Charlotte County Florida Weekly

Best of 2016



 

 

Welcome to Florida Weekly’s Best special section

The Best is Florida Weekly’s take on some of the best, of course, but also some of the wackiest, most wondrous, obscure, ridiculous and even scandalous people and things that make Southwest Florida such a great place to live.

Many “best of” publications are filled solely with content that’s bought and paid for; that’s not our style at Florida Weekly. Yes, our advertisers — the folks who make this piece of Floridian pulp and history you hold in your hands possible — receive shoutouts from us in these pages. It’s only fair. But the bulk of our Best section has nothing to do with invoices or ballot-box stuffing.

The non scientific, non-crowd-sourced process by which we choose our Best winners begins with a brainstorming meeting of our writers and editors. A couple of months later, after scouring the nooks and crannies of the region and our Florida Weekly archives, this section emerges: page after page of things we praise and applaud, pontificate on and poke fun at.

 

 

Herewith, our Best. We had fun doing it, and we hope you have fun reading it.

Here’s to the Best of Southwest Florida 2016.

BEST GUY IN AN APRON
Chef Robert Moltzan

He wears one as top chef at the Wyvern’s Curve restaurant. And he donned one when he won a top painting prize at the Visual Arts Center.

To us, exec chef Robert Moltzan’s best business suits come equipped with a couple of strings, a sling around the neck and a pocket or two.

BEST GUY IN AN APRON Chef Robert Moltzan

BEST GUY IN AN APRON Chef Robert Moltzan

To love this guy is to love his food, his art … and his apron.

BEST CELEBRITY SIGHTING
Budweiser Clydesdales in
downtown Punta Gorda

World famous celebrities and TV stars took to the streets of downtown stopping to say hello to residents of all ages and visiting some of our favorite watering holes. Ivan and Charlie led the full team of Budweiser Clydesdales making a grand appearance through Punta Gorda. The Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce made this celebrity sighting possible.

BEST BOYS’ HOME
AMIkids Crossroads

AMIkids Crossroads is a success story that deserves telling. This is a nonprofit home and charter school for foster boys ages 13-18 who have had multiple failed placements in the Florida foster care system. Specially trained staff retrieve these kids from despair and helping them grow and transition into well-adjusted, self-sufficient adults. Crossroads focuses on normalcy such as birthday parties, academic achievement, positive behavior growth, job placement, sports, church and extra-curricular activities. Of the 20 boys who have graduated in the past three years none are incarcerated or homeless and five are attending college. Crossroads works. amikidscrossroads.org

BEST CELEBRITY SIGHTING Budweiser Clydesdales in downtown Punta Gorda

BEST CELEBRITY SIGHTING Budweiser Clydesdales in downtown Punta Gorda

BEST PLACE TO MEET ROYALTY
Westchester Gold & Diamonds

BEST BOYS’ HOME AMIkids Crossroads

BEST BOYS’ HOME AMIkids Crossroads

The Duke and Duchess of Westchester, Steve and Janie Duke, owners of Westchester Gold & Diamonds like to say, “Let Us Rock Your World.” And they do. The Dukes have an incredible collection of unique gold, diamonds, silver, coins, Rolex watches and vintage jewelry. They also have some wonderfully weird items fit for a royal family and reasonably priced. So grab your camera, put on your paparazzi glasses and visit them at Baers Plaza, Port Charlotte or www.Westchestergold.com

BEST HIDDEN TREASURE
Old Town Convenience Store

This convenience store has a not-so-hidden gem, a deli to die for! Owners Andrew and Mindy Behling’s fresh deli sandwiches are made daily plus wonderful salads and more. Andrew starts his day at 3 a.m. to ensure everything is ready for you. Specialties not to miss are the roasted pork loin and prime rib. Stop in to say hello and try out the best local deli just across from City Hall at 311 West Marion where you get good old fashioned personal service.

BEST PLACE TO MEET ROYALTY Westchester Gold & Diamonds

BEST PLACE TO MEET ROYALTY Westchester Gold & Diamonds

BEST EXTREME SAILING
Zhik F-18 Americas Cup

We feel the need… the need… for speed. This international event sponsored by high-performance sailing gear supplier Zhik, marks the second international sailing competition to be awarded to event organizer Charlotte Harbor Regatta, Inc. Five days of racing with 20 knot winds, nearly 60 elite teams from North and South America, Europe and Australia competed to win the 2015 Americas Cup. Many teams competed for spots on their respective countries Olympic Teams including the good ole U. S. of A. Congratulations to Sarah Newberry and Mathew Whitehead, one of few mixed crews, for winning and good luck on your Olympic goals!

BEST HIDDEN TREASURE Old Town Convenience Store

BEST HIDDEN TREASURE Old Town Convenience Store

BEST PLACE TO CAFFEINATE
AND CELEBRATE
Mercer’s Fresh Roasted Coffees
(Micro Roastery & Coffee House)

Want a great place to meet friends or business associates? This is the place to go. In addition to offering the finest estate-grown Arabica coffee beans from the world’s green markets of South America, Central America, East Africa and Arabia, Indonesia and India, they also serve craft beer, wine, breakfast and lunch. It’s a wonderful place that feels like home. Stop in and say hi to Wayne and Valerie Mercer at 4678 Tamiami Trail, “Home of the famous Blackwater Expresso” mercersfrc@yahoo.com

BEST EXTREME SAILING Zhik F-18 Americas Cup

BEST EXTREME SAILING Zhik F-18 Americas Cup

BEST ART THROUGH THE AGES
Art Without Boundaries

Improving the quality of life for individuals of all ages with autism, Alzheimer’s and other related disorders of the brain by promoting Mneme Therapy is the heart of this unique program. Patients experience joy, hope and healing through the arts with trained therapists who use everyday pleasures such as singing, movement, painting and storytelling in a unique combination to stimulate dramatic changes in the brain. “There’s an artist in all of us,” says Wendi C. Smith, a certified Mneme Therapist, who uses her artistic abilities and compassion for others to make a positive influence in people’s lives. My favorite quote from her 92 year old patient is “See, I can still do things!” For more information or to become a certified Mneme Therapist visit www.artwithoutboundaries.one or www.wendicsmithart.com

BEST PLACE TO CAFFEINATE AND CELEBRATE Mercer’s Fresh Roasted Coffees (Micro Roastery & Coffee House)

BEST PLACE TO CAFFEINATE AND CELEBRATE Mercer’s Fresh Roasted Coffees (Micro Roastery & Coffee House)

BEST DRESSED
Briley Evans

BEST ART THROUGH THE AGES Art Without Boundaries

BEST ART THROUGH THE AGES Art Without Boundaries

Second-generation Punta Gorda native Briley Evans, daughter of native son Chris Evans and his wife, Ashley, wins our Best Dressed category. Clad in crocheted couture, little Miss Evans inspired us to consider renaming the award to Best Native Dress because of its homespun appeal. Either way, Briley is a winner, and this picture is worth a thousand words.

BEST WAY TO WAKE THE UNDEAD
Funk Fest

King Tut would be jamming in his tomb if he could see Here Come the Mummies perform. The unique funk band comprised of exceptional musicians who dress as Imhotep’s minions have headlined Punta Gorda’s Funk Fest every March. This year’s incarnation went from a one-day celebration to two, with a dozen bands playing on two stages. And each year, the crowds grow as word-of-mouth spreads faster than a biblical plague. The event is the brainchild of father-and-son producers Matt and Nick Nemec, who organized the first Funk Fest in 2009 essentially as an excuse to bring the bold, brassy Mummies to town. The Nemecs’ fear about how some people would take to the group’s innuendo-laden lyrics proved groundless. Concert-goers of all ages dig the Mummies. If nothing else, the group answers the age-old question, “Is there sex after death?”

BEST DRESSED Briley Evans

BEST DRESSED Briley Evans

BEST BURT REYNOLDS WANNABE
Mike Riley

In keeping with Charlotte County Florida Weekly tradition, we found yet another reason to jam Mike Riley into our Best coverage. Here’s the BoogieMen bandleader in all his glory, lounging with a flock of female followers. He’s a self-proclaimed Burt Reynolds wannabe. “Wannabe” being the operative word, he’s no Burt, but we sure like Mike.

BEST WAY TO WAKE THE UNDEAD Funk Fest

BEST WAY TO WAKE THE UNDEAD Funk Fest

BEST BUZZ ON TWO WHEELS
Pedelec, Punta Gorda

A “pedelec” is a mashup of “pedal electric cycle.” It’s a bicycle, but the rider’s pedaling is assisted by a small electric motor, making it a type of low-powered e-bike. Phil Pfäffli, owner of Pedelec in Punta Gorda, said they have been popular in his native Switzerland for a decade, and figured it was high time he brought the craze to Charlotte County. As a safety feature, the motor doesn’t kick in unless you’re pedaling, making it perfect for seniors. Mr. Pfäffli said it’s fun to watch the expressions on young recreational bikers huffing and puffing on their high-performance bikes as they are overtaken by a pedelec-pushing granny.

BEST BURT REYNOLDS WANNABE Mike Riley

BEST BURT REYNOLDS WANNABE Mike Riley

BEST MULTI-TASKING ARTIST
Gina Battle

She’s as colorful as the palettes with which she paints. Gina Battle, the outspoken contemporary abstract artist and denizen of Punta Gorda’s Artisan’s Atelier is also a writer and model. The self-taught artist took up painting relatively recently — ironically, as a source of added income. Earlier this year, she sold 15 paintings in 11 days. And the demand for her work now makes it difficult to keep an inventory.

BEST BUZZ ON TWO WHEELS Pedelec, Punta Gorda

BEST BUZZ ON TWO WHEELS Pedelec, Punta Gorda

Her talent is only equaled by her generosity. She participated in this year’s Dancing with the Charlotte Stars fundraiser for the Charlotte County Arts & Humanities Council and donated original paintings to the “Night of Autism Awareness,” a fundraiser for special needs classes in Charlotte County schools.

You might say she has multi-tasking down to an art.

BEST WINE PRO
WITH NO WHINING
Lisa Carpenter-Spanninger

If she won the lottery, Lisa Carpenter-Spanninger says she’d keep her day job. And that’s not the wine talking.

BEST MULTI-TASKING ARTIST Gina Battle

BEST MULTI-TASKING ARTIST Gina Battle

The Florida sales and operations manager for Masciarelli Wine Co., oversees a half-dozen fine wine consultants who look for businesses that offer quality food and seek advice about fine wines for pairing. Ms. Carpenter-Spanninger loves her job, and says it allows her to combine her passions for food, history, geography and, of course, wine. We’ll drink to that.

BEST IRISH PUB IN THE STATE
The Celtic Ray Public House

It’s widely known as the best Irish pub in Charlotte County. Now the Celtic Ray Public House is known as the best Irish pub in the state, thanks to a recent report by BuzzFeed.

A global news and entertainment network that boasts 6 billion views every month, BuzzFeed recently released its Best Irish Bars in Every State review, summing up The Celtic Ray in this way: “This place is for real. The owner’s a hoot — he tells the best jokes — and they also have great food. Be sure to check out the fish and chips. They have music on occasion, too. A must!”

BEST WINE PRO WITH NO WHINING Lisa Carpenter-Spanninger

BEST WINE PRO WITH NO WHINING Lisa Carpenter-Spanninger

We’re celebrating “The Ray” — the place locals go to celebrate — with our best Irish toast: “Sláinte!”

BEST PLACE TO CELEBRATE
THE OUTDOORS INDOORS
Outdoor Republic

Step through the door of Outdoor Republic and you can wave civilization goodbye. The store is Charlotte County’s homegrown alternative to chains that specialize in adventure-themed fashion. From the alligator caddy hawking jewelry to the stuffed wild turkey perched behind the sales counter, you’ll find performance shirts with hunting and fishing designs, as well as unusual items such as alligator tooth necklaces, Yeti state-of-the-art hot/cold tumblers, real cowhides to use as rugs, alligator- and crocodile-hide wallets and key chains, and a brightly colored landscape painted on a turkey feather. Here in the middle of civilized Punta Gorda is a place where the wild things are.

BEST PLACE TO CELEBRATE THE OUTDOORS INDOORS Outdoor Republic

BEST PLACE TO CELEBRATE THE OUTDOORS INDOORS Outdoor Republic

BEST CONCERT FOR A CAUSE
Al Holland’s Night of Autism Awareness

BEST CONCERT FOR A CAUSE Al Holland’s Night of Autism Awareness

BEST CONCERT FOR A CAUSE Al Holland’s Night of Autism Awareness

For four years, singer Al Holland has led a charge to raise autism awareness — and funds for the Charlotte Local Education Foundation. The proceeds from his concerts help provide sensory spaces in schools that district budgets might not otherwise afford.

Mr. Holland’s “Night of Autism Awareness” concerts have inspired the support of musicians, artists, dancers and other community members. The need is greater than most people probably realize. Autism is as ubiquitous as it is insidious, affecting one in 68 children, and one in 42 boys. We salute Al Holland and Friends for raising their voices to help meet the needs of children with special needs in Charlotte County.

BEST CUT-UP Kallis German Butcher

BEST CUT-UP Kallis German Butcher

BEST CUT-UP
Kallis German Butcher

In Germany, you don’t just decide to be a butcher. Just ask Hamburg-born Manfred Kallnischkies, founder and owner of Kallis German Butcher in Port Charlotte, who was only 14 years old when he began a grueling three-year apprenticeship at the hands of a master butcher, plus five years in the field, allowed him to earn a master’s degree in sausage making under the strict code of the German Sausage Maker’s Guild. He works from dawn to dusk six days a week, cutting meat and making more than 100 varieties of primo sausages. And that’s no bull.

BEST SPOT TO SHOP IN THE SUNSHINE Placida Fishing Village

BEST SPOT TO SHOP IN THE SUNSHINE Placida Fishing Village

BEST SPOT TO SHOP
IN THE SUNSHINE
Placida Fishing Village

Open your car door and you’re greeted with the tangy scent of harbor waters. A short walk takes you to where you’ll find tented booths where artisans are selling their paintings, shell art, food and unusual crafts. Even the names — Stones & Bones, The Art of Patience, Sweet Art Confections, Blue Horse Designs and many more — evoke a quaint, Old Florida ambience. That’s what you’ll find at the Placida Fishing Village on Fishery Road in Placida, when the Placida Saturday Arts and Crafts Market is in full swing. The market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., starting around the end of October to mid-March, then runs every other week until early May. All in all, it’s a charming way to spend a day — and a few dollars.

BEST ONGOING DRAMA NOT ON TV Dennis Hall

BEST ONGOING DRAMA NOT ON TV Dennis Hall

BEST ONGOING
DRAMA NOT ON TV
Dennis Hall

His first role was in high school as an extra in the Oscarwinning Best Picture “The Deer Hunter.” Dennis Hall has worked as an actor since he was a child, in a career that has spanned stage, television and film.

And then he became a drama teacher for Charlotte County’s high schools, moving from Charlotte High to Port Charlotte High, and to his current stint at Lemon Bay, where he directs plays and musicals plays. Not content to do the same old high school stuff, Mr. Hall has consistently pushed the envelope. He has his students perform at least one work by a major playwright (this past season was Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible”), and fights to perform musicals that force students to extend their range and appreciate what creates great theater. He has also been instrumental in furthering students’ careers, and has had numerous graduates become Equity actors.

