I've been visiting Naples for 20 years. On the outside, it seems very glitzy. It does have more Bentleys and St. John pantsuits than the average American city. But it’s also vibrant and friendly. Earlier this week, I set out to explore The Naples Behind The Naples. Here’s what I discovered.
1. Naples has an interesting history, as evidenced by the Naples Depot Museum. Built in 1926 by the Seaboard Airline, the depot welcomed its first passenger train in 1927 and was in use until 1971. It was preserved as a national trust landmark and became a museum in 2005. Fully restored to its original state, its permanent exhibits and traveling displays demonstrate the prowess through which Southwest Floridians approached transportation and technology.
2. Naples is filled with organic farm-fresh produce and vegetarian dining options, which I encountered at Food & Thought, the Third Street South Farmer’s Market, Loving Hut Vegan Restaurant, and Bha! Bha! Persian Bistro. Food & Thought’s mantra is 100% organic food 100% of the time, and that’s no joke. It teems with seasonal produce and flowers that are picked daily from the owner’s farm, and offers fresh-squeezed vegetable juices, vegan shakes, and a daily raw food special. The Third Street South Farmer’s Market is open on Saturdays from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. and offers around 20 booths with everything from organic local produce and flowers to homemade baskets and soap. The highlight of this attraction is Anita’s Guacamole, where you can watch 60 avocados get peeled, seeded, and hand churned into one massively tasty green dip. At the Loving Hut, where every dish on the menu is vegan, I had my first ever lotus salad. And at Bha! Bha! in North Naples, I had my first sampling of Persian cuisine, which included lots of eggplant, artichokes, chickpeas, lentils, Bulgarian feta, and yogurt sauces. Every bite was, as its menu suggests, “sumptuous and different.”
3. Naples caters to people with sweet teeth. Like me. Few things in this world rival those sticky slabs of frozen heaven known as gelato, and Freddo Gelateria serves up some of the best I’ve ever tried. In their tiny tucked-away shop on Fifth Avenue Parkway, dazzlingly likeable owners Tecla and Marco Filardo concoct flavors like Tiramisu, Chocolate Hazlenut, and Rum Raisin. They use local ingredients whenever possible and plan to expand their business in order to accomodate ever-growing demand for their impeccable product.
During this past week in Naples, I learned that underneath every shiny façade rest earthier truths. So don’t judge a town by its cougars.