Photo credit to The Other Side Bistro.

Brian McCarley is a rarity. For one thing, he is one of the few Fort Myers natives around, born at Lee Memorial Hospital and a graduate of Cypress Lake High School. Perhaps even more rare, McCarley is one of just 63 certified executive chefs in the state of Florida. He opened his third local restaurant last spring when he and his wife, Barbara, bought The Other Side Bistro in Bonita Springs, so named because it’s on the “other side” of the British Open Pub in the Publix plaza in front of Pelican Landing.

This little known gem easily makes our “Top Ten” list of best local restaurants for its outstanding dishes, masterfully prepared and beautifully presented. This night out was such a pleasant surprise – considering we hadn’t heard of the restaurant – causing one among us to declare: “This is a hidden treasure. People need to know about this place!” A true chef, McCarley is constantly tweaking his menu. Not only does this keep him from getting bored, but his guests also influence the menu offerings with their comments. “It’s like a toddler,” the chef says.

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“It takes a lot of attention and vigilance. The people at the table point us in the right direction. You’ve got to keep your ears open and your mind open.” Chef Brian harvests fresh herbs from his restaurant garden and makes his own mozzarella cheese. He makes all dishes from scratch, to order, so accommodating special diets is not a problem. “I know exactly what’s in everything,” he says.

“We don’t have any funky stuff.” He seeks to make birthdays and anniversaries special, offering a free house-made dessert or glass of wine. The wine list is also a “living, breathing thing,” with special stash wines offered from small production vineyards. Offering elegant, white-linen dining in the evening, The Other Side Bistro is also open for lunch daily and features Sunday Brunch from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., offering gourmet treats like Smoked Salmon Benedict and White & Dark Chocolate Chip Pancakes. The lunch menu includes Grilled Cheese Caprese, featuring the chef’s own fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes with basil on grilled sourdough.

The Other Side Bistro is also the ideal place for a dessert and coffee date. Enjoy a tall cappuccino and one of the chef’s original desserts like a warm, gooey Chocolate Soufflé or an Apple Upside Down Tart served with caramel and ice cream.

OUR FAVORITES

01. FRIED GREEN TOMATOES

Start with these meaty green tomatoes, which are lightly battered, fried to a golden crisp and served artfully with a horseradish and roasted garlic aioli sauce. A rare treat to fi nd on the appetizer list! Also try the Stuffed Artichoke Bottoms, another unusually scrumptious starter fi lled with the distinctive fl avor of goat cheese blended with spinach, roasted tomato and quinoa.

02. MUSSELS

These mussels are tender and full of fl avor, cooked in white wine with garlic, shallots, oven roasted tomatoes and butter. Crisp, grilled crostini is served to sop up all that fabulous sauce! Sip from the wine list as you enjoy this amazing appetizer.

03. BERRIES & SPINACH SALAD

Sweet and tangy, the Berries & Spinach blends an array of berries – strawberry, blackberry and raspberry – with tomatoes, red onion and almonds, all topped with cranberry vinaigrette. Also try the house specialty, Mozzarella & Tomato, starring house-made mozzarella cheese, sliced and alternated with sweet heirloom tomatoes and topped with balsamic vinaigrette.

04. RACK OF LAMB

This elegant chef’s special is cooked to tender perfection. The herb-crusted New Zealand rack of lamb is artfully presented over potato wedges and served with mint-infused demi-glace. Meat lovers should also try the Cabernet Glazed Meat Loaf with mashed potatoes. It’s not your mama’s meatloaf!

05. SEARED SCALLOPS

These scallops are done right, seared on the outside yet tender and succulent within. Served with lemon beurre blanc, fresh broccoli and healthy quinoa, this dish is delish. Seafood lovers also should try the Seafood Pasta with shrimp, scallops, mussels and finish in a spicy tomato broth.

06. CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉ

Baked when ordered, the Chocolate Souffl é is a rich, fl uffy indulgence of chocolatey goodness. It’s served warm with crème anglaise and fi nished with sweet raspberry sauce. Other house-made desserts include the Crème Carmel, a variant of crème brûlée with baked caramel sauce instead of caramelized sugar. Also try the chef’s Key Lime Tart with Oreo crust.

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