In most restaurants, music is used a background device to establish the ambience of the dining room and help set the tempo for the meal. But that’s not always the case.
At a new Italian restaurant in south Fort Myers, music does more than share the stage with food – at Yabo, it often takes center stage. It’s also one of the main reasons why Yabo’s young and energetic owners, Sean Wood and Ryan Kida, opened for business in the first place.
“It’s a production center,” said Kida, a musician and songwriter who is also Yabo’s chef. “We produce food and we produce music,” though not necessarily at the same time. In fact, Kida recently produced a music CD, “The Kida Blues Experiment,” featuring a mix of alternative/blues/rock songs he wrote.
Blink and you might miss the place, which is located at 16681 Old McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. Tucked away in a small space formerly occupied by Starz Pizza, the 40-seat eatery is surrounded by established retail shops and offices near the much larger Windjammer’s Restaurant.
Incidentally, despite its Italian theme, Yabo is not an Italian name, but rather Australian slang for “lazy bum.” Because Kida has relatives in both Italy and Australia, he and Wood initially planned to offer a mix of Italian and exotic Australian dishes, but have yet to find the appropriate specialty food distributor. As for the name, however, they found it too catchy not to keep.
Since its debut last October, Yabo has provided a stage for some of the area’s more accomplished musicians, such as John Mameli. Mameli plays guitar and sings there on Wednesday evenings starting at 6.
But for local bands and up-and-coming solo artists, the restaurant provides two prized commodities: rehearsal space and a place to perform, both of which are hard to come by in our area. There is also a digital video system and oversized projection screen for playing music videos, concerts and slide shows.
“We’ve tried to make this place resemble a studio and in some ways, it is,” said Wood. In addition to a designated area for performers, Yabo offers an outstanding sound system. “A lot of bands we bring in just plug into our amps and play. It’s a good way for local bands to get exposure. It’s also a nice alternative for people in south Fort Myers who want to do something other than go to the beach or shopping malls.”
Music at Yabo runs the gamut from classical to punk to jazz, and everything in between. “We don’t discriminate around here,” added Wood with a smile.
However, the restaurant does cater to discriminating palates. More important, it defers to its regular patrons (most of whom appear to be over 30), by starting the live performances (other than solo performers and duos) long after the kitchen closes at 9 p.m.
Like the space it occupies, Yabo’s menu is small and thoughtfully designed. And while it appears to feature typical, classical Italian fare, Yabo’s menu offers a number of dishes prepared with a non-traditional flair.
Two of its best selling entrees are the Eggplant Parmesan (containing luscious layers of fresh basil, ricotta & mozzarella; $15) and Lasagna Bolognese (an intoxicating version of a traditional dish; $16). “Customers who try our lasagna once always come back for more,” said Wood. “It’s addictive.”
In addition, there are a handful of standard veal and pasta entrees, as well as salads and appetizers, such as Yabo’s popular Sautéed Calamari. This original creation is sautéed in garlic and olive oil, and served in a spicy tomato basil sauce ($12).
Dinner selections usually include a couple of nightly specials and an occasional soup. To keep things interesting, the menu is revamped every few months and items are also available for takeout.
Due to the oversized dinners it serves, Yabo wisely limits dessert choices to things like Caramel Tiramisu and Flourless Chocolate Cake. In addition to beer, there is a small but eclectic wine list with selections from boutique vintners in the U.S., Australia and Italy.
Reservations are strongly recommended at Yabo, which is also available for private parties. To check out the menu or for more information on featured weekend entertainers, please visit www.myspace.com/yaborestaurant.
(Yabo serves dinner Tuesday – Saturday from 5 pm until 9 pm at 16681 McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. Closed Sunday and Monday. Beer and wine only. Live entertainment each weekend starting after 10 pm. Phone: 239-225-YABO/225-9226 or www.myspace.com/yaborestaurant.)