BEST PITCHMAN WE LOVE TO HATE Billy Fuccillo

BEST PITCHMAN WE LOVE TO HATE Billy Fuccillo

“My one goal is to get kids into great schools,” Mr. Hall said. “I want them to get honest-to-goodness theater training above and beyond high school.” Bravo, Mr. Hall. You deserve a standing “O.”

BEST PITCHMAN
WE LOVE TO HATE
Billy Fuccillo

BEST PICKLEBALL GURU

BEST PICKLEBALL GURU

If you listen to the radio or watch TV, you can’t escape him. After doing his shtick about the deals available at his auto dealership, Fuccillo Kia in Cape Coral, he tops off every commercial with his trademark phrase: “It’s HUUUUGE.” Billy Fuccillo reportedly spends about $250,000 (sometimes $1 million) a month to produce and air ads that often look like they’re shot with a home video camera, are clearly unscripted, and have to go down in the annals of advertising history as one of the most annoying — and apparently effective — campaigns in Southwest Florida history. Mr. Fuccillo has cultivated a more than $800 million automotive empire comprised of more than 20 dealerships in Florida and New York. The dealership claims to sell 1,000 cars a month in Cape Coral alone. His personal net worth is estimated at $100 million. And he has won the Kia corporate award for sales performance several times. Yes, Mr. Fuccillo is a success. And his business is (ahem) HUUUUGE.

Edward Roth of Western Michigan University, pictured here with Dr. Ramon Gil, lectured in April on the benefits of using music in therapy.

Edward Roth of Western Michigan University, pictured here with Dr. Ramon Gil, lectured in April on the benefits of using music in therapy.

BEST HEART-RENDING
FUNDRAISER
Maurice Gelinas

He once had a successful lawn and landscaping business. Maurice Gelinas had no previous health problems, ate well, was active, not overweight, did not have high blood pressure. But that didn’t keep him from having a major heart attack in 2012. An artificial heart saved his life, but was only a temporary fix. He needed a transplant or he would die. But it would cost him $8,000 to get on the list of recipients and to cover the medications he would need to make the transplant viable. Enter Dr. Mark Asperilla, local infectious disease specialist, philanthropist and owner of The Fishery in Placida. He organized a fundraiser in January at his restaurant that attracted about 250 people and raised more than $4,000 that night, with more following from those who donated to a crowdfunding campaign. Mr. Gelinas is now on the list to receive a donated heart, one we hope will keep beating for a long time to come.

BEST PILE OF POOP CHEC’s Cedar Park scat collection

BEST PILE OF POOP CHEC’s Cedar Park scat collection

BEST PICKLEBALL GURU

BEST CAPTAIN WITH A GOLIATH-SIZED HEART Capt. Chris O’Neill

BEST CAPTAIN WITH A GOLIATH-SIZED HEART Capt. Chris O’Neill

His name is Scott Tingley and he’s a Pickleball pro and has a website called ilovetoplaypickleball.com.

He teaches the sport at Punta Gorda’s Gilchrist Park and in many places around the area.

The North Port resident is, as you may have guessed, an avid Pickleball player. He’s more than that. He’s an advocate and ambassador of this sport, which combines elements of tennis, table tennis and wiffle ball.

How to annoy Port Charlotte drivers: First, block off a main artery that bypasses the nightmare that is U.S. 41. Next, tell them they have to go online to find out what areas of said main artery are going to be worked on so they can chart a course to their homes accordingly. Yes, we’re talking about the godawful construction known officially as Edgewater Drive Phase 2 improvements. The purpose of the $28-million project is to widen Edgewater from two to four lanes between Harbor and Midway boulevards, adding roundabouts and a path for pedestrians and bicyclists, and replacing bridges. In addition to the inconvenience it’s causing, the project is also sending scads of traffic to already crowded U.S. 41. The project is scheduled to be completed in April 2017. Until then, motorists will have no other recourse but to cuss.

BEST AQUAHOLIC FIX Englewood Beach Waterfest

BEST AQUAHOLIC FIX Englewood Beach Waterfest

BEST DIET IN ADVANCE
“Let’s Eat! Englewood”

BEST PLACE TO MAKE A WISH Stump Pass Beach State Park

BEST PLACE TO MAKE A WISH Stump Pass Beach State Park

Restaurant weeks are a delicious way to experience new cuisine, find a new favorite eatery and fall into a foodie coma. Ed Hill, CEO of the Englewood Area Chamber of Commerce, directed members of the Englewood Tourism Assembly to develop initiatives to raise the Englewood area’s visibility. The result was “Let’s Eat! Englewood,” a two-week culinary celebration with participating restaurants offering two-course lunches for $12 and three-course dinners for $23. About 25 eateries participated in last year’s inaugural event. Begin fasting now, because the culinary adventure returns Sept. 15-29. letseatenglewood.com

BEST MORNING STRETCH Loving Light Yoga on Englewood Beach

BEST MORNING STRETCH Loving Light Yoga on Englewood Beach

BEST BLEND OF
ART AND MEDICINE
Medical Grand Rounds

Five years ago, Port Charlotte neurologist Dr. Ramon Gil was chosen to become the head of a fundraising committee for the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. It was a marriage made in heaven. Dr. Gil devised a plan to bring the medical community closer to the orchestra — not just as audience members, but also as financial supporters. Thus was born the Medical Grand Rounds program, a fundraising series of lectures on topics where health care and the fine arts intersect. Originally restricted to members of the health care community, Medical Grand Rounds was opened to the public due to popular request. And thanks to the $50 admission fee, which includes lunch and cocktails, Medical Grand Rounds has already raised about $150,000 for the orchestra, which we’re thinking is music to their ears.

BEST TWO-WHEELER Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson

BEST TWO-WHEELER Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson

BEST LITERAL REPLACEMENT
PG Library

The good news is: The Punta Gorda Library on Henry Street is the second-busiest in the county. The bad news is: It’s the smallest. Heck, it’s been around for about 40 years, and residents have complained about it having inadequate parking, too many visitors for the building to accommodate, and being generally outdated. That’s all scheduled to change with the city of Punta Gorda’s gift of 6.2 acres of land to Charlotte County to build the South County Community Library & Archive on Shreve Street adjacent to the History Park. The estimated $6.9-million project will be designed and built by Harvard Jolly Inc. of Sarasota, which specializes in Old Florida style design and, more to the point, has 55 other Florida libraries under its belt. So there will be no excuses about not being able to catch up on your reading.

BEST PLACE TO GET STUCK IN THE RAIN Tina’s Café on Taylor

BEST PLACE TO GET STUCK IN THE RAIN Tina’s Café on Taylor

BEST FACELIFT
Fishermen’s Village

BEST GEOGRAPHIC CONUNDRUM

BEST GEOGRAPHIC CONUNDRUM

Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda recently completed a multi-million dollar renovation that included construction of a new main entrance. Plantings and infrastructure were cleared to expand views of Charlotte Harbor, and the floor was raised to be level with the mall’s walkway in Center Court. Through partnering with Fishermen’s Village, Indiana-based restaurateur Scotty Wise is expanding into the Southern market. Scotty’s Brewhouse is being constructed next to Center Court and is anticipated to bring 70 new jobs to the area. Details of the grand opening of Fishermen’s Village Center Court and Scotty’s Brewhouse are forthcoming. Fishville, dahling, you look MAHVELOUS. fishville.com

BEST LIVING LEGACY Vernon Peeples and the Punta Gorda History Center

BEST LIVING LEGACY Vernon Peeples and the Punta Gorda History Center

BEST PILE OF POOP
CHEC’s Cedar Park scat collection

Charlotte County is blessed with many ecological wonders, including Cedar Point Park in Englewood. The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center is involved in the management of this 115-acre Charlotte County park, which has three hiking trails, nesting bald eagles and a visitor center that houses a collection of a dozen specimens of scat (and we’re not talking about vocal jazz). People donate scat, dried excrement harvested from various animals, including that of lions, manatees and red rat snakes. The kids’ favorite is the “snowman scat” which looks like cotton balls. Because the doo-doo has dried, this collection doesn’t stink. Visit checflorida.org to view activities offered by CHEC.

BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE “Million Dollar Quartet”

BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE “Million Dollar Quartet”

BEST CAPTAIN WITH A
GOLIATH-SIZED HEART
Capt. Chris O’Neill

If good things come in small packages, “grande” things come from goliath-sized hearts. Englewood’s Capt. Chris O’Neill, owner of Tail Chaser Charter Services, shares his passion for fishing, enriching the lives of youth. For the past three years, he has mentored fatherless teenagers during once-in-a-lifetime goliath grouper fishing trips in Boca Grande Pass. Each teen was awarded a college scholarship from the Majesty Outdoors Foundation. Capt. Chris retired from a 20-year career as a U.S. Army first sergeant, volunteers with veterans’ organizations and mentors youth through various programs, including the Michael O’Donnell Memorial Fish-A-Thon held each Labor Day Weekend in Englewood. tailchasercharters.com

BEST BREATHTAKING DEFENSIVE WIZARDRY

BEST BREATHTAKING DEFENSIVE WIZARDRY

BEST AQUAHOLIC FIX
Englewood Beach Waterfest

The inaugural Englewood Beach Waterfest made a big splash with EcoFest, PaddleFest and RaceFest, which included a stand-up paddleboard race and a funfilled ecotourism weekend with live music, a parade and offshore powerboat action. Maryland’s Offshore Powerboat Association National Championships scheduled for October were canceled because of Hurricane Joaquin, so this and the OPA Word Championships were held during RaceFest. The next Waterfest is scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 18. Visit englewoodbeachwaterfest.com for updates.

BEST STORM CHASER Wayne Salladé

BEST STORM CHASER Wayne Salladé

BEST TV SHOW WITH A HOOK
“Charlotte Harbor Chronicles”

Capt. Mike Slattery grew up in Charlotte County and spent his boyhood on local waters boating and fishing. The 1999 Lemon Bay High School graduate launched Palm Island Outfitters in 2008 and has gained a reputation as one of the area’s top fishing guides. To share his passion for Charlotte Harbor’s world-class fishing, he spent about three years compiling his first television series, the fishing show “Charlotte Harbor Chronicles,” which debuted on the Sportsman Channel in December. As the show’s host, Capt. Mike has introduced new visitors to Charlotte County and the thrill of Charlotte Harbor fishing. CharlotteHarborChronicles.com

BEST NON-TV WALKING DEAD Charlotte County Historical Center’s Cemetery Tour

BEST NON-TV WALKING DEAD Charlotte County Historical Center’s Cemetery Tour

BEST PLACE TO MAKE A WISH
Stump Pass Beach State Park

Bleached-white fossilized trees rest at the southern tip of Stump Pass Beach State Park on Manasota Key. They stand like abstract ghosts, adding contrast to the secluded beach and aquamarine Gulf of Mexico waters. Local legend has it that your wish will be granted when you walk that stretch of beach, find a seashell with a hole and place it on one of the tree’s branches. Even if the wish isn’t granted right away, your spirit will be lifted by the soul-soothing stroll along the beach’s lapping waves and wild scenery.

BEST GLASSES John and Suzy Bates

BEST GLASSES John and Suzy Bates

BEST MORNING STRETCH
Loving Light Yoga on Englewood Beach

A good morning stretch energizes the body and soul, and there’s no better place to strike a warrior pose amid the sounds of lapping waves and the call of sea birds than Englewood Beach. Everyone is invited to join in from 8:30-9:30 a.m. daily — including holidays — at the north end of the beach. Loving Light Yoga hosts this Yoga for Every Body Class, asking a minimal donation to cover expenses. Loving Light Yoga owners Lata and Robert began offering beach yoga eight years ago with the intention of making the benefits of yoga accessible to everyone. lovinglightyoga.com

BEST RIDE IN TOWN

BEST RIDE IN TOWN

BEST TWO-WHEELER
Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson

Bert’s Black Widow Harley-Davidson in Port Charlotte is more than a motorcycle dealership. Stop by and let music lure you inside. Browse the showroom and join the Harley-Davidson family. Acquired in Aug. 2015 by Bert King, the region’s newest Harley- Davidson franchise is already among the top 10 percent of the company’s U.S. dealerships. Black Widow provides a gathering spot and community for local riders. On Saturdays and Sundays, they provide free entertainment, food and beer. Volunteers cook and tips they receive support veterans group causes and others. In the works is a Harley-Davidson Riding Academy. blackwidowh-d.com

BEST BEACONS PG stop signs

BEST BEACONS PG stop signs

BEST NATIONAL PUBLICITY
WE BET YOU MISSED
Harper’s Monthly

Did you happen to read the January 1885 issue of Harper’s Monthly?

That’s 1885. Not 1985. Not 2015.

It’s probably not on your coffee table, but in our relentless search for cool stuff, we came across the 1885 article “The Cruise of the Wallowy” in the archives of the Southwest Florida Historical Society.

The story detailed a 1880s trip on a schooner along Florida’s gulf coast.

“Charlotte Harbor I should recommend as one of the best places as an objective point. Coming in by Cayo Costa, you take in at one delightful gulp all the pleasures of this country. Here we landed, and along its beaches killed our first birds…

BEST FAREWELL Big Papi

BEST FAREWELL Big Papi

“The hunting and fishing in Charlotte Harbor were excellent, and the keys surpassingly beautiful.”

True then; true today.

BEST RUMBLE ON THE GREENS
Goliath the gator vs. featherweight

Goliath has done it again. Last year the giant gator was named Best Cyber Gator after photos of him strutting slowing on the greens of Myakka Pines Golf Club in Englewood went viral. His monster-sized ego has caught the international spotlight again. Last November, Lynn Sarles snapped a National Geographic worthy photo of Goliath in a rumble with a smaller alligator on hole 4 of the Blue course. She and her husband have been club members for more than 20 years. “I have hundreds of alligator photos,” Ms. Sarles said, but this one is the most spectacular.”

BEST MOVEMENT MOTIVATOR Kathleen Candales

BEST MOVEMENT MOTIVATOR Kathleen Candales

BEST REASON TO DON
RAINCOATS AND RUBBERS

Our wetter-than-average winter was due in part to El Niño and its effects may be felt into early summer.

But there’s another reason to keep those raincoats and rubbers handy: the presidential election season. We’ve heard and seen cheap shots, disturbing bullying and blatant lies slung at candidates within their own parties during the primaries. We’re sure that once each party selects its presidential candidate, the political mudslinging will be taken up a notch.

BEST OLD NEW SCHOOL Lemon Bay High School

BEST OLD NEW SCHOOL Lemon Bay High School

So duck, take cover, keep the political conversation civil and exercise your right to vote. Keep your foul-weather gear handy.

BEST SHORTS TO LOOK AT
Punta Gorda Short Film Festival

Offering a colorful collage of wit, humor and life’s challenges, the second annual Punta Gorda Short Film Festival returned for an encore performance. The film “concert” screened some of the world’s best short films to a sold-out audience of 600, about 200 more than the inaugural year. The entertaining evening was a joint collaboration with Asbury Shorts, the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce and Charlotte Harbor Office of Film & Digital Media. Bravo to Nannette Leonard, “Elton” John Wright of the Punta Gorda Chamber and Doug LeClaire of Asbury Shorts for making the evening shine. We can’t wait for 2017.

