Q: What is the story on Cafe Italia closing?
— Art Spindler, North Naples
Q: I just heard that Cafe Italia in the Naples Walk plaza has closed and will reopen in April as Latitudes. Have you any further information?
— Paul Wood, Naples
A: In this game-changing economy, Cafe Italia just wasn’t having the season it needed to continue operating. Its owner closed Cafe Italia Ristorante in North Naples on March 19, after shuttering the short-lived Estero location in Miromar Outlets on Feb. 28.
After operating as Cafe Italia Cafe for about two years in Tamiami Square on U.S. 41, the North Naples restaurant relocated in January 2010 to the former site of Paul Sturkey’s Encore in the Naples Walk shopping center on the southeast corner of Vanderbilt Beach and Airport-Pulling roads. The second Cafe Italia location opened in May 2010 in Miromar Outlets.
The Naples location reopened Oct. 1 after being temporarily closed last summer and early fall, while the Estero location continued operating through the summer.
Last September, Cafe Italia opened another location just off U.S. 41 in Venice, which remains open.
Now, new owners plan to open a new restaurant and piano bar called Latitude on April 18 in the North Naples location at 2500 Vanderbilt Beach Road. The lunch and dinner menu is described as Florida fusion, combining fresh products from different cuisines and international flavors in unique ways.
Expect both light bites in the piano bar and an intimate dining experience in a restaurant that boasts 330 seats in its more than 7,000-square-foot space. Anticipate dishes such as DaVinci peppercorn-seared Ahi tuna, Tuscan-baked oysters Rockefeller, mini knockwurst on pretzel rolls and Kobe beef sliders.
“I have a very good reputation for my cuisine in town,” said Chef Ross A. Peterson, formerly of area restaurants Roy’s, Syrah and Trilogy. “I’m not trying to design a special occasion dining spot. I want to put out great food at a good price.”
Peterson is one of four managing partners for Latitude with David Ogilvie, and Marc and Britta Schulze.
Corner of Airport and Davis
Q: Southeast corner of Airport-Pulling and Davis was a gas station for many years but was sold last year and sat empty until recently. Can you tell me what is going on there?
— Val Woomer, Naples
Q: I’ve enjoyed reading the column for years. My question is what is with the old gas station at the corner of Davis Boulevard and Airport-Pulling Road? Looks like work had begun but for several weeks there has been no activity! What is supposedly going into that location?
— WB, Naples
A: Plans haven’t changed, they just have been delayed since I first answered questions about this East Naples corner last June.
After serving as the site of a service station and rental truck operation for nearly 30 years, the southeast corner of that busy intersection is expected to be a new location for Augustina’s A Taste of Chicago restaurant. Owner Richard Berec originally wanted to open his new place by the end of last year, but he found it wasn’t as easy as planned.
“It was a big thing switching from service station to restaurant,” he said.
Berec hopes to open in October. He recently requested and received a one-year extension of his $52,947 commercial building improvement grant because of unanticipated delays associated with permitting. State environmental permitting issues prohibited him from completing the gas station renovation project before the March 23 deadline, which was a year after he was awarded the 2010 grant by the Bayshore Gateway Triangle Community Redevelopment Area, Collier County records show.
For nearly two years, Berec has operated Augustina’s A Taste of Chicago out of the red wagon kiosk at Estey-Air Plaza off Airport-Pulling Road, not far from his new project at 3300 Davis Blvd. Augustina’s, named for Berec’s grandmother, will continue to operate out of the red wagon even after his full restaurant opens.
Just as the red wagon has become a local landmark, Berec says his new restaurant will be unique, too.
“It’s one of a kind,” he said. “I’m sure there’s not anything like this in Naples.”
The new place will have 80 seats inside, 100 seats on an outdoor patio and a drive-through. Patrons will be able to sit at a high-top bar to watch the pizza oven in an open kitchen.
Even the three garage bay doors will be put to use in a manner similar to the Keys Bar and Grille at the Pavilion in North Naples to provide an indoor-outdoor feel comparable to Tommy Bahama’s restaurant on Third Street South, Berec said.
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