When trying to appeal to someone who’s been slowly trucking along a traffic-jammed interstate for about two hours, utter three simple words: pizza and pints.
This was all I needed to hear in a dinner date invitation from a longtime friend upon my arrival to Cape Coral, my hometown, for which I still hold a strange mixture of aversion and affection. But, for transparency purposes, let’s be honest: It’s not like this writer is one to typically turn down a good slice of pie, or a beer for that matter, regardless of how long she’s been trapped in a car.
The Cape, as we natives refer to it, is not the state’s most desirable destination. However, the familiarity — the memories and traditions we associate with a place, with our hometowns and other locations we repeatedly haunt — remains comforting and never strays. In this way, surrounded by 400 miles of canals in all its wondrous, retirement-hub glory, Cape Coral will forever possess something of an allure.
My dinner companion and I pulled into a worn, concrete parking lot on the side of Nice Guys, a pizza joint located on a main road downtown. Tucked in the middle of a three-shop plaza alongside a series of other small strip malls on the busy parkway, I had never noticed it before.
We grabbed our bags and were greeted by a sign on the restaurant’s door that mentioned a third nipple, which my date promptly snapped a picture of before walking in.
On the way over, she raved about the food, beer selection, how much I’d enjoy the atmosphere. She was right. It was already my style, goofy and vulgar.
Modest in size and dimly lit, Nice Guys carries a low-key vibe. A large chalkboard mounted above the bar listed the craft beers on draft in colorful handwriting, which was akin to a few Tampa Bay breweries that have become close to my heart.
After briefly examining my beverage options, we snagged one of the only empty tables left, later relocating to another in the corner that was more suitable for people-watching.
With music posters featuring bands such as Joy Division and the Clash lining its walls and photographs of “tastefully nude women” (according to my companion) coating the bar top, the restaurant is a nice fit for diners who are looking to share conversation over drinks or a meal.
I admired our surroundings while my date and I reminisced. Brews came and went, as did a basket of 20 fried pickles and a specialty pie called the “Truffle Shuffle,” a white pizza with black truffle oil, garlic, mushrooms, onions, sage and three types of cheese. We regrettably saved no room for dessert, but the deep-fried Oreos sounded tempting.
Final beers in hand, stories and laughter were exchanged outside with a coffee-sipping Jovana Batkovic, who co-owns Nice Guys.
For the first time since moving to St. Petersburg in 2010, even at a new space in a familiar place, nothing seemed different. I didn’t feel like I’d outgrown Cape Coral. I was hanging out with one of my good friends, as if no time had passed.
Throughout the night, Post-its with musings were left behind in the restroom when one of us used it. We cleverly added to the collection of bright sticky notes cultivated by past diners, brainstorming what to place above the sink or toilet next.
I gave my companion a hint. She searched for the last Post-it I wrote before we headed to a nearby neighborhood bar that Batkovic recommended.
It read, “It’s the little things.”