Suite Life Magazine
Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille
Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille is an institution on Sanibel Island. The first location of this popular restaurant and bar celebrated its 20th... Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille is an institution on Sanibel Island. The first location of this popular restaurant and bar celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2023, and by all accounts, it is full steam ahead for the next 20 with exciting new locations and delicious new menu items.

The establishment is named af­ter the main character in a series of Doc Ford crime-fighting books by Southwest Florida novelist Randy Wayne White. His adventures of­ten take place around Southwest Florida’s barrier islands and the Caribbean. The flavors of these islands serve as inspiration for Doc Ford’s menu, which has recently been updated.

New items have been added, while other recipes have been tweaked to perfection. To inspire creativity in the kitchen, Doc Ford’s holds a chef ’s com­petition involving kitchen staff from all four restaurants. The winning dishes find their way to the main menu.

Orange Ginger Shrimp is one of this season’s winners. The shrimp is roasted in a combination of flavorful ingredients that include orange juice, ginger, mild peppers and Caribbean spices. The dish is served with coconut jasmine rice and vegetables.

However, the shrimp dish that has received accolades from critics and food­ies around the country for years is the Yucatan Shrimp. It is a Doc Ford’s signa­ture dish. The sauce that the peel-and-eat shrimp are tossed in is to die for. It consists of butter, garlic and custom-made Sambal sauce. Order extra bread for dipping.

“We have partnered with friends in Colombia to custom make it (Sambal mash) for Doc Ford’s using Colombian chilies,” says Joe Harrity, Doc Ford’s partner.

The Sambal is key to the Yucatan Sauce, which is made in-house daily. The restaurant also creates and packages a squeezable version of the popular sauce that comes in a condiment-style bottle.

The sauce is so popular that shrimp is not the only shellfish to be cooked in it. Also new to the menu is Yucatan Baked Oysters. Freshly shucked oysters are first marinated in the sauce. Then they are topped with manchego cheese and baked to perfection. You can also order Florida Gulf oysters on the half shell.

It would be a sacrilege for a South­west Florida-based restaurant not to have grouper on the menu and Doc Ford’s recently added a new preparation to its list. The local fish now comes wrapped in a banana leaf filled with roasted pepper cilantro lime pesto. You’ll also find grou­per encrusted with toasted macadamia nuts. It’s a restaurant favorite.

Harrity also raves about the new Chimichurri Grouper Taco. The fish is blackened and drizzled with flavorful chimichurri aioli. It is nestled in a warm flour tortilla with lime cilantro cabbage slaw.

The menu has much more than fish. Danish Baby Back Ribs are so tender that they fall off the bone. The comforting slow-roasted pulled pork sandwich features Doc Ford’s house-made BBQ sauce. All sauces are made in-house, and the differ­ence is noticeable.

The Roasted Half-Chicken is also beloved by carnivores. It comes over a potato hash that has mild Amazon peppers and Panama-style chorizo. Perhaps the best part is the colorful chimichurri verde sauce. The menu is teeming with big, fresh salads that are topped with a variety of vegetables and proteins to please almost any palate.

There are two new additions to the appetizer menu that are perfect to begin any meal or to nosh on while having a signature cocktail at the bar. First, Tomlinson’s Taquitos are “back by popular demand,” according to Harrity. The small, hand-rolled corn tortillas are stuffed with shredded chicken in a spicy and sweet barbacoa sauce, fried until crisp and served with a cilantro lime dipping sauce.

Next is the Fig & Prosciutto Flat­bread. It’s perfect if you want a light bite or something to share. Thin and crisp, the flatbread is smeared with house-made fig jam then piled with red onion blue cheese crumbles and prosciutto. The wow factor comes with the final topping, arugula tossed in a jalapeño vinaigrette.

Additional flatbreads include a tradi­tional Margherita Flatbread with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, roasted garlic and basil. The Spinach & Artichoke features roasted garlic, spinach, artichoke and mozzarella with red sauce.

Don’t forget dessert. Doc Ford’s sig­nature Drunken Parrot Carrot Cake and Key Lime Pie are both made in-house. The pie is perfectly sweet and tart, punc­tuated with a wild berry coulis. The cake is dense and delicious. What makes this extra special is the splash of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum used in the recipe. Or­der a shot on ice instead of coffee for a perfect beverage pairing.

Doc Ford’s is not just about food and fun. It’s also about good rum. Here you will find dozens of selections of the distilled spirit from around the world. Each one has a story and a unique flavor to discover. Rum is not a one-size-fits-all spirit. The selections run the gamut from white rums perfectly suited for mixing in sweet drinks, to those that have been barrel-aged for decades. The latter are best enjoyed straight up or over a large cube of ice.

Sit at the bar and enjoy a tasting flight to discover and appreciate the nuances of this popular island spirit. In addition, the cocktail menu has a variety of rum cock­tails such as the Dark & Stormy with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, ginger beer and a squeeze of lime. There are several rum punches, coladas and mojitos, along with the iconic Rum Runner.

Be sure to ask about the feature drink, which benefits local children’s hospitals. In Southwest Florida, $1 for every drink sold is donated to Golisano Children’s Hospital. Similarly, money for cocktails sold in the St. Pete locations is donated to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Since the introduction of this charitable initiative, Doc Ford’s and parent compa­ny HM Restaurant Group have donated over $123,000 to both facilities.

Doc Ford’s is upbeat and family friendly. The vibe is that of an upscale sports fishing bar and it’s as colorful as the food and drinks on the menu. Hos­pitality is taken seriously, and it is out­standing. No matter which location you choose to visit, Doc Ford’s is more than a restaurant. It is a dining experience.

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille has loca­tions at 708 Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Myers Beach; 2500 Island Inn Road, Sanibel; 610 2nd Ave. N.E., St. Pete; 8790 Bay Pines Blvd., St. Pete. Indoor and outdoor seating is available at all locations. Large parties can be accommodated. Serving lunch and dinner daily, from 11 a.m. until close. Times may vary. More information is available at