common / BestOf2011


FRANCE HAS THE TOUR. ITALY HAS TRAINS. ENGLAND HAS THE CANAL systems and Germany has the autobahns. But there is only one good way to travel our whimsical slip of subtropical coastline, stretching from south of Marco Island to north of Punta Gorda.

That’s right: By following Florida Weekly’s “Best Of.”

Here, you’ll see where and how to taste that vibrant American flavor called Southwest Florida. From mustaches to martinis, from real estate to righteous role models, from schmoozers to boozers to beautiful people, from city to country and fine dining to diner wining, we’ll point the way.

We’re not offering a review. We’re providing a parade of culture, a map you won’t get from the Chamber of Commerce. Good luck, have fun, and please accept the best of our good wishes for 2011.

Welcome to Florida Weekly’s Best special section

Typical “Best of” sections in local newspapers require merchants to buy ads to have their names placed on the ballot. No ad, no chance to win.

That’s not our style here at Florida Weekly. We wanted to create a Best of Charlotte County that was fun, entertaining and untainted by commerce. We didn’t care if merchants advertised with us or not. If they were worthy, they made the list. If someone did advertise, however, we thanked them by including them as a best.

At least we’re honest.

And, instead of having readers vote, which is a process rife with skullduggery, we sent our award-winning writers and editors out to scour Charlotte County for the Best. We created a list that is far from all-inclusive. There are just too many great things about Southwest Florida. So, if we missed a few, we apologize. We’ll try to do better next year.

In the meantime, enjoy our 2011 efforts. Cheers.

Conquistadores’ Quincentennial celebration Conquistadores’ Quincentennial celebration LOCAL COLOR


>> The Renaissance Academy

A temple of knowledge, Florida Gulf Coast University’s Renaissance Academy in Punta Gorda offers esoteric teachings on an austere budget. Practical topics range from estate management to “Writing Your Own Obituary.” Acrylic painting and ballroom dance classes satisfy students’ creative needs. For business types, there are seminars in marketing and leadership. And for fulfilling the soul, in June, a retired psychiatrist will lead the session “Keys to Happiness and Personal Joy.” (We suspect anyone who comes away from the class will be pleased with the $20 investment plus a couple hours of time invested.)

Details: The Renaissance Academy at Florida Gulf Coast University, 117 Herald Court, Punta Gorda. 505- 0130

Mike Riley, the Riley Award Mike Riley, the Riley Award BEST DINING UNDER THE RADAR

>> Hava Java Grill

There’s an old familiar saying about how you can judge a diner by the coffee it serves. That saying rings true at The Hava Java Grill in Port Charlotte, which is known not just for its great brew, but its fresh menu of wraps, salads and sandwiches — all made to your specifications.

“Outstanding presentation,” and “Made me want to lick the plate,” are a two online comments about this cozy, clean cafe. Hava Java’s pleasant, always attentive service is as refreshing as its frappuccinos and fruit smoothies. Open for breakfast and lunch, Hava Java offers free and delivery and Wi-Fi on site. We expect this joint will be the order of the day in no time.

Details: 2711 Tamiami Trail (southbound access road) Port Charlotte 979- 9009


You can’t help but notice the jolly group of gentlemen and -women.

Each March, they come ashore at Laishley Park in a whimsical craft, wearing tights, feathered helmets and cummerbunds. The latter-day lads and lasses also appear in parades and at numerous community events.

The Royal Order of Ponce de Leon Conquistadors is a civic group formed to promote our area by keeping alive the 1513 discovery of Charlotte Harbor by Juan Ponce de Leon.

Indeed, the conquistadors have earned broad recognition, and were recently invited to help plan the 500th anniversary of Florida’s discovery by Secretary of State Kurt S. Browning.

Whoa. These guys are much more than men in tights.

Rick Bissonette, Bisous Rick Bissonette, Bisous Indeed, 2013 marks 500 years since Ponce de Leon set shore in Charlotte, and the Conquistadors are planning a major celebration.

So polish your doubloons and fire up the cannons, because the civic-minded Conquistadors not only know about history, they throw one heck of a party.

Details: conquistadors-; 743- 8222


>> Mike Riley, the Riley Award

And the Riley

Award goes to ...


Upstanding citizen, mentor, community leader, rock musician and all around good guy, Mikek Rileyl (or “Riley,” as most know him) was the first recipient of the Riley Award, created in 2010 by Smuggler’s Enterprises. Smuggler’s own a hosts of restaurants and is known for its community involvement. The company chose to create an award for the person who most embodies selflessness and community giving. The award would bear the name of its inaugural honoree.

Matt Nemec Matt Nemec Mike Riley was chosen for his love of community and acts of giving.

Subsequent honorees will hold the presigeous Riley Award. The second of them will be announced at the 2011 Fourth of July Festival at Laishley Park.


>> The Bean on 41

The scoop you get at the Bean is not of the ice cream sort. But if you’re yearning for coffee, tea or any kind of tidbit, The Bean on 41 in Towles Plaza in Punta Gorda is the spot for you.

Proprietors Bob and Elly Gilmore crank out espressos and a perfect spot of tea during their daily grind at the Bean, where dozens of loose teas and coffee beans are available by the scoop or by the pound.

Mr. Gilmore is chief barista and Mrs. G. mans the kitchen. Diners come from miles around to indulge in her delicious and generous fresh chicken, tuna and seafood salads and signature sandwiches.

And if you have something to share about the latest in local politics, you can count on the Gilmores to share one or two morsels of their own. Delicious tidbits abound at the Bean, a sure hot spot for coffee, tea and commaraderie.

Details: 2705 Tamiami Trail Punta Gorda; 575- 1212.


>> Dean’s and Coral Rock

There are two local hotspots on either side of the Peace River where encountering cougars — the “women of a certain age” variety — is pretty much a guarantee. One is Dean’s South of the Border on U.S. 41 North, next to the Wyvern Hotel, which offers a daily assortment of genial older women. And Coral Rock Café, just over the bridge on the east side of US 41 in Port Charlotte, is also a good place to socialize with well-lived women who enjoy dancing and mixing.

The Artisans’ Atelier The Artisans’ Atelier Maybe the fact that both locales have outdoor seating — Dean’s has a Spanish style patio and Coral Rock boasts a tiki bar — encourages the proliferation of jean-clad women in tight T-shirts who have more than a few stories to tell and know how to spot their prey.

Details: Dean’s South of the Border, 130 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda; 575- 6100; Coral Rock Café, 4560 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 629- 3330


>> Rick Bissonette, Bisous

How heady is a hairdresser with a degree from MIT? Add to that Rick Bissonette’s experience as a rock musician who has performed with REO Speedwagon and Aerosmith, and you have one sophisticated stylist. Mr. Bissonette and his Bisous salon have been fixtures of downtown Punta Gorda for years — at his previous location on Taylor Street near Virginia Avenue and now at the former Guitar Cottage on Herald Court. Besides styling hair (and offering organic treatments) Mr. Bissonette is a recognized photo stylist for shoots in and around the area.

Brenda Berdnik Brenda Berdnik He recently hosted a hair affair featuring Elan Sassoon, hair apparent of world-renowned Vidal Sassoon.

Mr. Bissonette also created Stylist 411, a website for hair practitioners and clients alike. He’s also about to rollout the first ever virtual trade show for stylists.

But this brilliant stylist to the stars runs an approachable business with a family flair. One earthy example: his mom books appointments for the shop.

Vicki Glynn Vicki Glynn Details: 110 Herald Court, Punta Gorda; 505- 9600


>> The new Murdock Village

When Charlotte County commissioners decided to purchase 870 acres of property along the northern edge of Port Charlotte, off SR 776, it certainly seemed like a good idea. Much of the land was platted lots, property no one had touched in decades. The dream was to buy the land, then sell it to a developer who would create a completely new village as an engine of economic growth. Commissioners paid $117.3 million to acquire the 870-acre Murdock Village property through eminent domain in 2003. But when the great recession hit, developers dropped the project, leaving county commissioners paying daily interest on money borrowed for the purchase. Sideline denizens and Monday morning quarterbacks grumbled about government incompetence.

Chris Frohlich, Beyond Borders Outfitters Chris Frohlich, Beyond Borders Outfitters But a new light shines favorably on Murdock Village. Two clever homeboys — Bruce Laishley and Rick Treworgy of Southwest Land Developers — agreed to trade 38 acres of airport-area, shovelready land for 135 acres of the Murdock Village project, which is expected to be transformed into a mixed-use multiattraction development slated to benefit the struggling economy.

The county still owes nearly $61 million on Murdock Village, with a 3.48 percent interest rate leaving $2 milliona year interest payments, according to county records. But now, the county has a good piece of land with which to lure prime investors to develop the property once known as Murdock Village.