BEST BATTLE ON THE PEACE RIVER Punta Gorda Dragon Boat Festival

BEST BATTLE ON THE PEACE RIVER Punta Gorda Dragon Boat Festival

BEST PLACE TO GET STUCK IN THE RAIN
Tina’s Café on Taylor

If you don’t enjoy getting caught in the rain, the perfect spot to hide from the raindrops is Tina’s Café & Bakery Vienna. Tina and Bernhard Weidinger opened the cozy, traditional Austrian-style café in November, and are most often seen baking in the kitchen or in the café’s dining areas, mingling with guests.

BEST WAY TO WALK ON WATER Gilchrist and Barron Collier bridges

BEST WAY TO WALK ON WATER Gilchrist and Barron Collier bridges

We found it to be an ideal location to watch cars splashing along Taylor Street as we waited out a SWFL soaker with coffee and dessert. (315 Taylor St., Punta Gorda)

BEST GEOGRAPHIC CONUNDRUM

By all rights, Boca Grande should be in Charlotte County. It’s on the southern tip of Gasparilla Island, while the rest of the island to the north is in Charlotte County.

Still, Boca Grande is in Lee County. Why?

According to Google Maps, it takes 82 minutes to drive the 63.7 miles from Boca Grande’s Gasparilla Inn to downtown Fort Myers’ county government buildings. But it takes 33 minutes to drive the 22.4 miles from the Gasparilla Inn to Charlotte County government buildings in Port Charlotte.

BEST WAY TO MAKE A SPLASH Cirque Italia

BEST WAY TO MAKE A SPLASH Cirque Italia

So why isn’t Boca Grande in Charlotte County? Perhaps distance makes the heart grow yonder.

BEST PLACE TO GET YOUR VITAMIN SEA
Charlotte County beaches

“Take your vitamins!” is a nagging reminder from your mother, significant other or doctor. We’re not here to preach, but we’d like to guide you to the best source for “vitamin sea” in the area: the beaches of Charlotte County. You might pop your vitamins first thing in the morning, but you’ll want to head out to one of the beaches before sunset. “Vitamin sea” is a combination of golden sunlight, salty air, lapping waves, sandy toes and seashell scavenging. We recommend a dose a week, but for optimal soul rejuvenation, take it in daily.

BEST OF SHOW National Art Exhibition

BEST OF SHOW National Art Exhibition

BEST LIVING LEGACY
Vernon Peeples and the Punta Gorda History Center

Vernon Peeples died in 2015 at the age of 85, but his lifelong love of Punta Gorda lives on at the Punta Gorda History Center.

His lifetime collection of maps, documents, books, newspaper clippings and photos is being preserved for posterity.

The massive archive of local history is being catalogued and organized and will remain a resource for local residents and scholars for many years to come. puntagordahistorycenter.blogspot.com

BEST ENTERTAINMENT VALUE
“Million Dollar Quartet”

BEST NEW DIGS Copperfish Books

BEST NEW DIGS Copperfish Books

The Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers could have gotten away with charging $1 million per ticket for the “Million Dollar Quartet.”

That’s how good last fall’s musical was.

The show focuses on a 1956 recording session involving Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. The cast of Christopher Wren (Perkins), Evan Buckley Harris (Cash), Jason Cohen (Lewis) and Skip Robinson (Presley) was dynamic. Holding it together was Matthew Scott as Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Studio. The tickets were worth every penny. At any price.

BEST BREATHTAKING
DEFENSIVE WIZARDRY

During spring training fans stopping by Charlotte Sports Park were lucky to see the man named the best defensive player in the American League in 2015. That’s Tampa Bay Rays center-fielder Kevin Kiermaier.

BEST AL FRESCO DINING (TIE) Outstanding in the Field and Harvest for the Harbor

BEST AL FRESCO DINING (TIE) Outstanding in the Field and Harvest for the Harbor

Mr. Kiermaier is a treat to see roaming the outfield, darting in for sinking liners or dashing to his left or right in pursuit of hooking liners or sprinting back to the wall chasing down 400 foot drives.

Mr. Kiermaier can hit 20 mph when sprinting and his throws from the outfield have been clocked at 100 mph. We’re not biased, mind you, but we’d say he’s the best.

BEST WORD TO
‘FOUL’ UP A SPELLING BEE
The Charlotte Stone Crabs’ new owner is
Lou Schwechheimer.

The Cooke house was included in this year’s Home Tour.

The Cooke house was included in this year’s Home Tour.

The name might be tough to pronounce and it’s sure harder to spell, but Mr. Schwechheimer comes to town with an impressive baseball resume. He previously owned the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. He’s also part of the Caribbean Baseball Initiative, which hopes to bring minor-league baseball back to Cuba. Last year, he purchased the Stone Crabs, a Class A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

That’s a pretty impressive record, no matter how you spell it.

BEST STORM CHASER
Wayne Salladé

He’s Charlotte County fixture. The director of the county’s emergency management office is Wayne Salladé, who was on the job when Hurricane Charley barreled through in 2004. For years, he’s been warning people about the dangers of hurricanes. And he’s still at it, alerting residents to incoming bad weather and the possibility of another hurricane. When that happens, be sure to listen to “Hurricane Wayne,” the best storm chaser around.

BEST WAY TO GET TO MARGARITAVILLE Raven Air Island Hoppers

BEST WAY TO GET TO MARGARITAVILLE Raven Air Island Hoppers

BEST PLACE TO GET PICKLED

America is increasingly becoming a divided country. We’re not talking about politics or religion or race here. We’re talking Pickleball, an enormously popular sport that’s sweeping the country. For evidence look no further than Gilchrist Park, which as of 2015 has eight dedicated Pickleball courts.

BEST SIGN OF THE TIMES At the Visual Arts Center

BEST SIGN OF THE TIMES At the Visual Arts Center

It’s a great place to get pickled — and hooked on this sport.

BEST PLACE TO LEAVE YOUR
DOOR UNLOCKED
Punta Gorda

We really don’t recommend leaving your doors unlocked ever. But if you happen to slip clicking the lock, your property has a greater chance of going unscathed in Punta Gorda. Backgroundchecks.com rated our fair city as the second safest in Florida, only outranked by Key Biscayne.

Be proud, Punta Gordians. But for everyone’s sake, lock the locks and keep the lights on.

BEST BOOK
The Allure of Immortality: An American Cult,
a Florida Swamp, and a Renegade Prophet

BEST EARTHENWARE Via Veneto pottery tree

BEST EARTHENWARE Via Veneto pottery tree

Don’t let the Oxford comma in the title throw you off reading this book about Cyrus Teed and the Koreshans, a cult that settled in Estero in the 1890s.

Author Lyn Millner, an associate professor of journalism at Florida Gulf Coast University, did a masterful job of recreating Mr. Teed, the Koreshans and a time and place, Lee County more than a century ago.

BEST NON-TV WALKING DEAD
Charlotte County Historical Center’s
Cemetery Tour

The Charlotte County Historical Center recently conducted its Historic Cemeteries Tour, busing about 40 people to old cemeteries around the county.

BEST PLACE TO PLAY IN THE STREET Sarasota Chalk Festival

BEST PLACE TO PLAY IN THE STREET Sarasota Chalk Festival

On this tour, some of the county’s long dead came to life through the costumes and words of re-enactors. They walked and talked and seemed very much alive. A tour guide explained the history of each cemetery.

We’re hoping this non-TV walking dead experience will be a repeat.

BEST GLASSES
John and Suzy Bates

We won’t say they’re making spectacles of themselves, but John and Suzy Bates have an eye for fashion. This pair won’t accept just any pair of glasses. John and Suzy have a vision for the unique. They change their pair daily, like most people change their … Yeah, you see our focus. Look for them around town.

BEST FIVE-YEAR PLAN The maestro and the CSO

BEST FIVE-YEAR PLAN The maestro and the CSO

BEST OLD-TIME MEDICAL CURES
Who needs Obamacare or any other sort of
health insurance?

We have a copy of “Cracker Cures, 1976 book with this subtitle: “A compendium of cures, concoctions, potions, remedies, magic, old wive’s tales, omens, luck signs and talismans.”

For instance:

•Abdominal cramps: Apply a mixture of kerosene oil and salt to the abdomen and rub it in the lower part.

• Gonorrhea: Chew up pine sapling bud.

• Hepatitis: Pickled wood lice is a cure for hepatitis.

• Carbuncles: Put the lining of an eggshell on the head to bring it to a head.

• Baldness: Rub the head morning and evening with onions till it is red and afterwards rub it with honey.

BEST MINDS IN BLINDS Absolute Blinds

BEST MINDS IN BLINDS Absolute Blinds

BEST NEW ARENA
Suncoast Credit Union Arena at FSW

The 3,300-seat, $75 million arena rising on the campus of Florida SouthWestern State College will be the home of the school’s basketball and volleyball teams by the fall. The arena will also be an entertainment venue.

Suncoast Credit Union ponied up $5 million to get its name emblazoned on the arena. The arena’s name doesn’t roll off the tongue like, say, Edison Gym.

But $5 million buys a lot.

BEST RIDE IN TOWN

A local elementary school was in need of a solution for some squirmy students. So the school district freed up some grant money to purchase 50 DeskCycles to help them stay focused in class.

BEST ROAD RUNNER IN CHARLOTTE COUNTY Acme Bicycle Shop

BEST ROAD RUNNER IN CHARLOTTE COUNTY Acme Bicycle Shop

We think it’s such a fantastic idea, we’re wondering if the working world of “students of life” might benefit from the same thing. Not that we’re peddling the concept…

BEST
BEACONS
PG stop signs

After numerous traffic, bicycle and pedestrian injuries along Shreve Street at Olympia and Marion avenues, the City of Punta Gorda erected a stop sign for the ages that’s visible from blocks away. Stop and see it some time.

BEST COLLEGIATE
IDENTITY CRISIS
FSW

Let’s see if we can keep this straight.

A certain school began life as Edison Junior College in 1962.

BEST IN BACK-END REPAIR Dr. Alvaro R. Bada

BEST IN BACK-END REPAIR Dr. Alvaro R. Bada

In 1972, it became Edison Community College.

Then, in 2004, it was re-named Edison State College.

Finally, in 2014, it became Florida SouthWestern State College.

Got all that?

No wonders long-time locals still refer to it simply as “Edison.”

It’s all quite confusing but eventually we’ll get the hang of the still new name and its abbreviation, FSW.

BEST FAREWELL
Big Papi

Local baseball fans may recall Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz playing for the Fort Myers Miracle in 1997.

Now, he’s 40 and has announced his retirement. The 2016 season will be his farewell. He entered the season with 503 career homers, 27th all-time.

BEST IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO BROADWAY Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre

BEST IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO BROADWAY Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre

In a few years, Mr. Ortiz, known as Big Papi, will likely be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., a long way from Fort Myers.

BEST MOVEMENT MOTIVATOR
Kathleen Candales

Her vision is to have a place where everyone is immersed in the performing arts; a place where all students — young and old — can come together and utilize their gifts and talents in the creation of movement. She called that place Higher Ground. Through her spirituality and compassion, Kathleen Candales is at her best when she can draw the innate talent from her students and create marvelous, moving works of art.

BEST OF SIMPLE TO SIMPLY ELEGANT The Caterer

BEST OF SIMPLE TO SIMPLY ELEGANT The Caterer

BEST OLD NEW SCHOOL
Lemon Bay High School

It was built in 1961 and opened in 1962 as an elementary/ junior high school. In 1972, a gym was built, and it became a junior high school only. In 1978, with the completion of a new cafeteria, the school became a junior/senior high school, and Lemon Bay celebrated its first graduating class in 1981. In 1986, it became Lemon Bay High School. In 2010, Lemon Bay started a 5½-year rebuild, completed in January.

So, everything old is new again.

BEST WAY TO CLEAR A BEACH
The grenade debacle

It wasn’t exactly a great white sighting. No, it began as an innocent search by an elderly man with a metal detector and ended with Charlotte County Deputies surrounding and evacuating the Port Charlotte Beach Complex. The gent made a find, alright: a hand grenade. When the sun-worshippers dove into their cars and fled for the great indoors, the Lee County Bomb Squad figured out that the grenade was only a replica. So there was plenty of parking space for the remains of that memorable beach day.

BEST PLACE TO PUT THAT PERFECT SMILE ON Dr. Susan R. Brooks

BEST PLACE TO PUT THAT PERFECT SMILE ON Dr. Susan R. Brooks

BEST BATTLE ON
THE PEACE RIVER
Punta Gorda Dragon Boat Festival

Nope, we’re not talking about things getting a little unruly on the river when some boaters overindulge in a few too many adult beverages on any given weekend. Thanks to the Punta Gorda Chamber of Commerce, the annual War on the Peace Dragon Boat Festival, now in its fifth year, has acquainted most of us with drummers, dragon boats and paddling with the purpose of raising money for a local charity. On Oct. 29, 20-member crews — from cancer survivors and community teams to established dragon boat clubs and youth teams — take to the river to claim their piece of the Peace at Laishley Park. This year’s beneficiary is Take Stock in Children, a mentoring and sponsorship program offered by the Charlotte Educational Foundation.

BEST PLACE TO SEE AND LOOK YOUR BEST Center for Sight

BEST PLACE TO SEE AND LOOK YOUR BEST Center for Sight

BEST PLACE TO
BATTLE THE BIG ONE
Boca Grande

BEST KITCHEN REMODEL WORTH THE WAIT The Celtic Ray Public House

BEST KITCHEN REMODEL WORTH THE WAIT The Celtic Ray Public House

They call the tarpon the silver king for a reason. Weighing 125 pounds or more and always up for the battle, catching one of these mighty fish is an adrenaline rush especially when they show off their 10-foot aerial acrobatics. Tarpon are ranked among the top catches for saltwater sports fishermen around the world and Boca Grande Pass is swimming with them every April through June. The silver king is also the star of the island’s annual World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament, which includes contests for women and children.

BEST WAY TO WALK ON WATER
Gilchrist and Barron Collier bridges

BEST DINING AND BOATING VIEW OF THE HARBOR Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club

BEST DINING AND BOATING VIEW OF THE HARBOR Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club

Whether you’re taking a leisurely stroll or ramping up your exercise routine, these north- and southbound Peace River-spanning bridges provide a scenic alternative to the treadmill at the gym and a mile — or about 2,000 steps — each way. Three-foot tall concrete barricades separate traffic from pedestrians and joggers who enjoy sweeping views of the water, sailboats and anglers some 45 feet below. Plus, there’s always the chance you might see a dolphin or two. Bonus for sunsets. Ironically, a walk in the air tends to smooth out the great divide between north and south, Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda. No matter where you start, you end up on the other side.

BEST CAMP FOR MUSICAL YOUTH Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

BEST CAMP FOR MUSICAL YOUTH Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

BEST WAY TO MAKE A SPLASH
Cirque Italia

Described as the Bellagio meets Broadway, Cirque Italia combines the wonderful waterworks of the famous Vegas fountain with performances by contortionists, aerialists and acrobats in, under and above the water — 35,000 gallons of it. The European-style circus dazzled Southwest Florida audiences in February in downtown Punta Gorda and at Jet Blue Park with its water stage of colorful water curtains, dancing fountains mermaids and more. For that we say, “Bellissimo” and please come back soon.

