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Mercato: A Three Part Series: Part One - The Hampton Social

Updated: Feb 9, 2022


9118 Strada Place, Naples, Fl

For Neapolitans and Southwest Florida residents, with the exception of a certain grocery store-cum-nightclub, Mercato may be the most divisive place in town.

To describe it as a mere shopping mall does the word understatement an injustice second only to referring to King Kong as a monkey, or joggers as simply just pants.

Within the geographic confines of Mercato you will find everything from grocery stores to condos to shops upon restaurants upon restaurants upon shops. There is also a diversity to Mercato (not ethnic..this is Naples after all) in how it is experienced by day vs. by night. Think a mild-mannered Clark Kent rushing into a phone booth to turn into Superman, or everyone's favorite ironic haircut, the mullet, being business in the front and party in the back, so too does Mercato display this duality.

So with this as prologue, Mercato was Saturday nights destination. With the wives and ex-wives off to a bachelorette party and the dads clearly needing a break from their children after 36 whole hours of solo parenting, and about thirty-seven texts, our group came together at Hampton Social to start the night. For those of you who are detail oriented and for further context in this magnum opus, dear-reader, the group consisted of me, whom you know as Mr. Bites, The Playboy, Boy Wonder, Meat King, and Jamie, just Jamie.

Hampton Social is a small chain of about 6 or 7 bar/restaurants, mostly in the Chicagoland area that feature a seafood vibe with a chill, but active bar area with plenty of seating (or so it had been in previous visits). It's high-ceilinged (big fan), mostly white and flora focused with a bar area separated from the main dining room and a nice-sized patio that you can dine, drink and stare at the conspicuously parked supercars out by the valet.

Unfortunately, it was packed (or pizzacked if you feel like talking like Snoop Dogg circa 2005) and all the bar tables were reserved as well. I managed to snake a seat on the end between two of the most common night creatures dwellers of Mercato, the older white male and his 20+ years younger girlfriend/date and the divorcees/moms night out folks.

Like pretty much everywhere else in Naples these days, due to the high volume at all hours of the day, the servers were doing their best FloJo impersonation to try to serve everyone. Jumping, running, leaping, serving; it was like the Mercato-Decathalon watching them do the best they can. Now imagine them doing this every night of the week for 4-5 hours a night. Exhausting just thinking about it, so please be kind to your servers and bartenders. It ain't easy out there.

Lucky for me, we managed to get a row of seats for us at the corner (the only acceptable place for a group more than 2 to sit at a bar). Some various tequila based drinks were ordered (as well as a near-bear for the The Playboy). My ranch water (tequila, soda, lime, splash of real lime juice) was spot on. The key is REAL lime juice, not that Rose's stuff that tastes like a sour lollipop.

Finally, it was food time, in no particular order, the brussel sprouts were very good. Crispy, flash fried, with a little bit of sweet and a nice light savory touch with some sort of creme fraiche thing at the bottom, possibly ricotta. No bacon either. Don't get me wrong, I love bacon and it's fantastic with sprouts, but it was nice to see someone not cheat with bacon to get us to eat our greens. Next up came the shrimp cocktail; not my favorite thing since its fairly boring, but the shrimp were very fresh, and the cocktail sauce was...cocktail sauce. Again, kinda boring for my taste. Next up came a plethora of pizzas (five guys eating, pizza ends the "what to order" conversation pretty quickly). The pizzas were really solid. The four cheese had some good sauce to it, nice crisp to the crust and the Southhampton featuring sausage and pepperoni and basil was on point. One question though...why is it the Southhampton? I've been there...not really known for their Italian pizza or restaurants. I guess calling it the Lindenhurst would have been off-brand (that's a joke for like for the 2.4 people who read this from Long Island).

Honestly, we might have ordered more than this, but the ranch water was kicking in. Either way, all of us members of the Dad Herd agreed that the food was significantly better than it needed to be, and it was probably in the top 2-3 places in Mercato for grub.

And thus with the food digesting in our bellies, it was off to the next venue of Mercato for the evening...

To be continued....

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