SEAFOOD, RESTAURANTS, AND FARMERS MARKETS
You might wonder how can such a small place possibly have enough restaurant choices for all the visitors who come across the causeway? Never fear. Sanibel and Captiva Islands fulfill the gastronomic needs of their residents and guests with abundant deliciousness.
Those who come for a week or more rarely want to eat 3 meals a day in a restaurant. And, with that in mind, condos and beach houses have fully-equipped kitchens for preparing food. Two main grocery stores are well-stocked and popular with islanders -- Jerry's Foods on Periwinkle Way and Bailey's General Store at the corner of Periwinkle Way and Tarpon Bay Road. Bailey's will even deliver groceries to your condo and have them waiting in the fridge and pantry when you arrive. I wish I'd realized that sooner, because it would have meant more time on the beach looking for shells. :)
I did learn about the wonderful Farmers Markets before we arrived. Sanibel has a fabulous market on Sundays from 8:00 to 1:00 October through May, and Captiva's market is on Tuesdays from 9:00 to 1:00. Many of the same vendors go to both markets. These markets are hugely popular with the locals, and the best advice is to arrive early. There is much to buy, and you definitely want to have your choice of the best products. Fruits, vegetables, fish, cheeses, breads, desserts, homemade jams, pickles, ethnic foods, plants, food trucks -- you name it. Plus, there are artisans with jewelry, artwork, clothing, and home decor items.
All of this is available if you want to do your own cooking. But, if you embrace the "I'm on vacation -- Bring on the restaurant" mentality, there are plenty of options.
Seafood, of course, is fresh and plentiful. Steve and I could probably devour our weight in raw oysters if we ever got the chance, and fortunately, our most recent visit was during a "month that had an r in it." Supposedly, the huge criteria for eating oysters safely.
If I had to make a Top Ten list of my favorite restaurants on the islands, they would likely be:
1) Gramma Dot's -- great ambiance at the Sanibel Marina
2) RC Otter's Island Eats -- laidback vibe on Captiva Island with really good live music
3) Thistle Lodge Beachfront Restaurant -- upscale and elegant. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison used to eat there.
4) Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille -- on both Sanibel AND Captiva. The name refers to a character in novels by Randy Wayne White, a famous resident of Sanibel.
5) The Bubble Room -- on Captiva. Quirky in every sense of the word. Wide menu and huge desserts.
6) Matzaluna -- Wonderful Italian cuisine. Just in case, you've had your fill of seafood.
7) Mudbugs -- A Cajun twist on island favorites. You'll think you're in New Orleans.
8) George & Wendy's Seafood Grille -- really good food, delicious fresh bread as a starter.
9) Island Cow --- giant menu, so there really is something "udderly" marvelous for everyone.
10 Over Easy Cafe and Lighthouse Cafe -- tie for best places to have breakfast, in my opinion.
Just a suggestion, but you might start your own search for the islands' best Key Lime Pie. When you pick a favorite, let me know, and we can compare notes. So good.
There are many other choices. None are bad, but some are average. The only chain places I saw for dining were Subway, Dairy Queen and Cheeburger Cheeburger. But, my philosophy is always to save those places for "any old time," but not when you want to embrace a place.
A story I wrote about the restaurants for Trip101.com gives more details. Click here.