BEST PLACE TO GET THE BLUES
Charlotte County

BEST 100 HOSPITALS IN AMERICA REPORT CARD Fawcett Memorial Hospital

BEST 100 HOSPITALS IN AMERICA REPORT CARD Fawcett Memorial Hospital

Pickers will show up just about anywhere with their banjoes or dubros (aka single-cone resonator guitars) for an impromptu session and Charlotte County offers some of the most frequent Florida jam opportunities according to the Southwest Florida Blues Association. Get the blues every Monday evening at 6:30 during Indian Mound Park’s Bluegrass and Country Jam in Englewood; Wednesday from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at the Bean Depot in El Jobean; and Thursday at Gilchrist Park’s Bluegrass, Folk and Country Jam in Punta beginning at 7 p.m.

BEST FOR NO ORDINARY
WALK IN THE WOODS
Myakka River State Park

BEST BOATING EXPERIENCE Freedom Boat Club

BEST BOATING EXPERIENCE Freedom Boat Club

Sure, the trail may start off as a typical dirt path. But follow the Sarasota park’s Canopy Trail long enough and you’ll soon have the opportunity to walk along the treetops. Stretching across a canopy of live oaks, the wooden suspension walkway swings a little as you cross and is definitely not for those with acrophobia. Nor is the connecting observation platform, which rises 76 feet and offers sweeping vistas of one of the state’s largest parks. But you’ll feel just like scientists studying the rainforest: Myakka River’s canopy walk, the first in Florida, was inspired by similar bridgeways in South America.

BEST OF SHOW
National Art Exhibition

BEST AT FSW…ARTS@FSW! Florida SouthWestern State College

BEST AT FSW…ARTS@FSW! Florida SouthWestern State College

The biennial National Art Exhibition at Punta Gorda’s Visual Arts Center received 633 entries from artists across the country and Canada. But it was local Venice artist Bill Farnsworth who took home the “Best of Show” award — and a $2,000 check — for his “On the Line.” It confirms what we already knew — Southwest Florida is chock full of talent.

BEST HISTORY PROJECT
Ladies mural

Punta Gorda is known for its murals, most of which focus on the city’s history. The Mural Society’s next project is a work celebrating the role of women in Punta Gorda’s development. Inspired by Libby Schaefer’s book “The Ladies of Punta Gorda,” the mural will feature seven civic-minded women, including midwife Cornelia Ponder, businesswoman Lois Peeples and supervisor of elections Tosie Hindman. We can’t wait.

BEST STATE-OF-THE-ART SURGICAL CARE ON THE GO Dr. Domingo Galliano

BEST STATE-OF-THE-ART SURGICAL CARE ON THE GO Dr. Domingo Galliano

BEST NEW DIGS
Copperfish Books

Happily, reports of the death of independent bookstores have been greatly exaggerated. Our own Copperfish Books is a case in point. Thanks to an atmosphere rivaling that of the bar “Cheers” and a great line-up of events, the store not only survived but thrived in its off-the-beaten-path location on Elizabeth Street. With its new digs at the corner of Marion and 41, more casual readers will be introduced to Copperfish. They’re in for a treat.

BEST PLACE TO HEAR ‘INCREDIBLE!’ Don Gasgarth’s Charlotte County Ford

BEST PLACE TO HEAR ‘INCREDIBLE!’ Don Gasgarth’s Charlotte County Ford

BEST AL FRESCO DINING (TIE)
Outstanding in the Field and Harvest for the Harbor

Two events put the earth first as a combined 300 diners traded in the comforts of AC and actual flooring for the experience of a meal in a field and a park after dark. The farm-to-table dinners featured local produce, seafood and other regionally sourced ingredients, and hosted 150 patrons at community tables in Laishley Park and Worden Farms. Harvest for the Harbor in November raised money for the Charlotte Harbor Environment Center while January’s Outstanding in the Field, hosted by Eva and Chris Worden for a third time, benefited the Florida Organic Growers and Consumers, which among its many missions provides fresh food and produce to food stamp recipients.

BEST SUNSET RESTAURANT DESTINATION Gulfview Grill

BEST SUNSET RESTAURANT DESTINATION Gulfview Grill

BEST WAY TO CHECK OUT
YOUR NEIGHBORS’ HOMES
Share the Love for the Kids Home Tour

The Share the Love for the Kids Home Tour is an annual event worth celebrating. Attendees leave the homes and gardens in the tour with great decorating ideas and perhaps a bit of house envy. And with event proceeds going to New Operation Cooper Street, Back Pack Kidz and AMI/Kids Crossroads, participants also help improve the lives of Charlotte County children. Over the past seven years, $179,000 has been raised for these nonprofit organizations. Kudos to PGI Civic Association’s Beyond Ourselves club organizing the tour and making a difference.

BEST PLACE TO HEAR CLEARLY Harbor Audiology

BEST PLACE TO HEAR CLEARLY Harbor Audiology

BEST WAY TO GET TO
MARGARITAVILLE
Raven Air Island Hoppers

For people looking for a change of scenery for their fun and sun, Raven Air now offers direct flights between Punta Gorda and Key West. Why spend six hours on the road when you can get to there in 65 minutes on the airline’s five-seater? For the record, we take our margaritas on the rocks and with plenty of salt.

BEST ICE CREAM
IN THE COUNTRY
Harborwalk Scoops and Bites

BEST PLACE TO MEET A MODEL (HOME) High Mark Builders

BEST PLACE TO MEET A MODEL (HOME) High Mark Builders

Ron and Claudia Thomas’ little ice cream shop in Laishley Park made headlines around the country and on the web last summer after TripAdvisor named it the best ice cream in America. Offering 22 homemade flavors, including Captain Morgan-soaked rum raisin and maple walnut, the top shop also features vintage sodas specific to different regions of the country. The Thomases constantly experiment with new flavors.

BEST WAY TO BEAT FLAY
Jeanie Roland’s Mussels and Frites

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay challenged the Perfect Caper’s Jeanie Roland to bring it and she did, beating him on national TV with her Thai curry mussels, duck-fat frites and three homemade dipping sauces. Chef Roland bested the world-famous chef during “The Heat is On” episode of “Beat Bobby Flay” Aug. 6 on the Food Network. Her dish, prepared in just 45 minutes, was deemed the winner during a blind taste test by three acclaimed judges.

BEST WATERFRONT PLACE TO BRUNCH WITH YOUR BUNCH Hurricane Charley’s Raw Bar & Grill

BEST WATERFRONT PLACE TO BRUNCH WITH YOUR BUNCH Hurricane Charley’s Raw Bar & Grill

BEST PLACE TO CLOSE DOWN THE TOWN AND STILL BE HOME IN TIME FOR “MATLOCK” RERUNS

Dearborn Street, Englewood

Enough said.

BEST SIGN OF THE TIMES
At the Visual Arts Center

It’s been entirely too easy in the past for people to blithely drive by Punta Gorda’s Visual Arts Center, either missing it entirely or mistaking it for a place to get their cataracts fixed. The Center’s LED sign is bringing artists and art appreciators alike into the building. With classes galore, free admission to exhibits and a terrific gift shop, it’s well worth the stop.

BEST WAY FOR YOUR SPOUSE TO SAY “IT’S A MIRACLE” Miracle-Ear

BEST WAY FOR YOUR SPOUSE TO SAY “IT’S A MIRACLE” Miracle-Ear

BEST WAY TO
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
SUP in the dark

Finally mastered the standing up part of stand-up paddleboarding? Then it’s time to do it in the dark. Hooked on SUP at Cape Haze Marina in Placida offers tricked-out Yolo boards that glow neon in the night, lighting up the shallow seagrass and sandbars below. Tours are also educational as guides scoop up sea stars, hermit crabs and other critters for paddlers to explore. Also expect to see upside-down jellies, soft coral and seahorses and plenty of fish. Tours are offered from mid- September through May.

BEST HEALTH CARE WITH A FEMININE TOUCH Dr. Charlene Okomski

BEST HEALTH CARE WITH A FEMININE TOUCH Dr. Charlene Okomski

BEST REVIVAL
Florida International Air Show

The community’s cry when the

Florida International Air Show was cancelled last year was heard. The Air Show’s return has been scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 22, thanks to a pledge of financial support by Charlotte County Commissioners. As the saying goes, you have to spend money to make money. Past years have seen as many as 70,000 attendees bring their hard-earned dollars to our area and its nonprofits. Follow the development of the show’s schedule at floridaairshow.com.

BEST 60 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA Palm Auto Mall

BEST 60 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA Palm Auto Mall

BEST EARTHENWARE
Via Veneto pottery tree

Paying attention to your surroundings can yield some surprises, like the pottery tree on Via Veneto. In their native Transylvania, Joseph and Aniko Hadju’s ceramics business showcased pottery from the region. When the couple moved to Florida, they decorated a grapefruit tree in their front yard with colorful pitchers that made the journey with them. It’s a great addition to the neighborhood.

BEST MOVE THE USEPPA PEOPLE, Brian and Mary McColgan, Resort and Second Home Specialists

BEST MOVE THE USEPPA PEOPLE, Brian and Mary McColgan, Resort and Second Home Specialists

BEST PLACE TO
PLAY IN THE STREET
Sarasota Chalk Festival

It’s a not-to-be-missed event for art lovers. The best chalk artists in the world descend upon the streets of Venice and its airport to create 3D and traditional pavement art for the annual Sarasota Chalk Festival. And it’ll wash away with the first hard rain. The 2015 Festival theme was “Eat, Drink & Be Merry.” Dozens of artists worked together for days to chalk the 25,280 square foot “Feast of the Gods” on a Venice Airport runway. The work was named the world’s largest work of anamorphic 3-D pavement art by the Guinness Book of Records.

BEST PLACE TO CURE YOUR SEAFOOD CRAVINGS Peace River Seafood

BEST PLACE TO CURE YOUR SEAFOOD CRAVINGS Peace River Seafood

BEST FOR SOMETHING
IS BREWING
Southwest Florida Brewery Tours

Kudos to Jason Lemay for his why-didn’t-I-think-of-that moment: providing transportation and playing tour guide at Southwest Florida’s growing number of craft breweries. Mr. Lemay offers Naples and Fort Myers area tours as well as special events and options that let groups customize their beer experience. Participants get a souvenir pint glass, a tasting guide, a behind-the-scenes look at the beer-making process and sample two to three brewskis at each destination. We’ll raise a glass to that.

BEST PLACE FOR ONE-OF-A-KIND CONSIGNED FINDS The Painted Cabana

BEST PLACE FOR ONE-OF-A-KIND CONSIGNED FINDS The Painted Cabana

BEST WAY TO SEE PG
Pedal and Play in Paradise

The annual Pedal and Play event has so many fun components that it stretched over two days this year. Cyclists from Southwest Florida and beyond enjoyed the City Manager’s Tour, sunset yoga and a wine and cheese party on Friday before saddling up on Saturday for the main event. And did we mention event proceeds support bicycling initiatives in Punta Gorda and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society? It’s a win-win for everyone.

BEST BLAST
Arts & Humanities communications

While Florida Weekly is, of course, the number one source for information about arts events in our community, we love the Charlotte Arts & Humanities Council’s weekly email blast. The only issue is there’s so much happening, one hardly knows where to begin. It’s a problem we can live with.

BEST HEALING FIND FOR THE MIND Peace River Psychology Center

BEST HEALING FIND FOR THE MIND Peace River Psychology Center

BEST FIVE-YEAR PLAN
The maestro and the CSO

It was music to our ears to hear that Raffaele Ponti has signed on as the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s maestro through the 2020-2021 season. Maestro Ponti’s first three years at the helm yielded a sold-out season, amazing guest musicians (remember the harmonica concerto by Robert Bonfiglio?) and an appreciation in elementary school students for symphonic music. We can’t wait to find out what he has in store.

BEST PARK-LIKE EXPERIENCE Pottery Express

BEST PARK-LIKE EXPERIENCE Pottery Express

BEST MASQUERADE
Minion Manatee

The manatee mailbox is a fact of life in Southwest Florida. Some owners play their manatees straight up as repositories for snail mail. Others festoon them with seasonal gear, be it a Santa cap or St. Patty’s Day sunglasses. But the manatee at the corner of Shreve and Retta Esplanade wins the prize in our book. For months, the manatee masqueraded as a minion, making us break into a smile and want to shout, “Banana!” each time we passed by.

BEST MINDS IN BLINDS
Absolute Blinds

Don’t let the name fool you: This locally owned and operated one-stop shop sells more than blinds. From shutters and shades to draperies and cornices, you’ll find everything you need for perfectly dressed windows, plus upholstery, bedspreads and more. Family owned and now two generations strong, the folks at Absolute Blinds are always in the know of the latest introductions and newest products. On-staff installers, in-house decorators and one of the largest showrooms in the area (in the same location for nearly a decade) make the process a breeze. 2842 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 627-5444.

BEST HIDDEN PLACE TO FIND HIDDEN TREASURES Rick’s Estate Jewelry

BEST HIDDEN PLACE TO FIND HIDDEN TREASURES Rick’s Estate Jewelry

BEST ROAD RUNNER IN
CHARLOTTE COUNTY
Acme Bicycle Shop

For owner Karen Freeman, bicycling is more than a sport, it’s a community. Acme Bicycle Shop doesn’t attract just customers — it also engages friends and bicycling enthusiasts. The store has organized everything from Saturday morning group rides to tours spanning some 400 miles and six days for serious cyclists. In addition to a knowledgeable sales team, Acme has highly skilled, experienced mechanics trained to give each bike the service it deserves, so you can be sure of a safe, efficient ride that doesn’t run your budget off the road. The shop has won numerous awards, including the Gold Award for a Bicycle Friendly Business from the League of American Bicyclists, the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year, and was twice named one of America’s Best Bike Shops by the National Bicycle Dealers Association. 615 Cross St., Punta Gorda; 639- 2263; AcmeBicycleShop.com.

BEST CASTLE TO MEET A PRINCESS Sandman Book Co.

BEST CASTLE TO MEET A PRINCESS Sandman Book Co.

BEST REASON TO LOVE YOUR
LEGS
Advanced Vein Center

BEST GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE ‘PAR’ NONE St. Andrews South Golf Club

BEST GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE ‘PAR’ NONE St. Andrews South Golf Club

If your formerly great gams are starting to look like a road map with a few ridges here and there, it’s time to visit Laura A Gruneiro. The doctor will turn back time by practically erasing unsightly spider and varicose veins and easing that heavy leg feeling. Your legs are in good hands: Dr. Gruneiro, with more than 15 years’ experience, has been recognized as the Best vascular surgeon in Southwest Florida for four years running. 18316 Murdock Circle, Port Charlotte; 627-6700.

