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Celebrating Summer on Sanibel and Captiva Island

Of course winter and spring constitute high season in Southwest Florida, and Sanibel and Captiva island fall into that mold. Yet there’s something about summer on the islands. Something more intimate and personal. Something more authentically Floridian.

So why plan a summer trip to Sanibel and Captiva islands? For one thing, the most practical thing, rates at ‘Tween Waters Island Resort & Spa and Castaways  Beach & Bay Cottages on Captiva Island; and West Wind Inn and Beachview Cottages on Sanibel dip drastically from high season, plus other incentives make it an especially attractive time of year budget-wise.

For instance, right now, all four resorts are giving away a free night when you book three. They are sweetening the deal with $100 in reward coupons and, in the case of ‘Tween Waters and West Wind, dining credits. PLUS, if you book by June 30, you score two free logo Tervis tumblers (call-in reservations only, mention “tumblers”).

The newly remastered Old Captiva House

Speaking of dining, summer means no lines, no crowds, no waiting at your favorite resort restaurants, such as Old Captiva House at ‘Tween Waters and Normandie Seaside Cafe at West Wind Inn. Likewise, on the beach, it’s easy to find a spot  you won’t be sharing with anyone but the birds of summer.

Watch for manatees in the summer.

Bayside, watch for manatees, who mate this time of year close to shore. They favor the little cove on the south end of ‘Tween Waters’ bay shoreline. Get out on a paddleboard or kayak to see more of the islands’ wildlife come alive. Baby birds are hatching. Gigantic sea turtles are laying eggs, and adorable gator hatchlings are crawling out from their nests.

Not only fauna, but flora gets showy in summer. It’s that time of year when mangoes blush with serious, ponderous sweetness. Poinicianas, oleanders, crape myrtles, bougainvillea, and hibiscus blossom. Late afternoon rains bring the islands to their lushest.

Summer: It’s a season ripe for taking life easy, waterside, with a cold drink and a good novel. The Sanibel Captiva Beach Resorts have your lounge chair and cocktail ready. Just add sunscreen.

 

 

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Storming Normandie: Dining at ‘Tween Waters’ sister resort West Wind Inn on Sanibel

Long a hidden secret of foodies on Sanibel Island, the Normandie Seaside Café at West Wind Inn, there’s a reason officially opened to the public last October.

The restaurant is especially popular at lunch time, when you have the option of eating inside its soothing blue walls or outside at the Upper Pool Deck Bar. You can also enjoy dinner there in season, choosing from the $22 Sunset Menu from 5 to 6 p.m., or ordering from Chef Tom Sisson’s regular dinner menu.

Chef Sisson has headed the Normandie kitchen for a few years now, following a stint at South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island.

While he was giving us suggestions for our dinner courses on a recent visit, a family approached him to rhapsodize about the burgers they had just finished off. “Our burgers are very popular,” he admitted. They come in three varieties at dinner, including the signature Normandie Double Decker Burger: two blackened patties with Swiss cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, mushrooms, lettuce and tomato.

For us, the chef recommended starting with his Zing Zing shrimp — “my own take on Bang Bang shrimp, but not fried,” he said. And what a refreshing variance that is these days when it seems every other restaurant is trying to emulate what Bonefish Grill invented. Chef Sisson sautés the shrimp and serves them with artichoke hearts and lots of good garlic in a creamy, lemon-tinged sauce flecked with tomatoes and fired up slightly with sriracha sauce.

We also followed his recommendation for Sanibel Bread. He proved his confessed predilection for Italian cuisine with this, a creative rendition of Caprese bruschetta, topped with a slice of mozzarella, diced tomatoes, parmesan and a balsamic drizzle.

On a roll, we followed more of his advice. “I’m a steak and potatoes kind of guy,” said Chef Sisson. “I butcher the beef myself.” His ribeye was double rich with a classic, soundly executed brandy cream peppercorn sauce.

The yang to the steak’s hearty character, our Sauteed Snapper Sinatra sang out a medley of flavors. “It’s really simple but delicious,” said the chef. True: a light relish of capers, diced tomatoes, onions, garlic and lemon added Florida flair to traditional Italian piccata style. The sun-dried tomato-studded risotto made a perfect accomplice.

The Sinatra counts as one of the menu’s latest entrée additions, along with Berkshire Lolli Pop Pork Chop with port demi-glace, a filet and shrimp combo, Creamy Chicken Pesto over penne, Herb Encrusted Grouper with pesto risotto, Pan-Seared Salmon with mango-pineapple risotto, and a Seafood Trio of grouper, scallops and shrimp.

New to the starters menu, coconut shrimp comes with a homemade chili Thai chili sauce while the shrimp cocktail is performed classically – once more demonstrating Chef Sisson’s culinary dexterity.

Classic also, the crème brulee ended our dinner on a creamy, sweetly brittle note.

The Normandie dining room also serves breakfast, another locals’ favorite because of its extensive offerings. Omelets run a long gamut from Greek to pesto with ham, tomato and parmesan, plus other out-of-the-ordinary breakfast items such as the BLT and Coconut French Toast. For lunch, we recommend the BBQ Pulled Pork and Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy Wrap from the something-for-everyone selection of sandwiches and salads.

Whatever time of day your hunger decides to storm Normandie, rest assured the menus describe the best line of defense for secret pleasures now let out of the bag.

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