Details: Charlotte County Administration Center, 18500 Murdock Circle, Port Charlotte; 743- 1300;


Creations’ floor Creations’ floor >> Matt Nemec

“Hey there,” shouts always-smiling Matt Nemec as he drives along Olympia Avenue in his Big Crush truck. Big Crush represents yet another act for Mr. Nemec, who started his local career more than 20 years ago selling cars in Port Charlotte. He’s the owner of Tiki’s, a casual clothing store, managed by his daughter, Tara. His wife is the Carrie of Carrie’s Interiors, co-located within Tiki’s. Mr. Nemec’s son, Nick, opened the sensational wine bar Bin 82, which has since been sold and renamed Tapas One on Bin 82. Launched by Nick’s expertise in the world of wine, father and son opened Big Crush, a wine distribution company that’s sprouted more legs than a fine glass of Chardonnay. The Nemecs also sponsor downtown openair events, and Nick and his wife, Casey, recently dazzled audience members at the Dancing with the Charlotte Stars fundraiser. The family loves Charlotte County, and their investment in the community is living proof.

Shauna Shown and a basket full of fried goodness Shauna Shown and a basket full of fried goodness Details: Big Crush Distribution, 105 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda;


>> The Artisans’ Atelier

When the Punta Gorda parking garage at Herald Court was finished last year, there remained a bit of, well, unfinished business. Building codes limited the use of roughly 2,500 square feet of ground-level space.

In walked TEAM Punta Gorda, the Visual Arts Center and Arts & Humanities Council, the Downtown Merchants Association, Charlotte Community Foundation and a host of other movers and shakers with a passion for art, and voilà: an Atelier was born. This is a space where passersby can watch local artists do what they do best. It’s the latest installation in Charlotte’s rich cultural climate.

Torch Bistro, Sushi and Rumtini Bar Torch Bistro, Sushi and Rumtini Bar Now, some would say that art, like food, is best seen at completion. We beg to differ. Passersby can watch fine artists and one book publisher practice their craft as art is being created. Many have become collectors of the art, some commissioning a piece and checking in on its creation.

Artists John “Dedo” Cristina, Katie Peavey, Wayne Lewis and James Abraham have works in progress and works to sell in this singular venue, which has space available for interested artists wanting to add a literal splash of color to downtown Punta Gorda’s strolling experience.

Details: or 391- 4856


>> Charlotte County leadership guillotine

That giant chopping sound is that of the Charlotte County governmental guillotine. Some dismissals of top leaders were executed by force, some were heaven-sent and some defy explanation. The end result: a winnowing of governmental leadership.

First, Laura Kleiss Hoeft, Charlotte County’s highly regarded director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, removed herself from the line of fire in 2008. Her departure led to a major round of leadership farethee wells. Soon, library director Angie Patteson, tourism director Becky Bovell and economic development director Don Root were headed out the door.

Mr. Root’s departure followed a blowup with a county official. County Administrators Bruce Loucks and Roger Baltz — perceived as scapegoats for the county’s budgetary woes left next. Most recently, growth management director, Jeff Ruggieri joined the county’s see-ya gang.

Wayne Albin Wayne Albin Folks are wondering if further decapitation in the name of the almighty budget could result in a governmental brain drain.

Or was it a brain drain that started it all in the first place?

Details: http://


>> Port Charlotte and points south

Until recently, Port Charlotte held the distinction of being marijuana grow house central. According to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, in 2007, there were 14 grow house busts, half of which occurred in Port Charlotte. In 2008, 10 of the 17 grow house strikes happened in Port Charlotte and in 2009, four of the six such operations were shut down in PC. In 2010, five of the six grow houses raided by the CCSO were in Port Charlotte. In 2011, the only such house shut down thus far has been in — you guessed it — Port Charlotte.

Valencourt and Malbuisson Valencourt and Malbuisson CCSO PIO Bob Carpenter said deputies are forcing the growers south; the new hot spot appears to be Lehigh Acres. Thus passes the (dubious) glory of the world.

Details: http:// index. cfm


>> Bada Boom

In 1989’s “Batman,” The Joker asked, “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” For those who believe toys shouldn’t be reserved solely for children, there’s Bada Boom. The adult superstore, housed in a can’t-missbikini yellow building in the heart of Port Charlotte, is a veritable Wal-mart for the oversexed, offering videos, toys, novelties and more. Bada Boom does for the libido what Willy Wonka’s factory did for a sweet tooth. And it, too, is a world of pure imagination … with the caveat, of course, that these toys would make even Batman blush.

‘Still Friends’ ‘Still Friends’ Details: 2782 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 766- 0041.


>> Brenda Berdnik

Brenda Berdnik is a one-of-a-kind artist, which is fitting, because her work is one-of-a-kind. An accomplished artist of varying mediums, including photography, graphic design, sculptures, miniatures, silk scarves and handbags, her award-winning jewelry puts her in a league of her own.

Ms. Berdnik is inspired by nature, which she captures in most of her metalsmith work, creating necklaces, brooches, bracelets and earrings. Pieces are comprised of brass, silver burnished with gold foil, stones set in silver, Champieve enamel, hand beading and more. Several of her pendants are original reverse glass paintings set in silver bezels, each a miniature work of art. Her small metal sculptures and reliefs, often evoking an Asian flair, are museum quality.

LTM Halloween store LTM Halloween store Details:; 916- 5570


>> Port Charlotte High School Model U.N.

Out of thousands of competing schools across the United States, Port Charlotte High School’s Model United Nations is ranked fifth. Now that’s an accomplishment — especially considering that only two of the students are seniors.

The PCHS Model U.N. team competes nationally and internationally in nearly a half-dozen competitions a year, said Robert Johnson, the social studies teacher who serves as the school’s Model U.N. adviser. Two competitions are major travel conferences, with schools participating from all over the world. The team has been around 16 years, and has won the championship at the annual Southwest Florida Model U.N. Conference at Florida Gulf Coast University for all of them.

Phil’s 41 Restaurant Phil’s 41 Restaurant And it’s little wonder that some parents choose to send their out-of-area kids to Port Charlotte High. A number of Model U.N. grads have accepted Ivy League offers — some full board.

If only the real United Nations would be this cooperative …


>> Vicki Glynn

It’s practically every artist’s dream to have studio at home. Charlotte Harbor resident Vicki Glynn made it happen not by renovating a guest room, but by designing and supervising the building of a structure just 10 feet outside her back door. She built her own shelves and laid her own wood floors. She even did the landscaping.

Dwight Icenhower Dwight Icenhower “I am not a sissy girl,” she says.

Apparently not.

The award-winning artist is perhaps best known for her Florida watercolor landscapes and the retail gallery and custom frame shop she operated for years. Still, the shop kept the artist from creating her own art.

After much deliberation and about 8 months of construction, her personal studio calls to her every day, where she paints, works in clay and creates 3-D hanging art we at Florida Weekly like to call “thingies.”

The quaint pitch-roof building is nestled among native trees, colorful flowers and plants on the rock-lined water’s edge. Eagles soar overhead, herons and other native birds congregate on the verdant property. Fish jumping in the harbor can be seen from the studio’s windows, and a raccoon regularly looks through the window as the artist paints at night.

Los Nietos Cigars and Smoking Lounge Los Nietos Cigars and Smoking Lounge Details: e- mail


>> Chris Frohlich, Beyond Borders Outfitters

Chris Frohlich was born and raised in Punta Gorda with a fishing rod in his hand. He caught his first tarpon at age 8 and says he was “hooked for life.”f He says he was lucky to have the tarpon capital of the world in his own backyard.

Mr. Frohlich is a Vanderbilt graduate and currently studies law, but his first love is his charter fishing business, Beyond Borders Outfitters, which offers half- and full-day tarpon fishing trips out on the waters of Boca Grande Pass and Charlotte Harbor from April to October. Locals, he says, understand that tarpon fishing season extends far beyond what typical season dictates.

Bonnie Yonker Bonnie Yonker Many fishermen consider the coveted Tarpon to be the world’s best saltwater game fish. Mr. Frohlich agrees.

Literally and figuratively, landing a tarpon is a “reel” challenge. Mr. Frohlich’s success can be attributed to thousands of hours of tarpon fishing experience.

His largest tarpon catch weighed more than 200 pounds, and he says one single charter trip jumped 28 tarpon, each weighing more than 100 pounds.

In our book, we call that fishing.

Details:; 628- 0341


>> Creations Gallery

As soon as you step inside Creation’s Gallery, the floor practically speaks for itself. Artist Kathy Bostwick, whose work is available at the gallery, worked with Creation’s owner Nina Sedule- Ross to transform the blank cement canvas into a vibrant and colorful piece of art.

Octagon tiger Octagon tiger More than 20 local artists display work at Creations, from jewelry to paintings to objects of artful interest, all offset by the gallery’s colorful floor. It’s especially fun to watch first-timers enter the gallery for the first time.

Details: 210 Taylor Street, Punta Gorda; 639- 6365;


>> Gatorz Bar and Grill

At Gatorz, size matters. The eatery’s jumbo-sized chicken wings were voted No. 1 for 15 years and counting by readers of the Charlotte Sun. Gatorz’ wings are cooked to order and served breaded or “naked” with a choice of 10 homemade sauces — owner Frank Caron’s secret recipes. Tim’s Favorite sauce is a kick-butt combo of super hot 911 and sweet teriyaki.

Downtown Punta Gorda Downtown Punta Gorda Folks can get 25-cent wings on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Add celery and bleu cheese dressing for 99 cents.

Gatorz is also reputed to have the coldest beer in Charlotte County, which makes those wings taste even better.

