Chef Ryan Kida’s gnocchi bathed in creamy Gorgonzola sauce amassed a cult-like following at Yabo, the art-filled restaurant and music venue he opened and grew in south Fort Myers from 2007 to 2016. Six years after closing, Kida's devotees have been delighted to find those pillowy balls of dough have been resurrected, now served hot from the window of the new Yabo food truck.
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Kida and longtime friend Mike Mechachonis fired up the truck Dec. 21, reintroducing a few menu staples from the former brick-and-mortar restaurant, while tossing in a rotating lineup of extras.
When the original Yabo opened in 2006, it was a haven for foodies and a hidden gem for locals, tucked in an unsuspecting strip mall on Old McGregor Boulevard. A dark den for Kida's from-scratch Italian fare, Yabo's walls were covered in rock-and-roll posters. The small dining room housed a scant handful of tables and a small stage where Kida could indulge his other passion — music
In 2011, he relocated to a roomier space on Summerlin Road, now home to Lynq, more than doubling in size. The larger restaurant proved to be too much. Five years later, Yabo closed, and Kida went into what he called “hibernation.”
He peeked out a year later to join the team at nearby Poppy’s Pizza, briefly reviving his beloved gnocchi before packing his knives and going back to his roots on Sanibel Island, leading the culinary crew at MudBugs Cajun Kitchen.
“MudBugs is my full-time day job that allows me to do my side projects,” Kida said.
"Side projects" such as the Yabo food truck.
Kida grew up on Sanibel.
“As soon as I could work, maybe 13, my stepdad brought me to a restaurant down the street and told me to get a job,” he said. “Coming back to where I started is a full-circle moment.”
His family is Italian and Australian, hence his gravitation towards Italian ingredients. The word "yabo" is Aussie slang for "lazy bum."
Surrounded by food at work and home, Kida remembered always being curious about the culinary arts. “Then I learned it’s hard work to make that art,” he said. “People don’t realize that.”
When Mechachonis, Kida’s decades-long friend, wanted to retire to Southwest Florida, the food-truck idea took flight.
“What I love about the truck is that it gives freedom to go anywhere and do anything,” Kida said. “It’s a traveling restaurant.”
Out of the mobile kitchen, Kida and Mechachonis crank out a revolving menu of specials that almost always include his famous gnocchi along with "Beck’s Bags," another Yabo staple: small pasta purses called sachetti full of truffle cream in a garlic-herb sauce.
Kida has also been “messing around,” as he put it, with chicken Parmesan sandwiches and poutine fries smothered in beef gravy and cheese curds.
Additional specialties include fried foods on sticks — think eggplant Parm and fried macaroni and cheese, and a fried lasagna-on-a-stick that captured first place at February's Food Truck Wars Southwest Florida in Cape Coral.
But the truck isn't only for competitions. Customers can find Yabo parked at Point Ybel Brewing Co. in south Fort Myers Wednesdays from 6-9 p.m., with occasional appearances on other nights and at private events.
“Breweries are all cool,” he said. “Point Ybel is in my old 'hood, and I love their beer. It’s a great marriage.”
When not in the kitchen at MudBugs or manning the truck, Kida manages to find time for his other side project: music. He plucks the bass guitar and sings backup in his band, The Camaros.
“Cooking is my art, but music is everything that drives me,” he said. Early in his career, while manning a hot dog stand at Lowe's, he went to school for audio engineering, gaining valuable experience to record his first album, “Kida Blues Experiment.”
“I can’t get enough of it,” he said. “When I retire from the kitchen, I’ll play music for the rest of my life — cook food on the side. Music is a gift.”
To his foodie fans, Kida’s culinary prowess is the real gift — and that gnocchi.
For more on Yabo and its schedule, visit facebook.com/yaborestaurant.
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Fort Myers restaurants: New Yabo remixes old favorites, food-truck style