BEST DOUBLE OFFICES FOR DENTISTRY Waterside Dental

BEST DOUBLE OFFICES FOR DENTISTRY Waterside Dental

BEST PLACE TO SPEND YOUR
TIME
Around the Clock Fitness

Need to work out but tired of overpriced and overcrowded health clubs? Around the Clock Fitness offers the perfect alternative: a state-of-the-art fitness center that’s open 24/7, with a focus on convenience. No contracts — members pay month-to-month — and part-time residents can even freeze memberships for up to three months per year. Before or after your workout, enjoy a large variety of smoothies, wraps and salads while chatting with fellow members and/ or viewing the many TVs at the fitness bar. You’ll love their large selection of classes, day care and personal fitness options. Whether you’re looking to trim body fat, get in shape, maintain your current fitness level or ramp it up, Around the Clock is the place for being in the Best shape of your life. 1000 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 979-9241

BEST FLORIDA CONVERTIBLE Ford Mustang

BEST FLORIDA CONVERTIBLE Ford Mustang

935 N. Beneva Road, Sarasota.

BEST IN BACK-END REPAIR
Dr. Alvaro R. Bada

No, we’re not talking about your car. Dr. Alvaro R. Bada is the self-proclaimed “King of Hemorrhoids,” and other issues from the waist down. But his practice doesn’t “end” there. If you’re having a problem with your internal organs, he’ll get to the “bottom” of it. This talented general surgeon is a master on the Da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, that modern minimally invasive medical miracle whose puncture is only about the diameter of a pencil. In practice for more than 30 years, Dr. Bada also offers hernia repair, colon and rectal surgery, laparoscopic surgery, endoscopy and colonoscopy, and treatment for GERD and gallbladder issues. He also provides skin cancer and breast surgery. When it comes to bottoms, he’s the top. 18308 Murdock Circle, Suite 101, Port Charlotte; 255-0069; BadaMD.com.

 

 

BEST IF YOU CAN’T MAKE IT TO BROADWAY
Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre

Year after year, Broadway Palm brings home to Southwest Florida the big, crowd-pleasing shows and full-scale musicals that generations of audiences adore. Romance, nostalgia, carved roasted pork loin: these are the bread and butter of this family-run, 450- seat dinner theater that has packed the house now for 23 classic seasons.

NOW PLAYING: “Funny Girl” through May 14 and “James and the Giant Peach” through May 13. That’s followed by “Menopause: the Musical,” May 19 to July 2; “The Wizard of Oz” July 7 to August 13; and “101 Dalmatians,” June 10 to July 1.

And if you can’t make it to the Broadway Palm, try the 100-seat black box theater, the Off Broadway Palm: Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” plays June 16 to July 30. (239) 319-2342; broadwaypalm.com.

BEST PLACE WITH A NEW SPACE
Blind Spot Etc.

The et cetera at Blind Spot covers the realm of window treatments to transform your naked glass from bare to beautiful. A new showroom displays all the options — from shutters and shades (sun, Roman and cell, among them) to cornices and draperies in seemingly infinite combinations of colors, fabrics, woven woods and other finishes. Blind Spot carries the major brands, specializes in custom treatments and offers complimentary consultation. Excellent customer service and expertise have made Blind Spot the go-to in the Port Charlotte area since 1983.

1312 Market Circle, Port Charlotte; 743-2646; blindspotetc.com.

BEST CUTTING-EDGE
TECHNOLOGY FOR TEETH
Cayo Costa Dental

Dr. Frederick J. Fox III and his staff are taking dental care to the next level. The practice has adopted a new technique called platelet therapy for use in oral surgery and implant replacements. Leukocyte platelet rich fibrin (L-PRF) is a substance created from a patient’s own blood. It is 100 percent natural and additive free, and no more difficult than a routine blood test — but it can be placed directly in/on surgical sites to immediately promote healing. It’s all part of Cayo Costa Dental’s philosophy that any dentist can treat your teeth, but Dr. Fox and his team provide treatment to the whole person — with a special focus on how your teeth and gums relate to your total body health. 316 W. Helen Ave., Punta Gorda; 575-1446; CayoCosta- DentalFl.com.

BEST OF SIMPLE
TO SIMPLY
ELEGANT
The Caterer

The Caterer has been “serving” Southwest Florida for more than 30 years, but you may better know them by their family members, Dean’s South of the Border and Hurricane Charley’s. They have the epicurean expertise for your event, from simple to simply elegant, with the uncanny ability to create the perfect party within your budget. The Caterer offers a 10,000-square-foot venue (within Hurricane Charley’s) for weddings, receptions, corporate seminars, birthday parties, anniversaries and every event imaginable. Exclusive affiliations with the Best local photographers, DJs, bridal boutiques, rental companies and cake bakeries ensure no detail is overlooked. Check out their website and let the mouthwatering begin!

300 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda; 505-7882; thecatererpuntagorda.com.

BEST PLACE TO PUT
THAT PERFECT SMILE ON
Dr. Susan R. Brooks

You can trust your smile to Dr. Susan R. Brooks. With 37 years in the dental profession, she knows how to take care of your pearly whites. She has been a Florida resident for 26 years, and has been serving the residents of Charlotte County for eight years now. Dr. Brooks is a general dentist who offers a myriad of services, including and specializing in dentures, implants and bone grafting, fillings, crowns, bridges, extractions, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) treatment and laser therapy for gum disease. She has been using the laser for 10 years now to treat gum disease, a more progressive and comfortable alternative to cut-and-sew therapy. Seniors are our specialty. Call us today for a free exam. 629-4311; SusanRBrooksDDS.com.

BEST REASONS TO ‘GET UP,
GET OUT, GET ACTIVE’
Charlotte County Community Services

One reason our area is so vibrant is because of organizations such as Charlotte County Community Services. They are committed to providing quality programs and facilities for residents and visitors. Their core belief is that recreation and leisure activities, reading, music, art and history are essential to personal growth, positive self-esteem and relaxation. From Charlotte County’s library system to its parks rife with ball fields, picnic shelters, walking trails, boat ramps and beaches … from its recreation centers that offer youth basketball leagues, drop-in volleyball, badminton, pickleball and more to UF/IFAS Extension Services … from 4-H youth programs to the management of natural resources … you’ll never be wanting for something to do. There’s even a new online registration site (apm.activecommunities.com/charlottecountyfl/Home) to make accessing activities even easier than before. Also look them up on Facebook at Charlotte County Parks and Recreation, Charlotte County Library System, and University of Florida/IFAS Charlotte County Extension.

CharlotteCountyFL.gov, 2300 El Jobean Road, Port Charlotte, 625- PLAY (7529).

BEST PLACE TO SEE
AND LOOK YOUR BEST
Center for Sight

Center for Sight is one of the leading, multi-specialty vision, cosmetic and skin care ophthalmology practices in the United States. Their services include laser cataract surgery, all-laser LASIK, comprehensive vision care, optical services, cosmetic facial procedures, dermatology, hearing services and skin care treatments, all delivered with personal attention and compassionate care. Each year, Center for Sight and the Center for Sight Foundation sponsor Mission Cataract, providing free sight-restoring surgeries to people without the means to pay. Over the past 20 years, thousands of patients received the gift of sight through this program, completely transforming their lives. With seven total offices across Southwest Florida and three convenient area locations, you really will see and look your Best. 1800 S. McCall Road, Englewood, 474-2020; 14844 Tamiami Trail, North Port, 484-2020; 1360 E. Venice Ave., Venice, 488-2020; CenterForSight.net.

BEST KITCHEN REMODEL WORTH THE WAIT
The Celtic Ray Public House

Owned by the dynamic father-and-son duo of Kevin and Max Doyle, The Ray has never closed its doors since opening in 1997 — not even for a category 4 hurricane. And now it boasts a bigger and better kitchen. A variety of quality imported beers, ciders, fine wines and a full liquor bar are perfect complements to the traditional Irish fare made from fresh ingredients and family recipes. The public house’s fish and chips are legendary, as is their Breton chicken (in a rosemary chardonnay sauce) and Guinness stew (sirloin tips in ale gravy). Come for the drinks and the food, stay for the full schedule of entertainment — rollicking bands, hilarious stand-up comedy, trivia nights and themed events (such as a massive annual St. Paddy’s Day celebration). The Ray brings out the Irish in us all. 45 E. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda; 916- 9115; CelticRay.net.

BEST DINING AND BOATING VIEW OF THE HARBOR
Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club

There’s a reason why club members keep returning to this prime spot for more than 40 years. The Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club offers elegant dining against a backdrop of one of the most scenic views of the harbor in all of Charlotte County. It’s a spectacular spot for private events and weddings. You’ll also find seagoing adventures such as year-round cruising and sailing programs, regattas, cruises, dragon boat races, power boating, kayaking and youth programs, including summertime sailing camps. Landlubbers will enjoy the “earthier” activities of tennis, bridge, bingo, mah jongg and more. A number of formal events, reciprocals with local golf clubs and a fitness center, and the Harbor Lites ladies’ auxiliary keep members’ calendars full. 4400 Lister St., Port Charlotte; 629-5131; CharlotteHarborYachtClub.com.

BEST PLACE FOR
ESTABLISHED AND NEW
ORTHOPAEDIC PATIENTS
Charlotte Orthopaedic Clinic

Your hip, knee and shoulder joints weren’t made to last forever. When they start to wear down, you want an orthopaedic clinic where patients are cared for using the most current non-operative and operative methods. The physicians at Charlotte Orthopaedic Clinic — who have been caring for patients since 1983, and are always welcoming new ones — specialize in the latest in non-surgical and surgical treatments, including hip resurfacing, minimally invasive surgical techniques, shoulder reconstruction, revision total hip and knee joint replacement, and dealing with the complications of total hip, total knee and total shoulder joint replacement such as loosening, dislocations and fractures. The clinic’s physicians are directly involved in key decisions and are active leaders throughout the medical community. Their approach centers on teamwork, believing that health care works Best when talented professionals share common goals, and treat patients with integrity and dignity. Charlotte Orthopaedic Clinic is committed to giving you the Best care possible. 4161 Tamiami Trail, Suite 101, Port Charlotte; 635-0984; CharlotteOrthopaedic.com.

BEST CAMP FOR MUSICAL YOUTH
Charlotte Symphony Orchestra

With consistently sold-out performances and a waiting list for season tickets, the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO) has distinguished itself as one of the top orchestras in the region, attracting musicians from all over South Florida. But, like a good parent, they take pride in their kids. From June 6-17, the CSO will once again offer its annual Summer Music Camp at Punta Gorda Middle School for students entering grades 1-12. No experience is necessary, and a limited number of instruments will be available for students who don’t have their own. Healthy snacks are provided daily, and a Symphony Kids T-shirt is included in the tuition. There will even be a recital for parents and friends. We can’t imagine a sweeter sound. 205- 5996; CharlotteSymphony.com.

BEST SCENIC SPOT FOR
WEDDINGS AND MEETINGS
Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center

Imagine having your wedding, business conference or organization meeting in a spacious, state-of-the-art facility with a gorgeous waterfront view. That’s what the 43,500-square-foot Charlotte Harbor Event and Conference Center has to offer. You’ll find beautiful decor, professional and flexible multi-purpose spaces, top food service management and warm hospitality. The center’s largest meeting space measures nearly 20,000 square feet (enough for 112 booths or 1,517 delegates seated theater style). It also features 8,500 square feet of public concourse and meeting rooms. Then there’s the Great Lawn — 18,000 square feet along the waterfront, with an adjacent terrace providing a standing-room capacity of 2,000. 75 Taylor St., Punta Gorda; 833-5444; CharlotteHarborECC.com.

BEST OF BOTH SIDES OF THE BORDER
Dean’s South of the Border

You don’t have to go “down Mexico way” to find the Best Tex-Mex cantina around. Punta Gorda is home to Dean’s South of the Border, Charlotte County’s premier spot for fabulous food and delicious drinks. Dine indoors or out, and enjoy the live music from great bands. Dean’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and features daily specials. Chill out on a hot summer day with a frozen margarita in the courtyard or sip a toasty coffee concoction by the cantina fireplace on a chilly winter night. Sports fans will appreciate the 20 TV sets as well as the NFL Sunday Ticket. The cantina patio is a great place to meet after work for appetizers and a cold drink, or for a party with your friends. There’s always a party going on at Dean’s, and you’re invited! 130 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda; DeansSouthOfTheBorder.com.

BEST 100
HOSPITALS IN
AMERICA REPORT
CARD
Fawcett Memorial Hospital

If Fawcett Memorial Hospital were a student, it would have gotten an A+ on its report card. For the second year in a row, Fawcett has been recognized as one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals by Healthgrades — putting it in the top 2 percent in the entire nation for clinical excellence. Since 1975, Fawcett has provided the highest standard of care in Charlotte County. It boasts an accredited Chest Pain Center as well as a Primary Stroke Center. And with an on-site cath lab, echo lab and an open-heart surgery program — staffed by registered cardiovascular invasive specialists, technicians and ECG technologists — you can rest assured you’re at the go-to hospital for cardiovascular care. You’ll be glad you put your life in their hands. 21298 Olean Blvd., Port Charlotte; 629-1181; FawcettHospital.com.

BEST PLACE FOR A
HEALTHIER ALL-NEW YOU
Curves

Sure, there are all kinds of weight-loss plans out there. But low-carb and paleo aside, shedding the pounds is really all about math: Burn more calories than you consume. Kudos to Curves in Punta Gorda for not only providing a quick 30-minute cardio and all-over body workout circuit, but also introducing the Jenny Craig program focusing on real food that’s delicious and nutritious. Curves offers one-on-one consultation, proven to increase weight loss three times more than dieting on your own. Jenny Craig is available to both men and women. 2705 Tamiami Trail, Suite 315, Punta Gorda; 639-8525.

BEST PLACE TO GET FUNKIE
Funkie Junkies

Funkie Junkies has quickly become Southwest Florida’s premiere shopping destination, featuring unique items from more than 2,500 consignors, vendors and artists. A truly eclectic mix of home furnishings and decor, jewelry, art, accessories and more! Whatever your style, you’ll find it here… vintage, farmhouse, shabby chic, coastal or gypsy! A recent 10,000 square foot expansion is now home to Funkie’s Furniture Warehouse, offering the absolute lowest prices on new furniture, with truckloads arriving weekly!

204 E. McKenzie St., Punta Gorda; 575-9633; Shop- FunkieJunkies.com.

BEST BOATING EXPERIENCE
Freedom Boat Club

Freedom Boat Club delivers the Best of boating. Choose from 450-plus boats in 17 Southwest Florida locations. Choose from bowriders, inshore and offshore sport fishing boats, pontoons, deck boats, sailboats and kayaks — and create memories to last a lifetime. Free unlimited training by licensed Coast Guard captains, plus fun monthly socials and fishing seminars. Several affordable membership plans available. Visit an open house for a FREE boat ride, cruise on over to the website or call for club location nearest you. (888) 905-7288; FreedomBoatClub.com.

BEST PLACE TO EXCEED
YOUR EXPECTATIONS
Coldwell Banker Sunstar Realty

Are you looking to either buy or sell a home? Let Coldwell Banker Sunstar in Charlotte County help you. This team of professionals is dedicated to the needs of their customers. Built on a foundation of trust, integrity and discipline, Sunstar has maintained and provided the highest quality of service to their clients in south Sarasota and Charlotte counties since 1991. The agency attributes its success to providing each of its clients with exacting attention to detail, delivering a satisfying experience through outstanding service and creating customers for life. Sunstar also offers rentals, relocation and property management services and commercial sales. They will exceed your expectations all the time, every time. Fishermen’s Village, 1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Suite D6, Punta Gorda, 575-2502; 1980 Kings Highway, Port Charlotte, Residential: 255-3497, Commercial: 255-3497; 1231 Beach Road, Englewood, 475-0009; CBFloridaHomes.com.

