By Autumn Gates
With a relaxing vibe, spectacular views and seafood so fresh it was swimming this morning, Snug Harbor Waterfront Restaurant is every angler’s (and eater’s) dream.
The breezy, open-air eatery is located on Fort Myers Beach’s picturesque Matanzas Harbor. In area that has long been viewed as a tourist destination, Snug Harbor’s clientele is, surprisingly, comprised largely of locals. Its friendly service and tantalizing dishes make it the kind of restaurant that residents can’t resist.
While the establishment has a history of being a long-standing gem in Southwest Florida, it was reopened with new ownership in December 2019. After working at the original Snug Harbor for many years, friends Peter Ennis, John Shields, and Nick and Mary Ruland decided to restore the once thriving eatery.
“They saw what a powerhouse the old Snug Harbor was and knew it could be again,” says Chef Jeff Rizzo.
Today, as diners stroll up, they are greeted with live music and the beaming faces of customers sipping on cocktails at the bar or enjoying perfectly prepared seafood feasts. Skilled vocalist and guitarist Mary Winner regularly delights guests at Snug Harbor with her musical talents.
“Half of these people are here to see her,” says Rizzo.
The sense of togetherness created in this atmosphere is unmatched. As business at the waterfront restaurant has grown, entertainment has expanded and will soon be offered seven days a week. From small details like excellent background tunes to core menu offerings, such as fresh-caught Gulf grouper, Snug Harbor reflects the distinct culture of Fort Myers Beach.
Chef Rizzo has enjoyed the privilege of personally experiencing Snug Harbor’s transformation. The sociable chef has known the owners for 30 years, which explains the close-knit feel resonating from Snug Harbor. Rizzo, who describes himself as “French trained but Italian in the heart,” adds a jolly mood to the operation through subtle cultural touches like French breads served with “Italian customer service.”
The most unique aspect of the restaurant lies in its sourcing. The fish on your plate was line-caught that day straight from the Gulf of Mexico. Snug Harbor owns five fishing boats, which helps it maintain a constant supply of fresh seafood that keeps customers hooked. Snug Harbor’s fishermen can be seen periodically dumping bags of fresh fish and gulf shrimp on its docks.
“I’m breaking down whole fish all day long – amberjack, barracuda, American red snapper…” The list goes on and on, says Rizzo.
In efforts to preserve freshness without using harmful additives, Snug Harbor cooks and serves all seafood on the same day it was caught. This is especially notable when tasting the eatery’s all-natural New Bedford Scallops. While it is standard to soak scallops in a chemical called sodium tripolyphosphate, Snug Harbor avoids such additives giving its customers peace of mind and the freshest scallops possible.
The down-to-earth establishment features festive, beachy décor including colorful signs, vibrant flowers, string lights and casual seating areas built directly on the water. Guests can choose to sit in small groups at cozy tables or side-by-side overlooking the many nearby harbored ships.
All dining areas are outdoors, so the eatery is an excellent choice for those who want to be socially distant in an open-air environment. Regardless of the spot chosen, each seat provides guests with a captivating water view. And if you’re lucky, you may even spot a dolphin!
Shrimp Bisque: Enjoy the smooth and creamy texture of Snug Harbor’s cream-based shrimp bisque. This French-style soup is even more delightful when paired with generous chunks of fresh shrimp, crackers and a delicate basil garnish.
Blue Crab & Fried Green Tomato: This unique take on the salad course is equally beautiful and tasty. With an exquisite presentation, the dish combines the flavor profiles of fresh blue crab meat, roasted corn, Euro cucumber, avocado, red onion and sliced baby tomatoes. This delicious blend is then sandwiched between two fried green tomato wheels, complemented by stringed carrots and a zippy poppyseed dressing.
Bacon Wrapped Shrimp: The bacon–wrapped shrimp is perfect for anyone who loves the combination of sweet and savory. This phenomenal seafood appetizer features lightly-dusted jumbo shrimp wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon and flash-fried for a crisp but juicy bite. To make this plate even sweeter, it’s drizzled in local honey infused with soy sauce and ginger.
Gourmet Gulf Grouper: With fish so fresh it practically comes swimming to your plate, the Gulf gourmet grouper is a must try! This tender, flaky fillet is served with a lemon beurre blanc sauce after being toasted and flat topped to perfection. The scrumptious dish is complemented by sides of red–skin mashed potatoes and garlic–butter green beans.
Coquille St Jacques: For a modern twist on an old classic, try the Coquille St Jacques. This sensational platter pairs seared New Bedford scallops with savory pierogis and is topped with a delicious mushroom–shallot Alpine Swiss cheese reduction. Tender green beans are strategically placed in the center of the dish for a pop of color and flavor.
Chocolate Cake: To finish off your meal, try a slice of Snug Harbor’s delectable chocolate cake. This satisfying dessert features three layers of chocolate fudge cake topped with chocolate chips and finished with a side of whipped cream.