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

Lance Shearer

The chance to try out 14 different eateries in one place, for a nominal charge, outdoors with live music, and to know that while you are enjoying a smorgasbord of delicious dishes, you are raising money for a worthy cause – that just has to leave a good taste in your mouth.

That was the scene Sunday in the courtyard at the Esplanade, where the 28th Annual Taste of Marco brought a throng of diners or “grazers” on a beautiful, warm afternoon. With the event running from 11 in the morning to 5 p.m., it was possible to stop by for lunch, and still come back for an early bird dinner, but people were sampling all afternoon.

The MIYC booth featured fruit carved by Chef Bob Aylwin, left. The Taste of Marco, raising funds for the Greater Marco Family YMCA, was held Sunday afternoon at the Esplanade.

Dishes served ran the gamut, from turkey wraps and honey-infused fruit cup offered by home-town host CJ’s on the Bay, to octopus crudo at the Island Country Club booth. Michelbob’s led from their strengths, serving baby back ribs and grilled sausage, and the fish tacos at the Mango’s booth generated a lot of buzz.

Chef Bob Aylwin at the Marco Island Yacht Club carved fruits and melons into fanciful shapes at the MIYC booth, adding a visual component to their seafood and chicken cioppino. Chop 239, with their booth like Mango’s and CJ’s within steps of their actual restaurant, served filet mignon tips and sesame-encrusted seared ahi tuna, handed out by adorable young lady Donika Ibishi. CJ’s had two cute kids serving, Maria and Tessa Castro, under the watchful eye of mama Jodi.

“Wild Jimmy” Downey wasn’t as cute, but showed he can do more than sausage and jerky, offering peach-and Kentucky Bourbon beef brisket with a delicious cold-smoked cheddar mac ’n’ cheese. Nico’s Kitchen stuck to Greek specialties with gyros, souvlaki, Greek salad and spanakopita, and also donated 50 percent of all their day’s earnings back to the YMCA.

The Greater Marco Family YMCA is the charitable organization that diners were supporting, helping underprivileged kids attend the Y’s camp and educational programs, and contributing to their latest expansion, 2,700 square feet of new space to house fitness equipment, enhanced member services, a cardiac rehab area, and community partnership center.

Musical entertainment came from the Greg Miller Band, a Marco Island favorite, laying down easy grooves including “My Girl,” “Under the Boardwalk,” and notably “Groovin’ (on a Sunday Afternoon,”) perhaps the signature tune for the day.

Attendees were encouraged to vote for their favorite eateries. The People’s Choice Award went to Mango’s. “Best bite” was awarded to Chop 239. Best presentation went to Niko’s, best decoration to the SW Florida Event Center, the Judges’ Choice Award to Island Country Club, and MIYC was named Best Overall.

Allyson Richards, co-chairing the event with Tiffany Homuth, proved herself a “hands-on” manager, hauling away sacks of garbage as they filled up with discarded plates and plastic silverware.

For those heading back up north – and now is the time for it – the afternoon will remind them of why they want to come back.