This Alley Restaurant Is One of Southwest Florida's Best-Kept Secrets
On the pool deck at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida, behind neat rows of chaise lounges where hotel guests can order $16 mojitos and frozen daiquiris, an inconspicuous gate blends into a beige concrete wall that separates the resort from an unremarkable back alley. Inside the hotel, restaurants are serving sushi and escargot and foie gras. Hidden behind that beige wall, though, is one of Southwest Florida’s most intriguing new dining destinations.
Alley Kitchen emerged from the destruction left by Hurricane Irma, which swept through the region last September. “The whole project came about very organically,” says executive chef George Fistrovich, who was surveying a clump of downed trees in the area behind the pool deck when the idea struck. They tore out the tree stumps and cemented over all of the holes but one, about 20-inches deep, that they transformed into a wood-fire pit for cooking whole pigs, salt crusted fish, and more dishes in one of two ways: by natural pit, with river rocks on the bottom, and grilled Caja China style, with a fire from on top.
Fistrovich also set up an old, underused Argentinian grill he had on hand, and added a bricked-in pizza oven to the mix, and voilà, mere feet from the hotel’s swank pool deck is Alley Kitchen—a charming little hidden restaurant where a visiting chef comes once a month to cook an intimate dinner for a sold-out crowd of 40 people. Tables are arranged around the outdoor kitchen, twinkle lights are strung above, and diners watch as their meals are prepared right in front of them.
So far Alley Kitchen has hosted three of these dinners, each with a different chef and menu, but all with the same relaxed vibe and family-style meals that draw on fresh seafood and meat, and locally grown produce (including lettuce and microgreens that the chef cultivates in his own shipping container grow box just steps from the pop-up restaurant.) And mostly relying on the fire.
“This is old world cookery,” says Fistrovich. “We only cook by wood here. There’s no gas, there’s no propane, there’s only wood.”
Giorgio Rapicavoli, winner of Chopped and owner of Miami restaurants Eating House and Glass & Vine, kicked off Alley Kitchen’s chef series with lots of vegetable-centric dishes, grilled local fish, and for dessert, cake accompanied by pit-roasted apples and pears. Next, Rodrigo Carrasco from Mexico City’s Bowie, cooked dishes like oyster mushroom aguachile with cilantro smoked guacamole and smoked alligator with chorizo, and most recently, chef Anthony Cole from Cape Cod’s Chatham Bars Inn brought the flavors of New England to Naples with a seafood-centric meal that featured roasted little neck clams and grilled lobster.
While the resort’s restaurant, The Grill, skews toward a slightly older crowd who flocks to the fine-dining spot for the dry aged steaks and classic soufflés, chef Fistrovich notes the Alley Kitchen dinners have been mostly locals who are lured by the promise of not just good food, but a unique experience.