We are so thrilled to see the efforts of our marketing and PR staff pay off for the Chapel Grill! We gathered a lot of interest and coverage for their grand opening this past November, and below are two stories that ran in local news following the event. Great work everyone!
By Kristine Gill / Nov 13 2012
NAPLES — Pat Walker sat waiting in the entryway for her dinner dates: a daughter-in-law and one of eight sons.
“He’s always late,” Walker said, glancing at her watch. “I didn’t teach him that.”
Around her, plates clinked and diners laughed. A violin played.
Mustard walls rose to greet white ceiling beams where spiked, bronze light fixtures dangled over seafood dishes and glasses of wine.
Walker was familiar with the place but not as a restaurant.
“It looks a little different than the wellness center,” Walker said. “They’ve done a lot with it, I can tell.”
Built 65 years ago, the First Baptist Church at 811 Seventh Avenue South in downtown Naples served its congregation until 1975. New owners turned the structure into medical offices for the Senior Friendship Health Center, which relocated in 2010.
Last year, Stephen Fleischer bought the vacant building and gained city approval to renovate. Last week, the Chapel Grill opened for business.
“The old lady needed to have a lot of makeup,” Fleischer said. “She needed a good work-up.”
City officials praise Fleischer for his decision to revamp rather than demolish the building through the concept of adaptive reuse in which owners find modern uses for old buildings while maintaining their historic look.
“The great thing is Steve spent his money to restore that building where it would have been a lot less expensive to tear it down,” said Mayor John Sorey, who has been to the restaurant several times since its ribbon-cutting.
In homage to the building’s history, Fleischer is saving a blank wall over plush booth seating in the dining room for photos to commemorate the church and health center. One patron plans to submit her grandmother’s wedding day photo taken on the front steps.
Fleischer had a clock face installed on the steeple, and new chimes ring through downtown every hour on the hour from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Signs marking the valet parking lots read “Thou Shalt Not Park Here.”
Murphy, a 12-year veteran of the hospitality industry, has been on board with the project since Fleischer bought the building, helping to decide everything from the color scheme to the menu options.
Patrons can enjoy barbecue-flavored Chapel Log Fries with herb ranch dipping sauce for $4.20 or $8.40 portions, or the Coco Loco Calamari for $10.20 to start. Meals include the Chapel Rock Chop for $25.80. There’s a kids’ menu, too.
Murphy said half of the restaurant’s 60 staffers were unemployed in the off season before starting work this month.
“They were waiting to come here,” she said.
Marybeth Mahoney and Larry Kinney walked by the finished restaurant after voting at City Hall last week and liked what they saw. They came back Wednesday for a bite outside on one of the restaurant’s three patio areas.
Kinney smoked a cigar from home and Mahoney sipped wine while enjoying a quiet evening blocks from a bustling Fifth Avenue South. The pair pondered a stack of menus, some offering bar food and others, the full dining menu with salads and desserts.
“Didn’t we get a flu shot here once or something?” Kinney said.
“Yeah,” Mahoney said, “we did.”
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When he saw the historic former First Baptist Church on Seventh Avenue up for sale in 2010, Stephen Fleischer felt as if it were his calling to save it. After closing on the property in 2011, he spent the next year and a half gutting the 65-year-old building’s interior while preserving and restoring the façade, the vaulted ceilings and, of course, the signature steeple.
The result is the heavenly The Chapel Grill, which opened Nov. 5 and has been packing them in the pews ever since. Well, actually, the pews are long gone. After the congregation departed in 1975, the building was divided into medical offices, according to General Manager Chelsi Murphy.
Regardless, the dining room was abuzz when we arrived early on a weeknight and it just grew buzzier. There’s considerable outdoor seating, including a bar, but on a first visit we wanted to enjoy the indoor trappings. (Not only that, but the carpeting and subdivided interior help disburse and soften the noise.)
Above: One duck spring roll cut into four pieces is not much for $11.80. Window shutters and a stark white and mustard-yellow color palette give the church, uh, restaurant a sunny, coastal vibe, while pendant lamps that resemble sea urchins on steroids add a splash of modern design sophistication. The overall feel is casual yet stylish, though the wall-mounted TV screens in our room hit an off note (perhaps they’re used for meetings?).