Mr. Caron has opted out of local wing contests because, he says, “everyone already knows Gatorz wings are the best.” And if not every person knew, now they do.

Details: 3816 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; www.gatorzbar-; 625- 5000


>> The Gulf View Grill Restaurant

Everyone looks forward to catching a sunset over the Gulf. The higher up you get, the better the view, and we think the Gulf View Restaurant offers one of the best views in the area. When you share the elevator ride with the Blue Brothers, Queen Elizabeth and Bart Simpson, the experience is even more grand. Artist Jane Dickinson painted these elevator companions at the request of Gulf View Restaurant owners Keyes and Margie Elmore after Mrs. Dickinson completed beach murals on the outside of the building.

Dr. Debbie Marks, Florida Animal Care Dr. Debbie Marks, Florida Animal Care The Elmores say customers arrive exclaiming they just rode up with the Blue Brothers — and the kids love Bart.

As much fun as it is to share space with the Queen, the crowning glory is the Gulf View’s breathtaking namesake, the gulf view.

Details: 2095 N. Beach Rd. Englewood; 475- 3500;


>> The Smoke House

Seriously, leave the diet at the door when you walk into The Smoke House, a bastion of Southern comfort cooking where diners share communal tables. (“Best place to make new friends” was a title contender for this entry.)

Avenue Garage staff Avenue Garage staff There’s no better way to start the day than with rib-sticking fluffy homemade biscuits with hearty sausage gravy — or an overstuffed omelet stuffed with whatever your heart desires.

Barbecue fans can follow their noses to the Smoke House at lunchtime, for its array of house-smoked meats and other luscious lunch fare.

Clearly, the Smoke House is Punta Gorda’s answer to all the indulgences the deep south is famous for.

You want sweet tea with that, honey?

Details: 415 Cooper St., Punta Gorda; 639- 2000.


>> Torch Bistro, Sushi and Rumtini Bar

In Punta Gorda — Whoodathunkit? Nyotaimori, a Japanese ritual in which sushi is served off the strategically decorated torso of a seminude model, adds a whole new meaning to “in the raw.” It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the palate as participants gingerly pluck little goodies from the belly of a (wellscrubbed) cutie. Book the private room for your next party with some adventurous friends. Just be careful with those chopsticks.

Details: 2113 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda; 575- 3505.


>> Ipswich clams at Village Fish Market Restaurant & Lounge

The restaurant’s New England-meets- Florida cuisine is superbly represented by this dish, which pairs the best of both, worlds on one abundant plate. Rich whole-belly clams are lightly breaded and fried, and served with two big wedges of the most moist, cakey cornbread you are ever likely to eat.

Gladys Darcelin and Jose Morilla Gladys Darcelin and Jose Morilla No need for a war between North and South — these two get along just fine.

Details: Fisherman’s Village, 1200 W. Retta Esplanade J 36, Punta Gorda; 639- 7959.


>> Charlotte High School’s production of “Aida”

A visitor from another planet — or maybe Ohio — wandering around Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte for a week might get the impression that only white people live here. But if said visitor was fortunate enough to catch “Aida”at Charlotte High School, he or they would know different from its very talented and multiracial cast. Maybe we should call this “Best reason to be a proud parent.”


Charlotte Symphony Orchestra Charlotte Symphony Orchestra BEST TAXPAYER PAYOFF

>> 211 information service

Four employees and 14 volunteers handled nearly 23,000 calls last year, directed to them by callers dialing 211. These agents provided information 24/7 on everything from where to get financial, housing and health care assistance to volunteer opportunities. The 211 service also provided information to people inquiring about opening a business in Charlotte County.

The annual budget for the 211 service is $302,000. Yet the service has received $48,000 in grants from three different organizations; it has billed $72,000 for services provided in connection with rabies tag programs and its data supported the successful application for a $565,000 grant from the Florida Criminal Justice and Behavioral Health Council.

As citizens, we count on the staff members of 211 to be there to answer questions if we find ourselves in the path of an oncoming hurricane or other disaster.

Dr. Charlene Okomski Dr. Charlene Okomski Charlotte’s 211 service costs taxpayers less than $1 a day per resident, making it a great deal for taxpayers who might one day find themselves on the other end of the 211 telephone line.

Details: 211


>> Calusa National Bank

Calusa National Bank officials were informed that they were violating Punta Gorda city code by publicizing local charitable events on the company’s sign outside its headquarters at U.S. 41 and Aqui Esta in Punta Gorda. Calusa execs were warned that further violations could cost the bank $50 a day in fines.

Calusa Bank President Todd Katz brought the matter before city council. The council voted 4 - 1, with Mayor Harvey Goldberg casting the lone descent to uphold the interpretation of the code that hurts charitable fundraising. Realizing that Punta Gorda government logic was at play, Mr. Katz posted the following on the bank’s sign about an upcoming April 16 event: “Sorry, city code doesn’t allow us to say: Block Party-Sat!”

The Visual Arts Center The Visual Arts Center Details:


>> Charlotte County Government

At the insistence of County Commission chairmen Bob Starr, code enforcement officers sent letters to out-of-area property owners telling them that homeless people had set up campsites on their property, and as a result, the property was contaminated with refuse. The letter said that if the property owner gave the CCSO permission to drive the homeless off the land, the sheriff would use jail labor to clean up the campsites at no cost to the owner. But if the property owner didn’t give permission to roust the homeless, the county health department would charge the homeowner with a violation, hire contractors to clean up the property, and then slap a lien on it. When questioned about this being coercion, a senior sheriff’s official said, “Coercion is such an ugly word.”

Mr. Starr continues to insist that all the homeless camps were adjacent to homes or businesses and represented a threat to children. When confronted with the fact that most of the camps were so deep in the woods they didn’t represent any sort of threat to public health or otherwise the commission refused to back down.

Seems the county commission wants the homeless to go away, but there is no such place.


>> Sue Polimeni, Dean’s South of the Border Restaurant

Manager Sue Polimeni has worked at Dean’s South of the Border Restaurant for more than two decades and has more than 33 years of customer service under her belt. Ms. Polimeni says she can’t remember her best put-down.

“They just come out,” she says.

Yeah, like nuclear missiles come out of a Trident sub.

As she carried four hot dinner plates to a table of eight, she was greeted with “Where’s mine?” from one guest.

“Maybe you noticed that God didn’t give me the third arm I asked him for this morning,” Ms. Polimeni quipped.

Another customer was asked if he wanted to add $1 to his check to support the Homeless Coalition.

“You want me to take it out of your tip?” he challenged.

“Go ahead,” Ms. Polimeni retorted. “Apparently you’ll miss it more than I will.”

Details: 130 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda; 575- 6100


>> Jedi, PGPD Canine

Punta Gorda Police officers received a call on the morning of April 21 about a missing elderly man with early onset Alzheimer’s. The 89-year-old Punta Gorda man went for a walk and didn’t return home.

Punta Gorda Master Police Officer Katie Heck and canine officer Jedi responded. Canine officer Jedi picked up a scent and found the missing man about a mile away, and the man was escorted home.

In case we have to drive the point home, this is why a dog is man’s best friend.


>> Punta Gorda Peace River Boat Tours

Cruisers know that there are cruises for every interest and lifestyle imaginable. There are gambling cruises, Christian cruises, matchmaking cruises and cruises for red-hat ladies. Now the Punta Gorda Peace River Boat Tours offers a howling good time out on the water for pet lovers aboard the Peggy Jean, a vessel that sails from Laishley Park Marina, Slip E-2. Capt. Louie Desguin launched the first Bow Wow Cruise during the dog days of summer in 2009. The cruises were so popular the captain hosted special holiday happenings for hounds and their humans. There was Howl-O-Ween, Barkgiving and Barking in the New Year, which featured a ceremonial bone-drop.

Capt. Louie hosts doggie dates the first Thursday of each month. The onehour Bow Wow Cruises are free for pooches. Their humans pay $10 each.

Details: 380- 6814;


>> Wayne Albin

It’s hard to miss the moustached-mug of Wayne Albin around town, often spotted in the company of his award-winning artist and art teacher wife, Barbara. But Mr. Albin presents a presence of his own. The community man loves the Chicago fare at Big D’s, so he’s an easy mark at lunch. Otherwise, you’ll find him lending his support to pretty much everything meaningful to the city of Punta Gorda and Charlotte County. Just look for the carefullycoiffed upper lip.


>> Full Circle PR, Tampa

The press release headline read this way: “Avoiding Organ Transplants: Speak to the Surgeons.”

We might be stating the obvious, but isn’t a surgeon the last person to consult if you want to avoid a transplant? Just sayin’…


>> Roger Dickinson

At any major happening around town, the cheerful man behind the camera is Roger Dickinson, Florida Weekly’s advocate, fan and photographer.

Equally at home at a black-tie event and a bar stool open, Mr. Dickinson excels in capturing the spirit of the given moment and being in the know about the next great thing. With his amiable spirit and photographic and PR excellence, he’s become just about everybody’s favorite man about town.


