MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island tastes great. It is not, however, less filling.
A large swath of the island showed up at the Esplanade Sunday for the 19th annual Taste of Marco. They brought their appetites with them, and a who’s who of island eateries provided “grazing”-sized portions of some of their specialties to satisfy those appetites.
“We’ve tried everything,” said Islander Barbara Adams, sitting with her niece Julie Baganski, Julie’s husband Frank and son Mason, who were visiting from Erie, Pennsylvania.
“We had pineapple with chicken salad, and the chips with blue cheese from CJ’s, mini-hamburgers, sautéed chicken, strawberry shortcake, pizza, and of course, beers. This was just sampling — now we’re going back for something to eat.”
Attitudes like this kept the food vendors scrambling to keep up with demand, and with all proceeds benefitting the Marco Island YMCA, boded well for the organization’s fundraising efforts.
When longtime Marco Island entertainer Miles Loud took the stage, providing his vocal stylings of hits from the 50s and 60s, movement became difficult anywhere near the stage, given the necessity of dodging parents pushing strollers, and throngs of people with plates of food in their hands and smiles on their faces. Loud had attendees dancing and singing along with songs such as “Earth Angel,” “Get Ready,” and Wilson Pickett’s “Midnight Hour.”
Deanna Froman of Fiddler’s Creek got into the spirit, dancing with the costumed flamingo circulating around the dance floor until another woman cut in.
“I’m a junk food junkie,” she said, when asked what food items she had been sampling. “I had pizza, shish kebab, and burgers. This really is a great time.”
Around the corner, away from the restaurant booths, diversions for the younger set included a bounce house, inflatable slide, candle and sand art, and a climbing wall, but truth be told, this day was all about the food.
Bistro Soleil had Islanders lined up to enjoy their steamed mussels or their char-grilled beef tenderloin and shrimp en brochette, prepared by chef Denis Meurgue.
Quinn’s on the Beach did a brisk business with their grouper sandwiches and chocolate/peanut butter shooters.
“This grouper sandwich is the best thing here,” declared Jerry Kurtti, a winter resident who splits his time between Marco and Minneapolis. “I will say, though, I haven’t had anything bad today.”
Stilts, the new kid on the Marco restaurant scene, featured their scallop poppers, seared, wrapped in bacon and broiled, prepared by executive chef Eugene Martin and his staff.
Publix supermarket shared a booth with Boar’s Head Fine Foods, and sold immense quantities of bratwurst, kielbasas, and hot dogs, along with samples of their key lime pie.
Next door, Kretch’s made a hit with their pan-seared tuna sliders, buffalo-fried shrimp, and smoked pork butt sandwich.
One offering, the blue cheese chips from CJ’s chef Laura Owen, was in the news recently, winning second prize for “best happy hour snack” in a national competition sponsored by the Idaho Potato Commission. Not for the faint of heart or high of cholesterol, they looked tempting, and according to the chef, are “great with a cold beer.”
YMCA board member Tiffany Homuth took a moment from her duties selling souvenir T-shirts to talk about the event.
“This has been a great day — the weather’s perfect,” she said, admitting organizers had been concerned it would be smoky from the fires burning in the Everglades, but the only smoke evident came from the numerous barbecue grills in use.
“We won’t know exactly how we made out till we start counting, but we’re having a lot of success,” said Homuth.
Another well-organized, well-attended Marco Island party, the Taste of Marco was a good time for a good cause, and a chance for the restaurants of Marco to put their best food forward.