MARCO ISLAND — It didn’t matter a smidgen that the plates were of the paper kind and the forks and spoons plastic.
Not when Kobe beef mini burger sliders; pan seared, pepper crusted ahi tuna; Maine lobster and steak surf ‘n turf; and deep fried smoked salmon with cream cheese and rice were on the collective menu.
They were just some of the epicurean delights savored by a couple thousand open air gourmets who flocked to Sunday’s annual Taste of Marco event at the Esplanade complex off Smokehouse Bay.
About 15 restaurants satisfied the palates of the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds, who enjoyed double bite-sized portions at prices of between $2 and $5 apiece.
The event, first presented 25 years ago by restaurateur Al Landers and two friends, benefits the Greater Marco Family YMCA. Organizers hoped that, by the end of the day, the function would net around $30,000 to $40,000.
Guy Harvey’s Island Grill general manager Murat Dogramaci said his restaurant opted for chilled items such as the ahi tuna and shrimp salad because of the warm day.
“We also wanted to have the best presentation,” Dogramaci said. “The tuna has been our best seller by far.”
Over at the Crazy Flamingo kitchen stall, Danny Dawber helped dish up black beans and rice with blackened tuna, as well as smoked fish dip and the impressive surf and turf with Maine lobster.
At a corner of the stall was an appropriately crazy-looking foam and fabric flamingo, which Dawber said Tommie Barfield Elementary students made in honor of the restaurant’s founder and ardent school supporter, Tony Rainone.
The popular restaurateur died just a couple of months after the children presented him with the bird, and Dawber said it goes along to every function in memory of Rainone.
Kim Biagetti made the trip from Naples after reading about the event, and by 1 p.m. had not yet sampled any of the goodies.
“I’m just scoping them out right now,” she said. “I like the look of some shrimp tacos I saw back there.”
Event founder Landers, who has launched and sold 10 restaurants on Marco Island in the past 21⁄2 decades, said the first Taste of Marco attracted about 18 people.
“We all drank, and made no money because it was in the summer,” he said. “We didn’t know. Now look at it today,” he said with a sweep of his arms over the huge crowds.
Indiana part-time resident Mary Ann Tittle enjoyed some tuna salad with avocado from Korals Restaurant (in the Marriott Marco Island Resort), and said looking at all the people was as much fun as tasting the food.
“I also like the supporting of the Y,” she said, adding that the food prices were perfectly reasonable.