>> Michele Valencourt and Judy Malbuisson

They say they are sisters separated at birth, and anyone in the community who knows these two artful ladies know it’s true. Both are executive directors: one runs the Arts & Humanities Council and one’s in charge of the Visual Arts Center. The ladies indulge in the arts, almost always together, and make it a point to share road trips and vacations. And as the saying goes, that’s what friends are for.


>> Don’t ask...

The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office is rife with crime and deceit. Well, yeah, it is the sheriff’s office, after all.

But after the crime, the arrest, the trip to the jail and the booking, the worst should be over with, right? Wrong.

In the past year, there have been numerous incidents of convicts being caught with their pants down, literally, during the final pat-down.

Seems a favorite hiding place rhymes with the word paraphernalia.

Convicts of either gender apparently like to stash a stash in their nether regions.

Just last week, a detained drug user was found to have a 6-inch crack pipe hidden in her … well, you can guess. The press release read that she was arrested for possession of a “Cont Substance,” among other things.

We couldn’t make this stuff up if we tried.



>> Laishley Crab House

We’re big believers in generous gratuities for any area wait-staff, but especially those at Laishley Crab House and its sister establishments, Harpoon Harry’s, John Hall’s Goal Post Grill, The Captain’s Table and Muscle Car City Diner. With 80 percent of the company’s staff making a donation from every paycheck (and the company kicking in a portion of each day’s sales), Charlotte’s hungry received 35,000 pounds of food and supplies valued at $160,000. If the great service you get isn’t enough reason to shake loose a big tip, the employees’ dedication to service in the community certainly is.

Details:; 150 Laishley Court, Punta Gorda; 205- 5566. ¦



>> Old Town Convenience Store

At the edge of Punta Gorda’s Historic District, Old Town Convenience serves up the best homemade fast food of any one-stop shop. The glass deli case is filled with a bounteous showcase of fine cheeses, meats and salads. Ingredients in sandwiches and salads are fresh and top-shelf. The lunch crowd hankers for the Friday special prime rib sandwiches, with thick slabs of tender beef heaped atop fresh rolls — these beefy beauties fly out the door. For vegans and consumers of lighter fare, Old Town Convenience’s fresh salads earn four stars, in our opinion. A favorite is the spinach salad, loaded with dried cranberries, goat cheese, walnuts, tomatoes and spinach, of course. All that for $4.19. For the “convenience” part of Old Town, newspapers, lottery tickets and a delightful assortment of necessities are available.

Details: Old Town Convenience Store, 311 W. Marion St., Punta Gorda; 639- 3115


>> Still Friends

Folks who haven’t heard them should. Regardless of your musical predilections, the music of Still Friends weaves its way into your heart.

Carrie Blackwell Hussey is the group’s lead vocalist and is the daughter of the late Steve Blackwell, beloved Charlotte educator and the group’s founder. Mrs. Blackwell-Hussey began singing with her father at the age of 4. Along the way, she has developed one of the purest singing voices to ring out over Charlotte Harbor.

That’s not to discount the other band members, whose vocals and instrumentation give a group the most diverse musical sound in one setting.

Mrs. Blackwell-Hussey defines the group this way: “It’s our own thing, a combination of Florida folk (music), Americana, roots — but most importantly, it’s just friends and family singing about things that are important to us and close to our hearts.”

Still Friends plays about 12 events a year.

Details: e- mail carrie.


>> Swiss Chocolate + and Closer to the Vine

Two can be better than one when it comes to coffee bars in Punta Gorda. Swiss Chocolate + and Closer to the Vine are close enough that a customer at one salubrious establishment can smell what’s brewing at the other. Swiss Connection + offers old world chocolate and coffee with a European panache, served up by owners Franz and Maria Von Atzigen.

Jeff and Gina Thomas, owners of Closer to the Vine, serve gourmet coffee, elite wines and light meals appealing to those with discerning tastes. An abundance of flavor — and coffee too — now greets passersby in downtown Punta Gorda.

Details: Swiss Chocolate +, 403 Sullivan St., Punta Gorda; 639- 9484; Closer to the Vine, 320 Sullivan St., Punta Gorda; 833- 8339


>> Village Gifts and Gallery, Englewood

Englewood is the home of extraordinary galleries and patisseries. The coolest of the bunch is Village Gifts and Gallery, located along Dearborn Street in what’s known as Olde Englewood Village. The owner, Shelley Stout, carries an eclectic assortment of art and books, along with great ice cream and coffee. The interior at times resembles a Greenwich Village café, what with allday customers banging out novels on their laptops or joining in discussions about literary and artistic pursuits. And the house band, The Village Voices, offers a pleasant soundtrack of country rock and folk favorites.

Details: 425 W. Dearborn St., Englewood; 473- 2300


>> LTM Halloween store

Rotting corpses. Serial killers. Heads hanging from meat hooks. Murderous infants sprouting fangs.

Few stores require courage to enter. Not so with the LTM Halloween store — a temporary, sometimes itinerant sibling of the LTM Party store, but only open from the first week of September to just after Halloween. It’s all done in a spirit of fun — fun, as in funeral.

It takes about five employees nearly three weeks to assemble the gruesome display of costumes, life-size movie monsters, shrieking figures and grisly props. But no one knows where the venue will be until July, said co-owner Tom Ritchie, “although we try to stay in the same location if possible. But customers love us. They always ask where we’re going to be for the coming year. And they look for us.”

Which is good and good for business, too. Bloody good.

Details: 1931 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 625- 3700.


>> Sweet Scoops

At the northern rim of Charlotte County is a Mecca for ice cream lovers called Sweet Scoops. Pass by almost any evening and you’ll find its tiny parking lot full, vehicles parked on the street and a line of hungry patrons at the drive-through window.

Nearly 50 flavors of homemade ice cream draws them. Ordering plain old chocolate or vanilla would be like going to a gourmet Italian restaurant and ordering pizza. You don’t want “conventional” when there are flavors with names like banana pudding, caramel cashew, Superman, birthday cake and mocha fudge.

In business 15 years, Sweet Scoops makes us all scream for ice cream.

Details: 171 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 624- 3051.


>> Phil’s 41 Restaurant

How did a restaurant known for its Italian cuisine become the go-to place for the area’s best crab cakes? Phil Cerciello, owner of Phil’s 41 Restaurant in Punta Gorda, born in Naples (Italy), always seeks customers’ input. Time and again, customers asked for a realas it-can-get Maryland-style crab cake available to them locally.

Mr. Cerciello queried his customers about what it was they wanted from the delicacy. (The answer was crab, and lots of it.) He then researched crab cake recipes the world over. The result? A 3.5-ounce crab cake stuffed with more than 95 percent premium lump blue crab meat. Special seasonings and just the right of moisture make the cake a cake, which Mr. Cerciello insists upon making himself fresh daily. And when they’re out — having served about 100 crab cakes daily — they’re out.

Maryland natives and PGI transplants attest to the authenticity of what they call “the best crab cakes outside of Maryland.”

The only thing missing is the shell.

Details: 1975 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda;


>> Sweet Temptations Amish Bakery

The area’s only Amish bakery offers confectionary temptations that put a contemporary American spin on oldfashioned Amish standards. Owner T.J. Skinner, who was raised Amish in Shipshewana, Ind., uses family recipes that go back five generations for her inspiration. The result? Double chocolate muffins stuffed with cherries and whoopie pies in flavors such as pumpkin and red velvet. Shoofly cheesecake, anyone?

More traditional offerings include friendship breads, peanut butter pie, bread pudding and more.

Details: Look for the purple and white striped building at 22637 Bayshore Road, Charlotte Harbor; 255- 1874


>> The rooftop of the Herald Court Centre Parking Garage

One of the county’s best-kept secrets is the roof of the Herald Court Centre, where folks can enjoy 360 degrees of Punt Gorda under a very big sky. The rooftop of the four-story garage, has served as a unique party venue, staging celebrations from company openings to star-studded VIP get-togethers, to one humongous flea market.

There’s no charge to park in the garage. And when not being used as a social venue, the rooftop and its view carry the same reasonable price.

Details: 117 Herald Court, Punta Gorda


>> Peace River Film Festival

Watch out, Hollywood; move over, Cannes — Charlotte County is about to get its own film festival.

The Peace River Film Festival will make its debut with a three-night run beginning Sept. 9. Films will be shown at Edison State College, the Visual Arts Center and has scheduled Saturday night showings at the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center.

According to VAC Executive Director Michele Valencourt, the organizers are getting some help from folks with the Black Maria Film + Video Festival in New Jersey, which has been running since 1981. The Black Maria has been a force in SW Florida since 2007.

Ms. Valencourt is bursting at the seams to spill some of the details, but it’s too early in the organizational stages to do that.

“There will be some very cool stuff,” she said, “but I can’t talk about it just yet.”

And that’s what’s known in Hollywood parlance as a teaser.

Details: Visual Arts Center 210 Maud St., Punta Gorda; 639- 8810


>> Digital Video Production at The Visual Arts Center

Do you fancy yourself the next Hitchcock? Spielberg? Scorsese?

Then you’re a prime candidate for the Visual Arts Center’s digital video production course. This three-day workshop provides students with the tools to make personal short films, documentaries and videos for personal or business use, including presentation on the web.

Thanks to a grant from the Charlotte Community Foundation, students have access to professional-grade video cameras, high-end personal computers and Adobe Premiere Pro Software for editing and authoring.