We were seated at a narrow two-top in one of the side dining rooms, where tables are arranged a tad too closely for comfort and privacy. It also was difficult for the tiny table to accommodate two full setups and the barrage of menus that arrived: cocktails list, wine list, main menu and “Captain’s List” a la carte menu. Why not consolidate? Even the servers can’t keep track of them all, seeing as we had to ask for the beverage menus.
Left: Berries and mangoes top a panna cotta. DREW STERWALD / FLORIDA WEEKLY The wine list offers two dozen bythe glass options ranging from $7 to $17, but because Chapel Grill clearly hi has put considerable effort and creativity into its bar program, we decided to sstart
— with cocktails. The telmig akdov — wbs that’s vodka gimlet backwards, for whatever reason — ($10) was a silky blend of Ketel One, balsamic-laced strawberries, lime juice, white pepper and fresh basil. The Calvinist ($10) was a spicy elixir of Woodford Reserve bourbon seasoned with The King’s Ginger liqueur, lemon juice and a kiss of cloves that tingled on the lips.
Rolls arrived while we were waiting for our first course. You won’t find the same old sliced baguette and olive oil dip at Chapel Grill. No, it’s freshly made pretzel rolls with salty brown crusts and soft, warm interiors.
COURTESY PHOTO Appetizers, which range from the ubiquitous crab cakes and ahi tuna to more interesting items like boeuf Bourguignonne risotto, start at a pricey $12. But it’s worth it when Executive Chef Jorge Nolasco can manage to make even tired, old calamari interesting. His Coco Loco rendition ($11.90) of lightly breaded rings of squid is strewn with chorizo sausage and tempura fried julienned carrots. Marinara would be too mundane for such a concoction, so the chef dreamed up a delicious mango-rum sauce that complements the calamari nicely.
A duck spring roll ($11.80) was simpler but just as pleasing. Bits of the tenderest duck confit were tucked into the crisply fried roll, which shattered in the mouth. It was accompanied by a small next of wakame slaw, but I think at that price, they could afford to spring for more than one roll.
Our attentive server and his battalion of colleagues kept the table clean and our glasses filled as the meal progressed. The GM even stopped by when she noticed us looking around the dining room (or perhaps it was the camera flash that drew her attention).
We congratulated her on the restaurant’s transformation and well-trained staff.
When our waiter arrived with the main course, he noticed immediately that we had been given a single portion of Brussels sprouts when we’d asked for a double ($9.20). He returned with a second dish in short order. Offering side dishes in two portions is a very thoughtful gesture. My companion and I both happen to love roasted sprouts, and these were tossed with copious bits of crispy pancetta and caramelized garlic. Both servings were devoured.
Also from the a la carte menu was the New York strip ($36.70), which was perfectly grilled to medium-rare yet achieved a crusty exterior that most home grillers would envy. The wellmarbled 14-ounce cut was dry-aged for 21 days, which imparted a noticeable richness. It was simply adorned with a pat of roasted garlic-Merlot butter with a tinge of truffle essence and was crowned with golden onion straws.
From the regular menu, we opted for red rock cod Florentine ($27.60), which I discovered on the Internet also goes by the menacing moniker of scorpionfish. It was a hefty fillet with thick flakes of moist white meat within its crisp oven-baked Parmesan crust. The fish was served on layers of spinach and mashed potatoes; the menu had said sundried-tomato risotto would be the starch, and that would have been more interesting. Nevertheless the fish was spot-on, and the spinach had a tantalizing hint of Pernod.
The Chapel Grill is no slouch when it comes to desserts, either. We tucked into a wondrous dome of chocolatepeanut butter cake enrobed in chocolate ganache ($6.40) and a creamy panna cotta with strawberries and mangoes ($5.80) that could have been a touch sweeter.
Naples diners should count their blessings to have The Chapel Grill and a forward-thinking businessman like Mr. Fleischer willing to preserve local history. ¦
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