They’re definitely doing something right.
While restaurants come and go with sometimes dizzying speed, Café de Marco came and stayed. The eatery is celebrating 29 years on Marco Island, under the same ownership and in the same location.
The menu is heavy on seafood dishes, as befits a restaurant on a tropical island. Meat lovers have a number of tempting choices, and only vegetarians are likely to feel constrained, with a single “vegetarian’s delight” plus salads from which to choose.
In honor of the ongoing 29th anniversary celebration, Café de Marco is offering a special deal in addition to the regular fare. The three-course package menu offers eight different entrees, as part of a complete meal that includes a glass of wine, house salad, rolls and butter, dessert and coffee, all for $27.
Diners may select from seafood scampi, stuffed filet of sole, shrimp Alfredo, and broiled salmon in the seafood department, as well as a New York strip steak, and a chicken and a pork entrée. They also offer “twilight specials” from 5 p.m., when they open, till 5:45, priced at just $13.95.
Owner Sandra Franchino has a theory on how the café had survived and prospered for so long.
“We concentrate on serving quality food in a casual, comfortable atmosphere,” she said. “You have to pay attention to the details of running a restaurant, and there are many.”
Paying attention to those details has made Café de Marco an institution on the island, one which brings back patrons time after time, and many call their favorite restaurant.
Guests T.C. and Sieu-Ai Koh from Hammock Bay used Café de Marco to impress a guest of their own, Pat Doucette from Wisconsin.
“We’ve been coming here for 13 seasons, and we keep coming back,” said T.C. Sieu-Ai had the snapper almandine, and pointed out what a generous portion it was. Pat said the same thing about the glass of wine she was served.
“We’ve been here lots of times,” said Linda and Jack Nutting. “You can always count on the food being good.” Kathi and Harry Arons also brought an out of town visitor, Frank Murphy from New Jersey, to Café de Marco as a special treat – for themselves as well as their guest.
“This is our favorite place on the island – it really is,” said Kathi. “It’s just good food, reasonably priced.”
“It’s a good atmosphere, too,” offered Murphy. Creating that atmosphere is another of Franchino’s secrets of success. The restaurant is located in a building that, on Marco Island, qualifies as historical, former housing for the help at the Olde Marco Inn next door. It’s warm and eclectic, far from glitzy, but the overall impression is homey and welcoming.
Café de Marco uses the space to their advantage, with the dining space cut into a number of smaller rooms, both indoor, outdoor, and on the terrace under strings of festive lights, giving an intimate feel and accommodating patrons’ preferences.
“When people come in for the first time, we treat them so they want to come back,” said Sandy Franchino. “Our entire staff functions as a family.” Making sure there is sufficient staff to provide attentive service is one of those many details, and owner Franchino is quick to jump in and help out as needed.
During season, Café de Marco is open seven nights a week, from 5 p.m. Franchino is there every night – being there and keeping an eye on things, more of the “sweating the details” approach. After Easter, they close on Sundays until Christmas, so she gets one night a week off.
If you have room left after the escargot-stuffed mushrooms, the shrimp aubergine, which is sautéed in a mushroom, garlic and diced eggplant marinara sauce, or the sesame- encrusted tuna, a number of desserts will tempt your taste buds, and your waistline.
The signature dessert offering is the Café Puff, described on the menu as almond praline ice cream rolled in chocolate cookie crumbs, inside a pastry puff shell, topped with whipped cream, Bailey’s chocolate sauce and graham cracker crumbs. Waiter John Lanni said that toward the end of the evening, they see parties come in just for desserts and coffee, skipping the preliminaries.
Back in 1983 when Café de Marco opened, said Sandy Franchino, “Marco was a sleepy little town that nobody ever heard of. You could roll a bowling ball down Collier Blvd. after season, and not hit anyone. Now, it has evolved into a real community.”
She’s delighted to be part of that community, and is already working on plans for their 30th anniversary next year, she said.
Café de Marco
244 Palm Street, next to Olde Marco Inn & Suites
Dinner from 5 p.m., seven nights a week through Easter
Monday through Saturday after Easter