Space is limited, and at $325 for non- VAC members or $275 for members, it ain’t cheap. But the result is a final DVD that was produced or photographed or directed or edited — or any combination of those — by you, and can be displayed on venues such as YouTube.

Details: Visual Arts Center 210 Maud St., Punta Gorda; 639- 8810.


>> Dwight Icenhower

We hate to be the bearer of bad news to conspiracy theorists, but Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, is gone — at least in body. The good news is he’ll never be lost in spirit.

Dwight Icenhower, a multi-award-winning Elvis tribute artist, is alive and well and singing up a storm in Southwest Florida performances fit for the King.

Born four years after Mr. Presley’s death, Mr. Icenhower performs three to five tribute shows a week with his band and is committed to keeping the spirit of the King alive.

Mr. Icenhower has received more than 50 awards and is recognized as one of the top Elvis tribute artists worldwide.



>> Stoneware Pottery

Jack Varanian recently launched Stoneware Pottery, a place to learn how to throw, unwind, create and make some great stoneware.

Mr. Varanian teaches 40-50 students in group sessions each week at the Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda. About a year ago, he opened Stoneware Pottery and invited eight former students to join him. Each pottery artist has his or her own wheel and space.

Mr. Varanian continues to offer private lessons.

Details: 1080 Taylor Rd., Punta Gorda; 875- 8874


>> Los Nietos Cigars and Smoking Lounge

Even those who aren’t smokers enjoy a good cigar now and then. And you can’t find a better cigar or place to smoke one than at Ron Andrew’s place on Wood Street in Punta Gorda.

Mr. Andrews, whom we’ve never seen without a cigar and a smile, opened Los Nietos 12 years ago.

Cigar smoking is not for everyone, Mr. Andrews concedes, though he’s smoked them since 1989. He created Los Nietos for those who enjoy the quality cigar experience. He personally believes cigar smoking is the most natural and rewarding of all tobacco products. Smoking a good cigar is an event, he professes. An experienced cigar smoker sets aside 45 minutes to an hour to sit back relax, unwind, reflect and enjoy the smoke, often with other cigar aficionados. The proper cigar experience, he maintains, provides a break from life’s stresses and affords personal enjoyment and a chance to socialize with kindred spirits. Indeed, cigar smokers in the Los Nietos smoking club share seemingly endless laughter and conversation.

Los Nietos only sells premium boutique cigars, hand-rolled and made in small batches for the shop. In fact, two Nietos custom cigars, the Primera Isabella from Nicaragua and the Luca Deltoro from Honduras, are slated to roll out nationally this summer. Now that’s a smokin’ business.



>> Overdrive Media Console

If you’re stuck in a doctor’s waiting room surrounded by year-old magazines, there is help. Pull out your iPhone, Android, Blackberry and/or Windows phone and check out a book from the library. With a Smartphone and a local library card, the Overdrive Media Console app lets you check out e-books and audiobooks from the library and read them on the phone. Sure, the screen is tiny, but it beats reading Better Homes and Gardens’ Super Bowl snacks issue.



>> The New Yoga Sanctuary

Bonnie Yonker, owner of The Yoga Sanctuary, recently moved the business into 1924 home in historic downtown Punta Gorda to create a center to nurture mind, body, soul and spirit.

The Yonkers completely restored the Babcock Home (of the Babcock Ranch fame) back to its original historical beginnings. The Yoga studio is a spacious, naturally lit room featuring rich wood floors and a soft, lime green decor.

People who enter the sanctuary often report having lost stress upon exiting.

Along with many levels of yoga, massage and tuning fork therapy are also offered. A yoga boutique provides provide fun, comfortable clothing along with everything the yoga practitioner needs. Four instructors support Mrs. Yonker’s mission center people at the center.

Details: 112 Sullivan St., Punta Gorda;


>> Pine Island

The largest island on Florida’s west coast offers much more than just the funky gallery-and-boutique crawl in Matlacha. You can start the day on Pine Island with breakfast at The Perfect Cup, where owner Whitney Brown whips up amazing omelets and roasts coffee beans from all over the globe. With only one stop sign in 17 miles, Pine Island’s Stringfellow Road is a popular biker ramble and bicycle tour dotted with colorful watering holes such as the Ragged Ass Saloon. Toward the island’s north end, centuries of history are buried in Calusa Indian mounds at Pineland, a small community on the shore of Pine Island Sound. On the way home, stop for an artisanal ice cream break at Great Licks in Matlacha.


>> Acme Bicycle Shop

This shop does so many things right for customers, you’re foolish to buy online to save a few bucks. When owners Karen Freeman and Earl Lang sell you a bike, it suits the kind of riding you want to do, comes with free lifetime tune-ups and advice about bike riding routes in Charlotte County. The owners will even invite you to join them on Saturday mornings for a group ride. Advanced riders go in one group; leisure riders in another — and you can ride even if you didn’t buy your bike from Acme. The ride is preceded by free coffee and air fill-ups starting at 8 a.m.

Details: 615 Cross St., Punta Gorda; 639- 2263; 1700 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 258- 3400


>> The Pile Up at Sweet’s Diner I & II

When Scott Sweet, the owner of Sweet’s Diner, was looking for a signature dish, he came up with a plateful, and named it the Pile Up. The smorgasbord on-a-plate features two eggs any style atop home fries, country biscuits, two sausage patties and sausage gravy slathered in a rich cheddar cheese sauce. (Would you like fries with that?)

This dish definitely takes the belt down a notch.

Sweet’s originally offered the Pile Up only at breakfast, but the literally brave of heart petitioned to have it served day and night. And the customer is always right.

Details: Sweet’s Diner I, 2300 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; Sweet’s Diner II, in the Masonic Lodge at 25349 Airport Rd., Punta Gorda. ¦



>> Punta Gorda waterfront

If you’re bored with the view from your treadmill or the same-old, sameold route around your neighborhood, try jogging where there’s waterfront scenery and an occasional crisp, cool breeze. Ready? Here’s the entire route for the ambitious: You start from the edge of Gilchrist Park and head east, through the Best Western Hotel parking lot to behind Benedetto’s, where you’ll find a pass that goes under U.S. 41 South. That will take you past the Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center and the Sheraton Four Points at the water’s edge to the 41 North underpass. Hook a left past the boat ramp and continue across the front of the Laishley Crab House and straight through to the end of Laishley Park — and back again, if you have the stamina. Easy? No. Beautiful? Undoubtedly.


>> Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary

What’s better than grabbing the cooler and settling down to an oldfashioned picnic with lions and tigers as guests? That’s right, lions and tigers ... lots of big cats staring back at you from five feet away as you pop a chip and nibble on a chicken sandwich.

Quell your fears — you’re safe at the Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary, where lions, tigers, bears, gators, panthers, baboons, birds and leopards have made their home for more than 33 years.

Octagon is a safe haven for rescued animals, open to the public from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Bring your camera, dress comfortably and take a walk on the wild side.

(And if the tiger begs, don’t feed him.)

Details: 41660 Horseshoe Rd. Punta Gorda;


>> Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve

Environmentalists refer to it as The Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve. We call it home. The watershed that includes gulf, harbor, river and creeks is the state’s second largest. 84 percent of the shoreline is protected from development, safeguarding it as ideal habitat for sea life, birds and mammals, and as a source of countless riches for people who live along its shores. Sure there are recreational rewards like sailing, kayaking, hiking, sport fishing and bird watching. There’s also a more practical yield: food. We feast on pink shrimp, oysters, blue and stone crab, flounder, snapper and other menu items that start and end life here. Let’s see, recreation equals tourism equals livelihood along with abundant food equals pretty good reasons to respect and hold dear the waters we call home.

Details: www.dep. state. fl. us/ coastal/ sites/ charlotte/ info. htm;


>> Woolverton Trail

The stillness is broken by an occasional bird call or splash made by a retreating turtle as a kayak maneuvers through dark mangrove tunnels on the Woolverton Trail, named for the man who discovered them as overgrown ditches used for mosquito control back in the 1950s. Ed Woolverton had a vision that with proper grooming and management they could become an ecotreasure. For decades he mapped and hacked through the tangled mess, and managed to keep the channels open, establishing a portal to this natural paradise. A hand-made sign marks the Woolverton Trail, part of Charlotte Harbor’s larger Blueway 193 mile trail system. Kayak outfitters including Grande Tours, It’s Time to Kayak and Canoe and Phoenix Rising Kayak Tours offer guided trips, or there are public landings on Placida for the lone explorer.

Details: CommunityServices/ blueway. asp


>> Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area

Along the beautiful 5-mile paved road in the Babcock-Webb Wildlife Management Area, cyclists’ senses are opened to a world of birds and animals. On a recent ride, we spotted a 5-foot-long red rat snake sunning itself in the road.

Most of the time, the only vehicles around are transporting folks to launch a kayak or an electric-powered boat. (These motorists are respectful of cyclists.) Babcock-Webb is a great place for cyclists of every level, from novices to those training for a crosscountry journey. Late Friday, Saturday and Sunday, expect to encounter campers.

