Billed as a "gourmet bar-be-que" the Bokeelia Cracker Cafe began receiving guests recently.
"We opened on Friday the 13th in March and so far the restaurant has been well received," said co-manager Don Heath. "Everyone who has been in tells us they love the place and we are seeing more and more people come in each day."
While much of the menu is somewhat up-scale, Heath said that the Cracker Cafe has something for every taste and budget.
The owner of the new Bokeelia Cracker Cafe, Russell Smith, is shown with his two chefs, Bob Burns and Scott Kazalla, in the kitchen area of the restaurant.
"While we have items like a stuffed fillet mignon, we also have very reasonably priced entrees and appetizers. This summer we also plan to add a few local dishes to the menu to cater to our year-round customers."
The cafe is located in the former Waterman's Galley building and is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Heading up the kitchen staff is chef Bob Burns, who brings with him numerous years of culinary experience.
"I have been working in the area for the last eight years and began working at Anthony's on Fort Myers Beach and then at Portifino's on Sanibel Island. I later worked at Rondell's in Matlacha and most recently at Red's Fresh Seafood in Bokeelia," said Burns. "I like the atmosphere of the Cracker Cafe and have really enjoyed the people and lifestyle here on Pine Island."
Burns earned an associates degree in culinary arts at Jonson Wales in Rhode Island, specializing in seafood and Italian dishes.
According to Burns, the Cracker Cafe smokes all of its meat on the premises and offers items such as Prince Edward Island Mussels, blackened shrimp and scallop alfredo, oak wood-grilled steaks and a variety of fresh fish entrees.
Accompanying Burns in the kitchen is chef Scott Kazalla.
"Here we don't just have a chef and a cook, we have two chefs. I have worked with Scott for the last three years and we perform together as a team," Burns said.
"Also an accomplished chef, Kazalla has served in the kitchen at Dwyers in Fort Myers and also at Red's in Bokeelia, and said his specialties include Pan-Asian, Japanese and Thai dishes.
"I began my career in Wisconsin and after coming to Southwest Florida I decided I didn't care for the commercial-type restaurants," said Kazalla. "The island is more fascinating and feels more like home. The people are friendly and I really like the island atmosphere."
When the building was being remodeling last fall, the owner, Russell Smith, was approached by Burns and Kazalla with the idea of re-opening as a restaurant.
"I have never been in the restaurant business but when I was approached by Bob and Scott, I decided why not, I had an empty building and had to do something with it," Smith said. "They have convinced me that they can make something of the cafe and so far they have done a great job."
Smith had completely gutted and remodeled the building located on Stringfellow Road in Bokeelia after the departure of Waterman's Galley. His intent is to continue to work on local specials for the residents of the island as well as take input from customers to ensure that they provide what the customers want.
"Hopefully we have found our niche in this business and will be providing another option for island diners," said Smith.
For more information about the Bokeelia Cracker Cafe, call 282-2850.