Photo by TOM WILLIAMS, Special to the Eagle // Buy this photo
Salty meals take on new meaning when your choice of transportation is by boat. Getting there is truly part of the experience; and for some reason, food never tastes better than after you’ve been out on the water.
From Bonita Beach to Marco Island, a number of dock-and-dine restaurants serve it up uber-casual to ultra-fine. And what better way to appreciate the Fourth of July fireworks over the weekend and Monday than by boat, enjoying a dinner either before or after? (Warning: You won’t be the only one doing it, so it’s more hassle-free to make reservations if you can.)
One of the oldest and most casual, Snook Inn on the Marco River in Old Marco revolves around a chickee bar and a salad bar, a culinary throwback you don’t find too often anymore. Out in the chickee, you can order from the full menu and be entertained daily by live music and the passing of boat traffic.
This time of year, however, I choose indoors, A/C and the beer-battered fried grouper sandwich.
Head Chef Tom Miller, however, recommends the Caribbean-style blackened catch he introduced this summer. It appears on both the lunch and dinner menus with a choice of grouper, snapper, or mahi.
“It’s selling quite well,” Miller said. “It’s pretty much an awesome dish.”
Seafood is clearly celebrated here, but steaks and ribs supplement the menu. The all-you-can-eat dinners are popular, particularly Friday’s seafood buffet for $26.95.
Photo by MANUEL MARTINEZ // Buy this photo
Equally unfussy and long-loved, the Dock at Crayton Cove slumps endearingly at the Naples City Dock overlooking Naples Bay with sea-breeze-cooled dining (and the help of fans).
Into its standard raw bar and fried seafood basket offerings, the Dock injects tropical chic with such dishes as rock shrimp nachos, jerk chicken sandwich, Red Stripe baby-back ribs with guava sauce, key lime grouper and pineapple-glazed sea bass.
It’s also known for its 25 types of rum and signature Rhum Boogie with Nicaraguan rum — tasty but sneaky and more suited to shipmates than boat captains who need to remain in control.
New in the scheme of local dock-and-dine, Coconut Jack’s chickee deck looms over lagoon waters near Bonita Beach, but there’s also cool indoor seating with a view.
Its menu, too, takes a tropical attitude with voodoo wings, tequila oysters Rockefeller, seafood baskets, mahi tacos, honey-glazed salmon, an amazing rendition of lobster ravioli and steaks.
At the bar, take advantage of $5 happy hour items from 3 to 6 p.m. Coconut Jack’s is a little tricky to find from Naples by boat, so call ahead for directions.
The downside to boating to dinner is having to make your way home after a bottle of wine and fine cuisine, says Alex Alexander, whose Blue Heron restaurant on Isles of Capri serves only dinner and only the finest.
That’s why she offers free overnight docking and electric hookups to all her dinner guests on a first-ask basis. The four docks accommodate boats up to 70 feet. “It’s kind of a getaway within a vacation,” Alexander said.
And believe me, you’re going to need a good sleep after the traditional continental five-course meal you’ll savor at Blue Heron. (During summer you have the option of a lighter three-course menu for $42 each.)
On a recent visit we watched through the intimate dining room’s glass wall as a pod of manatees frolicked and a summer storm swept into Johnson Bay. The meal begins with bread, pate and other spreads followed by the day’s soup, in this case a leek and potato potage that kept it light and well-seasoned.
Our server prepared house salads tableside to add to the show nature provided, and we ordered crispy duck with fresh pear sauce (inspired and summery) and the restaurant’s signature crab cakes with minimal binders and maximum moistness.
Veggies and potatoes accompany all entrees. Desserts such as white chocolate crème brulée and frozen peanut butter pie are included in the price; appetizers such as escargots and ahi tuna are extra but easily shared.
Impeccable service and a commitment to quality make finding this out-of-the-way spot a must for serious foodies afloat, but go now because it closes Aug. 1 and doesn’t reopen until Sept. 22.
Dock and dine
Where: 387 Capri Blvd.,Isles of Capri (call for boat-in directions)
Prices: Appetizers $16, entrees $56-$67
Information: (239) 394-6248, www.the-blue-heron.com
Coconut Jack’s Waterfront Grille
Where: 5370 Bonita Beach Road, Bonita Springs; channel marker 100 on Estero Bay
Prices: All-day menu appetizers and salads $6.50-$12; entrees $12-$33.
Information: (239) 676-7777, www.coconutjacks.com
Where: 845 12th Ave. S., channel marker 35 in Naples Bay
Prices: All-day menu starters $6.25-$13, sandwiches and entrees $11-$28
Information: (239) 263-9940, www.dockcraytoncove.com
Where: 1215 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island, channel marker 12 in Marco Pass
Prices: Starters $5.50-$14; sandwiches and lunch entrees $11-$16; dinner entrees $15-$32
Information: (239) 394-3313, www.snookinn.com
Other local dock-and-dine options
■ Big Hickory Seafood Grille, 26107 Hickory Blvd, Bonita Springs, (239) 992-0991, www.bighickorygrille.com
■ The Boathouse, 990 Broad Ave. S., Naples, (239) 643-2235, www.naplesboathouse.com
■ Capri Fish House, 203 Capri Blvd., Isles of Capri, (239) 389-5555, www.caprifishhouse.com
■ Joe’s Crab Shack, 1355 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, (239) 793-7700, www.joescrabshack.com
■ Kelly’s Fish House, 1302 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, (239) 774-0494, www.kellysfishhousediningroom.com
■ Little Bar Restaurant, 205 Harbor Place, Goodland, (239) 394-5663, www.littlebarrestaurant.com
■ Old Marco Lodge Crab House,401 Papaya St., Goodland, (239) 642-7227, www.oldmarcolodge.com
■ Pincher’s Crab Shack, 1200 Fifth Ave. S., Naples, (239) 434-6616, www.pincherscrabshack.com
■ Riverwalk at Tin City, 801 12th Ave. S., Naples, (239) 263-2734, www.riverwalktincity.com
■ Stan’s Idle Hour, 221 Goodland Drive W., Goodland, (239) 394-3041, www.stansidlehour.net