Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Ford's Garage, Fort Myers, Florida

For months now, I've been hearing all about Ford's Garage.  To be honest, I didn't realize that Ford's Garage was a real restaurant the first time a friend checked herself in to this eatery on Facebook. See, her last name is Ford and I frankly thought she meant that she was grilling outside, in her garage. Eventually, I realized my mistake when I noticed others "checking in" to my friend's garage.  Now when I see a check in on Facebook, I know that everyone is referring to the restaurant's location in historic Downtown Fort Myers, steps away from the Lee County Courthouse. And there are enough people checking into this spot on a fairly regular basis to pique my interest. So, when I found that I had an appointment today in Downtown Fort Myers, I made a point to make some time for lunch at Ford's.

Ford's Garage first opened its doors on First Street in Fort Myers in February 2012.  (A second location is now open on Cape Coral Parkway in Cape Coral and a third is underway in the Miromar Outlets in Estero.)  As you may have guessed, the restaurant's name pays homage to the City's famous former resident, Henry Ford, and his legendary mark on the auto industry.  The interior of the restaurant is very reminiscent of old time service stations, with brick walls and wood floors.  Old tires and antique signs adorn the walls and the chassis of a reproduction Model T hangs over the central bar.  Waitresses don red bandanas and blue chambray shirts just like the mechanics "way back when."  As far as theme restaurants go, I didn't find the concept to be kitschy or over the top.  In fact, the historical references in the decor were balanced with contemporary touches like the penny finished wall behind the beer taps and the black lighting beneath the bar counter.

While its visual focus is on the history and importance of its namesake, the restaurant's food focus is on high-end gourmet burgers and craft beers.  The decor is an ideal complement to the modern diner-style menu. The burgers are hand-pressed from Black Angus and American Kobe beef, and a selection of 16 are named after local dignitaries and celebrities.  Those who want to custom make their burgers can order instead from the "assembly line" (which reminds me a lot of my favorite Naples burger joint, The Counter).  Each burger bun is stamped with the iconic Ford-inspired restaurant logo.  But burgers aren't the only thing on the menu. A variety of appetizers, sandwiches and classic favorites like mac n' cheese are also available, along with a selection of milkshakes and floats.

Today, my Anna's school scheduled a teacher work day.  So, I made it a "take your daughter to work day" and brought Anna with me.  In her own words, she is a "food critic in training" and I knew she could help me polish up this review.  (Don't forget to check out her mini-review!)  Because my friend, the Ford's regular, says they are a must, we started with an order of deep fried dill pickles.  These chips are well breaded, fried to a golden crisp and accompanied by a buttermilk ranch dipping sauce.  Salty on the outside and tart in the middle, they were pretty good.  But I could only eat a few.  And, since Anna doesn't love pickles, there were too many to eat alone.  While these make for a nice appetizer, next time I'll plan to bring my pickle-eater son with me.  (By the way, I brought some of the pickles home.  I think they actually taste better cold!)

For lunch I ordered, the "Black and Blue" which is a blackened Black Angus burger topped with blue cheese, caramelized onions and thickly sliced applewood smoked bacon.  Lettuce, tomatoes and red onion joined these toppings to create a towering, generously-sized burger.  The burger was initially intimidating for me, a dainty eater.  I don't mind picking up a burger to eat, but boy was this one was big.  There was just no way for me to eat it without cutting it in half.  And after a while I did have to resort to using my fork.  So, if we are talking strictly about portion size, Ford's definitely does not skimp.  My Black and Blue burger is traditionally accompanied by french fries (as are all other burgers on the menu).  But I prefer sweet potato fries whenever they are available.  So, I was pleased when Ford's accommodated my alternate request for the sweets.  As for my Anna, Ford's does have a nice priced kids' menu from which she ordered the $4 mac n' cheese (which incidentally is pretty good).  While I hoped she would opt for the side of broccoli, she did decide instead on the fries.  At least I know that there is a healthy option and will keep that in mind for next time.  Not surprisingly, we both indulged in traditional Southern sweet teas.

What I loved:  I love myself some sweet potato and Ford Garage's sweet potato fries are tops.  Crispy fried to be crunchy on the outside and warmly soft on the inside, these fries added a nice salty-sweetness to my lunch.  But even better than the fries is the Tommy Knocker Maple Beer cinnamon sauce.  One taste of this sauce made me immediately think of an apple cinnamon pocket pie.  Not too thick, this sauce - which I actually think more of as a syrup - nicely satisfied my salty-sweet tooth.

What I didn't love:  A good burger really needs to be cooked at the right temperature to be appreciated.  For me, that temp is medium rare.  My burger came out medium well, far more done than I would have preferred.  And those who are avid burger eaters know that an overcooked burger just doesn't take that good.  Fortunately, I had the blue cheese and the onions to add back some flavor and save the burger from tasting dry.  I'm hoping this is a one-off and that next time the cooks will get it right because I really do want to come back for the sweets.

But every cloud does come with a silver lining.  And in this case, the silver lining was the service.  Our waitress did a great job of bringing drinks and taking our lunch orders promptly.  We didn't have to wait long after we were seated.  She didn't hover over us but quickly filled my drink when she noticed I was low.  When the manager came to check on us, he was very professional when I mentioned that the temperature of my burger was off.  (I always let the restaurant manager know when any meat dish is over or under cooked so that the chef knows to make adjustments in the kitchen.)  The manager readily acknowledged that my burger looked over done and immediately sent the waitress over to inform me that they had taken half of the burger's price off of my meal ticket.  I hadn't asked and wasn't expecting it, so I was surprised and pleased.  Last month, a server at a five-star restaurant spilled something on my dress and made no overture to fix their mistake.  So, I really take note when I get good service just like this.

How much I spent:  ($$)  Today I spent $25 on lunch for Anna and me, tip included.  This reflected the $5.50 discount generous given by the manager.  I would not have normally ordered an appetizer though.  So, this is probably fairly reflective of how much I would have spent during a typical visit.

My overall rating:  3 spoons.  Ford's Garage is a good place for a  casual lunch or dinner at a decent price and in a family-friendly atmosphere.   It is a nice and relaxed lunch venue for business people in the Downtown area looking to find brief respite from the work day.  The old time feel works for those who don't like pretentious dining or those with children.  There's a lot here on the walls to keep youngsters busy if they are not already entertained by the placemat that doubles as the children's menu.  And when Ford's Miromar Outlets' location just off I-75 opens, those traveling from out of town will have a more convenient location to visit.

Ford's Garage on Urbanspoon

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