2013-11-20 / Cuisine

New Ford’s Garage in Estero passes test drive

Ford’s Garage rolled out its latest model this fall, a sprawling indoor-outdoor venue at Miromar Outlets in Estero that’s already left the location’s previous failed restaurants — most recently The Tipsy Tarpon — in the dust.

During visits for lunch and dinner, we found the staff firing on all cylinders to meet the needs of the steady stream of diners who just happened to be shopping at the outlet stores or who had sought out the place based on knowledge of the Ford’s Garages in Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Both of those locations are thriving, but we hadn’t checked under the mini-chain’s hood since the original spot opened in the River District in 2012.

So off we went to kick the tires in Estero, first at lunchtime and then a week later for dinner.

The design concept of retro service station remains consistent throughout the locations, and it’s well executed from the antique chassis hanging over the hammeredcopper bar down to the “oil rag” napkins rolled up in O-rings. With brick-and-mortar walls and rough wood paneling, there’s not much to absorb noise, but this location seems to achieve lower volume than the others due to its spaciousness and open floor plan.

The Dunk City Burger is black Angus beef, aged Vermont cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and bourbon barbecue sauce on a sesame seed bun. 
DREW STERWALD / FLORIDA WEEKLY The Dunk City Burger is black Angus beef, aged Vermont cheddar, applewood smoked bacon and bourbon barbecue sauce on a sesame seed bun. DREW STERWALD / FLORIDA WEEKLY Ford’s offers 25 beers and ciders on tap as well as too many bottled brews to count and a selection of “beer-tinis” such as “Hop in my Gin,” a combination of Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Cigar City Jai Alai IPA and grapefruit and pineapple juice. Doesn’t sound appetizing to me, but to each his own. We enjoyed pints of Breckenridge Vanilla Porter and Cigar City Espresso ($4.50 on special).

cheese has plenty of shellfish chunks. 
The lobster mac ’n’ cheese has plenty of shellfish chunks. The lobster mac ’n’ Getting down to business, the “snacks and bar bites” portion of the menu includes eight options ranging from deep-fried soft pretzels with cheese dip to the ubiquitous ahi tuna with Asian slaw. I liked the deep-fried pickle slices on a previous visit, but they seemed more of a novelty back then. Instead, we decided on Firestone’s shrimp ($10) and pulled pork sliders ($9) from another section of the menu.

If you’ve had the boom-boom shrimp at Bonefish Grill or any of its copycats, you’ve had Firestone’s shrimp: deepfried shrimp tossed in a spicy red sauce. This version wasn’t as kicky as some we’ve had, but a flaming stripe of sriracha on the plate added some heat. The 10 large shellfish were deftly fried to create a crunchy crust without overcooking the interior. The diminutive pork rolls contained juicy, smoky meat with a crisp pickle slice for saltiness; I would have liked a splash more barbecue sauce on the meat, but wetness is a matter of personal taste in barbecue matters.

Appetizers were served and cleared quickly by various staff members. They appeared to be primed to keep the tables turning for maximum sales. However,

later on the check arrived without a suggestion of dessert, and once we ordered our apple pie the reconfigured bill took a long time to come back again. During our lunch visit, we sampled a couple of the “burgers of fame” named after local people and institutions of note. The Dunk City burger (a $9.95 bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce) was a nod to the nearby Florida Gulf Coast University campus, as was the Joe Dooley (a $10.95 bacon cheeseburger with fried egg, arugula and pico de gallo) honoring the school’s new men’s basketball coach. Both burgers were a mouthful and a handful, with toppings sliding around and creating a mess. They also were cooked past the medium we’d asked for, with nary a blush of pink within. I’ve had burgers correctly cooked as ordered at the downtown Fort Myers location, so this might have been a fluke. But a restaurant staking a claim on its burgers should be able to deliver consistently.

For our dinner visit, we tried an alternative “burger” and one of several macaroni and cheese variations. The menu also offers salads that can be amped up as entrees with additions of chicken, beef, shrimp or tuna; the “comfort food” section includes a churrasco steak, meat loaf and fish ’n’ chips.

Tuna Me Up ($13.50) managed to get right what the burgers got wrong: The slab of tuna was perfectly cooked — still pink and moist. Topping it off: crunchy Asian slaw, tomato, cucumber, cucumber wasabi mayo and “boom boom” sauce. Frankly, one sauce would be sufficient for a sandwich, but we liked the extra flavor kick. Accompanying French fries were thick, golden, crisp and not too oily — just like on previous visits.

The lobster mac ’n’ cheese ($14) did not disappoint, either. There was plenty of succulent claw meat and other chunks scattered among the curlicue cavatappi pasta, which was thoroughly coated in creamy, cheddary sauce. Every time I dug in, expecting that I’d enjoyed my last morsel, another bit of shellfish would present itself.

Dessert seemed superfluous after two hearty courses, but we managed to polish off a small, individual hot apple pie ($6) — diced Granny Smiths in a flaky, free-form crust.

The people behind Ford’s Garage appear to have a well-thought-out business model. With a more consistent execution, their food just might outpace the increasingly crowded field of fancy burger joints. ¦

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