BEST PLACE TO
RUB ELBOWS WITH ARTISTS
Creations at the Village

Not only does this lovely seaside gallery at Fishermen’s Village showcase paintings, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, photography, glass, fiber art, metalwork, and much more original artwork created by local Punta Gorda artists, it also offers public exposure. Look for meet-and-greets, art demos and other opportunities to mingle with the artists behind the beautiful creations. Whether you are shopping for a memorable masterpiece or a whimsical memento, you will find it at Creations at the Village.

1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Unit C46, Punta Gorda; 639-6363

BEST AT FSW…ARTS@FSW!
Florida SouthWestern State College

From $2,000 scholarships for our Fine Arts students to our amazing Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, Arts@FSW is a vital creative component of Florida SouthWestern State College that enriches both our students and community. The Rauschenberg Gallery offers exhibitions with a wide variety of aesthetic experiences not otherwise available to area residents and visitors. FSW’s BlackBox Theater allows our students to enhance their skills and perform for their peers and the community alike. Whether it is music, theater, or the visual arts, our students receive world class instruction in fine arts at FSW. Learn more at fsw.edu/artsfsw.

BEST STATE-OF-THE-ART SURGICAL CARE ON THE GO
Dr. Domingo Galliano

If you have to undergo surgery, you want to experience as little pain as possible. One way to do that is to have as small an incision as possible. Dr. Domingo Galliano is an expert in minimally invasive internal surgery with some of the most cutting-edge equipment and techniques available in Southwest Florida. In fact, he is the most experienced Board Certified colorectal surgeon with the Da Vinci Robotic Surgical System — probably the most famous robotic surgery apparatus in the world, which makes a puncture no bigger than the diameter of a pencil — in Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and De Soto counties. You’re in good hands with this ace internist, whether your problem is a hernia, hemorrhoids, heartburn or any number of colorectal conditions. He even provides breast and skin cancer surgery. Inside or outside, Dr. Galliano is the Best surgeon for the job. 18308 Murdock Circle, Suite 108, Port Charlotte; 625-3411; GallianoSurgery.com.

BEST PLACE
TO HEAR
‘INCREDIBLE!’
Don Gasgarth’s
Charlotte County Ford

It’s not hard to see why Don Gasgarth’s favorite comment is “Incredible!” Take a step in the door and one look around his phenomenal Ford dealership, and it’s obvious. Mr. Gasgarth has more than a quarter-century of success in the automobile industry — and it shows in the way he runs his business. The dealership, which has been a longtime county landmark, now sports a brand new showroom and service center. Charlotte County Ford offers top-notch service and maintenance, body shop, quality parts, and sales of new and used Ford vehicles (cars and trucks) that are hard to beat. Yeah, we’re pretty sure “incredible” is the right word. 3156 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; (877) 676-8289; CharlotteCountyFord.com.

BEST PLACE TO SEEK THE UNIQUE
Creator’s Touch

If shiny lures you in like a tractor beam, plan to arrive early for those reservations at Laishley Crab House. The gleam of metal art, shimmer of colorful glass sea life and bling of locally made jewelry from over 150 artists at the neighboring Creator’s Touch draws us in every time. Established by local artists, the boutique/gallery offers an array of functional and aesthetic art in many forms — from figurines and exotic wood to pottery.

Creator’s Touch also has a collection of cork art, jewelry, stemware, tableware, handbags and wine accessories, plus prices and pieces to cover all ranges of the gift-buying spectrum. There are even note cards for those of us who know an email is never a replacement for a handwritten thank-you. 150 Laishley Court, Suite 112, Punta Gorda; 575-0022; TheCreatorsTouch.vpweb.com.

BEST REASON TO LOOK AT YOUR FEET
Friendly Floors

These Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda stores are all about transforming your floors from drab to fab with an extensive selection of carpeting, porcelain and ceramic tile, nature stone, hardwood and more. For over 25 years, Friendly Floors experts have guided buyers through an effortless process of choosing the right flooring for the right space, quickly helping them narrow down the choices that fit their style and budget. No wonder the business has received numerous awards, including selection from 2,000 Mohawk Industries showrooms for national honors. A comprehensive website is very handy for beginning your search.

3785 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, 623-9994; 403 Sullivan St., No. 112, Punta Gorda, 637-0777, friendlyfloors.com

BEST PLACE FOR
HIDE-AND-GO-SEEK
More Space Place

Wait, it’s an office or a den. No, it’s a bedroom or a garage with cars. More Space Place offers a number of solutions to those of us with no space to spare. From Murphy wall beds to custom closets, kitchen pantries and cupboards, and even that wasteland known as a teenager’s room, More Space Place will help you get organized by putting stuff in its place. It also offers complimentary professional design help.

1808 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 613-2797; ClosetsAndWallbeds.com.

BEST OLD-FASHIONED
MODERN MECHANIC
Gregg’s Automotive Repair & Maintenance

“Yesterday’s service, tomorrow’s technology” is the motto of Gregg’s Automotive Repair & Maintenance — and it’s a promise owner Gregg Marropodi lives up to. His shop offers good old-fashioned customer service, while at the same time using the latest computer technology to diagnose and repair whatever ails your vehicle. As an added bonus, Mr. Marropodi has a heart bigger than a stretch limo when it comes to improving our community and the environment. Gregg’s supports the important work of Relay for Life, American Cancer Society, Harry Chapin Food Bank, Autism Walks, Toys for Tots, Do The Right Thing of Charlotte County and the March of Dimes — just to name a few. He’s the most human mechanic you’ll ever meet. 236 S. Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda; 575-8868; GreggsAuto.net.

BEST SUNSET RESTAURANT DESTINATION
Gulfview Grill

Its name says it Best and the cocktail and dinner crowds arrive early to claim the Best seat for the greatest show on the Gulf. Floor-to-ceiling windows, a second-floor perch and an open-air deck provide expansive views from most every table in dining room and lounge. The Elmore family, in the restaurant biz in Englewood since 1984, offer a well-curated menu of fish dishes and seafood rounded out with steak, veal and chicken and its famous prime rib and she crab soup. Fingers crossed the nightly dinner special is the beautiful bouillabaisse. The grill also features wonderful piña coladas and specialty drinks in its tiki bar, which provides great people-watching opps and a giant chair worthy of a photo. 2095 N. Beach Road, Englewood; 475-3500; TheGulfViewGrill.com.

BEST PLACE TO HEAR CLEARLY
Harbor Audiology

Are your ears ringing? Do others complain about your TV being too loud when you can barely hear it? Are you constantly asking people to repeat themselves or to speak louder? Then it may be time to depend on Dr. Ricardo Gauthier and his staff to check your hearing. Harbor Audiology not only uses high-tech diagnostic testing, they also provide numerous services, including tinnitus evaluation and management, earwax removal, and a host of hearing aids (including Bluetooth and musicians’), accessories and repair. Let them use their more than a dozen years’ experience to help you hear your Best. 100 Madrid Blvd., Suite 214; Punta Gorda; 505-0400; HarborAudiology.net.

BEST STORYLINE FOR 20 YEARS
Gene Gorman’s Auto Sales

For two decades now, Gene Gorman has lovingly made his wife the scapegoat with the car dealership’s infamous tagline: “I’d give ‘em away … but my wife won’t let me.” In business since 1996, Mr. Gorman operates three dealerships along U.S. 41 in Charlotte County with two full ASE-certified service departments. An expansive online showroom is continuously updated with new inventory and features photos, equipment listings, safety ratings and fuel economy guidelines of every car on the three lots. Each vehicle has been thoroughly certified and inspected, for additional peace of mind. To celebrate his 20th anniversary, Mr. Gorman is offering lifetime free oil changes. Call for details.

Gene Gorman’s Family Motors, 4380 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, 625-2141; Gene Gorman’s Premier Auto Sales, 1305 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda, 639-7300; Gene’s “Dirt Cheap Cars,” 3305 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda, 639-1601; genegormans.com.

BEST PLACE TO MEET A MODEL (HOME)
High Mark Builders

Just like their runway counterparts, new model homes built by High Mark Builders show off the latest fashions and must-have accessories. Have High Mark build your dream home and you’ll give the locally owned homebuilder an A+ for flooring, finishes, fixtures, countertops and cabinets that reflect your personality. Since 2002, owner and president Jeff Burch has completed over 250 homes from Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte to North Port and Rotonda West. Mr. Burch celebrates 30 years in the construction business in 2016, and also specializes in renovations and additions. Not to name drop or anything, but he did build former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Jimmy Johnny’s oceanfront estate. See the model at 2215 Deborah Drive, Punta Gorda, or visit High Mark’s offices at 24630 Sandhill Blvd., Suite 301, Punta Gorda; 255-3613; HighMarkBuilders.net.

BEST WAY TO ANCHOR DOWN
IN CHARLOTTE COUNTY
Denise Henry

The Re/Max Anchor Realty Realtor’s love of Charlotte County is almost contagious. A resident for more than 30 years (that makes her pretty much a native), Ms. Henry so succinctly and lovingly welcomes web guests to Punta “Gorgeous.” Her passion for sailing and powerboating along the Peace River, Charlotte Harbor and the Gulf of Mexico give her a unique perspective on coveted waterfront living. 3941 Tamiami Trail, No. 3121, Punta Gorda, 628-0856.

BEST FOR LOCAL LOCATIONS
Sharon Kerr

The Coldwell Banker Realtor knows Charlotte County’s Best places to live, including up-and-coming areas and those a little less known. From Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte to Harbor Heights, North Port, Lake Suzy and Arcadia, Ms. Kerr, a member of the Coldwell Banker Sunstar Realty team, has a knack for matching people and properties. Her clients rave about her tireless attention to detail, her professionalism and caring attitude. She easily works with first-time buyers, experienced investors and sellers. Check out her website for insider info on communities, schools and a FAQ about real estate.

1951-D Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte, 286-7315, SharonKerr.com.

BEST PLACE TO SQUARE UP
WITH UNCLE SAM
Legacy Tax & Accounting

If you need to file your tax return or put your books in order, the professionals at Legacy Tax & Accounting are here to help. Need help with an individual or business-related tax return? Trust the people who know the difference between passive and non-passive income, simple and complex trusts, the correct way to depreciate business property, how to handle K-1’s, interests in Master Limited Partnerships and how to read a brokerage statement. They can help with payroll, sales tax reports, balance sheets, or profit-and-loss statements. If you have IRS issues, they can represent you. 12687 S.W. County Road 769 (Kings Highway), Suite 4B, Lake Suzy; (941) 883-4453.

BEST CLOSERS WITH AN OPEN DOOR
Hometown Title & Closing Services LLC

Foreclosures have brought new issues to the already complicated world of real estate in our communities. National companies are being used to close transactions without the benefit of local knowledge and with little or no communication between parties. The professionals at Hometown Title & Closing Services have grown their business by defying those trends. Their professionals aren’t put off by customer questions. Their inviting open-door policy and attention to service make customers feel welcome and comfortable. There are no silly questions here, especially since Hometown staffers realize a home is the largest purchase most people will make in their lifetime, and are understandably nervous, even scared, and have questions they hope to have answered. Hometown leaves customers with a closing that’s memorable for all the right reasons. 324 Goldstein St., Punta Gorda; 505-0001; HometownClosing.com.

BEST WATERFRONT PLACE TO BRUNCH WITH YOUR BUNCH
Hurricane Charley’s Raw Bar & Grill

There’s plenty of reasons to visit Hurricane Charley’s any day of the week (live music, Sushi Sam and sunsets over Charlotte Harbor from the Hunker Down Deck among them), and they all just seem to coalesce every Saturday and Sunday during weekend brunch. Featuring Southern-style comfort food such as biscuits and gravy, sausage, casseroles, omelets and fresh fruit, the buffet draws couples, ladies who lunch and brunch, families and large groups. It’s the reason some of us are working for the weekend and willing to be harborside as early as 7 a.m. Dine on the deck or inside the historic Jim Reif room honoring the local meteorologist who predicted the namesake storm’s sudden shift toward Punta Gorda. Want the VIP treatment? Sign up for the Sunset Club, an insider’s guide to events, parties, entertainment and a coupon just for joining.

Punta Gorda Waterfront Hotel & Suites, 300 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda; 639-9695; HurricaneCharleys.com.

BEST KING OF BLING
Infinity Diamonds

Mentioned in movie titles, songs and slogans, diamonds are probably one of the most celebrated gems in history. Whether you’re in search of the perfect engagement ring sure to elicit an “I do,” earrings, pendants and bracelets, you’ll find plenty of sparklers of all sizes at Infinity Diamonds. The jeweler also offers a selection of loose diamonds and gemstones to design a personalized statement piece. Infinity Diamonds also has a great choice of watches. The diamond market is a buyer’s market right now. With diamond prices being the lowest they’ve been in the past two years, now is the time to get the diamond you’ve always dreamed of.

2605 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 206-0429.

BEST IN DELI DELISH
Joseph’s Deli & Catering

Joseph’s Deli & Catering is on a mission: They solemnly swear to serve Charlotte County great food at affordable prices. The eatery had been operating for several years before the Raifstangers acquired the business. You’ll love their wide variety of daily specials and fresh soups and salads. The Raifstangers are eager to meet their new customers, as well as visit with their regular customers every day, considering them all part of the family. Joseph’s serves up breakfast and lunch like nobody’s business. Speaking of business … can’t escape the office for lunch? Then take advantage of their free delivery. 3231-A Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 629-0822; JosephsDeliPC.com.

BEST WAY FOR YOUR SPOUSE TO
SAY “IT’S A MIRACLE”
Miracle-Ear

“Huh? What’s that you say? I couldn’t make out what you said, honey.” Sometimes you’re not ignoring your spouse, you just really can’t hear very well. Hearing loss is a common problem that affects people at different ages, but the experienced staff at Miracle- Ear has the latest technology to help fix the problem. Part of the reason why they are America’s most recognized brand of hearing aids, is the strong commitment to their customers. Take a free hearing test, have the experts assess your problem and find the best match for your needs. Hearing aids no longer have to be big and bulky, there are a wide range of models to choose from at Miracle-Ear. Discover the Miracle-Ear Experience in Charlotte County. 249-3440; miracle-ear.com

BEST HEALTH CARE
WITH A FEMININE TOUCH
Dr. Charlene Okomski

From the onset of menses through menopause, Dr. O takes care of adolescents to octogenarians. The board certified OB/GYN uses the latest procedures and treatments to ease embarrassing and difficult gynecological issues, including incontinence, infertility diagnoses and heavy menstrual bleeding. Through Timeless Image, the good doctor can also help us feel better about our bodies with Botox, tummy tucks, breast augmentation, body sculpting, vein therapy and more. We are women, hear us roar. 6210 Scott St., Punta Gorda; 205-2666; TimelessImageSWFL.com.

