Sometimes bad neighborhoods evolve seemingly overnight – artists move in to rub shoulders with drug pushers and squatters, and before you know it yuppies are buying “New York-style” lofts as if exposed brick was going out of style. But in Naples change, like virtually everything else, happens at a different pace. Off of Tamiami Trail in East Naples, Bayshore Drive’s renaissance is moving slowly, one storefront or restaurant at a time.
Joining Bayshore Coffee Company, San Julian Taquería and The Real Macaw in the budding Bayshore restaurant scene is Saporitos, a small, inexpensive eatery that opened last March serving a two part menu of Italian and Latin American food in the space formerly occupied by Amador’s.
The restaurant is easy to miss from the street. Located on the lower level of a non-descript two-story building tucked into a deep shadow, only the neon “open” sign gives my friend and I any indication that this is the street’s newest addition. Lowered blinds block a view of the eggplant colored dining room and the white-clothed tables set with silverware and oversized wine glasses. If it wasn’t for the corner table doubling as an office and the long shelf holding pantry items in plain sight, Saporitos could almost be called elegant.
The restaurant’s disorganization can be partially excused considering that for the past five months Saporitos has been attempting the near impossible: opening and surviving during the financially barren summer in Southwest Florida. However, if the restaurant can find its way onto the map in time for season, diners will be rewarded with tasty honest fare and eagerly attentive service.
My friend and I begin our meal nibbling on complimentary warm bread served with a dish of olive oil accented with a dollop of pesto and red pepper flakes. Although the bread is somewhat lackluster, the delicious pesto spiked olive oil nearly makes up for it. With some homemade sour dough or focaccia, this would be a very promising start to dinner.
For an appetizer we turn to the Latin side of the menu, and order a plate of nachos ($5.50) and a pair of Negra Modelo beers. Our nachos are a pile of classic Mexican corn chips topped with pico de gallo, crumbles of a flavorful, creamy cheese and a large scoop of guacamole. Two dark green pickled jalapeños lie on either side of the plate, offering intense heat for the spice lover eager to do some tongue scorching, but the most notable element of this appetizer is the unusual cheese sprinkled on top of the chips rather than melted over them. It all adds up to tasty nachos that are filling but lighter and less greasy than their bar and grill cousins.
For main courses my friend and I take one side of the menu each. From the Latin American side I pick out a red snapper in a tequila tomatillo sauce, but am informed by the owner who is also our server that the dish is unavailable this evening. I settle on my second choice, shrimp alla diabla ($13), and my friend chooses an Italian plate, raviole aragosta, lobster ravioli with sautéed shrimp and tomato ($13).
The shrimp alla diabla, literally “devil’s shrimp,” is a generous portion of medium sized shrimp cooked in a chunky tomato and chipotle pepper sauce. Large pieces of the deep red smoke-dried jalapeño chilis are scattered throughout the dish, and with every bite the deep, sweet spiciness gradually builds into an onslaught of fiery, even devilish flavor. On the side, a heap of romaine lettuce drizzled with a vinaigrette provides a much-needed break from time to time.
When I pull my friend’s plate across the table half way through the meal, I am greeted with the thick smell of garlic before I even raise the first bite to my lips. Though the tomato sauce covering his lobster ravioli and shrimp very much resemble the one on my devil’s shrimp, this time it is infused with the pungent taste of garlic. Despite the intense sauce, the flavor of the lobster meat still shines (not always the case in lobster ravioli, where the prized centerpiece is often bland or barely noticeable).
In the end Saporitos surprises us with its well-prepared and satisfying fare, but for a new restaurant trying to join the fold of successful Bayshore eateries, going from barely noticeable blip in the darkness to bustling eatery will take more than good food and old-fashioned hard work. It’ll take a more inviting exterior, some new curtains and plenty of love from a big flock of snowbirds.
Want to go? Saporitos, 3367 Bayshore Drive, Naples. 239.774.6462