By Autumn Gates
Chic and modern on the outside with a simple yet striking dining space, De Adriatico invites the community to appreciate the tantalizing flavors of the Mediterranean while enjoying first-class hospitality and a relaxing environment.
Guests experience a sense of ease as they peer around the tastefully decorated restaurant immersed in Mediterranean culture. Families seated in deep red booths laugh softly, Serbian melodies add to the lively ambience in the room, friendly and attentive servers bring fresh focaccia bread to each table – the operation is seamless.
Located in Gulf Coast Town Center in the space that formerly housed Naples Coastal Kitchen, the welcoming eatery features a family-style dining room lined with sheer curtains and beautiful décor. There is also a full bar sporting a multicultural wine list, and a glamorous patio complete with European-style umbrellas, twinkly lights and sweet-smelling flower baskets.
The family-owned restaurant draws inspiration from the regions surrounding the Adriatic Sea, a beautiful body of water home to a plethora of sea life and running between the Italian and Balkan peninsulas. Naturally, the menu includes an assortment of seafood with mouthwatering dishes like Seafood Paella and Branzino (Mediterranean Sea Bass) alongside a variety of other spectacular menu items like Punjene Paprike (European Stuffed Peppers) and Filet Mignon.
Hugo Cardenas, the Italian– and German-trained chef and owner of De Adriatico, opened the restaurant in December 2021 to share the unique flavors that have shaped his culinary journey with a variety of dishes influenced by the cuisines of numerous Mediterranean countries as well as phenomenal recipes native to Serbia, Greece and Italy.
“The community loves it,” says Cardenas, who has experienced great success as the restaurant grows in popularity with seats filling up both inside and outside nearly every night of the week.
Cardenas’ love for Mediterranean cooking runs deep with strong roots in multiple countries near the Adriatic. The personable restaurant owner was born in Germany, raised in Yugoslavia, moved to Bolivia for a few years as a teenager, and eventually made his way back to Germany where he attended culinary school. He speaks a staggering six languages and has a clear passion for his work.
“The Mediterranean area has such beautiful dishes, but what I’m selling is ambience,” says Cardenas, who seeks to provide guests with an unmatched experience as he exposes them to the Mediterranean way of life by crafting healthy, Mediterranean dishes and providing genuine service.
On an average evening, Cardenas can be seen doing anything from chatting with regular customers to running to the kitchen, whipping up mouthwatering Mediterranean fare. And while Cardenas is a true servant leader, he certainly does not do it alone. The self-made restauranteur works alongside a hardworking team which he has trained in the art of Mediterranean-style cooking and service.
Many of these employees are family, bringing unique personal touches to De Adriatico, such as Cardenas’ own recipe for tomato sauce and his mother’s handmade, cross-stitched artwork, replicating famous works like the Mona Lisa. Jenny Cardenas-Novak, the owner’s wife, is the interior designer. She decorated the place both inside and out, selecting bold colors and eye-catching artwork. Cardenas’ sister-in-law is the office manager, two brothers-in-law work as servers, and his daughter Wendy Cardenas-Novak even temporarily relocated to Estero to help her family start the business.
The commitment of the De Adriatico team is demonstrated in the warm manner in which they communicate with each other and their guests, presenting authentic hospitality, fresh Mediterranean cuisine, and a calming environment that brings out touches of Cardenas’ fondness for life on the Adriatic Sea.
Baked Octopus: Ready to begin your journey through the Adriatic? Try the Baked Octopus, a tasty and eye-catching starter featuring tender octopus baked to perfection, complemented by a pleasant blend of grilled onions and sliced potatoes.
Adriatico Lamb Shank: A favorite of Chef Cardenas, the Adriatico Lamb Shank is tender and succulent, bursting with flavor. This well-loved entrée includes a slow-baked lamb shank seasoned with Mediterranean spices and served over risotto Milanese with a pool of savory sauce.
Half Duck with Blueberry Sauce: The Half Duck finds the perfect ratio of savory and sweet – unique and surprising with an alluring flavor profile. The wonderful plate showcases a half duck slow cooked in the oven and served in a delicious blueberry sauce containing a hint of Cointreau liquor. The main course is served with sides of mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes.
Seafood Pasta: For a dish swimming with Adriatic-inspired seafood, the Seafood Pasta is a classic yet delectable choice. The entrée features linguini topped with an assortment of shrimp, scallops, clams and mussels. The pasta dish is completed with a generous coating of Cardenas’ homemade tomato sauce.
Chilean Sea Bass: The Chilean Sea Bass is a healthy yet flavorful dish centered around a tender, mild filet topped with shrimp, sun dried tomatoes, fresh asparagus and capers. This delightful main course is paired with a classic white wine sauce.
Chocolate Mousse: De Adriatico offers a variety of palatable desserts made in-house from scratch. Our favorite was the Chocolate Mousse, a flaky pastry filled with creamy chocolate mousse finished with chocolate drizzle and powdered sugar.
Gulf Coast Town Center
9908 Gulf Coast Main St. C-165, Fort Myers