BEST ALF TO LIVE IN STYLE
Lexington Manor at Port Charlotte

You won’t find a warmer or more welcoming assisted living community than Lexington Manor. While they offer assistance with activities of daily living — bathing, dressing, medication management, etc. — they also give you the freedom to remain independent while relaxing or enjoying a full calendar of social and recreational activities. Their exceptional services and amenities include upscale restaurant dining, outings, exercise classes, full-service beauty salon and barber shop, game room, library, transportation, laundry, and housekeeping. Pet-friendly studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments with a 24-hour staff, Lexington Manor provides an environment to treat you like gold in your golden years. 20480 Veterans Blvd., Port Charlotte; 766-7991; FiveStarSeniorLiving.com.

BEST WAY TO ENJOY
FLORIDA’S WILD SIDE
Nav-A-Gator Grill

There’s a side of Florida many people never see, a place on the fringe of society, a hideaway where the wild things roam. There’s no better way to investigate prehistoric Florida than at the Nav-A-Gator Grill. Daily tours include 90-minute riverboat excursions exploring the nature and history of the area, and airboat adventures led by proprietor Capt. Dennis Kirk. Stroll through the old museum with area fossils dating back hundreds of thousands of years, pick up a real gator souvenir in the gift shop, or snack on genuine gator meat or “hearts of palm” (also called “swamp cabbage”). Of course, there’s more traditional fare you can chow on — like their famous supersized grouper sandwiches and key lime pie — washed down with an island-themed cocktail … all while enjoying the sounds of live trop-rock entertainment or the Tuesday evening Island Drum Circle. 9700 SW Riverview Circle, Lake Suzy; 627- 3474; Nav-a-gator.com.

BEST 60 YEARS OF EXCELLENCE
IN SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
Palm Auto Mall

Celebrating its 60th year, Palm Auto Mall is still going strong. And it’s still the only place in Charlotte County where you can find 13 car brands under one roof. It’s no wonder Palm Auto Mall remains No. 1 on U.S. 41. In addition to dealerships of new Toyota, Scion, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Chevy, Buick, GMC, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, RAM, Hyundai and Lincoln vehicles, it also boasts a Used Car Superstore, where 95 percent of the inventory is gathered from local owners instead of car auctions, and a Wholesale to the Public store for customers looking for a second car to cruise around during season, or perhaps a starter vehicle for a new driver. What are you waiting for? Let Palm Auto Mall get you going. 1801 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda, 639-1155; PalmAutoMall.com.

BEST MOVE
THE USEPPA PEOPLE, Brian and Mary
McColgan, Resort and Second Home
Specialists

Real estate is all about what you have to sell and the avenue through which that happens. Brian and Mary McColgan — who live, play and sell real estate on Useppa Island — just moved their real estate practice to Keller Williams Luxury Homes International, a division of Keller Williams Realty … only the largest real estate franchise in the world! Useppa Island is one of Southwest Florida’s most unique barrier islands, and this new association brings global exposure to the island … with its famous Pink Path, 10,000 years of history and the historic Collier Inn as well as the fishing, boating, sailing activities and eclectic fun-loving community and lifestyle. Useppa is a private island and club but readily welcomes visitors to experience the way island life works. 1520 Royal Palm Square Blvd., Suite 160, Fort Myers; (239) 410-7850; UseppaIslandHome.com.

BEST MOTORIZED
VARIETY AND MORE
Mattas Motors

Ask Todd Mattas’s customers to describe him, and they’ll use terms such as integrity, honesty and “a man who stands behind his word.” As owner of Mattas Motors, a family owned and operated business with more than 45 years in the automotive industry, those are the kind of accolades you want to hear. With multiple dealerships — including Ford, Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge, Pontiac, and Buick, as well as all-terrain vehicle, motorcycle, snowmobile and jet ski franchises — Mattas Motors has the know-how that counts when you’re looking to buy a used car, truck or SUV. Browse the latest inventory online, which recently included tons of vehicles, trailers, sheds and a boat or two. At Mattas Motors, they believe a customer’s business isn’t given; it’s earned. 4462 Duncan Road, Punta Gorda; 916-9222; MattasMotors.com.

BEST PASSION WITH HEART
Michael Saunders & Company

When Michael Saunders couldn’t find a local real estate company dedicated to superior customer service 40 years ago, she decided to start her own. Michael Saunders & Company now boasts 26 branch offices from Bradenton to Boca Grande in three Florida counties, and an influence on the real estate business felt around the world. In 2003, Michael was joined by her son, Drayton, who grew up around the company even as it was growing. Drayton shares Michael’s passion for both real estate and customer service. Fueled by solid core values, driven by knowledge and hard work, and dedicated to building the mutual trust through cultivating lasting customer relationships, the company also gives charitably to the communities that have contributed so much to its success — making it a real estate company with heart. 101 Taylor St., Punta Gorda; 639-0000; 16480 Burnt Store Road Suite 101, Punta Gorda, 505-5555; 1200 S. McCall Road, Englewood, 473-7750; Michael- Saunders.com.

BEST FIVE-STAR PATIENT CARE
Panther Hollow Dental Lodge

Step inside Panther Hollow Dental Lodge and you won’t know if you’re in a dentist’s office or a resort somewhere in the wilderness. All the decor indoors celebrates the great outdoors, and leaves patients with a peaceful, easy feeling. “Beary,” Panther Hollow’s life-sized stuffed mascot, dressed for an adventure in the wild, greets patients in the lobby. Within, each treatment room reflects a national park. The nature-friendly surroundings will take your mind off the full slate of dental work available at the lodge, including cosmetic dentistry, crowns and bridges, dentures, root canal therapy, fillings, implants and more. Don’t worry — in spite of this paean to wildlife, you’ll still be in very capable human hands of Dr. Joseph C. Bender and his staff, naturally. 19240 Quesada Ave.; 743-7435; PantherHollowDental.com.

BEST PLACE TO CURE YOUR
SEAFOOD CRAVINGS
Peace River Seafood

Order this quintessential crab shack’s blue crab bucket and you won’t mind working for your meal. Peace River Seafood is famous for its just-caught-that-morning steamed crustaceans, red potatoes and corn on the cob and a server-led tutorial for first-timers. Seafood and shellfish — a killer grouper sandwich and the Bull Bay stew, really a deconstructed bouillabaisse — comprise most of the menu although there is a great burger. Peace River supports local fishermen and its 1920s Cracker home digs are so apropos for the experience. 5337 Duncan Road, Punta Gorda, 505-8440.

BEST PLACE FOR ONE-OF-A-KIND
CONSIGNED FINDS
The Painted Cabana

Shop or consign your upscale furniture, art, accessories and home decor at the cabana, where you’ll feel right at home. Merchandise is arranged in an uncluttered room-like setting with pretty pastel walls. 2705 Tamiami Trail, Suite 218, Punta Gorda, 347-8413.

BEST PLACE TO FEEL LIKE AN OLD FRIEND
Phil’s 41 Restaurant

You’ll likely never visit this Punta Gorda restaurant once. An all-day two-for-one happy hour in the lounge or patio, a diverse menu and a warm welcome, often by owner Phil Cerciello himself, makes guests feel right at home and eager to return. Authentic Italian dishes are always a sure bet; Mr. Cerciello was born in Naples, Italy, and arrived stateside at age 13. Try the baked lasagna or angel hair Maltese or dig into Phil’s famous crab cakes, proudly dubbed the Best in the area. Pleasing of all palates, the restaurant also offers chicken wings, BBQ ribs and filet mignon. All-the-time dessert is a major draw for those of us (who shall remain nameless) with a sweet tooth. Kudos to Mr. Cerciello for giving props to his staff on the restaurant website. 1975 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda, 575-7575; Phils41.com

BEST HEALING FIND FOR THE MIND
Peace River Psychology Center

Karin Galliano now offers her “spa for the mind” at three locations to serve those in need of a brain boost from a compassionate and caring team of five experienced therapists. No matter your age or whether you’re dealing with divorce, loss, major life transitions, mental health or emotional issues or anything interfering with your happiness and mental wellbeing, the staff at PRPC will help you reclaim your life through a comprehensive assessment and approach. And research show patients begin to experience benefits after the first visit.

425 Cross St., Suite 111, Punta Gorda, 505-6162; 2525 Harbor Blvd. Suite 208, Port Charlotte, 255-5489; 5971 Cattlemen Lane, Sarasota, 255-5489, PeaceRiverPsychologyCenter.com.

BEST PLACE TO
MAXIMIZE PHYSICAL
WELLNESS
Port Charlotte
Rehabilitation Center

The staff at Port Charlotte Rehabilitation Center will get you back on your feet with their expert inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation and skilled nursing. The center offers a roster of services personalized to improve each patient’s physical wellness and offers the area’s only HydroWorx aquatic therapy pools — trusted by the U.S. Navy Seals and Seattle Seahawks. Dedicated to promoting independency and aid recovery after surgery or a serious illness, PCRC also specializes in wound care, pain management, stroke and cardiac recovery, palliative care, and restorative, nutrition and lymphedema therapy. Should you have to stay, the facility has private and semi-private accommodations, planned activities and social programs, and even a barber/beauty salon on site. 25325 Rampart Blvd., Port Charlotte, 629-7466, cchcfacilities.com

BEST PARK-LIKE EXPERIENCE
Pottery Express

Don’t be surprised when the kids want to help you pick out your next Mexican Talavera pot or Oriental garden art. Visiting Pottery Express is akin to a day in the park, meandering throughout five tropical acres and discovering a bamboo farm, fountains, statuary, home and landscape ideas and local artists’ studios. Pottery Express’ selection of Talavera vessels and garden ornaments, featuring vibrant colors and newer motifs than their 16th century “counterpots,” is ranked among the Best. Buy online and have it shipped to Canada or the Caribbean. You’ll also find curiousities such as Day of the Dead statuary and fantastical and brightly colored Oaxacan alebrijes and classic ceramic pineapples and pieces by Bernadina Riviera Olla and Elena Filipe, heralded as Mexico’s top folk artists.

25370 Zemel Road, Punta Gorda, 505-8400, Pottery- Express.com.

BEST ONE-STOP SHOPPING
CENTER FOR HOMES
Prestige Home Centers

Imagine one-stop shopping for a home. That’s exactly the concept behind Prestige Home Centers. Founded in 1990 to make the home buying experience easier, the company offers factory direct pricing on manufactured, mobile and modular homes. Choose from dozens of floor plans, and even have them handle financing and insurance. Prestige Home Centers offer Nobility Homes, which has housed over 50,000 families since they started building homes in 1967. Home buyers have peace of mind knowing that thousands of other homeowners have chosen the factory direct outlet concept and purchased their homes from Prestige Home Centers. Since most homes are shipped from the factory directly to the customer site, they avoid expensive freight and set-up costs. Now that’s a deal. 4465 Duncan Road, Punta Gorda; 637- 1122; PrestigeHomeCenters.com.

BEST MARKET MEETUP
Punta Gorda Downtown Merchants

For eight years now, we’ve all been flocking to the year-round farmer’s market in Punta Gorda for our dose of local color and flavor and live entertainment. Sure, there’s plenty of farm-fresh produce, meats and seafood, pet treats, exotic plants (Hmm, or is that exotic pets and plant treats?) and bakery goods but the people-watching is also prime. Presented by the Downtown Merchants since 2008, our little market has already been rated among the 15 Best of the United States.

Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon May through September, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. October through April, Taylor Street, Punta Gorda (around the old Charlotte County Courthouse).

BEST PLACE TO TREASURE HUNT
Quality Treasures

Here’s the QT about QT: Visit the Punta Gorda once, browse its selection of gifts, milk and mineral paints, home furnishings (name-dropping Tommy Bahama), local artwork and beach chic rattan and wicker, and you’ll be coming back to see what’s in store. Constantly changing merchandise — both new and gently used — means the hunt is always fruitful. QT also offers luxury bedding, jewelry, soaps and lotions and a three-month layaway plan. Bonus for online shopping. Summer hours will be 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Saturday. 130 E. Ann St., Punta Gorda; 916- 9172; qtllc15.com.

BEST MAVEN OF REAL ESTATE
Re/Max Harbor Realty, Marianne Lilly

Attention: You’re home might be worth more than you think. And you need to know exactly how much before you try to sell it, possibly leaving money on the table. But how do you find out? The Best way is to get the assistance of a consummate expert in real estate such as Marianne Lilly, a veteran agent at Re/Max Harbor Realty. She knows Charlotte County real estate inside and out, and invites home sellers to contact her for a free analysis. In return, she offers superior marketing, honest advice and a free market analysis with no obligation. 764-7585; WaterfrontHomeBuyer.com.

BEST HIDDEN PLACE TO FIND
HIDDEN TREASURES
Rick’s Estate Jewelry

Sure, Eric Bretan, co-owner of Rick’s, is interested in scrap gold and selling Rolex watches. But he specializes in vintage estate jewelry — your grandmother’s cameos or mine-cut diamonds, pieces that were handcrafted 100 or 200 years ago. Many of these items are often unwanted by surviving relatives. Tucked away in a small strip mall in Punta Gorda, Rick’s is the place to find the type of antiques, collectibles, luxury items and other treasures that only select people value. It’s also the Best place to have them appraised. Rick’s also refurbishes damaged pieces. It’s their way of keeping the past alive for folks who appreciate it. 1133 Bal Harbor Blvd., Suite 1141, Punta Gorda; 347-7688; RicksEstate.com.

BEST CASTLE TO
MEET A PRINCESS
Sandman Book Co.

Since 2006, the award-winning, independently (and locally) owned Sandman Book Co. has dazzled patrons with a vast inventory of new and used books — as well as an art gallery, vinyl records, original art, gifts, music, movies, puzzles, games, toys, TY beanie babies, journals, stationery, periodicals and magazines, greeting cards, Punta Gorda t-shirts, comic books, graphic novels, rare books and many other curiosities. Kids and adults alike enjoy Sandman’s monthly “Fairy Princess Storytime.” Enjoy a read-aloud story with Theatre Kids (a children’s theater company based in Fort Myers) and meet your favorite fairy tale princess. Past guests include Beauty, Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother, Tinkerbell, Brave, Maid Marian and Duchess the Cat. Check their calendar to find out who’s coming to Storytime next! 16480 Burnt Store Road, Punta Gorda; 505- 1624; SandmanBooks.com.

BEST TEAM TO GET YOU
THROUGH LIFE’S UPS & DOWNS
Southwest Florida Counseling Center

Southwest Florida Counseling Center provides individual psychotherapy as well as family, group and couples therapy. They take a client-centered approach to treat a wide range of conditions, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, self-esteem and image problems, personality disorders, marital and relationship conflicts, parent/child conflicts, childhood disorders and developmental disorders. SWFCC is happy to bill your insurance company, since the practice belongs to most major managed care and preferred provider health plans. One satisfied client wrote: “Through my therapy sessions, I have learned to understand my emotions and my triggers. … It has made my life much easier to enjoy without constant fear or anger. I now can focus on my future, and prosper in the direction I choose.” Let SWFCC help you find your direction and improve your future. 1777 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 249- 4354; SWFCC.net.

