If you want to see what Fort Myers, Florida, was like before the strip malls and huge housing developments sprang up, head on over to the Farmers Market Restaurant. It is located just outside the downtown area, next to the State Farmers Market and has been in business since 1952. The house motto is, “Put the Taste of the South in Your Mouth!”
It is open for three meals a day, seven days a week. I like it best for lunch. There is a wide array of meats to choose from, including meat loaf that is a thick slice of comfort food covered in brown gravy. Catfish, our favorite, is served boneless, its sweet, flaky meat encased in a delicate crust. One of these days, we are going to get around to trying the ham hocks, the country fried pork chops, and the chicken livers and gizzards.
No matter what meat you choose, you get three vegetables: well-seasoned Southern classics. Among the ones we have enjoyed over the years are limp and flavorful steamed cabbage, wickedly crunchy fried okra, real mashed potatoes, slightly bitter and earthy collard greens, and not quite as bitter mustard greens. Field peas are best of all. Cooked in pork juice, they are firm and irresistibly fresh, with snaps and small bits of pork mixed in.
Farmers Market Restaurant also makes its own pies. The chocolate and the coconut cream pies aren’t world-class, but the meringues are tall, the fillings nice and custardy. The signature pie is strawberry. Unlike most strawberry pies, which are runny or a gelatinous mess, the slices here hold together and are so densely packed with sweet fruit that it is impossible to take a bite without ending up with at least a quarter of a whole berry.