The Chapel Grill opened in downtown Naples in November. / Special to news-press.com
The Chapel Grill
811 Seventh Ave. S., Naples
• Price: $$$$$
• Hours: 5 p.m.-close Monday to Friday, noon-close Saturday and Sunday
• Call: 206-4310
• Noise level: Low to moderate in the main dining areas, appropriately boisterous in the tavern/bar.
• Etc.: Outdoor seating, full bar, reservations encouraged, recommended desserts include pineapple-banana bread pudding and peanut butter-chocolate ganache.
SAMPLE OF THE MENU
• Island-style duo, $12.30
• Beef bourguignon risotto, $12.20
• The Chapel salad, $9.80
• Roasted lobster bisque, $9.80
• Tuscan chicken, $24.60
• Herb Dijon lamb shank, $29.40
• Strawberry grouper special, $33.80
Having attended a Baptist primary school, where teachers admonished my less-than-godly desk with threats of fire and brimstone on a daily basis, the idea of sipping a bacon-infused whiskey Manhattan in what was once the sanctuary of one of Naples’ oldest Baptist churches struck me as compelling.
And so a reservation at The Chapel Grill was set.
For many (Bible-beaten and not), dining in a former place of worship is an eyebrow-raising draw. But should you make the pilgrimage south just to see how this 2-month-old church-come-restaurant turned out, you’re likely to be disappointed.
You’ll find no pews here, no confessionals repurposed into wine cellars. Servers do dress in black, but, as they get closer, it’s clear those are polo shirts, not clergy shirts, they’re donning.
The Chapel Grill’s interior is modern and spare; high ceilings, dark woods and clean lines, befitting its downtown Naples locale. Had you not entered through a covered roundabout where worshipers once dropped off Grandma and the kids before Sunday services, you’d have a tough time figuring out you were in a church.
That initial disappointment fades as you start into the menu – including an inspiring, if decidedly un-Baptist, list of cocktails.
Here old-fashioneds come with Crown Royal and Carpona Antica (a high-end red vermouth), swirled over orange ice with brandied cherries. Vodka gimlets have a Ketel One base lashed with fresh basil, balsamic-macerated strawberries, a dash of lime juice and white pepper.
After a tipple or two, settling on appetizers can be a challenge.
The beef bourguignon over risotto calls out; nibbles of tender meat and button mushrooms floating in chef Jorge Nolasco’s decadent demi-glace. Each of the 10 or so bites is airy and rich, the dish immensely satisfying despite its daintiness.
There is island-style slab bacon (a Naples-friendly term for pork belly) topped with scallop crudo; the pork all warm and chewy-tender, the scallops all cool and sensible atop their deliciously fatty counterparts. A Chapel salad is tossed in a white-balsamic vinaigrette that unites the simple, pert lettuces and crunchy sunflower seeds.
A man in black swings in to forgive the table of its empty plates. Another man in black graces it with entrees, their timing perfectly choreographed.
Lamb shanks are braised to the brink of melting atop whipped potatoes that kick with horseradish, its astringent bite cutting through all that unctuous meat. A grouper special comes out nicely seared, the fillet juicy atop a bed of grilled scallions and herbs.
But not every dish is praiseworthy. Tuscan chicken is all flabby skin. A bed of white beans and prosciutto is overpowered by more of those horseradish mashed potatoes – an accent not advertised on the menu.
Plates can be messy at Chapel Grill. For $29.40 I want more than a lamb shank tossed haphazardly atop roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes. For $33.80 my grouper should be as pleasing to the eye as it is to my palate.
Chapel Grill does many things well, but, as my teachers often reminded me, cleanliness is godliness. To really stand out in this crowd, Chapel Grill must take note.
Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).