Coming soon: A South Beach-inspired restaurant/lounge at the Bell Tower Shops.
That was late 2013. HaVen quickly became a hot topic around Fort Myers as the next great hipster hope for some semblance of nightlife outside the River District. HaVen’s heat factor cooled as planning snowballed and permitting and construction stretched from months into years.
This is now: HaVen morphed into Society, which finally opened its doors in November after four years of delayed gratification. The dust has settled, and after some worrisome word of mouth early on, the upscale upstart appears to be finding its footing with a combination of creative spins on American cuisine, complex craft cocktails and a sprawling and stylish layout designed to offer an appropriate space for any social occasion. There’s more than 14,000 square feet to roam around in.
You could start out with drinks at The Treehouse, the long, open-air rooftop lounge decked out in tropical lime and ocean blue and strings of white lights. One intimate corner offers a more private setting around a fire pit, but when there’s live music on tap on a Saturday night you might be circling the deck endlessly waiting for a table to open.
Downstairs, you can dine al fresco on the hedge-lined patio, or reserve one of two private rooms or join the masses in the spacious main dining area that opens onto the patio. It features long, plushly appointed banquettes and wood tables with shiny copper accents here and there. Marvel at the state-of-the-art surround-video technology that evolves while you watch. Wait, are we still in Fort Myers?
The menus are equally transporting, with exotic flavorings such as gochujang, spicy tofu crema, hazelnut romesco and burnt honey vinaigrette. But the menus can also be a tad confusing or misleading. There are individual menus on the website for happy hour, lunch, dinner, The Treehouse and “anytime bites” (any time but not anywhere — the burger, for example, is only available upstairs, we were told). You might also find yourself straining in vain to detect promised seasonings in a dish or cocktail — though that won’t completely derail your enjoyment.
Society’s culinary direction comes from Executive Chef Todd Erickson, a champion of the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay” and a Culinary Institute of America graduate. Expect his menu to change seasonally and incorporate handcrafted things like home-brew hot sauce and house-pickled veggies.
Society has a good variety of wines, but we decided to sample the cocktails. The Real Housewives of McGregor ($12) will please fruit lovers with its combination of Grey Goose La Poire, pear purée and lychee (the jalapeño sliver is mostly for show). The gin-based Secret Society ($10) gets a creamy head from aquafaba — a trendy vegan replacement for egg whites that’s literally the (flavorless) thick liquid left after soaking or cooking legumes; the purple plums and cardamom syrup that were promised were a little overcome by too much fresh lemon juice.
While waiting on appetizers, which didn’t take long, we ripped into a bowl of warm yeast rolls topped with shredded cheese and herbs.
From the small plates list, the duck meatballs ($10) were mouth-watering orbs of juicy, well-seasoned meat. They would have been delectable on their own, but Society gilds the lily by adding dollops of foie gras butter that melt into the meat, producing an even richer sensation. The sour orange emulsion they were tucked into was an interesting choice, perhaps a nod to duck a l’orange?
The Cuban “cigars” ($12) are a good choice, too. They’re fried eggrolls stuffed with the traditional Cubano fillings of cured ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese and pickles. Dip them into Dijon aioli and crunch away. Less impressive was the Floribbean roll ($12) from the sushi list. The coconut shrimp inside was supposed to be amped up with jerk seasoning, but we couldn’t taste even a hint of the signature spices.
Our able and friendly server kept the food and drink coming at a good pace and was knowledgeable about the menu. The Treehouse bar staff can be a bit chilly, but downstairs we were treated warmly from the start; the front-house manager was all smiles as he made his rounds among the tables.
When it comes to the main course, you can go big with dry-aged prime steaks up to 28 ounces and $60 (presumably for two). At the other end of the spectrum is an equally appealing, vegan-friendly wood-grilled cauliflower “steak” with parsnip purée, farro and roasted grapes.
The free-form lasagna ($19) was one of the less-expensive entrees but doesn’t sacrifice full flavor. Thin sheets of tender pasta were loosely layered with crumbled bison sausage, bitter broccolini, herbed mascarpone and tomato sauce. Served in a bowl, it might look a little sloppy but don’t judge it on looks alone.
A more pristine presentation but no less impressive was the miso-roasted black cod with shiso vinaigrette ($33). This superior fish has pearly white flesh with huge flakes, which came out silky-moist and firm — utter perfection. The simplicity of sides, forbidden rice and Peruvian choclo corn, allowed the real star of the dish to shine.
By the time we got to dessert, we could only share a small bread pudding made with Bennett’s Fresh Roast donuts ($10). The custard-soaked base was surprisingly not sweet at all, but bourbon crème Anglaise brought a touch of sugar and rainbow sprinkles a flourish of color.
Society still has some refining to do in delivering what it promises, but I have to say it has mostly fulfilled four years of expectations. ¦