Xavier Duclos opened Mad Fresh Urban Bistro in the Pinebrook Plaza behind Outback Steakhouse in south Fort Myers. / The News-Press file photo
MAD FRESH URBAN BISTRO
12995 S. Cleveland Ave., south Fort Myers
• Price: $-$$$
• Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed Sunday. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays starting January.
• Call: 362-2363
• Noise level: Conversational mostly, loud at capacity when the doors are open and traffic out front is heavy
• Etc.: Private dining area seats up to 12, takeout available, $5 by-the-glass wines include several interesting selections, craft beers available, desserts change daily (Nutella-stuffed creme brulee highly recommended).
SAMPLE OF THE MENU
• Marinated roasted red beets and artichokes, $9.95
• Quinoa salad with shallot vinaigrette, $8.95
• Flank-steak tartine, $12.95
• The Classic Burger, $8.95
• Tuscan flatbread $11.95
• Parisian flatbread $14.95
• Charcuterie and fromage duo, $18.95
Mad Fresh Urban Bistro has some people confused.
Yes, it uses all the same signage as the old Mad Fresh Takeout. And, yes, it’s in the exact same Mad Fresh Takeout location behind Outback Steakhouse in south Fort Myers, but that’s where the similarities end.
Mad Fresh Urban Bistro opened its doors in October. That tattooed man behind the counter, the one with the toothy smile and red Nikes, is new chef-owner Xavier (pronounced Zah-vee-ay, in your breathiest French accent) Duclos. It’s his French upbringing and Manhattan-fine-dining background that inform Mad Fresh Bistro’s simple, ingredient-driven menu.
It’s a menu where huge, pizza-style flatbreads come slathered in goat cheese, melting brie and sweetly caramelized onions. And where thin French fries are fried the right way — once to soften them, and again, just before ordering, so they arrive at your table all salt and crunch.
This new bistro is no larger than its same-name predecessor. Ten or so awkward, bouncy, backless stools line the lime-colored bar. They’re stingy on comfort, generous on views of the chef hard at work. There are a handful of tables along a slim banquette, and at a larger booth underneath a chalkboard detailing the day’s specials on the left wall.
Such a cozy dining room can be intimidating.
Walk in to Mad Fresh during a jam-packed dinner service and you can feel like the odd party out, the one group at the restaurant not privy to the jokes being cracked at the bar, or the special, unseen menu that entitles certain VIPs to steak tartare crowned with a perfect quail egg and a sprinkle of sea salt.
I wanted that tartare. But after waiting a few minutes to be acknowledged, and a few more minutes for a menu (on which tartare was not an option), I gave up — settling for very good steak frites and a refreshing quinoa salad instead.
Service is on the casual side of casual here. On my visits, a bubbly woman in smart glasses tended to tables. If you need more water (or a spoon, or another napkin), you’re best off flagging her down. It’s not the kind of place where servers have time to note such things in passing.
But my, can you eat well.
Duclos has a thing for giant portions. Tartines (think open-faced sandwiches) the size of your forearm are draped in slices of good chorizo and salami, then topped with mounds of dressed arugula for balance. Lentil soup, a hearty bowl of it, is finished with a dollop of harissa, a North African chili sauce that jabs with exotic heat.
There are fat burgers and plentiful charcuterie plates. Steak sandwiches overflow with thick, perfect slices of juicy beef, caramelized onions and Duclos’ homemade aioli. “It is not Hellman’s,” he said one night, proudly.
Should you return to Mad Fresh Urban Bistro, there’s a good chance Duclos will remember your face, and possibly what you last ordered. Show up a third time, during that lull between lunch and dinner, and Duclos may offer to make you something off the menu — like that steak tartare, or sautéed beef tongue on crusty bread.
You might look back on those first visits more fondly now. And you’ll surely look forward to your next.
Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Send email to email@example.com; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).