Long long ago, when Marco Island was a young township named Collier City, the Doxee Clam Factory was busy at work harvesting, steaming, and canning clams. As America’s culinary interests became hungry for more and more seafood, John Harvey Doxee and the 40 Marco Islanders that worked at the clam factory on the Marco River became ever more productive to satisfy the demands of a nation that was falling in love with seafood.
As the years passed, and as thousands of bushels of clams were harvested, Doxee’s clamshells were discarded but soon began to pile up. Slowly but surely, as the little mountains of shells began to rise they were bulldozed steadily to the north and into the Marco River. After a time, new land was formed as the clam shells returned to the water and soon a new and prominent point was a fixture on the Marco waterfront.
Because of the nature of the underwater conditions, or because of the abundance of baitfish, the new land soon became famous for fishing, and the deep water that surged next to the climbing cliffs of clams became known as the “Snook Hole.” Every Marco Islander knew that to catch a snook and to have one of the tastiest maritime meals anywhere, all anglers had to do was wet a line at the Snook Hole.
Today a modern Marco tradition stands atop the aquatic shell mounds created by the early Islanders, and is still the place to go to catch not only a tasty maritime meal, but also to capture the atmosphere, nautical nature and the salty seagoing theme that once was the Snook Hole and is now the Snook Inn.
Located at 1215 at the end of Bald Eagle Drive where the Doxee clam shells finally stopped, is an island icon and a visitors favorite for decades. Even with August as hot and steamy as South Florida can serve up in summer, there is always a breeze on the water, a smile on the faces of the Snook Inn staff and patrons, and a charming riverside ambiance that will never fail to beat the heat of the tropics.
After a noontime arrival at the Snook Inn, and a warm welcome from Bette, our party settled in under the shade and sampled the sea breeze at the Snook Inn’s famous Chickee Bar. Chickee is the Seminole word for home. The palm-thatched huts the Native American’s of Southwest Florida originally constructed as housing now have a rustic appeal that is both cooling and comforting, and are readily considered Florida favorites for waterside entertaining and dining.
As Bette delivered menus and took our drink orders, she smiled as she took in the surroundings and looked out over the water. “I love my job,” she said, “And I love this place!” Then she chuckled. “People always ask: how do I get a job behind the bar in paradise, and I always answer: Just keep looking in the obituaries because that’s the only way any of us are leaving.”
Bette Synder has been behind the bar at the Snook Inn for 33 years and has been with the “new owner” Dennis Passini for 25 years. She loves her work, the island history, her fellow staff members, and all the diverse visitors that frequent the Snook Inn.
As we looked over the menu with Bette’s help and suggestions, we chose one of the Snook’s most popular appetizers of Buffalo Shrimp. After iced tea and icy beer were in place, I asked, “What’s the craziest thing that ever happened here—the funniest thing or the strangest thing?”
Bette smiled again. “There’s too many of those stories to tell. Maybe you would like to know about the famous people that have eaten here. I remember when Kate Jackson came in all the time when she dated one of the guys on the sea wall construction. Jimmy Buffet caused quite a stir. Then there was Alan Jackson, Lee Majors, Bob Seger, and Roy Scheider from “Jaws.” Everyone likes the Snook and it’s easy to see why.”
Bette was right, not only about the Snook Inn atmosphere, nautical décor, and Islands in the Stream theme, but the buffalo shrimp were spot-on great; hot and spicy served with zesty lemon and cooling tartar sauce. For 8.99 the Snook Inn Buffalo shrimp are savory starters indeed.
Again, with Bette’s advice we chose for lunch a Snook Inn special of the day, which was broiled red snapper for $13.95, served with island-style rice. We also chose one of the Snook Inn’s best sellers that is the classic grouper sandwich with fries for $13.99.
After only one bite, the Snook Inn fried grouper sandwich with Bermuda onion and crispy french fries was pronounced to be “outstanding.”
The red snapper special was broiled perfectly, finished with paprika, and served with lemon slices and tartar sauce. The island style rice was tasty and delicious. Our compliments to Bette, Dennis, Carmen and all the Snook Inn crew.
The Snook Inn is open seven days with waterside luncheons beginning at 11 a.m. Dinner hour at the Snook begins at 4:30 with the Chickee Bar, Old Bahamas-style dinning room and riverside porch serving dinner until 10 p.m. Live entertainment is an island style way of life at the Snook with weeknight music beginning at 6 and playing until 10 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, entertainment begins at 1 and plays until 5:30 p.m., and again from 6 until 10 p.m. A Web site is available at snookinn.com with a live Web cam looking out over the water.
The Snook Inn is famous for the chilled-plate salad bar with the giant dill pickle barrel, the Snook Inn’s classic half-pound isle burger, and breaded pork tenderloin that is “Big as a ship’s wheel.” Many of the Snook signature selections have been on the menu for almost five decades. The Snook Inn has a kids menu for children 10 and under, a gift shop for souvenirs, indoor dining with air-conditioning in an atmosphere of old wood and varnish that would make Ernest Hemingway proud, and on the cool and enclosed riverside porch, dolphins play in the Marco River.
Early islanders knew that to catch a snook and to have one of the tastiest maritime meals anywhere, all anglers had to do was wet a line at the Olde Marco Snook Hole. Today islanders and visitors alike will not only find one of the tastiest maritime meals around, but also great entertainment and the very special ingredients that make vacation dreams come true at Marco Island’s very own Snook Inn.
Special thanks to Craig Woodward for helping with this article.
Tom Williams debut adventure/thriller novel “Lost and Found” has been released by Archebooks and is now available on Amazon. A Web site with reviews and storyline is available at www.lostandfoundadventure.com