Monday, September 7, 2015

Mermaid Garden Cafe in Fort Myers

"I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade
He'd let us in, knows where we've been
In his octopus' garden in the shade**"

**Richard Starkey's lyrics popped into my head as I walked into Chef/ co-owner Gloria Cabral-Jordan's Mermaid Garden Cafe. The kaleidoscopic mix of eye candy-colorful teacups, wall hangings, and beautiful desserts- reminded this SCUBA diver of the varied treasures that octopi use to decorate their rock gardens.

 The Mermaid Garden's sea foam green walls and acoutrements honor the wholesomely sensual Mermaid, but with a twist! As Gloria notes, "We imagine that the mermaids must get sick of eating seaweed and scallops all day…let’s invite them to town for some fresh vegetables and greens – and while we’re at it, why not champagne?"

Well, why not?  And so, the Mermaid Garden was launched in February. The refreshing culinary theme offers local sustainable farm-to-table cuisine with fresh organic local produce, local eggs and  meats, when available.  Gloria has visited many local farms; only a few meet her high standards for quality and consistency. 

"I'd ask my friends to come and see
An octopus' garden with me
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade."

Up at 8:30 a.m.? Come savor the $6 protein roll with smoked salmon; the ciabatta roll with serranito ham, or the seared ahi tuna roll. More adventuresome? Then it's the roasted chorizo with grilled organic eggs and petite potato kale hash, or the open face huevos rotos florentini with sautéed spinach and farm cheese for you! Rotating options include mini flavored croissants, Argentinian empanadas with different fillings, and a flavorful array of fresh, locally baked pastries.  
 "We would be warm below the storm
In our little hideaway beneath the waves
Resting our head on the sea bed
In an octopus' garden near a cave"

I stopped by with a friend for lunch. It's not easy to find the elusive Mermaid at first. Temporary signage "challenges" preclude a much needed sign on Winkler or College.
 Mermaid is towards the south side of the Atrium's five entrances. Look at the other diners-there's a cross section of Fort Myers folks here, with a generous dollop of "movers and shakers." 
Start with a Nutella or caramel cappuccino, cafe con leche, or the Mermaid's dark roast coffee. Wines by the glass are a great deal, generally $7.  Sip a Bellini  or a Brut split for $7; most wine bottles are in the $30's. Champagne bottles runs from $35 and up. I enjoyed a large glass of mango-passion fruit-guava tea.
Gloria was having an informal tasting of new wines, and invited those around to try a sip. The Ma Roat Valpolicella, and the Caprili Brunello di Montalcino are my favorites reds. The Alsatian Baumann Riesling is a great sipping wine on a summer's day.
Order several sets of appetizers to share. The oven baked prosciutto-wrapped around gooey melted cheese is mouth candy!
  I hail from Miami, so I'm partial to spinach, chicken, and brie cheese empanadas.
Popular lunch items from the menu are the $10 lemon chicken jicama crunchy salad with toasted corn tacos; the French Mermaid's baguette cradling seared ahi tuna with a black garlic aioli, or the romaine and mache-smoked Caesar with crisped garbanzos.  

We started with a special's take on deviled eggs-the devilment was a dollop of avocado- think a mild guacamole, topped with a strawberry slice.
 A pretty presentation. The wonderful sweetness of the strawberry just didn't balance against the avocado on my traditional taste buds. Easy fix. I enjoyed  the avocado and egg's flavors enhanced with a sprinkle of salt, and had the strawberry slices afterwards, to best enjoy their bright sweetness.
I dove into my $10 cochinita pibils. That's an unfamiliar name for tender Spanish roasted pork (think pulled pork with a touch of garlic) on a ciabatta roll with pickled onions, watermelon relish, a smear of black garlic aioli and a side of mixed greens.
 This is refreshingly moist and tasty. Next time, I'd have the aioli on the side, to really savor the juicy pork's goodness.
My friend's appetite awoke as he started on his $12 farmer palomilla paillard with farm tomato chipotle sauce, and a goodly amount of greens, marinated cherry tomatoes, golden raisins, red onions and black garlic aioli.
 This is a Cuban-style, flat pounded grilled or sautéed steak (3-4 mm thick) that's hard for other chefs to not overcook. Gloria's chef kept it tender and tasty. This is for those that appreciate a nicely cooked palomilla steak.  If you insist on  an"American" style thick steak, well...

 We saved room for dessert. Because the pastries and desserts are sourced daily from local vendors, when they run out, that's it!
Sicilian cannoli take on a new accent when Gloria has the sweeter dos leches piped into each cannolo, instead of the usual ricotta or less common mascarpone filling.  
 Gloria's Calamondin orange cake was a superb surprise! This orange is a hybrid cross between a mandarin orange and a kumquat. Though the juice can be quite tart, Gloria's recipe uses the sweet peel in a delectable sauce, yielding s a superb sweetness more like a Honeybell  tangelo than other oranges. 

 The underlying sponge-type cake is a perfect foil for the calamondin.  Highly Recommended!   
Others liked the Beignet-type pastry that's heated then drizzled with a double chocolate sauce just before serving. The mini bread pudding looks like a cupcake, that's topped with caramel sauce
Take home some  empanadas. Get an assortment.  Some are cheese and spinach, others contain smoked chicken and spices-they vary from day to day. 

"We would sing and dance around
Because we know we can't be found
I'd like to be under the sea
In an octopus' garden in the shade"

     Mermaid Garden Cafe sits, terrarium -like, inside The Atrium at 8695 College Parkway (at the intersection with Winkler Ave.) ,  Fort Myers,  425-3480,,   serving breakfast and lunch.

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