760 N. Collier Blvd., Marco
Decorated in all things fish — rods and reels, tropical aquariums, a wall fountain drizzling behind a hooked tarpon — the interior prepares you for a relaxing meal amid embellishments of Marco Island’s favorite pastime: fishing.
Bradley Norden, first heard of Guy Harvey as a child.
“My father was wearing Guy Harvey T-shirts when I was growing up,” he said with a smile, never realizing he’d be working for the same man today. Norden, who’s been with the Island Grill for a little over a year, and has been promoted to general manager officially on March 10, began his restaurant career when he was 16. Starting out as a busboy and dishwasher, he then moved into food preparation. Gradually, he learned every line cook and chef position, gathering skills as he worked part-time before going off to college. He graduated with a degree in architecture.
“I worked for over a year at an architectural firm, and knew it wasn’t for me,” Norden said, and began working in a restaurant on his off hours. When the pull was too great, he decided to quit architecture and pursue a full-time career in the restaurant business.
Through the years, Norden’s been trained in every aspect of the food service and food preparation business. His extensive background includes Bennigan’s, Road House Grill, Carraba’s and the Cheesecake Factory. When he heard of Guy Harvey’s, he saw the potential in helping establish a restaurant from the ground up.
One of the challenges was developing recipes, and that’s where the environmentalist side of Guy Harvey stepped in with a unique twist.
Known best for his colorful, detailed paintings of marine life, Harvey is also a marine biologist, photographer, diver, author, angler and conservationist. He supports catch-and-release ethics for game fish, and refuses to serve in his restaurants any species of fish that has been over-fished, or caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.
To prove his passion, in 1999, he partnered with the Oceanographic Center of Nova University in Ft. Lauderdale to establish the Guy Harvey Research Institute, a non-profit marine research institute to study conservation of fish resources.
According to Harvey’s Web site, as the human population grows, the fish population declines. That affects not only commercial enterprises supporting jobs and the world’s food supply, but also recreational fishing. And with the recently touted health benefits of eating seafood, the demand for fish has increased. Harvey’s studies have resulted in a “fish to eat” program — a list of seafood that is abundant or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.
That’s the reason you won’t find grouper on the Island Grill’s menu, nor will you see Chilean sea bass or Atlantic halibut, or a whole list of “fish to avoid.” It’s Harvey’s way of standing behind what he believes. He explains his position on the menu, and there’s a small take-home brochure available for future reference.
“We have red lights on certain fish and our vendors know we won’t accept them,” said Norden. “And a part of our proceeds from the restaurant goes to fund the Guy Harvey Institute.”
Not to worry, though, the menu is packed with a tasty variety of seafood entrees, like mahi mahi, salmon, scallops and shrimp, in addition to beef, chicken and pork. You won’t leave the Island Grill hungry!
The most popular dish started out as an appetizer, said Norden, and customers began ordering it as an entrée. Always in tune with customers’ feedback, they took the recipe, a lightly breaded fried shrimp in a chipotle dressing, made it a larger portion and put it on the menu as an entrée choice named The Last Shrimp Standing.
On the appetizer menu, try two flavors of chicken wings or a grilled shrimp quesadilla with red peppers, red onions and Jack cheese, or a variety of other starters. They offer pasta entrees and salads, even a children’s menu. Tropical fish aquariums light the way to two full bars, including a raw bar. At least one weekend night they feature live entertainment.
Besides the Island Grill on Marco Island, Guy Harvey owns restaurants in Key West and Orange Beach, Ala.
“Mr. Harvey usually visits his restaurants once a year. We’ve had him twice so far,” said Norden. He dines at the restaurant and spends time meeting and socializing with the customers. “He introduces himself, shakes hands and speaks to all the employees. He’s very cool.”
Who doesn’t have a Guy Harvey T-shirt? If you’re one of the few without one, or your favorite fishing shirt is worn to threads, visit the retail store adjacent to the Grill.
They carry a huge selection of all the latest men’s and women’s styles, along with towels, hats, mugs, and even small bottles of his special Island Spice if you want to try to duplicate the flavor of your dinner.
When he comes for a visit, Harvey is happy to sign any merchandise in the store. He’s even developed a line of fine wines with the labels depicting paintings of his famous ocean wildlife. Of course, the highlight is the vast museum-type array of signed framed prints and original artwork decorating the restaurant and shop — they’re all for sale.
Harvey’s love and respect for the environment is apparent in all he creates. Not only does dining at Guy Harvey’s Island Grill net you a delicious meal, but by making careful choices in what you eat, you help conserve our ocean and its inhabitants, as well.
Guy Harvey is a man who puts his money where his mouth is — literally.