Babcock-Webb is the east end of Tuckers Grade. Take US 41 south to Tuckers Grade, turn left, go under I-75, and continue into the park. If you’re under 65, stop and pay the piper, then proceed to the first intersection, turn right, and park. The paved road heads south along Webb Lake, going through open country as well as areas shaded by slash pines.



>> Downtown Punta Gorda

Just two years after it sprouted up, the Downtown Punta Gorda Farmers Market was voted Florida’s favorite in America’s Favorite Farmers Market 2010 Contest. The market placed 15th nationally.

The market is open year-round on Saturdays from 8 a.m. - 1 p.m. in front of the old historic courthouse on Taylor Street. Locals make it a weekly ritual to shop the market, enjoy live music, art demonstrations, sample fresh foods and juices and sip a cup of fresh- roasted joe.

Freshly caught fish, citrus, butcherfresh meats, home baked pies and desserts, fresh-cut flowers and exotic plants round out the variety of produce so fresh you can still see

Mother Earth’s fingerprints on it. And if the offerings weren’t enough, shopping the market supports the local economy.

Details: Saturday mornings into early afternoon in the area around the old Charlotte County Courthouse on Taylor Road in historic downtown Punta Gorda


>> Kiwanis Park

OK, if you’re gonna play Frisbee, what you want is lots of space to run and throw. What you don’t want is a slide, utility pole or gazebo to accidentally ram into. Fortunately, there’s a place in Charlotte County that offers the ideal spot, tucked away in a hidden corner of Kiwanis Park.

Kiwanis is one of those parks that’s bigger on the inside than it seems from the outside, boasting both a nature hike and a fitness trail. Behind the head of the fitness trail, just past a children’s play area, is a walking bridge that will take you to Frisbee heaven.

If you’re up for playing, there’s plenty of unhindered space surrounded by water. If you’d rather watch, there’s a gazebo perched at one end, out of harm’s way. Don’t be put off by the occasional wildlife — birds, turtles and other creatures — that you might find. Just ask them to join you.

Details: 3100 Donora St., Port Charlotte


>> Peace River Wildlife Center

Since 1978, the Peace River Wildlife Center has been a haven for more than 100,000 injured birds and small animals. The nonprofit organization, run mostly by volunteers, is dedicated to the rescue, care, protection and preservation of native small wildlife and welcomes about 2,000 “patients” annually, a number that has increased every year since it was founded.

The goal for each patient is rehabilitation, but if it cannot be returned to its native habitat after treatment, it finds a home at PRWC, which houses about 125 permanent residents.

The center, which is located within Punta Gorda’s Ponce de Leon Park, is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to receive injured wildlife, and welcomes visitors daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Details: 3400 Ponce de Leon Parkway, Punta Gorda; 637- 3830.


>> Gilchrist Park

Most Charlotte County parks have little more than the obligatory swing set and slide. And aging KidSpace has been reduced to a shadow of its former glory. But one place shines like a beacon: Punta Gorda’s Gilchrist Park.

A fenced-in play area offers more than swings and slides, including a multi-activity playground set, a grand old tree for climbing and gliders for adults who want some movement while watching the kids. There’s a covered area with picnic tables and an outstanding view of the harbor.

The entire park spans 11 acres, and features a sidewalk for walking, jogging and biking, basketball court, two tennis courts, a fishing pier and a gazebo which makes it an ideal spot for the entire family.

Details: 400 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda. ¦



>> Dr. Debbie Marks, Florida Animal Care

Growing up, Dr. Debbie Marks always wanted to be vet, but economics held that dream at bay until, at the age of 31, she became an international veterinarian in the Republic of Palau, an island close to Guam.

Dr. Marks and her husband Steve decided to move back to the United States to be closer to their families, each writing a list of acceptable states for habitation. Florida was the only state on both lists, and the choice was made.

They moved into their new Port Charlotte home 30 days before Hurricane

Charley came through in 2004 and destroyed it. It was a homecoming they’d never forget, Dr. Marks said. They rebuilt, Dr. Marks joined a vet practice, and her husband began practicing law locally.

What really makes Dr. Marks special is her comforting pet-side manner, which makes both animals and owners at ease.

Dr. Marks works with several local animal rights and welfare organizations, donating her time and talent because, as she says, “Animals give people so much. People need to give back to the animals.”

Details: 11002 Nathan Court, Punta Gorda;


>> Charlotte County

There’s a ton of help for those who yearn to start a business of their own right here in Charlotte County. How many tighter-than-tight-knit communities have two Entrepreneurial Academies and two chambers of commerce? You can’t beat Charlotte County for the learning and networking opportunities afforded those who choose to strike out on their own — and hopefully strike it rich.



>> Avenue Garage

Word-of-mouth from loyal customers has kept the engines of family-run Avenue Garage in Port Charlotte humming for 28 years.

Costa Vacopoulos and his son, Kyriakos, welcome customers with a laidback demeanor and a warm smile. The team of mechanics is equipped to service all makes of cars with all sorts of problems, from a simple battery change to complete engine overhaul. And they’re known for their fair treatment of customers, who keep coming back.

Avenue Garage specializes in European cars, from VW to Rolls Royce.

Details: 4138 Electric Way, Port Charlotte, 625- 4424;


>> Basix Goods on Dearborn

There are plenty of gift shops around, but one makes it a point to cater to people’s basic everyday needs.

Chris Birchfield and her husband, Stephen, along with Belle their black lab, live in Florida December to May and in Maine in the summer, where they also own shops.

The shop on Dearborn Street in Englewood offers products known to Maine, recycled plastic multi-color Adirondack chairs, designer waterproof totes, French cotton pillows, cocktail accessories, antiques and other uniquebut basic items. Imagine getting a gift you really need and want.

Mrs. Birchfield says the shop’s clothing line has become its biggest seller. Classic and timeless, these high-quality, comfortable duds never go out of style. It doesn’t get more basic than that.

Details: 449 W. Dearborn, Englewood;; 474- 7111.


>> Nolan Family Insurance Agency

Does Nolan Family Insurance mean that the Nolan Family sells insurance, or that the company provides family insurance? The answer is both. This family run, family insurance company prides itself on sitting down with anyone who calls or comes through the door and providing a true, unbiased review of his or her current policies. Sometimes the answer surprises people if they’re told to stick right where they are, but the point is finding coverage that’s best for you and your family.

Details:; 639- 1122; 301 West Marion Avenue, Punta Gorda


>> Spago Day Spa, Salon and Medispa

Ingredients: warm milk, honey, almonds and a splash of champagne. No, it’s not a fancy cocktail. But it could all be included in an afternoon at Spago Day Spa, where your entire body, toes to hair get a life-lift. You can pick and choose from services offered, so try this: start with a champagne pedicure (feet and legs massaged with milk, honey and almonds as you sip a glass or two of bubbly). Then move on to a 75-minute exfoliating full-body sea mud wrap, followed by a shampoo and style, then an ultrasonic facial.

Details: 115 Taylor Street, Punta Gorda; 205- 3030;


>> Peace River Regional Medical Center

Whatever end of life’s spectrum you’re on, Peace River Regional Medical Center has you covered. But when it comes to the littlest among us, they get special attention. The hospital opened the county’s only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit two years ago, meeting the needs of premature babies, some tipping the scales at a mere 2 ½ pounds. These tiny, extraordinarily vulnerable patients must be monitored 24 hours a day to ensure healthy development. This one goes out to the little people.

Details:; 2500 Harbor Blvd., Port Charlotte; 766- 4370


>> Charlotte Players

They’ll make you laugh and cry. They’ll charm you even as they make you guffaw. In short, they’re players. You may not be able to figure out if they’re serious or kidding (you know how actors are), but they sure are fun to watch on stage. In all seriousness, this diverse troupe of skilled performers brings us outstanding theater arts, and the group just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Coming up next is Neil Simon’s “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” which opens May 20 for a two-week run at the Cultural Center Theater in Port Charlotte.

Details:; tickets 625- 4175, ext. 220


>> Charlotte State Bank

This is no cool, imposing cathedral of commerce. Going to Charlotte State Bank is a lot more like stopping by grandma’s house, with its cozy atmosphere and smiling faces. Sometimes they even have fresh-baked cookies and coffee (though unlike grandma, they won’t slip you a $20 just for being cute). This isn’t just a façade. This bank has been dedicated to the community since opening in 1987, supporting groups such as the American Cancer Society and United Way, to unjustly name just two of dozens. From personal accounts to mortgage loans, they make sure this community has the services it needs for a better financial tomorrow.

Details:; five locations throughout Charlotte County


>> Gladys Darcelin at Charlotte Regional Medical Center

Doctors get a lot of credit, as they should. But the value of nurses, their warmth and dedication, can never be underestimated. Gladys Darcelin, a nurse at Charlotte Regional Medical Center, is such a person. When it comes to keeping hearts healthy, Ms. Darcelin has an important role to play indeed. Working in the hospitals’ cath lab, she helps cardiologists during procedures, and is one of the first faces patients see upon arrival. Patients and fellow associates brim with good things to say about her. The hospital’s CEO Jose Morilla said, “Her dependable nature and focus on teamwork made my nomination (for Nurse of the Year at Charlotte Regional) an easy choice.”

