For a relatively small area (population, not square milage), Southwest Florida has an abundance of restaurants. Our restaurant guide currently has 704 different eateries listed, and doubtless we’re still missing a few. That’s 704 answers to the question, “where should we go to eat?” and 704 opportunities to munch on wonderful treats or absolute dreck. Most restaurants settle somewhere in the middle, and avoiding this sea of boring, mediocre snacks is vital, so I take an easy, painless and relatively effective step before dining out: I ask directions. I seek advice from friends, co-workers, restaurant industry professionals and that handy electronic assistant, the restaurant guide.
While trolling through the guide some months ago (I know, I should have better things to do with my time), I came across an unassuming entry for Gina’s Café in the Park. At the bottom of the listing this comment was posted:
Hidden beneath all the industrial buildings - wiggling through all the huge signs and four way stops is this fantastic cafe- I drove 45 minutes one Saturday morning just to have a fantastic breakfast from Gina. They are friendly and down to earth.
It’s a glowing review, of course, but what struck me the most was that 45-minute drive – the effort this discreet café had earned through good food and pleasant service.
Gina’s has been on my list since I read that message, and, finally, last week I grabbed a friend and headed to the East Naples eatery for lunch.
The park in Gina’s Café in the Park doesn’t represent a field of leafy green or even a patch of grass. This tiny restaurant is located smack dab in the middle of an industrial park on the aptly named Commercial Boulevard off of Radio Road. Its neighbors are auto repair shops, food wholesalers and home furnishings warehouses, and from the outside Gina’s isn’t much to look at either, another blip in the industrial sprawl.
Inside, however, Gina’s is a warm, inviting café, the kind of place where most of the people seem like regulars and the atmosphere is comfortable, almost neighborly.
“Friends gather here,” reads a sign on one wall. “Cheese, meat, bread, love, all food for the soul,” says another.
We’re looking for actual food, so we turn our eyes to the menu, browsing through the list of sandwiches, wraps, salads and melts that make up lunch at Gina’s. There’s nothing fancy – no ahi tuna or truffled anything – but there are plenty of sturdy, simple options at prices that can be hard to find in Naples.
I choose a California turkey wrap ($7.25) with a cup of fruit on the side, and my friend orders a classic tuna sandwich on sourdough ($6.50). We sit back, sip our coffee and relax.
When our server drops off the lunches a few minutes later, we’re both greeted with oversized portions of filling, home-style food. My wrap is stuffed with roasted turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and alfalfa sprouts. The sprouts add a nice earthy flavor that contrasts well with the saltiness of the bacon, but the Dijon mayo my lunch is dressed with doesn’t seem to add much, and the guacamole listed on the menu is either missing or too bland to notice.
My friend’s tuna sandwich is literally overflowing with mayo-drenched tuna salad. It’s a little too “goopy” for him he says, but adds that the sandwich is tasty and definitely a generous size.
By the time we’re done working on our lunches we’re both too full to try one of Gina’s desserts, and the café is starting to fill with hungry diners, so we decide to take off. I’m not sure, I’d drive 45 minutes for my California wrap, but if you’re in the neighborhood looking for a hearty meal, Gina’s won’t disappoint.
Want to go? Gina’s Café in the Park, 1100 Commercial Blvd, Naples. 239- 263-4566