BEST GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE ‘PAR’ NONE
St. Andrews South Golf Club

As one of only 270 members of this private Punta Gorda golf and social club, you’ll enjoy golf on your terms with preferential tee times even during the height of season, the kilt or plus fours of the storied Scottish club optional. Featuring 18 holes of championship golf designed by Ron Garl in the heart of Punta Gorda Isles, St. Andrews opened in 1981 and offers everything for new golfers and low-handicappers, a fully stocked pro shop, practice facilities, league play and an active social calendar. The clubhouse is a favorite 19th hole and happy hour destination, dinner and private parties. Join the club and you’ll be welcomed with open arms. 1901 Deborah Drive, Punta Gorda; 639-5261; StAndrewsSouth.com.

BEST FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH FOR
YOUR INNER AND OUTER BEAUTY
Spa One

Caroline Thonon knows how to pamper you. As owner of this day spa located in the heart of downtown Punta Gorda, she offers an extensive menu of services including organic treatments. Spa One operates under the philosophy of using ingredients that won’t harm your skin, so all the products they use are natural and organic. Spa One’s dual goal is to offer health benefits as well as relaxation. The spa has been voted a past Business of the Year by the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce, and has also received accolades for Best Salon & Spa, Best Esthetics and Best Nail Salon. You owe it to yourself to feel beautiful, rejuvenated and healthy. Spa One can get you there. 115 Taylor St., Punta Gorda; 505-6111; SpaOne.org.

BEST BUSINESS HOLIDAY DISPLAY
State Insurance / Brian Chapman Jr.

This second-generation company caters to all our insurance needs with a family-focused business philosophy and will scour its available resources to get us the Best possible prices and coverage. But come December, when the Port Charlotte building is all a-twinkle with Christmas lights, we find ourselves attracted to it like a moth to a flame. One year’s stellar display included a multi-strand free-form Christmas tree on the rooftop, candy canes and oversized snowflakes “dripping” from the eaves. So distracting, we may momentarily forget our nature of our visit. Claim? What claim? 2455 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 979-8426; CIGFlorida.com.

BEST PLACE TO HEAR
20,000 WOWS
Cornerstone Builders of SW Florida

With more than 20,000 Satisfied customers, Cornerstone Builders has been serving Southwest Florida Since 1988. Known for customers so satisfied, that they say “WOW” at the end of the job, this company continually exceeds expectations. From kitchen and bath remodeling to custom closets and cabinetry to complete home renovation, Cornerstone Builders of Southwest Florida can turn your vision for your home into reality. No deposit is required to start your project and customers receive a lifetime material warranty on all products they manufacture for as long as you own your home. Their dedicated team members are all Cornerstone employees and are with you every step of the way, from the in-home consultation through completion of the project. 674-0560; cornerstonebuildersswfl.com

BEST WAY TO GET THE POINT
Dr. Fred Swing

You might say a visit to the good doc could have you on pins and needles. A medical doctor of anesthesia with training in medical acupuncture, Dr. Swing’s thing is healing a variety of ailments, including migraine headaches, back, shoulder, and knee pain, insomnia, and stress relief. He uses both needle acupuncture and gold and silver pellets and treats each patient with an individual protocol based on his or her needs. 2400 Harbor Blvd., Suite 18, Port Charlotte, 629-2355; Acu-Heal.com.

BEST PLACE TO IMPROVE
YOUR EMOTIONAL IQ
Cora S. Taylor, Psy.S., LMHC.

Ms. Taylor understands the emotional impact of losing someone you love. A Charlotte County resident and mental health counselor for 24 years, she supervised a team of mental health professionals in New York City following the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. There, and in her Crossway Counseling & Learning Center in Punta Gorda, Ms. Taylor serves clients with compassion and caring. She specializes in helping those suffering from depression, stress, trauma and relationship issues. 315 E. Olympia Ave., Suite 252, Punta Gorda; 637-7111; Therapist.PsychologyToday.com.

BEST PLACE TO LOOK
YOUNGER AT ANY AGE
Spago Day Spa & Salon

Spend a day at this full-service salon, classic spa and medi-spa and you could walk out looking 20 years younger. From covering your grays and providing a more youthful color and cut to fat-busting and collagen-producing, line-erasing procedures (some non-invasive), Spago and Dr. Michael Stampar are dedicated to making you look and feel your Best. Facials, massages and traditional spa treatments use good-for-your-body-and-skin prescription products. Continue your fountain-of-youth quest by exploring surgical services, performed personally by the doctor, including face and eyelid lifts, rhinoplasty and injectable fillers to smooth out those laugh lines. 201 W. Marion Ave., No. 1311, Punta Gorda; 205-3030; SpagoDaySpa.com.

BEST PLACE TO ESCAPE
TO THE ACTION
Seminole Casino Hotel – Immokalee

Indulge in culinary delights, dance the night away or win big in the high-energy casino, all while relaxing in one of their beautifully designed deluxe rooms or suites.

Check out Elvis Fest on June 25-26 and watch the calendar for world-class performers. Four restaurants offer a variety of cuisines to satisfy your adventurous palate. Whatever your game, the casino boasts more than 1,300 slot machines and 38 live game tables. They’ve paid out more than $180 million in winnings, so get in on the action and get your share. 506 1st Street, Immokalee; 658- 1313; SeminoleImmokaleeCasino.com

BEST PLACE TO
SHOW YOU THE WORLD
Sandra Bevers, Travel Ease

Whether you’re committed to seeing all Seven Wonders of the World or simply a sunset in the Arctic, Sandra Bevers and her Travel Ease will find the Best vacation for you. Working with a travel agent has many advantages over online travel-booking sites — including concierge service that means someone else is taking care of the finite details. Travel Ease’s website lives up to its name, allowing browsers to explore by timeline, destination and budget and discover destinations they may not have thought of. Also search by sunny, arts and culture, adventure and other themed vacays and find exclusive specials, from 10- to 39-day journeys to all corners of the globe. 100 Madrid Blvd., No. 411, Punta Gorda; 637-7771; TravelEase2.vacationport.net.

BEST FOR THE BLUES
True Blue Pool Supply

For those of you who’ve been ready to take the plunge only to discover your pool’s the color of lime green Kool-Aid, we feel your pain. Why do it yourself when dependable and knowledgeable service is just a phone call away? True Blue knows pools and the unique conditions created by Florida’s environment and climate. The company offers maintenance, equipment repair and even hurricane preparedness. For DIYers, there’s a full retail store with everything you’ll need to keep your pool in the blue. Check out the website for cool pool games and party ideas. 2310 Tamiami Trail, Punta Gorda; 575-2525; TrueBluePoolStore.com.

BEST PLACE TO COME
BACK TO YEAR AFTER YEAR
Village Fish Market & Restaurant

The market has been a mainstay at Fishermen’s Village since 1981, expanding from one unit and beer and wine only to a roomy four-unit restaurant with a full-service bar. Under ownership by Sue and Nick Randall since 2003, the establishment is dedicated to offering authentic New England and Florida fare with an emphasis on fresh fish and shellfish. An expanded dining room will bring “clambakes,” steamers, lobster and crab legs upon completion. In the meantime, enjoy the Randalls’ signature fish ‘n’ chips, fried Ipswich clams, salmon Rockefeller and New England clam chowder. And of course, beautiful sunsets, casual dining inside and out, and live entertainment. 1200 W. Retta Esplanade, Punta Gorda; 639-7959; village-fishmarket.com.

BEST PLACE TO
PERFECT YOUR SMILE
Toledo Blade Dentistry

Put on a happy face. Smile for the camera. People want to see your teeth. That’s no problem for patients of Toledo Blade Dentistry. The practice offers the best and latest in both dental and cosmetic procedures with state-of-the-art techniques provided in a friendly, welcoming environment. Patients leave with confident smiles and happy hearts, knowing they’ve received the finest dental care in Southwest Florida. 941-787-5447; toledobladedentistry.com care in Southwest Florida. 300-9693; gulfviewdentistry.com

BEST SAFETY NET FOR MEDICAL,
PHARMACY & WELLNESS
SERVICES TO THE UNDERSERVED
Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic

Make no mistake: The uninsured, under-insured and underserved residents and the “working poor” of Charlotte County would be up the proverbial creek without the VBA Clinic. Since opening in 2008, the clinic has seen more than 40,000 patients, and its adjoining pharmacy has served 24,000 patients and has filled 35,000 prescriptions — to the tune of more than $6 million. And it has saved lives. The clinic’s 200 volunteers — from teens to seniors, medical and nonmedical — donate their time and talent, while medical volunteers include physicians who have agreed to treat VBA patients off-site in the offices of their private practices. More than 120 patients have received outpatient surgical procedures valued at $2.5 million. In our community, the VBA Clinic is truly an angel of mercy. 21297 Olean Blvd., Port Charlotte; 766- 9570; VolunteerCare.org.

BEST ANGELS ON EARTH
Visiting Angels

When your loved ones need care, they need Senior Homecare by Angels from Visiting Angels, a national, private duty network of home care agencies, and the nation’s leading provider of non-medical senior care referral services. Clients rely on these angels for respite care, senior personal care, elder care services and companion care to allow elderly adults to continue living independently in their own homes. They can choose the caregiver they feel most comfortable with from a group of experienced in-home care professionals, each one duly vetted and insured for your safety and peace of mind. Whether the care your loved one needs is full or part time, temporary or long term — or respite for you as a caregiver — Visiting Angels’ care providers will deliver the Best, most compassionate care possible. (800) 365-4189; VisitingAngels.com.

BEST PLACE TO CHANNEL THE
RIGHT SIDE OF YOUR BRAIN
Visual Arts Center

So what if you don’t know the difference between acrylics or oil paints, pastels or colored pencils? You’re never too young or too old to get in touch with your inner artist. The VAC has been doing just that for 55 years, encouraging residents to explore the art world and find their fit. Weekly portrait, life drawing studios and plein air sessions, led by award-winning instructors, provide both newbies and more accomplished artists abundant opportunities. The center also offers fine crafts classes in pottery, stained glass and jewelry making as well as computer art and photography class in its Art Tech Lab. Check out the website for special courses like basketry and silk painting and summer art workshops and camps for kids. 210 Maud St., Punta Gorda; 639-8810; VisualArtCenter.org.

BEST OF THE SOUTH
Wally’s Southern Style BBQ

The restaurant’s name provides only a hint of the Southern-with-a-twist offerings created by Le Cordon Bleu-trained Wally Dubbaneh. Think fried green tomatoes, sweet coleslaw, fried okra and jalapeno-flecked cornbread accompanying the fall-off-the-bone St. Louis and baby backs dry-rubbed then slow-roasted for 24 glorious hours. Wally’s BBQ chicken and brisket are just as delish and daily lunchtime specials offer stick-to-the-ribs (pardon the pun) goodness for mere dollars. All y’all will have to save room for dessert — Southern comforts such as homemade cobblers and banana pudding. 3591 Tamiami Trail; 613- 0005; WallysSouthernBBQ.com.

BEST WIDOW SUPPORT FOR
FINANCIAL CONFIDENCE
Wealthcare4Widows

When a woman loses her husband, it’s traumatic in and of itself. But that can be compounded by the sudden decisions she has to face alone. Now there’s someone who can help you make critical financial decisions that will work Best for you. Wealthcare4Widows is a trademarked, unique wealth management process integrated with Co-Active® coaching to support your journey. Owner Laura Amendola has been bringing her experience and dedication to help clients make smart decisions about their money for two decades. She provides you with comprehensive financial organization, then collaboratively builds an asset management system to help you sustain your wealth. Increase your clarity, confidence and comfort, so you can make smart decisions about your money. 18501 Murdock Circle, Suite 300, Port Charlotte; 206- 5120; Wealthcare4Widows.com.

BEST DOUBLE OFFICES FOR DENTISTRY
Waterside Dental

With two locations in Port Charlotte, Waterside Dental offers quality dental care for your entire family. Dr. Gabriela Marquez in the Port Charlotte office has been caring for patients for more than 15 years. She has advanced education in general dentistry and orthodontics, allowing her to practice in all areas of dentistry including restorative care, implants, oral surgery and braces. She offers sedation options if desired, and speaks English, Spanish and some French. Dr. Ahmed Saleh Kiwan in the Promenades office brings 20 years of expertise in oral and maxillofacial surgery, prosthodontics, esthetic and complex reconstructive dentistry, and dental implants. He is also an accomplished educator and serves as dean of the faculty at two universities. Both offices are dedicated to helping patients achieve their dental goals. 1931 Tamiami Trail, Suite 6, Port Charlotte 313-3891, WatersidePortCharlotte.com; 3280 Tamiami Trail #56, Port Charlotte, 763-6661, WatersidePromenades.com.

BEST PLACE TO ROCK YOUR WORLD
Westchester Gold & Diamonds

Steve and Janie Duke, owners of Westchester Gold & Diamonds, like to say, “Let Us Rock Your World” — and they do, in ways that defy imagination. They carry diamonds of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and more than 50 Rolex watches in stock, in gold, two-tone, sterling, and sports models. They also offer a wall full of gold chains that would make Kim Kardashian purr. Westchester Gold and Diamonds is the premiere jewelry store in Charlotte and DeSoto counties, with a selection of diamonds and custom jewelry that will have you thinking you’re in the Tiffany’s of Port Charlotte. You can truly say that Westchester Gold has something for everyone. 4200 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte; 625-0666; WestchesterGold.com.

BEST REASON TO NOTICE THE
ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Under the Elephant

It’s difficult to ignore anything in this Punta Gorda consignment store which features a new larger location and fabulous furniture finds, home décor, accessories and collectibles. Owner Lori Grimaldi also works closely with the community, churches and nonprofits organizations donating needed items, and her husband Frank, aka the Man with a Van, provides home delivery. The store even offers a man cave while your significant other browses daily arriving treasures. A Facebook page showcases recent acquisitions. 3315 Tamiami Trail, No. C1, Punta Gorda, 621-4892

BEST EAGERLY AWAITED
NEW MENU
River City Grill & Italia

For months we’ve heard rumors River City Grill is replacing its 7-year-old menu. It might be the Best kept secret since Area 51 because owner Doug Amaral and Executive Chef Steve Iadevaia have yet to spill the beans. Whatever the direction, the retake is bound to focus on fresh local ingredients and pair well with Doug’s Big Dog wine list. In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the great steaks and seafood at River City and the classic-meets-contemporary Italian cuisine, Ferrari Bar and “Mafia booth” at neighbor and sister restaurant, Italia. River City Grill, 131 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda, 639-9080, RiverCityGrillPG.com; Italia, 127 W. Marion Ave., 639-7655, ItaliaPGg.com.

BEST FLORIDA CONVERTIBLE
Ford Mustang

It’s hard not to get excited about a Ford Mustang convertible. Even the guy at the Avis counter knows it, and that’s why he can charge tourists as much as their hotel room at Disney World to get this drop-top upgrade. But those of us who live here do it a little differently. The Mustang is an American icon, and so we fly our flag boldly with wild paint colors, big rumbling motors, and custom license plates (is WLD PNY taken yet?) Keeping our pony cars distinctive is more than just individual expression; it is also a matter of highway survival. This way we instantly identify if we’re behind a ragtop Mustang that’s out sightseeing, or if this driver really knows the “Florida way” to dominate the roads.


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