Details:; 809 East Marion Ave., Punta Gorda; 639- 3131


>> Charlotte RV & Marine

Filet and lobster, boats and RVs — these are pairs that just go together. Charlotte RV & Marine’s huge indoor showroom is the place to find the perfect recreational vehicle or vessel to take you across Florida’s scenic landscapes and seascapes in style. They each have full-service and repair capabilities, with decades of experience and training handling any marine or RV repair. Owner Amos Slater has been in the business much of his life, starting when his dad worked as a repairman for GMC Motorcoaches, and on to his success as a South Florida RV dealer. This is the place for those hankering for a taste of surf and turf, in the classic style of Sunshine State recreation.

Details:; 4628 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 877- 883- 5555


>> Burnt Store Presbyterian Church

As long as you’re reaching up, making disciples and changing lives, we’re thinking the Lord isn’t fussy about whether church services are formal or informal. That’s why Burnt Store Presbyterian Church has classic worship at 8:15 and 11 a.m. Sunday, and also the 9:40 a.m. “Come As You Are” service, a more casual experience. It’s especially for those new to the church, so stop in if you feel moved, for a blend of modern Christian music and modernized old standards. The preacher hangs out among the worshipers for an interactive session, considering the text together. So rub the sleep out of your eyes, pull on a pair of jeans (or suit) and head over to Burnt Store for a good old-fashioned, laid back celebration of finding hope in God’s word.

Details: 11330 Burnt Store Road, Punta Gorda; 639- 0001;


>> Medicine Shoppe

When it comes to pharmaceutical needs, it’s sometimes hard to find health professionals who have the right bedside manner. But the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy does, because you’re not just a number waiting for a prescription to be filled. Big on personal service and affordable medicines, Medicine Shoppe has more than 400 generics starting at $4.

It also delivers and offers a free Rx savings card, just the right remedy for whatever it is that ails you.

Details: 615 Cross St., Unit 1112, Punta Gorda; 505- 1095


>> 20-10 Optical

This new downtown Punta Gorda business will help you get the most out of your looks, whether you’re looking left and right at the next corner, or at that cute girl in the vegetable isle.

Owner J. Davis Mungenast joined forces with optometrist Joseph Reyes to open 20-10 Optical in March. With their combined years of experience in correcting all manner of vision problems, 20-10 also stocks name brand, fashion eyewear. You’ll be looking good — and seeing better —in no time. As the saying goes, the better you look, the more you see.

Details:; 121 E. Marion, Punta Gorda; 833- 9044


>> Donna’s Doors & Window

Donna Kallnischkies knows Charlotte County, and she knows doors and windows. But area residents probably recognize Donna’s Door and Window Co. in Port Charlotte more than they do her last name.

Donna has provided door and window services to Charlotte residential and commercial clients for 29 of the 43 years she’s lived in Charlotte County. An industry mainstay, Donna is a devoted member of the community, having served on numerous nonprofit boards.

Donna’s Door and Window Co. offers free estimates and invites anyone and everyone to stop by the store to see what the outfit has to offer.

Details: 18480 Paulson Drive, Port Charlotte; 255- 3770;


>> Bacon’s Furniture

A 3-acre display at its Port Charlotte location makes Bacon’s Furniture the largest furniture showroom in the area. And it’s just one of its three showrooms. Bacon’s Furniture has about everything you’d want to see in home furnishings and accessories — and in your home, for that matter. The showroom features an endless array of rooms filled with traditional and contemporary pieces representing famous brand names, such as Thomasville, Lexington and Broyhill. A Charlotte tradition since 1977, Bacon’s offers complimentary in-home design consultation and delivery nationwide.

Details: 17701 Murdock Circle, Port Charlotte; 625- 4493;


>> Edison State College Charlotte Campus

Inside the attractive façade of Edison State College’s Charlotte County campus, young people are being prepared for jobs in today’s marketplace. Some study criminal justice technology, nursing, small business management and other programs. The affordable tuition and academic rigor makes this a first choice for local students — young or old. The Charlotte campus is expanding its arts curriculum and had the very first Edison Collegiate High School, which opened in 2009. And if you want to be a nurse, we think there’s no place better.

Details: charlotte; 26300 Airport Road, Punta Gorda, 33950; 637- 5629


>> Charlotte Symphony Orchestra concert

The Symphonic Fireworks pops concert performed by the Charlotte Symphony on the fourth of July is an event that everyone, young and old, anticipates every year.

Folks flock to the event to experience the music made memorable by history, with a twist, brought always by the symphony’s music director, Maestro T. Francis Wada.

The event is ideal for this heat-ofsummer celebration, presented in the air-conditioned Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center. As the fireworks begin over Laishley Park, music lovers can then stroll over to witness another symbol of Independence Day’s artistry and sound.

Details:; 205- 5996


>> Charlotte County Family YMCA

Whatever your concept might be about the YMCA — a place to work on your biceps, shoot hoops, take swimming lessons or just meet friends — its staff members are here to serve the community. Always have been, and hopefully always will be. In Charlotte County, the not-for-profit organization has been around since 1969, following its core values of respect, honesty, responsibility and caring.

Details: locations in Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte and North Port;


>> Gene Gorman’s Auto Sales and Auto Repair

Gene Gorman really is that good. But we feel his success is in large part due to the legendary woman always standing behind every successful man — in this case, Mrs. Gorman. They run three pre-owned auto dealerships in Charlotte County, best known for their bend-overbackwards service and of course Mr. Gorman’s outrageous maxim, “I’d give ‘em away…but my wife won’t let me,” which further proves our point. Their son, Owen Gorman, also got in on the proceedings last year, opening two new service shops. This family clearly has a good thing going, and they’re happy to share it with the community.

Details:; three Charlotte County locations and two service centers


>> Fawcett Memorial Hospital

The emergency team at Fawcett Memorial Hospital knows that every second counts when a patient is suffering a heart attack. Over the past year, Fawcett’s emergency/cardiac team has reduced the time it takes to reestablish blood flow to the heart of those suffering an attack. The national benchmark to reestablish blood flow after a STEMI (a common type of heart attack) is 90 minutes. But in March, the average time at Fawcett’s ER was 64 minutes. The hospital posts the averages on its website the first of each month. They’ve done it in less than 20 minutes, which is akin to sprinting the 100-meter dash in less than 10 seconds. Saving lives sometimes means beating the clock, and the team does just that.

Details:; 21298 Olean Blvd., Port Charlotte; 629- 1181


>> Bell Senior Living at Lexington Manor

Is this a gracious senior living community in Port Charlotte or a fine dining restaurant? The Lexington Manor residents think it’s both. Their meals are prepared by chefs trained at the worldrenowned Culinary Institute of America. The kitchen fires up early for breakfast. By that time, they’re already prepping for a substantial lunch, and planning a dinner selections such as frosted lime salad, snapper Vera Cruz or honey glazed Cornish hen. Exquisite desserts at this fine dining establishment are par for the course. Bon appétit!



>> Dr. Charlene Okomski

Woman will find true advocacy and empathy with Dr. Charlene Okomski. She specializes in obstetrics, caring for women during pregnancy, and in gynecology for women of all ages. She also delivers solutions with procedures such as skin rejuvenation, tummy tucks, incontinence issues and body sculpting. Always up for a challenge, Dr. O. is always accepting new patients.

Details:; 6210 Scott Street #216, Punta Gorda; 205- 2666


>> Rooftop at the Wyvern

The Wyvern Hotel is situated in the middle of Punta Gorda’s Independence Day fireworks, so the view doesn’t get much better than this. Viewers experience the spectacular sky above the shimmering, reflective water beneath. The bar, tables and chairs offer comfort, and viewers are so close to the display, can smell the pyrotechnics.

The only thing that rivals the fireworks experience is the partying that goes with it atop the Wyvern, with live music, dancing and cold spirits.

Details: 101 E. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda;; 639- 7700


>> River City Grill

Enter the River City Grill and you’re immediately struck by its gorgeously gleaming wood bar. River City — and its bar — are destinations for folks who want to see and be seen. The bar is located right up front, and anyone entering the restaurant has full view of those gathered at River City, perhaps for business meetings or its two-for-one specials.

Details: 131 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, 639- 9080


>> The Visual Arts Center

The Visual Arts Center in Punta Gorda, a community-built art center, has grown from its beginnings 50 years ago, and has been making friends ever since. There are innumerable ways to be involved in the VAC, from its busy season from October to May to its summer offerings for teens and adults. Everything from oil painting to pottery is available, as are craft and photography shows (both start May 9), and a kids’ summer camp starting June 6. This is an ideal place for art-minded volunteers to sign up to do what they do best. The VAC has three galleries, a library, gift shop and a number of classrooms for anyone wanting to build friendships and support art in the community. The VAC is open to the public, and most events are free.

Details: 210 Maud Street Punta Gorda; 639- 8810;


>> Charlotte County Arts & Humanities Council

Artists and writers should love one of the best websites in town, that developed by the Charlotte County Arts & Humanities Council. The site contains the expected material touting the benefits of the arts in general and the council’s role in the community. And it goes a lot further. Local artists have the opportunity to not only have links to their websites, but to also be listed in an ongoing directory for those in need of painters, writers and others masters of the creative bent.

