On one Saturday during our stay at Riverbend, we were feeling a little ambitious and needed a break so we ventured over to the downtown area in The City of Palms (Fort Myers), enticed by rave reviews from other Riverbend owners of several restaurants in the River District. Throughout the week there is usually some sort of event going on, such as a Music Walk, an Art Stroll, Car Cruise, Farmers market, etc. which we assume typically attracts large crowds. Being an early Saturday afternoon, hopefully it wouldn’t be too busy. So off we went!
The River District is about a 50 minutes drive from Riverbend, but its a straight run down SR-80 and since it was Saturday, traffic was light. No problem finding a free parking space on one of the side streets. Ah, good, no crowds! We had explored here on a previous trip back in 2012 but didn’t remember the downtown area being as nice as it is now. Most of the parking spaces along First Street had signs saying that they were reserved for an event, unbeknownst to us there was an antique car show later that afternoon and the parking spaces were reserved for the exhibitors. Should you venture to the River District when it is busy, note that there is a new app that lets you feed the meter from your smartphone.
Finally after walking around a bit our tummies started to growl and the ‘time-for-lunch’ alarm went off. Hmmm, which restaurant should we go to? Capone’s or Ford’s Garage. Capone’s is known for their coal fired pizza (although they do have other items on their menu) and Ford’s Garage is known for their burgers. These restaurants are two of the five restaurants owned by the Kearns Group. Capone’s, Ford’s Garage, Cabos Cantina, and The Firestone are all located within a few blocks of each other in the River District. The fifth restaurant, the Boat House Grill is located in Cape Coral.
Based on the title, you probably already know that the winner of the debate was – pizza at Capone’s Coal Fired Pizza where they serve “Pizza So Good It Should Be Illegal”!
Talk about close attention to detail, it’s a theme lovers delight…the door handles were machine guns, the hostess who greeted us was dressed in a black roaring 20’s flapper dress and the rest of the wait staff were dressed in black pants, white shirts with a black bow tie and the decor looked like what we envisioned a speakeasy might look like back in the prohibition days. Any mobsters hanging out?
But the really cool thing about this place wasn’t the decor or the attire. It was the drop floor in the center of the room covered with a clear plexiglass that looks down into what appears to be a vault. This vault is deep enough that there is a desk with (presumably fake) money strewn all around it, on the stairs, on the floor, it’s everywhere. An ashtray with big ol’ fatty cigars are on a corner of the desk, a skeleton is hanging out in a corner with his spats next to him. I wonder who that was? And how did he get there? Did he suffer a major gastro problem after eating a not so great pizza? Hmmm…..
Actually there is a sign explaining everything. The historic building where the restaurant is now located once was a bank – they uncovered this vault during the renovations. Because Al Capone, a resident of Miami, frequented the Ft. Myers area often, the thinking is that this might have been Al Capone’s secret vault. What better place to hide a secret vault than in a bank? They supposedly took care to preserve the room as they found it. So what was a skeleton doing in a vault I wonder??? Is that Capone? Surely this is done in jest, but the concept was fun nonetheless.
Luckily it wasn’t all that busy so we were seated right way. After perusing the menu, it was a pretty easy decision – a couple of beers and the special of the day – a meatball, mozzarella, Romano cheese and basil pizza please! Oh, my, it was so, so, so good! We ordered a large 16″ one figuring we would have leftovers. Guess it was really delicious or we were really hungry or both because we had to restrain ourselves not to eat the whole thing. We did manage to save two slices to take home with us. Definitely would go here again.
By the time we were done with lunch, many of the parking spots were occupied with antique cars and still more were arriving. It was about 2:00 p.m. but I think the show officially started around 4:00 p.m. Even though it was still a few hours away, activities were beginning to ramp up – owners of the cars were sitting in chairs near their cars, a DJ was playing 50’s and 60’s music and curbside stands were being set up displaying various items for sale. A little bit of car history in a historic district – pretty neat! The cars blended in so well they looked like they belonged there. Sure was fun looking at them all.
