2017-05-18 / Cuisine

Englewood mash-up: Mary Brown’s opens, ownership switches on the beach

Mary Brown’s Diner opened at 8 a.m. April 22 — and has been swarmed most days since. The Englewood restaurant, located across from Lemon Bay High School on Placida Road, is the first American outpost for the Canadian franchise known for its “chicken and taters.” Unlike its American counterparts KFC and Popeye’s, Mary Brown’s offers full table-service. There’s an actually menu delivered by a server.

So far, reaction has been mixed. I overheard one couple raving about the food but noting it was pricey compared to its “counter”-parts. Also not something they’d eat every day.

You can seldom judge a restaurant by its first month. There’s always some refining. But that said, I did try it four days after its opening, visiting the drive-thru during a hectic-for-me sort of day knowing I had little in the fridge. The parking lot was full (as it has been since opening day), cars were parked along a side road (also a common occurrence) and several couples were waiting outside to be seated, studying what looked like a tri-fold menu.

Mary Browns chicken, biscuit and poutine. 
NANCI THEORET / FLORIDA WEEKLY Mary Browns chicken, biscuit and poutine. NANCI THEORET / FLORIDA WEEKLY The drive-through menu seemed limited, unless you’re obsessed with chicken: two-piece chicken dinners, eight-and 30-piece chicken feasts, chicken sandwiches, chicken wraps, chicken pop-ins and chicken fingers. I noticed all-day breakfast but wasn’t able to read the small type (something I’ve noticed with recent fast-food drive-through encounters — or maybe it’s just my eyesight). I ordered the four-piece dinner for $9.99, which included a drink, biscuit and choice of fries or taters. I substituted the fries with the Tater Poutine, which I’ve been dreaming about since discovering French fries with gravy and cheese were on their way to Englewood. It’s a Canadian thing, originating in Quebec. Mary Brown’s also offers a salsa and sour cream version and an option of cheese curds (the original dish) instead of shredded cheese. Popins are also available for another $1.99.

The taters were everything I envisioned — hot, really hot, and served with more-than-adequate amounts of cheese and gravy. Unlike Publix fried chicken or super-crispy KFC, there was little coating on the Virginia-style chicken, and I much preferred it this way. There were no distracting spices, either. I tasted the chicken from first bite to last (which didn’t take long). I thought the breast was a thigh because of its size. I’m wondering if Canadian chickens are smaller and if Mary Brown’s will adapt to the “bigger is better” mentality south of the border. Consider this: A lot of Canadian restaurants don’t offer free refills. And when I return for more poutine — next time as an in-house diner – I guess I’ll find out.

Mary Brown’s Diner, 2110 Placida Road, Englewood

Villa Capri turns to GoFundMe for rebranding

Nick Mack, owner and executive chef of Villa Capri, is taking a unique approach to rebranding the Italian restaurant into the steak-forward Cape Haze Surf and Turf: He’s trying to raise $75,000 via GoFundMe. Donors who contribute $100 receive a $100 restaurant certificate. So far two patrons have pledged $200 to the endeavor.

Chef Mack purchased the 4.5 bubble-rated TripAdvisor Villa Capri two years ago and, in that time, has determined he was competing with three other Italian restaurants within a 10-mile radius. After being denied bank loans, he turned to the popular web-based fundraising site to raise the capital needed to update and repair old equipment, undertake cosmetic changes and launch a new marketing campaign and website.

“I took over an established restaurant that was in decline from a previous owner,” he notes in his request. “I have since stabilized the business. However, when looking at the market area, the number of new residents is growing quickly. I noticed that there is really no steak and seafood restaurant within this 10-mile radius.”

High among Chef Mack’s ambitions is to become the destination restaurant for locals who would patronize it year-round, keeping employees working beyond the December-to-April high season. He promises to retain popular Villa Capri dishes — including its fresh bread, pizzas and fresh-made red sauce and lasagna — while adding T-bones, porterhouses and ribeyes plus seafood and pork dishes, and eventually lobster and scallops.

“There isn’t a good local steakhouse in the area,” Chef Mack wrote in an email to regular customers and patrons announcing his decision.

Should the restaurant exceed its $60,000 goal and reach $75,000, it will host a charity event with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting the Make a Wish Foundation.

Find out more at gofundme.com/villa-capri-rebranding.

Changes in the air in Englewood

There’s been some major ownership shifts the past few weeks on Englewood Beach. The Elmores — an institution in the island’s dining scene since the 1980s — are retiring and have sold the popular restaurant to Scott and Jill Hemmes, owners of the Beach Road Wine Bar & Bistro.

Two years ago, I was chasing down rumors the Hemmes were looking to expand, adding a second floor room, rooftop bar and proper kitchen to their location along Lemon Bay. And just a few months ago, rumors were swirling of a bistro takeover of the just-closed Blue Lagoon on Placida Road.

Marge and Keyes Elmore started out on Englewood Beach at the Lock ’n’ Key, which they sold 20 years ago to Rocket and Susan Atamanchuk. The Elmores turned their attention to Beaches, their other restaurant just two buildings away, gutting it and creating the Gulf View Grill, the only beach restaurant with second-floor beach and sunset views. Two years ago, under the management of sons Mike and Dave Elmore, the family paid homage to the original by creating the sidewalk Beaches Down Under tiki bar.

Meanwhile, the Atamanchuks have expanded their Englewood empire with the recent purchase of nearby Flounder’s Restaurant & Tiki Bar that has grown exponentially in just six years to offer an all-encompassing entertainment, food and cocktail experience. And they’ll spend the summer beginning a two-phase project to remodel the main dining room this summer and add a second floor in 2018. ¦

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