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River Palm Family Restaurant & Bar opened in Cape Coral in January.
River Palm Family Restaurant & Bar opened in Cape Coral in January. / The News-Press file photo

River Palm Family Restaurant & Bar

850 Lafayette St., Cape Coral
• Food:★★★☆
• Atmosphere:★★★☆
• Service:★★★☆
• Price: $$-$$$
• Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-midnight Friday to Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
• Call: 471-2246
• Noise level: Low inside, louder but conversational on the patio
• Etc.: Full bar, outdoor seating, kids menu, live entertainment, entrees include choice of soup or salad, recommended desserts include the creamy, chocolaty layered one I didn’t catch the name of.
SAMPLE OF THE MENU
APPETIZERS

• Chicken quesadillas, $10.99
• Oysters Rockefeller (6), $7.99
• Baked clams (12), $9.99
ENTREES

• NY Strip, $18.99
• The Cape burger, $10.29
• Mustard-crusted salmon, $15.99
• Chicken Francaise, $13.99

More

The steak is the biggest surprise.

A tangle of frizzled onions tops the New York strip. You cut through the charry, grill-marked exterior to find the center warm and red, the textbook definition of medium rare.

At a Cape Coral place called River Palm Family Restaurant & Bar, where the name of a past tenant is still sun-bleached onto the front awning, a great steak is unexpected. As is just about everything else you order.

River Palm opened in January in the former Mr. C’s/Oasis/850 Lafayette space on Lafayette Street just south of Cape Coral Parkway.

The restaurant has a broad scope. Outside the patio bar is lined in flat-screen televisions. Bartenders pour a range of cocktails. Live bands rock out on the weekends.

Inside a gurgling aquarium greets you. There’s a kids menu selling macaroni and cheese and hand-battered chicken fingers. Simple, cherry-wood tables and beige tile floors offer all the ambience of a lobby at the Holiday Inn.

The interior’s layout is River Palm’s biggest downfall. That aquarium blocks the entryway, and with no dedicated host on certain nights you can be left staring at those fish for many long minutes before being acknowledged.

Once seated I listened in horror as a neighboring table of four sent each of its entrees back to the kitchen with various grievances. My expectations plummeted, making the many good dishes we were served all the more shocking.

I don’t know if that table was particularly moody that night, or if the kitchen is a touch bipolar. But over the course of my visits, I never once sent anything back.

From plump oysters Rockefeller smothered in sautéed spinach and a touch of Parmesan, to a bed of greens topped with juicy barbecued salmon, bits of apricot, walnuts and tangy blue cheese, River Palm is much better than the Family Restaurant part of its name lets on.

There is shrimp scampi, the plump commas of seafood set atop a nest of linguine in a light, garlicky sauce sprinkled with fresh herbs. And there are burgers, in half-pound and full-pound varieties, topped with everything from fried eggs and bacon to coleslaw, wisps of andouille sausage and cherry peppers.

My burger bun was a tad dry one lunch, compensated for by the dripping, oversized patty of meat. My other quibble: an order of baked clams that was far more bready stuffing, far less clam.

There are just a few beers on tap, none of which will raise any eyebrows. The wine list is similar.

On a cool spring evening, River Palm’s patio is a happening place. Bartenders memorize patrons’ names and use them when asking about refills or additional orders. Dogs lounge at the feet of their owners. Strangers become friendly over icy pints of Yuengling.

Sit out there and order that New York strip. Expectations be damned.

Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact jleboeuf@news-press.com; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).

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