Photo credit to Wylds Cafe.

Wylds Cafe seems like a bit of a misnomer for this elegant eatery along Bonita Beach Road. Candle-lit, white-linen dining awaits in this cozy yet modern restaurant with colorful art cheering up the dark decor. Owner Rob Charest invites local artists to display their work on his walls, giving guests the feeling of dining within a small art gallery.

As we headed to our table by the window, we appreciated the many styles and subjects – from Southwest Florida palm trees and sunsets to butterflies and abstracts. We also appreciated the ample spacing of the restaurant’s 20 tables, along with corridors and coves, coupling to create a quiet dining experience conducive to conversation. As a testament to the quality of Wylds Cafe, the restaurant has weathered economic waves, now celebrating its tenth year in business. Charest opened the cafe in 2005 with two partners, all of whom were professionally trained chefs. This is evidenced in the artful presentation, as well as the creative culinary combinations on the menu. Wylds Cafe makes good use of fresh, locally sourced produce, along with fresh catches from the Gulf, delivered daily. Charest notes there is no walk-in refrigerator at Wylds. Cafe ingredients stay fresh because they aren’t stored for long.

“I work out of a three-door refrigerator,” says the chef. “We’re super, super fresh.” For the first time since year one, the restaurant will not close for the summer. Noting the growth of full-time residents in the area, Charest has decided to keep Wylds Cafe running, much to the delight of regular customers. Summer hours will be Wednesday through Saturday from 4:30 to 9 p.m.

Also, new this year, Wylds Cafe has begun offering half portions of salads and cups of soup, allowing guests to try more varieties, like the Enigma Salad, featuring sautéed duck and shiitake mushrooms. Other salads can become a full-portion meal by adding grilled chicken, shrimp or scallops. Along with the creativity on the menu, the friendly service endeared us to this cozy cafe, where the owner is likely to stop and chat, and the majority of the wait staff have served for the last six years. Often times, guests making reservations will ask for their favorite server, Charest adds. Offering a top-notch dining experience from appetizers through dessert, we found Wylds Cafe to be winsome. The “Wyld Endings” include sweet dessert wines and aged ports paired with decadent desserts.

OUR FAVORITES

01. CALAMARI

This is not your traditional fried calamari with marinara. Wylds’ version of this classic dish is much more colorful and flavorful. The alluring aroma precedes the dish, creating anticipation. Calamari – fried extremely lightly without the heavy breading – is tossed in a scampi soy broth with crimini mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and scallions. You could easily make a meal out of this succulent appetizer!

02. AHI TUNA NACHOS

This appetizer is the favorite of our server, Dana, who says she eats the tuna nachos every day she’s working. Sushi grade tuna is mixed with soy and sesame, topped with scallions and served over fresh, house-made wontons, packing a tasty crunch. The zesty Sambal Aioli sauce brings a subtle heat to this fresh and flavorful dish.

03. TENDERLOIN SAGA

This creative treatment of fi let mignon is a Wylds Cafe favorite. The expertly grilled tenderloin is topped with a mountain of julienned potatoes, fried to a golden crisp. With saga blue cheese on top and a pool of demi-glace at the base, this tender fi let packs plentiful flavor.

04. HUDSON PASTA

Featuring roasted duck and sausage made of duck meat and foie gras (fattened liver), this is no ordinary pasta dish. The creamy sage butter sauce blends with the tender duck meat, shiitake mushrooms and spinach to create a delectable dish.

05. PARMESAN ENCRUSTED WALLEYE

Fresh Canadian walleye is lightly breaded and fried, then accented with a light and creamy tomato basil beurre blanc. It’s one of the most popular seafood items on the menu, along with Pan Seared Scallops and Cashew Encrusted Grouper.

06. CREPE BRULEE

That’s not a typo. Wylds Cafe has taken traditional creme brulee and wrapped it in a crepe. Do not leave without trying this clever dessert. Creamy custard is encased in the crepe, with caramelized sugar on top. It’s finished with creme anglaise, fresh whipped cream, a white- chocolate-coated strawberry and dark chocolate “W.” We went “Wyld” for this unorthodox twist on a classic dessert.

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