Thanks to everyone for your suggestions for chow in Sanibel for our family lugging a toddler, and on the way from Ft. Myers airport.
Unfortunately, on the way from the airport we were caravaning with 2 other families with toddlers that had all been up since 4:30am, so they weren't willing to go the extra 10 minutes for one of the recommendations that looked interesting. We ended up at Bob Evans. The less said about that, the better, although I the chicken salad plate came with an amazing amount of decent fresh fruit.
Once on Sanibel, we stocked up on groceries at Jerry's on Periwinkle. It was OK, but later we found Bailey's on (I think) Tarpon Bay Road which I liked a lot more, better selection, and the nicest people. A well stocked bakery counter was extremely tempting but we managed to get away with only a piece of fudge and a cinnamon pastry. Both were very good. Prices at both places were about the same- both much more expensive than the mainland. Next time I'd try to stock up at Publix before paying the $6 to go across the causeway to Sanibel. We had a condo with a kitchen so most of our meals were at home.
Our first meal out was at the Lazy Flamingo, where Sanibel and Captiva meet. We timed it well, getting there just after 5:30. There are only 7 tables or so, and people who came in after us had to wait a while. We were able to see the sunset from the window next to our table, very nice. This is more or less a fish shack, where you order and pay at the counter and go pick up your food when they call your name. We started with oysters, which were very mild, almost too mild. I like a bit more brininess and character in my oyster, but that didn't stop us from quickly slurping them all up. Next we had the conch fritters, which weren't anything special- very bready without discernible pieces of conch, and a lot of green peppers. We also had a fried grouper basket, which was excellent. A 1/2 lb of peel and eat steamed gulf shrimp hit the spot, with fresh shrimp perfectly cooked with slightly spicy seasoning. For the pup, we ordered the PB&J sandwich, which turned out to be this nasty Smuckers "Uncrustables" prepackaged thing. I wouldn't have ordered that if I'd known what it was going to be, and the pup turned his nose up at it. We split a pitcher of Sangria, which was decent. They only serve beer and wine, which is too bad because I was jonesing for a fruity rum drink. Ah well. Overall it was exactly what we wanted for a casual, fun, fresh seafood experience. Prices weren't too bad although somehow the whole thing added up to around $75, which was a bit more than we expected. This would be a regular stop for us if we came to Sanibel every year.
We got a babysitter one night and went to the Mad Hatter, which is on Sanibel-Captiva Rd., with an excellent view of the sunset. We made a reservation for 6pm and were told if we showed early we could get an "extra special table", which perhaps was an insider joke on us, because all the tables are good and the place was empty when we got there. Around 7pm, it started to fill up. The decor borders on cutesy, with an Alice in Wonderland theme. The menu is "New American". Our server was very good. I started with the calamari salad, which had a wonderful garlicky buttermilk dressing, but I was surprised to find the calamari came fried. It was fine, but I wasn't expecting it, and I think it would have been better not fried. Hubby had a ceasar salad with tuna and liked it. My entree was tuna, encrusted with sesame and macadamia, I think. It was a fine rendition of the encrusted tuna genre, although there wasn't anything that made it stand out from the encrusted tuna pack. It came over noodles that were completely forgettable, with a whipped aioli-type sauce that added a nice flavor to the dish. Hubby's was a grouper with a horseradish-green mustard coating, over a butternut squash risotto. I expected it to be spicier than it was, but it was still very good, especially since the seasoning didn't overwhelm the grouper. The risotto was very good. Total with 2 Kir Royales and a glass of wine was around $100. We'd definitely go back.
We had drinks and dessert at Doc Ford's. I was disappointed in the "Sailor Jerry Mojito", which was not the fine balance of flavors you get in a good mojito. All I could taste was lime juice. A slice of key lime pie was fine. Others seemed happy with their drinks/desserts, but overall nothing special, and I wouldn't be in a hurry to go back for a full meal.
We rode out to the lighthouse and stopped for ice cream at Pinocchio's on the way back. A good selection of flavors but mine and the pup's had an unpleasant grainy texture. Mine was a hard ice cream with caramel and malted milk balls, his was a soft serve. We checked out the menu and enticing aromas at Rosie's Deli. I'd definitely go back here for a takeout lunch- something smelled incredibly good and prices seemed pretty reasonable for the area ($7-8 for a Cuban sandwich).
We had lunch at Over Easy Cafe on Tarpon Bay Road. My reuben wrap was ok- I've never had a reuben as a wrap and it loses something in the translation from grilled bread to flour tortilla. Hubby's Turkey Reuben on Texas Toast looked a lot better. Chicken fingers for pup were good. New England Clam chowder looked a bit disappointing, but dad managed to eat it all, although commented on the overuse of bacon. The real winners here seemed to be the salads, which we saw at a few other tables, piled high with fresh, appealing ingredients. Lunch for 4 plus the pup came to $44.
We picked up pizza dough from Johnny's Pizza, in a strip mall at the stop sign where Sanibel-Captiva Road meets Tarpon Bay Road for homemade pizza- it was pretty good so we bought a deep dish pie another night. Pretty good- the sauce was nice, not too sweet. It was more than enough for 4 people and the leftovers made a good lunch at the airport the next day.
Others in our group had good things to say about Island Cow, although it was packed on a Friday night, and the wait was a bit too long for the toddlers. The Thistle Crown Lodge on Captiva was recommended by two couples as a nice place to enjoy an adult meal, with one couple's meal coming to $65 or so, and another's coming to just over $100.
I'm glad we didn't have to rely exclusively on restaurants, because it would have added up quickly, but overall there wasn't any place that was disappointing, and a few that were excellent. Thanks again for your help!