Taste of Marco: Marco Island has a 'taste' for fine food al fresco

Henry Teh of Mango's Dockside Bistro takes tickets at the restaurant's booth. The 23rd annual Taste of Marco drew crowds to the Esplanade Sunday afternoon, sampling food from a variety of local restaurants. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

Photo by LANCE SHEARER // Buy this photo

Henry Teh of Mango's Dockside Bistro takes tickets at the restaurant's booth. The 23rd annual Taste of Marco drew crowds to the Esplanade Sunday afternoon, sampling food from a variety of local restaurants. Lance Shearer/Eagle Correspondent

— Sunday afternoon, some of Marco’s fine restaurants turned into sidewalk food vendors for the day, bringing a sampling of their wares out for the Taste of Marco. With sunlight filtered by a parade of puffy clouds, the temperature was a balmy 82 degrees, making a perfect day for strolling the Esplanade, trying the various food offerings, plus a little liquid refreshment, and listening to some live music.

The Taste of Marco benefits the Greater Marco Family YMCA, and presumably benefits participating eateries as well, giving customers an easy way to try their food. A dozen local establishments got in on the action, down from 20 last year and 25 in 2011. Judging from the fact it was possible to move around the courtyard, and even between the outside bar at CJ’s and the railing by the boat basin, attendance might also have been down a little from previous years, but this made it possible to mingle freely, try all the offerings, and even go back for seconds from a favored establishment. Parking space was certainly at a premium around the Esplanade.

Singer Greg Miller, fronting the Greg Miller Band, was way out in front, strolling among the audience taking advantage of his cordless microphone. The crowd was laidback, too laidback to give much of a response when, leading into “I Feel Good,” he demanded, “you feel good?” Perhaps they remembered not to talk with their mouths full.

Menus from the participating restaurants featured a lot of seafood, from the crabcake sliders offered up by “home team” CJ’s on the Bay, the seafood strudel in lobster sauce from Kretch’s, the crispy potato-wrapped shrimp from the Hilton, and the rock shrimp salad from Quinn’s on the Beach. Mango’s Dockside Bistro offered ahi tuna tacos, corvine ceviche and fried grouper cones at their colorful booth, and Stonewalls served seafood chowder, along with BBQ pork sliders and tropical chicken salad.

Even Beach Dogs, the only actual full-time pushcart vendor in the bunch, got into the aquatic theme with their “son of a beach dog.” A sweet ending was available in bitesize form from Coldstone Creamery and Simply Cupcakes, who tempted passersby with a multitude of flavors. Steve Reynolds of the Y emceed along with Nick Ciletti and Kelly Griswold of NBC-2, and when they had a break, the news presenters were spotted at the Simply Cupcakes booth. He went with cookies and cream, and she chose key lime, also the cupcake choice of Marco artist Karen Swanker.

Blissed out eaters sat on the benches overlooking the marina, the tunes, including the appropriate “Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon,” were mellow and melodious, and the kids had bounce houses, sand art and a giant slide to help them burn off some energy. For those heading back up north, the afternoon will remind them of why they want to come back.

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