Sweet Melissa’s: Fresh, Local Food on Sanibel Island
By Gina Birch
Fort Myers Local Expert
Sweet Melissa’s Café, one of the most highly regarded restaurants in the Fort Myers area, is celebrating five years of tantalizing taste buds at its current location on Sanibel Island’s famed Periwinkle Way.
Other than a friendly hostess, an open kitchen greets guests as they enter the café; it’s a perfect vantage point to see the energetic Executive Chef Melissa Talmage hard at work.
You’ll find lots of local, fresh seafood and produce at Sweet Melissa’s — Photo courtesy of Sweet Melissa’s Cafe
Following Hurricane Katrina, Talmage moved from New Orleans to lead the kitchen at a funky, off-the-beaten-path place on Sanibel called Redfish Bluefish. When the name eventually changed to Sweet Melissa’s, the personable chef realized she needed more space and “moved on up,” as they say, to a larger space on Periwinkle, the main drag of the island.
The tables in the main dining room are dressed in crisp linens and set with sparkling wine glasses, a foreshadowing of the superb dining experience that waits.
The menu here is seasonal, always changing and evolving; however, there are a few standards that will likely never go away, like the fish stew. Talmage says she tried to take it off the menu once, but her decision was met by such great protest that she was forced to bring the dish back. T-shirts were even created reading “I Love Fishstew!”
Another extremely popular item here is the grilled romaine salad with a truffle oil drizzle, a perfect combination of health and decadence. You can almost always expect to find some kind of sweetbread and pork belly on the menu, as well as something inspired by her time in “The Big Easy.”
The artisanal cheese plate comes with house-made preserves. This dish is not only good as an appetizer, but also makes a wonderful dessert.
The mixed berry tart is a lovely and light finish to a meal — Photo courtesy of Sweet Melissa’s Cafe
Keeping her finger on the pulse of what people want, Melissa also offers a petite portion option for most of the entrees. Order one of these, and you will for sure have room for dessert.
Talmage has developed a loyal following over the years, so she is always looking to create new combinations and use different techniques in the kitchen to keep the dining experience interesting. One thing that remains constant is her use of local produce and seafood – all fresh, seasonal and presented with pizazz.
Chef Talmage heats up the kitchen at Sweet Melissa’s with her personality and skills — Photo courtesy of Sweet Melissa’s Cafe
There is an outdoor patio for those beautiful, tropical nights when fresh air is preferred, and it’s screened in for protection from pesky “no-seeums” (a local term for tiny gnats that have an irritating bite).
The café also houses a small, cozy martini bar that often offers live music and ALWAYS has fantastic tropical libations, as well as classic cocktails. If you like a perfectly paired glass or bottle of wine, the options are varied and the staff is adept at making satisfying suggestions.
Easy to find and worth the drive, Sweet Melissa’s Cafe should be on your radar if you want an outstanding dining experience while in the Fort Myers area.
The staff takes great care to serve amazing food — Photo courtesy of Sweet Melissa’s Cafe.