As commerce continues to rev up in downtown Fort Myers, business at Ford’s Garage appears to be in overdrive. From mid-day until late in the evening, near-capacity crowds have filled the sizeable First Street establishment — and its spacious patio — ever since it opened in February 2012.
It’s easy to understand the unique appeal of Ford’s Garage, which was designed to reflect winter resident Henry Ford’s ties to Southwest Florida. It is owned by the same partnership behind other area restaurants tied to historically-significant locals, namely The Edison on McGregor Boulevard and Firestone Grille on Bay Street.
“They were upstanding locals who changed the community and U.S. history,” says Daniel Kearns, managing partner of Ford’s Garage. “We thought it would be cool to link them to a restaurant that was more than just a place to eat, but a space to be entertained and enlightened about local history, as well.”
Kearns, his brother, Zak, and business partner Mike McGuigin began discussing ideas for Ford’s Garage after witnessing the proliferation of high-end hamburger restaurants on Florida’s east coast and the growing popularity of craft beer. Their original concept provides both against a backdrop that is equal parts 1920s service station and Prohibition-era bar. As quirky as it sounds, the theme is stylishly executed.
While the restaurant’s dark wood, tile floors, distressed ceilings and hand-hammered copper bar top set the interior stage, the decorative details are what steal the show. A focal point is the restored 1929 Ford Model A suspended over the bar and designed to emit “exhaust” on cue from the bartender. Another Model A (from 1931 and in running order) is parked in front of the restaurant on weekends. Complete with a Ford’s Garage logo, the antique auto makes a popular backdrop for photos.
Obviously, a great deal of imagination and thought went into the Ford’s Garage concept and it shows. No detail was overlooked, from the rugged, leather menu covers to the miniature fry baskets in which the fries and onion rings are served. Other innovative touches include: entry door handles and bathroom faucets made from actual gas pump handles and nozzles that were customized for the restaurant; freshly laundered mechanics’ rags used for napkins; and genuine hose clamps used for napkin rings. Even the wait staff garb is similar to that of old-time service station attendants.
In other ways, Ford’s Garage is thoroughly modern. At every turn, there’s a flat-screened TV tuned to a sporting event or some sort of family-friendly fare. Other contemporary touches include color-changing LED lights wrapped under the bar and an oh-so-cool “frost rail” on top of it. The rail is actually a six-inch-wide solid piece of ice on the inside edge of the bar, designed to keep customers’ mugs and bottles of beer consistently cold from start to finish.
The frost rail is a good idea for a place that carries more than 200 different craft and mainstream beers including domestic, imported, bottled and draft. Ford’s Garage also has a full liquor bar. However, this is not a bar that serves food as a sideline. Quality food at reasonable prices is the main attraction at Ford’s Garage.
Premium cuts of Black Angus and American Kobe beef are the foundation of the best-selling burgers and beef dishes on the menu, which features 16 Burgers of Fame. The names of noteworthy locals are attached to each original creation, including the number-one selling Model A. Also known as City Manager William P. Mitchell, the Black Angus burger is topped with aged Vermont cheddar cheese, a fried egg, arugula, applewood smoked bacon and pico de gallo on a brioche bun.
Other popular burgers include the Black-N-Bleu, named in honor of Lee County’s sheriff (blackened and topped with crumbled Bleu cheese, bacon and caramelized onions) and the Distinguished Gentleman (a.k.a. former Mayor James Humphrey) made of American Kobe beef with Swiss cheese, caramelized onion, arugula and garlic aioli. Among the non-beef burgers is the popular Veggie burger. Named for WINK radio personality Gina Birch, it is topped with arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, onion and pickle on a wheat bun.
There are also chicken, turkey and tuna sandwiches, several types of sliders (beef, pulled pork, chicken, hot dogs or a combo of three) and salads, appetizers and full-sized entrees, such as homemade meatloaf and fish ’n chips. There’s also a Mac Bar, with four different gourmet macaroni and cheese entrees. One of the more exotic choices is the Lobster Mac ’n Cheese, containing lobster, chorizo sausage and aged Vermont cheddar cheese sauce over cavatappi pasta. At $13, it’s one of the most expensive dishes on the menu, which further underscores the affordable value of dining at Ford’s Garage.
This is the kind of place the whole family can go to enjoy a fun, wholesome lunch or dinner without breaking the bank. With a couple of exceptions, the menu is the same at lunch and dinner. Most burgers are priced in the $8-$10 range and all come with fresh-cut fries. Entrees average around $12 and side dishes are priced from $2.50.
There is also a children’s menu with a handful of items priced from $4-$6 and served on a souvenir Frisbee bearing the restaurant’s logo. In addition to soft drinks, Ford’s Garage also serves milkshakes and floats priced at $4.50 and $5. Adult versions, served with alcohol, cost $8 and are worth every penny! All are enhanced with a shot of whipped cream-flavored vodka, except for the Bananas Foster shake, made with a shot of Captain Morgan spiced rum.
Ford’s Garage is known for offering specials throughout the week in addition to a daily happy hour. From 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., patrons can get half-priced well drinks and wine, along with $1 off all craft beers. There are 22 different beers on tap and approximately 190 domestic and imported beers available by the bottle. Also, on the last Sunday of every month, the restaurant hosts a “Mustang Alley” party from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Featuring music, burgers and beer, the event usually includes upwards of 60 privately-owned Ford Mustangs on display.
Based on its initial success, Ford’s Garage is already expanding. A second Southwest Florida location is scheduled to open in May in the former Leapin’ Lizards building on Cape Coral Parkway in Cape Coral. Elsewhere in Florida, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville are among the markets currently being considered for future locations.
(Ford’s Garage is at 2207 First Street in downtown Fort Myers. Open for lunch and dinner 7 days starting at 11 a.m. Open until midnight Monday through Wednesday, 1 a.m. on Thursday, 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 10 p.m. on Sunday. Complimentary valet parking on weekends. For more information, call 239-332-3673 or visit www.fordsgaragefl.com.)