touch of Marsala wine in the mix. A bonus is the home made very thin-cut crisp fries, dusted with black pepper for contrast. This Southern Italian delight will satisfy a big eater!

Others at a nearby table had the filet of beef Napoleon. The filet is broiled, and served with roasted pear, gorgonzola cheese, asparagus and a port wine reduction, all on a bed of Mediterranean roasted potatoes that they raved about. Who wouldn’t?
The Chilean Sea bass went to another table, with roasted clams. It was another special, with roasted garlic, topped with tapenade (olives and capers), and salsa verde, served over polenta. It comes with  steamed clams, roasted tomato and garlic.
 There’s just too much eye candy being served on any night at Gloria’s La Trattoria.

Okay, it’s time for dessert.
I loved my panna cotta vanilla with pear is delicious, and a fairly light dessert for one or two to share. Panne cotta is a custard without eggs, rich with cream. Gloria’s is smooth and just firm enough, with a great taste of vanilla.
 Topped with a thick slice of still somewhat crisp roasted sweet pear and cinnamon; the freshly made warm mango sauce puts it over the top!

I shared the gelato of the day- luscious fruity mango, and a scoop of tartly sweet raspberry. It’s hard to find better quality than this. The rich natural fruit gelatos are some of the rare items not made from scratch.
I took photos of more that went by, like:
 Chocolate flan with caramel sauce
Two-tone vanilla flan-a special.
Classic tiramisu with mascarpone, cream, espresso and lady fingers.
The Italian Tartufo, with raspberry-strawberry gelato, covered with a hard chocolate shell and drizzled with chocolate sauce.
I’ve covered items that I’ve tasted and enjoyed, and  put in photos of what others at other tables encouraged me to take photos of. What's the competition? None. What's the downside? You don't get valet service, food may not be served super fast if they are slammed at 7 pm, you can't just walk in for a table at 7:30 pm on a weekend, and there's no live musicians or $16 margaritas. Upside is the food is delicious and it arrives quick enough, staff is friendly, setting is warm and friendly, price is terrific, and you get to meet Gloria!
Writing this makes me salivate and want to go back. Best thing- pick up the phone, make reservations, and explore!

12377 S. Cleveland Ave., Fort Myers, 931-0050

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How did you like Gloria's Place?