March 16,2017 - If you cook it, they will come: Table & Tap open at Babcock Ranch
Fort Myers Press
Table & Tap is open at the still-under-construction Babcock Ranch in Charlotte County, and already this middle-of-nowhere restaurant is drawing in diners.
The hardest part of opening a restaurant in the middle of nowhere?
“I’d use this house across the street as a GPS point. Those poor people must hate me,” said David Rashty, executive chef of the new Table & Tap at Babcock Ranch, as he gestured across the beer garden toward State Road 31 just north of the Lee County line.
“I’d get fish guys and produce guys like, ‘I’m here but I don’t see anyone.’ And I’m like, ‘No, do you see the giant Babcock signs across the street? — That’s us.’”
Google Maps shows Table & Tap, its adjacent town square, the elementary school being built down the way and the maze of roads surrounding it — some newly paved, others still dirt — as a vast swath of green.
In reality, the restaurant is one of the first businesses to open in Babcock Ranch, the sustainable, eco-friendly, soon-to-be town on the Charlotte-Lee border.
“This isn’t just a mall or a development, it’s a town that needs all the amenities of a town.”
Table & Tap opened quietly March 1.
A few days in, with no fan-fair, no press releases, not even a Facebook post, this middle-of-nowhere restaurant was busy.
After a lunch rush last week, Rashty, formerly of Jack’s Farm to Fork on Fort Myers Beach and the acclaimed Michael’s Genuine in Miami, dusted off his black chef’s coat and sat down near the bar.
“This is something else, isn’t it?,” he said, looking out onto Lake Babcock as massive dump trucks kicked up clouds of dust on the opposite shore.
That means when whole chickens come in from Circle C Farm in Felda, the meat is used for sandwiches and salads, the wings are fried and slathered in Rashty’s mango-infused barbecue sauce, and the bones and innards are tossed into the stock pot for Table & Tap’s scratch-made chicken soup.
“I use their honey in place of sugar in just about everything,” Rashty said. “I’m in charge of the food being served at the school, too, and it’s a completely sugar-free menu there, as well.”
A financial-advisor-turned-classically-trained-chef, Rashty started caring deeply about food more than a decade ago when he was taking care of his father who died of pancreatic cancer. The loss pushed him to go to culinary school in New York, and started him on a mission to help fix the many aspects of the national and local food chains he sees as broken.
“This area is behind the rest of the country and someone needs to start having these conversations, not just educating people but chefs about sustainable products, good food, food raised properly,” Rashty said in an interview last fall.
He serves as president of Slow Foods Southwest Florida, and at Babcock he’s made a push to develop five of the community’s almost 18,000 acres into a garden for growing Table & Tap’s produce. Herb gardens are in the works, too, to be housed in containers along the patio.
“If we can’t get suppliers to come to us, we’ll just have to grow it ourselves,” Rashty said, laughing.
Popular items early on include his panko-fried goat cheese, and a miso-braised pork belly he cooks sous-vide for 48 hours at 145 degrees, then flash fries before serving with a sauce made with dried cherries. “It’s like pork jam,” Rashty said. “You can almost spread it.”
Most of Table & Tap’s small plates are in the $7-$10 range. Salads range from a $6 watermelon salad (which Rashty said will be sourced locally as soon as watermelon season hits), to a $12 arugula salad topped with a paillard of Circle C chicken in a basil vinaigrette.
Dinner entrees are priced between $14 and $33, with a vegetarian tagliatelle at the low end and Gulf tilefish in a saffron tomato sauce at the high end. Duck, braised short ribs, bacon-wrapped meatloaf, and Gulf shrimp and grits fill in the middle, all priced at $17 or less.
Slater’s Provisions & Goods, a marketplace featuring packaged foods, grab-and-go dishes, breakfast and a liquor store, is coming in July. A catering and event kitchen is also planned.
Babcock’s first residents are scheduled to move in this May. That’s right — no one even lives here yet. “I practically live here,” Rashty laughed.
So how are diners finding this place? “Word of mouth is part of it,” Rashty said. “Everything that’s happening out here has people excited. Everything everyone’s doing out here is new, it’s different, it’s unique. “It’s the same for the restaurant. It’s a concept people are excited about, myself included.”
Table & Tap at Babock Ranch
Find it: The restaurant doesn’t yet have a GPS-friendly address. From Fort Myers and points south, follow State Road 80 east of Interstate 75. Turn left to head north on State Road 31. Babcock Ranch is about four miles north of the Caloosahatchee on the right (east) side of the road. Follow the signs to Founders Square. The restaurant sits behind Curry Creek Outfitters on Lake Babcock near the band shell.