But for anyone who wants to know what’s going on in the arts — and we mean everything — the A&H calendar of events is surpassed by none.



>> Panther Hollow Dental Lodge

You wouldn’t think twice about asking to see a hotel room before you checked in. Or taking a car for a test drive before you bought it. But visit a dental office? Absolutely. Panther Hollow Dental Lodge is worth a visit, even if it’s only to take a look: treatment rooms are themed as 13 national parks (including Yosemite, Acadia and Everglades) and the whole office is set up as a wilderness lodge. That makes it a no-brainer for getting the kids to go to the dentist, as well as an out-of-the ordinary experience for your implant and cosmetic dentistry, root canals, dentures and partials. Panther Hollow Dental Lodge: like any of the country’s national parks, it must be seen to be believed.

Details: 19240 Quesada Ave., Port Charlotte; 743- 7435;


>> Palm Auto Mall

To add some certainty to uncertain economic times, Palm Auto Mall has introduced WalkAway protection for financed vehicles: in the event of lifechanging circumstances, Palm buyers can return vehicles and just walk away with no penalties. Nobody plans on a layoff, bankruptcy or disability. Palm’s protection is a nice thing to be sure of when so much is unsure? With a selection of nearly every make under the Florida sun, new and used, Palm Auto Mall shows that they’re still number one, because they still make you number one.

Details: 1801 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda, (800) 226- PALM,


>> The tiki bar at the Sheraton Four Points

Belly up to the bar under the stars to nurse a tropical cocktail or slug a frosty brew at the area’s newest watering hole on Charlotte Harbor. The Sheraton Four Points’ Tiki Bar serves beverages, of course, and dining delights from the hotel’s indoor casual eatery, Dockside Grill, which has received glowing reviews from locals and visitors alike.

The Four Points was recently awarded its parent company Starwood Hotels’ highest honor as Four Points Hotel of the Year based on guest satisfaction, quality and business acumen.

So it’s not exactly Key West, but guests will be in an island state of mind as they watch sailboats and fishing trawlers head for home at dusk.

Details: 33 Tamiami Trail Punta Gorda; 637- 6770.


>> Nav-A-Gator

Nav-A-Gator’s style is decidedly what we’d call backyard funk, as this Peace River getaway defines laid back, comfy and casual. The campus that is the Nav-A-Gator offers food, drink, water excursions and explorations for the river-curious.

Just recently, owner Capt. Dennis Kirk added airboat rides to the site’s number of historical and natural boat tours. Kayak rentals are also available.

Back ashore, this haven for the kickback day-tripper, offers fresh seafood, beefy burgers, fries and mouth-watering snacks and drinks.

To top it off, local celebs offer up a smorgasbord of live music, none so revered as Trop-Rock music, for which Nav-A-Gator has been named the tops in the country.

And if you can’t bear to leave, on-site cottages are available for rent.

Details: 9700 SW Riverview Circle, Lake Suzy; 627-3474;


>> Dr. Alvaro Bada

Thank heaven for Dr. Alvaro Bada, a surgeon who for years has cheerfully solved health issues where the sun doesn’t shine. He proudly proclaims himself the King of Hemorrhoids, confident that his “ultroid” treatments will conquer that pain in the butt.

Dr. Bada offers help in other regions, including colon issues and GERD. He also treats such delicate ailments as skin and breast cancer.

Dr. Bada, whoses bedside manner extends to after-hour emergencies, is a Medicare participant who accepts most insurance types.

In any case, Dr. Bada likely has a cure for whatever ails you down under.

Details: Dr. Alvaro Bada, 18308 Murdock Circle, Suite 101, Port Charlotte; 255- 0069.


>> Simply Cabinets

If simplicity implies beauty, then the name of this business makes sense. Otherwise, it’s a bit deceptive, because Simply Cabinets does far more than sell cabinetry. Its cutting edge kitchens and bathrooms will change the way clients view their homes. Working closely with interior designers, architects and homeowners, Simply Cabinets can make modern designs that look like instant classics, and give contemporary installations an old-fashioned warmth.

Details:; 6640 Taylor Road, Unit 101; Punta Gorda; 505- 5502


>> Alligators, Port Charlotte Town Center

Appropriately decorated with a lifesized alligator sculpture, this upbeat bar and grill at Port Charlotte Town Center is a locally owned and operated venue for anyone who’s got a mean appetite.

The food is fresh, and Alligator’s stellar selection of burgers (some drenched in your choice of wing sauce) will send beef-eaters over the edge. But it’s not all pub fare, not by a long shot. Fish aficionados will fall for the filets at Alligators and those with a passion for pasta will not be disappointed by the many offerings.

And if you find comfort in food, try Alligators’ pulled pork, beef and cheddar, quesadillas and soups. For the lunch crowd, the lightning-quick servers will have you back in the office in a flash.

Details: 1441 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 624- 0067


>> Bradley R. Teets and William W. Hughes Financial Consultants and Investment Services

These experienced financial and investment advisers, with 40 years’ experience apiece, take a look at all aspects of a client’s life and help him or her prepare for whatever might come along from retirement and investment strategies to funding kids’ and grandkids’ educations.

To their clients, these guys are heroes of finance, and with little wonder. They’ve got the goods to keep clients’ accounts firmly in the black.

Details: 150 W. McKenzie Street, Suite 114, Punta Gorda, 33950; 205- 2000


>> Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center

At just two years of age, The Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center is a landmark on the Punta Gorda waterfront. The state-of-the-art, 43,500-square-foot facility is getting plenty of nods from convention and meeting planners from around the country. Meeting spaces can accommodate more than 100 booths and more than 1,500 delegates, and the on-site kitchen can be staffed to prepare up to 700 meals at a single seating.

But what’s grabbing local attention is its entertainment offered at a fraction of the cost of surrounding venues.

The event center is located within easy walking distance of three downtown hotels and downtown Punta Gorda’s vibrant dining and arts scene, and is poised to grab its share of the area’s lucrative convention and meeting market.

Details:; 75 Taylor Street, Punta Gorda; 833- 5444


>> State Insurance/Chapman Insurance Group

This second-generation business is a one-stop insurance shop to manage risk. A single agent can get you the best value on coverage for a car, motorcycle, home, boat, and even your business and commercial interests by partnering with some of the largest, most respected carriers in the industry. These relationships help make State Insurance the best stop to cover all your bases.

Details:; 979- 8426; 992 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte


>> Cayo Costa Dental Inc.

Dr. Frederick J. Fox III has a great old Florida dental office, personable assistants and is adept in the latest technology and techniques of his profession. These attributes keep his patients smiling proudly. His community service keeps them smiling, too. Dr. Fox is involved with the Punta Gorda Historical Society, Kiwanis Club and the Charlotte County Dchool District, working to improve oral hygiene education.

OK, and he also happens to speak Swedish and is a member of the Swedish Club of Sarasota. Add this to his exemplary tender care, and there’s no wonder Dr. Fox’s dental clients are all smiles.

Details:; 316 West Helen Avenue, Punta Gorda; 575- 1446


>> Moosehead Cigar Bar and Lounge

Stop by this fine establishment on Wednesday nights (or Sundays outside football season) and you’ll find two fine pastimes that, together, make magic: cigars and poker.

Get a chair at the table, make a straight face and light up one of the hand-rolled stogies from the walk-in humidor that includes dozens of premium brands such as Montecristo, Don Diego and Cohiba. It’s free competitive play, and poker winners get prizes.

If that’s not your game, Moosehead’s open-mic night and live music on weekends will fill the bill.

Details:; 318 Tamiami Trail # 111, Punta Gorda; 505- 0404


>> Jack’s Restaurant

An outdoor patio and upscale café by day, a Punta Gorda hot spot by night — and often both simultaneously — Jack’s Restaurants offers the best of all possible worlds. That includes a wide variety of American-style cuisine at unbeatable prices. Dine from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and you can get a three-course meal for just $10.95. (And there are steaks on the menu.) Friday Caribbean nights feature live music from 6 to 10 p.m. Located at the corner of Marion and Taylor Streets, it’s also the easiest and best place to see and be seen.

Details: 201 West Marion Ave., Punta Gorda; 637- 8800.


>> Coldwell Banker Sunstar Realty

If you’re looking for a dream home with the assistance of a southern gentleman or gentlewomen, Coldwell Banker Sunstar Realty might just be your cup of iced tea. The folks at Coldwell Banker Sunstar extend their best southern hospitality to help folks chart their next course, whether it’s buying or selling — here or somewhere else. The group’s referral department can hone in on homes that pique your fancy anywhere in the United States. And if the (wise) move is to Southwest Florida, the relocation department helps newcomers every step of the way.

It has an award-winning management team and award-winning agents. Plus, Coldwell Banker Sunstar provides services way beyond selling and buying, providing specialists in referrals, short sales and foreclosures, relocation, property management, information technology and marketing.

And company agents have the territory blanketed with offices conveniently located in Punta Gorda, Port Charlotte, Englewood and North Port.

So, go on in and get ready for Coldwell Banker Sunstar’s good old southern hospitality, offered freely in a sometimes not so hospitable world.

Details: 1951- D Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 800- 780- 1245; Tania. ¦

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