Summerlin Jakes’s gives a nod to Southwest Florida history with a name and decor honoring the “King of the Crackers.” Guests are greeted by Longhorn cattle skulls, cow hides and saddles as they enter. Meanwhile, the 360-degree, central bar area pays homage to the region’s fishing heritage with a shark-topped canoe and taxidermy fish.
The restaurant’s namesake is Jacob Summerlin, a wealthy cattleman born in 1820 at the end of the Spanish occupation of Florida. He was cracking a whip by the age of seven, rounding up wild cattle which roamed free across the vast territory which would become the State of Florida in 1845. By age 40, Summerlin was considered one of the wealthiest men in Florida; he reportedly kept gold and silver at his cabin in tin cans, cigar boxes, wool socks and other sundry places. Summerlin purchased land from Fort Meade to Fort Myers, including riverfront property eventually sold to Thomas Edison. He also bought the Punta Rassa wharf, where he shipped cattle to Cuba.
Although the restaurant’s tagline says “seafood and steaks,” Summerlin Jake’s offers much more, including southern comfort foods and house-smoked pork and chicken entrees. The mouth-watering smell of smoked meats sets the stage for Southern indulgence as guests saunter past the smoker on their way from the parking area up to the stilted restaurant, which overlooks the Sanibel Causeway.
While it’s hard to imagine anyone coming here for a meatless meal, Summerlin Jake’s does feature a selection of vegetarian options, including Vegetable Jambalaya, Roasted Mushroom Pilau and Lettuce Wraps. Other surprises include French-style Charcuterie and Blackened Foie Gras. Truffles also make their way into several dishes, as a favorite, refined-palate pleaser of Chef Richard Howze.
Seafood starters like Pine Island Clams, Oysters on the Half Shell and Conch Fritters intermingle with Southern delights such as Pork and Pancakes. Chef Richard frequently fuses the cuisines of country folk with fine dining fare. Take for example, the Pâté and Pork Rinds, featuring smoky chicken liver pate, served with sweet onion jam.
“It’s simple comfort foods taken to the next level,” explains the chef, a native Floridian who grew up on fried snapper, black-eyed peas and stewed okra . “It’s unexpected. Like finding foie gras at the barbecue place.”
Although Chef Richard brings some international experience to the kitchen, most of his culinary training happened right in Southwest Florida with chefs at Rumrunners, Crave Culinaire, Leroy’s Southern Kitchen and a few Naples resorts. He was recruited by Sandy Stilwell, owner of Stilwell Enterprises and Restaurant Group, to bring a new concept to the former SS Hookers location. Chef Richard has nailed it with Summerlin Jake’s.
Entrees include everything from Gulf Coast Gumbo and Punta Rassa Pasta to Char-Grilled Filet Mignon. Steak toppers include choice of blue cheese, roasted mushrooms, crispy onions or shaved truffles.
Incidentally, Stilwell is being inducted into the Junior Achievement 2017 Business Hall of Fame on May 2, an honor which recognizes not only her entrepreneurial accomplishments but her commitment to the community. Her other enterprises include Captiva Island Inn, Keylime Bistro, RC Otter’s Island Ears, Cantina Captiva, Latte Da and Sunshine Seafood Cafe and Wine Bar.
PORK BELLY STEAMED BUNS
Southern comfort meets the sea in this eye-catching appetizer. Cured Duroc pork belly is creatively paired with crispy, fried Gulf Oysters for a surprisingly succulent starter. A fresh cucumber slice and the sweet tanginess of Hoisin sauce complete the flavor profile for this truly unique twist on a slider.
BLACKENED FOIE GRAS
Take a jaunt to France for foie gras but be prepared for a splash of the tropics in this sweet starter. The creaminess of fine foie gras melts in your mouth with the flavorful addition of rum-soaked brioche (French bread), plantain and candied mango, all served in a rustic, cast-iron skillet.
Next stop on our culinary adventure is Louisiana with swamp-style Jambalaya. Gulf shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage are mixed with Cajun trinity vegetables and tomato, simmered in rich seafood stock and topped with white rice and green onion.
If you can’t decide which House Smoked specialty to order, try them all! The Jacob Platter features pulled pork, tender beef brisket and a succulent 1/3 rack of rib, all smoked for hours with oak wood. The platter is served with house-made BBQ sauce, cole slaw, steak fries and southern baked beans. I doubt if ol’ Jake Summerlin ever ate this good!
FIRE-GRILLED MAHI MAHI
This seafood special comes out looking like a little sailboat, filled with grilled mahi-mahi and topped with a skewer of blackened shrimp. It’s served with mango salsa and plantains, all in a delightful poblano banana cream sauce.
A bucket of fried donuts is the ideal dessert to share after a satisfying meal at Summerlin Jake’s. This time the culinary influence is Mexico, as these surprisingly light donuts are served with dark chocolate ancho chile caramel and rum Chantilly whipped cream for a sweetness with a hint of heat. Also try Chef Richard’s Bread Pudding, Chocolate Gateau cake or house-made Raspberry Gelato.
Summerlin Jake’s Seafood and Steaks
17501 Harbour Pointe Drive, Fort Myers (last exit before the Sanibel causeway)
Online reservations: www.summerlinjakes.com
Open for lunch & dinner daily; Breakfast on weekends.