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Fla. Cafe Fla. Cafe

Fla. Cafe

RESTAURANTS April 29, 2015 admin

There’s something special about a small restaurant with a huge clientele, especially one that is independently owned and operated. Fla. Café in south Fort... Fla. Cafe

There’s something special about a small restaurant with a huge clientele, especially one that is independently owned and operated. Fla. Café in south Fort Myers is one such establishment. Despite intense competition for daytime dining dollars, the small storefront eatery has a firm foothold with the local breakfast/lunch crowd.
On any given weekday, its fans can be found lining up for a taste of their favorite made-to-order sandwiches, salads, soups and sweets. It’s obvious  they’ve told their friends, since Fla. Café can be tough to spot. Although it is situated along one of the most heavily traveled stretches of U.S. 41, just south of Gladiolus Drive across from Jamaica Bay, it is nestled among other small storefronts in Plymouth Plaza and  doesn’t exactly jump out at passersby.  Nonetheless, it continues to attract first-timers who become regular patrons.
Much of its popularity has to do with  the personal service provided by owner Chrissy Pistocchi. Since opening the restaurant in November 2013, she has rapidly turned a generic strip-center space into one of Southwest Florida’s friendliest commercial establishments — dining or otherwise. Pistocchi seems to know everyone by name, indicative of a loyal following. Besides being relentlessly cheerful and gregarious, she admits to having an “insane” memory, so she usually knows their food preferences as well.
Interestingly, Pistocchi’s background  is in business administration and not culinary arts. For most of the last 25 years, the Miami native was the office manager for a luxury automaker in Fort Lauderdale and then Fort Myers, where she moved in 1991. “But I always had an interest in food, and always enjoyed cooking for my family and friends,” she says.
Family recipes and Pistocchi’s original  creations are the foundation of Fla. Café’s menu, which is as simple and straightforward as it is flexible. It is also extremely affordable, with nothing priced at more than $7.50. In addition to a handful of breakfast and bakery items, there is a varied selection of salads and hot or cold sandwiches that may also be combined with the daily soup selection. The chicken salad is a house specialty that Pistocchi makes from scratch daily, along with her egg and tuna salads. All are equally delicious with or without bread.
Hot sandwiches are a mainstay of  the restaurant and include several best sellers. Tony’s Panini (ham, salami, turkey, provolone cheese, spinach and more) is named for her husband (“another hot Italian,” laughs Pistocchi). AJ’s Cali Panini was named in honor of her son and his love of surfing in California. It is made with roast beef, bacon, Swiss cheese, guacamole and creamy horseradish ranch. The French Dip (served au jus on a toasted Kaiser roll) is also very popular.
Pistocchi is also known for improvising and cheerfully adapts the menu as needed. “Customers dictate what they like,” she says. “If someone wants a deli sandwich that’s not on the menu, they are welcome to create their own on white, wheat or rye bread. We’ll make it as long as we have the ingredients.” She’ll also serve almost any sandwich as a salad for customers wishing to avoid carbs or gluten. Conversely, she can craft a sandwich from just about any salad.
According to Pistocchi, the restaurant appeals to people craving the taste of fresh, homemade food. She personally shops for the ingredients that go into everything she serves and even picks her own tomatoes at Biggar Farms every Sunday. She also makes essentially everything on site, including the café’s delicious cakes, scones,  brownies, muffins and other desserts, as well as most of the bread.
Pistocchi is quick to point out that while Fla. Café serves baked goods and deli sandwiches, it is neither a bakery nor a deli. For example, it doesn’t sell bread by the loaf or deli meats by the pound. Further, when it comes to breakfast, this is not a pancakes and eggsover-easy kind of place. Instead, think bagels with creamed cheese or breakfast sandwiches with real scrambled eggs and oven-cooked bacon.
Because soup is one of the restaurant’s biggest draws, Pistocchi arrives weekdays at 6 a.m. to prepare the soup of the day. Early on, she discovered that customers were coming in specifically for the chili, which is her father’s recipe. It was so popular that she began offering it every week on Wednesday, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays during season.
As other daily soup specials caught on, she established a schedule so that no one would miss their favorite. Roasted Cream of Tomato is featured on Monday and Tuesday is Chicken Noodle soup day. Friday’s soup is one of four seafood-based selections that rotate between Clam Chowder, Shrimp and Roasted Corn Chowder, Scallop and Bacon Chowder, and Lobster Bisque. For variety, she surprises diners each Thursday with a soup she chooses from her repertoire of 30+ original recipes. Favorites include Chicken Alfredo and Chicken Tortilla soups.
The café also does a robust take-out business and benefits greatly from the concentration of surrounding homes and commercial operations. Primary business generators include neighboring Hertz and other nearby retail shops, as well as banks, doctor’s offices and the community of Jamaica Bay, across U.S. 41.
“I have a lot of retired people living nearby and they don’t cook a lot,” says Pistocchi. That doesn’t mean they can’t get dinner to go. Each day, Fla. Café serves daily specials that aren’t on the menu, such as beef stew, meatloaf and pulled pork, among others. Provided customers pick up by 4 p.m., they can enjoy a home-cooked meal without having to cook. “I’ve had people who came for lunch, ordered dinner, went shopping and came back just before closing. I try my best to accommodate customers.”
Doing so has translated into vibrant sales at Fla. Café, which has only one year-round employee and does very little traditional advertising. Pistocchi says she relies instead mainly on the café’s Facebook page, where she posts daily specials, photos and other information. She’s also had great success with the restaurant’s innovative business/ lunch card. After accumulating nine stamps (one per visit) on the back of the card, customers may redeem it for a free lunch on their 10th visit.
(Fla. Café is in Plymouth Plaza at 15200
South Tamiami Trail in Fort Myers. Open
Monday through Friday for breakfast
and lunch from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Closed on
weekends. Daily soup and lunch specials.
Seating for 20; take-out available. For
more information, please call 239-437-
8577 or visit Fla. Cafe on Facebook.)