After our yummy pizza, boy, did we need a long walk so we figured despite the heat we needed to explore some more of the area! Strolling along we passed a historic marker about First Street, the street we were on. Hard to read in the photo but it says “Fort Myers, like many South Florida communities, developed during the last half of the 19th century. First Street (once called Front Street) became the heart of the the new town. In 1866, Manual A. Gonzalez and Joseph Vivas took up residence at the recently abandoned fort. Arrival of other settlers led to the establishment in 1876 of a post office and the incorporation in 1885 of the community of 349 persons. First Street, then a sandy trail, appeared on the 1876 town survey plat and continued to occupy a central position in Fort Myers. A church, Phoenix Hall (the town social center), and the Keystone Hotel, which first welcomed Thomas Edison in 1886, stood along its route. Railroad construction and tourism contributed significantly to the growth of South Florida towns. Street light electrification in 1898 reflected progress in Fort Myers. Shortly after 1900, First Street was paved with shell which eased the way for tourists and automobiles. Modern buildings replaced frame structures along First Street, symbolizing the onset of the 1920’s era of rapid growth. The first royal palms were planted in the City of Palms in 1897. Palm-lined First Street has continued to embody the appeal of sub-tropical Florida.” Interesting!
Speaking of Edison, this area is not very far away from the Edison Ford Winter Estate which we visited back in 2012. As we drove by the estate on our way to the River District we both commented that we should visit there again, perhaps during the holidays so we could see their display of holiday lights.
Anyway, continuing on with our walk. Passing by one of the shops Rob got a kick out of a tee shirt on display. I don’t think the kitties would have found it very funny!
And there’s the site of The Lodge, a new restaurant currently under construction by the Kearns Group which will serve American BBQ and will portray a snowy winter lodge. Huh? A snowy lodge in Florida?
Didn’t notice it from the car earlier but nearby there was a huge carving of an eagle. According to the sign (hard to read in the photo), an oak tree had stood in that spot as a symbol of the seat of the government, dating back to the late 1700’s. Over time, it grew so big that it took five adults grasping hands to reach around her. The tree was already 120 years old when the courthouse was built, and 225 years old when it became infested with termites in 2001. Concerns were raised that the limbs might fall and injure someone, so large steel pins were driven through the main trunk and were connected to other steel pins in the other limbs by steel cables. This worked for a while but eventually the outer limbs began to break where the steel pins were. Rather than chop down this landmark, it was decided to bring in an acclaimed wood working artist and Florida resident, Marlin Miller, to create the emblem of liberty, the American Eagle about to take flight. It took Mr. Miller just 5 days to complete the project. It was dedicated in 2011. The pins can still be seen on the tree.
It was getting hot and we were tired so we headed back to the car and back to Riverbend.
While we were at Riverbend, we had a few more dining experiences too.
For our bacon fix, either in the form of their daily special omelet (bacon and cheese) or just two eggs with bacon, there were several visits to the nearby Alva Country Diner. Place is always crowded, prices are very reasonable, the staff is always friendly and the food is always good. One night when I didn’t feel like cooking because it was so hot, we ordered a bucket of their broaster chicken. So good! Beats KFC any day! Tastes equal or better and is way less greasy.
A few days before we planned to leave, we invited our friends, Chris and Bob, formerly of RI and now living in North Fort Myers, to Riverbend. Once they arrived, we gave them a tour of our site and coach (they had never seen it) then took them on a golf cart ride around the resort. They had visited us at Riverbend back in 2012 when we had our Fleetwood Discovery and had seen some of the resort then, but this time they got the grand tour.
We decided that we would have a late lunch/early dinner at the Forrey Grill in LaBelle where Rob and I had stopped for lunch several weeks prior. Bob, Rob and I had the Chicken Parmesan and Chris had the Baked Stuffed Shells (sorry no pics). Each came with a choice of salad bar or soup (we opted for the salad bar). Food was excellent as was the service. And as always a very enjoyable visit with our dear friends! Imagine – three visits in one winter!
After their visit, we had a few more days to tie up the remaining loose ends. Finally on Monday, May 4th, it was time to say goodby to Riverbend. Thoroughly enjoyed our stay as new owners! We stopped by the office to drop off a completed site modification form to have the additional pavers installed and to say goodbye to everyone in the office. Then back to the site to finish packing up. Seemed strange not having to worry about a particular check out time! By noon, we were on the road headed to our next destination. Stay tuned!