By Gary Israel
Photos by Lisa Macias
For nearly 50 years, The Pewter Mug has been renowned for its signature cuts of prime rib and its famous soup and salad bar. Struggling lately due to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma and its effects on the deteriorating, 64-year-old building, owner and Executive Chef Bernie “BJ” Zarvis had to make a change.
Due to maintenance issues, he closed the “Mug” on July 31, and, after a brief, unplanned hiatus, reemerged as The Pewter Mug North less than two miles north of the original landmark location. This time-honored restaurant has reopened in a larger, more modern space previously occupied by Fish Crazy, near the Collier-Lee county line.
What we found there was a beautiful, modern dining area with natural light, a larger, more open bar area and plenty of well-lit parking — all things the original location did not have! From the main dining room, the open kitchen concept allows curious connoisseurs to watch as the chef finishes slow-cooked baby back ribs with sauce or plates one of the restaurant’s prime cuts of beef with a side of sautéed spinach.
We were also happy to find that most of what made The Pewter Mug a tradition with Southwest Florida diners is still intact. The menu still boasts of their famous prime rib and their homemade soups and hand-chopped salad bar fixings, complete with from-scratch dressings and unique salad bar items such as the pea salad. Pewter Mug is proud of its luscious greens and fresh veggies — never frozen. And an assortment of savory soups like French Onion and Conch Chowder are now at their own soup station apart from the expansive salad bar, which has been the restaurant’s signature calling card since 1970. All entrees come with the all-you-can-eat salad bar experience, or you can enjoy the bounty of the salad bar alone for $14.99.
Apart from the addition of a couple seafood appetizers, the dinner menu remains nearly untouched. The building and decor may have needed an upgrade, but the menu is what has kept regulars coming back for decades! Why fix what isn’t broken? There are savory steaks, braised beef stroganoff, pan-seared scallops, baby back ribs, pork osso bucco, lobster and several shrimp dishes. And the appetizer selections are simply outstanding: blackened shrimp, baked artichoke, braised escargot, fried, fresh calamari and more.
What is new is the nine-item “bar bites” menu which coincides with the Mug’s new 2-5 p.m. happy hour, available only in the bar. Dinner is served from 5-9 p.m. nightly. Additionally, there is a to-go counter for carryout orders at the front of the restaurant.
The new vibe is open, inviting and more conducive to socializing. However, longtime, loyal patrons need not fear. For those who just can’t get over the loss of the original location, there is a “retro” dining area complete with what they are calling the “Old-Fashioned Room.” This quieter, partitioned room is furnished with the same tables, chairs, paneling and pictures brought from the original restaurant. Nostalgia!
- BAKED ARTICHOKE
Asiago cheese, garlic, butter and Panko bread crumbs always make a winning combination! Throw in grape tomatoes for color, texture and flavor, and Pewter Mug’s
newest appetizer is so delicious even the pickiest eater will love artichoke!
- BLACKENED SHRIMP
Tender shrimp swimming in a hearty cream sauce — what’s not to love? The accompanying toast points allow for sopping up every last drop of this tasty blackened cream sauce.
- SOUP AND SALAD BAR
This is the ‘“driving force” behind The Pewter Mug’s popularity. This voluptuous bar offers two, 15-foot segments of fresh, hand-chopped salad ingredients along with three homemade soups nightly. Ordering it as your entrée is a great choice, or enjoy unlimited trips with every entrée on the menu.
- “WORLD FAMOUS” PRIME RIB
This is the “‘main attraction” when it comes to beef. Aged for a minimum of 21 days and roasted to perfection, the “World Famous” Prime Rib is carved in several portion sizes, from the 10-ounce “Prime Minister” to the 24-ounce “Flintstone Cut.”
- BRAISED PORK SHANK OSSO BUCCO
This hearty serving of tender pork shank served over mushroom risotto and finished with a veal demi glaze demonstrates the versatility of the kitchen staff. This classic Italian-inspired entree offers a terrific combination of flavors for those in the mood for something other than steak.
- SALTED CARAMEL CHEESE CAKE
We sampled a selection of desserts which included a customary, yet delicious, Key Lime Pie and a decadent piece of Chocolate Madness Cake a la mode. But our favorite was the Salted Caramel Cheese Cake with decadent layers of cheesecake and swirled caramel. Smooth, rich and satisfying!