2017-06-15 / Cuisine

Some shake-ups and a shutdown around town

You could almost hear the collective sigh when foodies first learned former Trabue executive chef and GM Keith Meyer was returning to Punta Gorda. His escargot and classic French culinary expertise were sorely missed after the restaurant’s demise in January. When his Facebook followers found out Chef Meyer was returning as co-owner of Jacks on Marion, along with established restaurateur Chris Evans, they insisted and persisted that several of their favorite dishes return, including the delectable escargot crostini with its oh-so savory garlic, butter and white wine sauce.

“So many people were asking the same question,” he said. “That’s the one thing we changed during the first week.”

The next addition was the PEI mussels Provençal prepared with garlic, white wine and herbed butter. The dynamic duo took over the restaurant May 1 and a month later introduced the new menu as the precursor to a name change to F.M. Don’s, in tribute to Mr. Evans’ late grandfather, the developer behind Fishermen’s Village.

F.M. Don’s pimento and baquette. F.M. Don’s pimento and baquette. “It tastefully tells his story and provides a factual picture of Punta Gorda’s history,” said Mr. Evans.

Blown-up black-and-white newspaper photos and clippings recall F.M. “Don” Donelson’s vision and determination to build a mall, marina and apartments on the site of the city’s former docks, fisheries and packing plants.

“The restaurant will be known for the delicious food no one else in the area can do like Keith, as well as my grandfather’s development and civic side and the controversy he faced,” said Mr. Evans. “It took him five years to get Fishermen’s Village approved through the city. Can you imagine the history of Punta Gorda without Fishermen’s Village?”

F.M. Don’s PEI mussels. F.M. Don’s PEI mussels. “It’s a pretty good situation,” says Chef Meyer. “Chris is operational and analytical, and I’m the hands-on people guy. We didn’t close a day; the transition was seamless.”

Mr. Evans, who successfully reopened the Turtle Club Coastal Tavern & Claw Bar in fall 2014, has been talking to former Jacks owners Bill and Janet Minerich about a buyout for 1½ years — about as long has he’s been trying to entice Chef Meyer from Trabue.

“Frankly, I couldn’t afford him,” he said of the French Culinary Institute-trained chef.

The pieces started falling into place when Trabue closed in January because of an unstoppable real estate deal.

“Keith has a great technique and mind,” said Mr. Evans. “He’s worked at Michelin-rated restaurants in New York City.”

JD’s signature pate. JD’s signature pate. At F.M. Don’s, Chef Meyer has introduced a style of French cooking he calls “approachable” and describes the menu as “elevated comfort food with a level of sophistication. The French have always been way ahead of the science behind cooking food. For me, there’s a meticulous difference between making food good or making it great. If you have a really fresh piece of fish, you don’t want to kill it with heavy, old-style French sauce. It’s about not masking the flavor but taking the extra step. Instead of a traditional batter for our fish ’n’ chips, we’re going to do it tempura style. Even if it’s a simple application, we’re going to do it the best we can.”

Some of the new menu highlights include a watermelon-and-arugula salad, pork chop with white bean ragout, lunchtime roast beef and chicken salad sandwiches and pimento cheese spread. There’s also braised short ribs, steaks and scallops.

F.M. Don's fish ’n’ chips. 
NANCI THEORET / FLORIDA WEEKLY F.M. Don's fish ’n’ chips. NANCI THEORET / FLORIDA WEEKLY Chef Meyer is also commanding a larger kitchen and dining room. At Trabue, he had six burners and a small dining room; at F.M. Don’s there are 16 burners and seating for 260. His sous chef from Trabue will soon join him.

There will also be some of Jacks’ mainstays, such as coconut shrimp and a few fried foods, but properly prepared.

“We want the experience to be fun, casual and fresh with food cooked the right way,” said Chef Meyer. “There were items on the menu I couldn’t look myself in the mirror if I served that food.”

The new restaurant will also maintain Jacks’ tradition as a popular indoor/ outdoor bar gathering area with a menu of bar bites.

Chef Keith Meyer. Chef Keith Meyer. Chef Meyer is happy to return to Punta Gorda, proudly announcing on his Facebook page: “It’s good to be home.”

“I love Punta Gorda,” he said. “Patrons of Trabue had a going-away party for me, and 100 people came. It was humbling and touching and so great to be back. This is so much more than a job.”

F.M. Don’s, 201 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, 637-8800

Dine at JD’s for $25

The place for all that jazz — JD’s Bistro & Grille next to the Day’s Inn in Port Charlotte — is offering a three-course prix fixe menu this summer. Start with a champagne cocktail or one of more than three dozen Jazz Age or old Hollywood-themed martinis as you decide on a starter: house salad, soup or Chef Daniel Cortes’ signature homemade chicken liver pâté. A trio of entrée options include grilled marinated chicken breast accompanied by sweet potato plantain mash, French green beans and bacon pecan brandy sauce; grilled rosemary marinated pork with apple walnut risotto, green beans, citrus fennel and demi glaze; or pasta Bolognese served with tomato cream penne, parmesan, basil, crisp prosciutto and a baguette. Dessert is crème brûlée. All for just $25.

JD’s Bistro & Grille, 1951 Tamiami Road, Port Charlotte, 255-0994, jdsbistroandgrille.

Menus and Music

Restaurants throughout the region are offering discounted dining and live entertainment throughout the dog days of summer.

Angela’s Café Italian, which opened at the former Trabue on West Marion Avenue, is gearing up for summer by offering live entertaining every Tuesday through Saturday.

The Turtle Club will be open Tuesday through Saturday this summer and will continue to offer live performances each month, including Bourbon & Blues from 6 to 9 p.m. on the second Wednesday and Wine & Jazz also from 6 to 9 p.m. on the fourth Wednesday. Local favorite and jazz pianist Danny Sinoff tickles the ivories from 8 to 11 p.m. every Thursday.

Mr. Sinoff also performs every Tuesday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. as part of the Danny Sinoff Trio at La Fiorentina, 10361 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda.

Construction started April 1 at The Curve, which will convert the ground-floor baseball-themed restaurant at the Wyvern into the 88 Keys Florida, offering breakfast, lunch and an intimate fine-dining experience as well as a wraparound bar and seating around a piano bar. No word yet on its planned debut.

Farewell, Whiskey Creek

You might have noticed the absence of the intoxicating aroma of burning oak and ash when passing by 2746 Tamiami Trail in Port Charlotte. Whiskey Creek has extinguished its grill after 15 years of serving local patrons. The restaurant was the original location for a franchise that now operates primarily in South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. ¦

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