'Watts for Dinner': Marco Island's top eight (ate) of 2018

Will Watts

There’s a feast of fine food on Marco Island, and eating my way through 2018, I can honestly say I haven’t had a bad meal. I suffered with bad service a couple of times; but never with food.

So, it was tough when my editor asked me to pick some of the best things I’ve eaten in 2018. He wanted a top 10, but I prefer eight (ate) … get it.

Don’t be offended if your favorite wasn't mentioned. This was hard for me. But these eight dishes really stood out.

8. Catch of the day

When you step inside the courtyard at the Shops of Olde Marco, you suddenly feel transported to the Florida Keys; so naturally, you start craving fresh seafood, right? So, it’s good that the shops are home to Lee Be Fish Company.

The fish and shrimp basket with cole slaw at Lee Be Fish Company, Marco Island.

The menu is simple enough: fish or shrimp or fish and shrimp (grilled or fried). You can have a basket, a platter or a sandwich and you can choose between cole slaw, fries, black beans and rice.

All of it tops my list. Amazingly fresh and great prices. Just make sure you have cash on hand; your credit’s no good here.

In 2018, the Crabby Lady returned to Goodland, and she brought Joe’s crab balls. One was quite a bit larger than the other, but I hear that’s perfectly normal. And you can see at least one ingredient, Chex cereal had a visible presence. They looked like Frankenstein’s balls – hmmm! Maybe I should rethink that. But you know what I mean.

Joe's crab balls at The Crabby Lady, Goodland.

Even though the look was not so appealing, the taste was another story. The mix of spices with the lump crab meat make for a very delightful foray into this crabby world we entered and so, it makes my best list.

7. Rolling into summer

Thai Sushi by KJ on Collier Boulevard, offers a fusion of Japanese sushi and traditional Thai cuisine and surprising – if timed right -- is not the worst spot to watch the sun go down across the bay.

The summer roll at Thai Sushi by KJ on Collier Boulevard, Marco Island.

It’s also home to two really great and original dishes – the summer roll and the kiss roll.

Summer rolls, aka fresh spring rolls (meaning not fried), are one of my favorite appetizers. They are prepared with rice paper wrappers rolled around fresh vegetables partnered with shrimp, crab and avocado. But the star of this dish is the peanut dipping sauce.

The kiss roll from Thai Sushi by KJ on Collier Boulevard, Marco Island.

The kiss roll features escolar – a fish found in deep tropical and temperate waters – tuna, avocado, scallions, asparagus and sesame seeds and is served with fresh ginger and wasabi.

Both rolls were super fresh. Loved the crunchy of the summer roll and the buttery tuna in the kiss roll.

6. Caking me crazy

After a hearty meal at Capri's Island Gypsy, we were planning on skipping dessert; but our waiter recommended the house specialty – carrot cake. So unexpected! So rich! So moist! So amazing!

The Island Gypsy house specialty – carrot cake.

A word of warning, if there’s two or three or you; one slice is still enough – it’s the size of two large slices. Now I know why the portions were on the small side; you need the room for dessert. So, don’t pass it up.

5. French toasting the new year

Doreen’s Cup of Joe may have the best omelets around, but it’s the French toast that keeps me coming back for more. It’s made with Challah bread – dough enriched with eggs, oil and sugar, the perfect choice for French toast. These slices are thick. The dish is covered with powdered sugar and whip cream and served with syrup on the side.

French toast with powdered sugar, whip cream, strawberries and mascarpone cheese.

Oh wait, that’s the regular dish. We ordered a little something, something more; the version with strawberries and mascarpone cheese. I’m sweating just recalling it. It feels so good to be so bad.

4. The cherry on top

Summer Day Market & Café is a place I would normally see on my way for some Mexican food at Margaritas. Then I’d forget about it. The place looked kind of small and when I was on my way for tacos, I did not want to be reminded of healthier options.

What a surprise when I stepped inside. There’s an area for healthy shakes, sandwiches, soups; grocery shelfs filled with healthy items to take home and cook; and a Zen den for dining, that also has some meditation-oriented Knick knacks. In other words, Summer Day Café has it all. But my favorite, the “Cherry” smoothie, which also features bananas, strawberries, pineapple and tart cherry juice.

The drinks come in 16 or 20 oz; we got the latter. Neither was as thick as you typically get at an average smoothie joint. The flavor was intense and delicious, and it gave me a boost for an afternoon of shopping.

3. Pork perfection

Michelbob's Championship Ribs & Steaks has reached legendary status in Southwest Florida with a restaurant in Naples and a take-away location on Marco Island, the latter of which we visited during 2018.

Michelbob's pork sandwich on toasted bread.

The pulled pork sandwich had a monster pile of meat between two giant toasted slices of bread; and was scary good. Tender, moist and filled with slow-cooked goodness.

We divided and shared the sandwich; and my half it was still larger than most other’s full-sized offerings. The dish came with both sweet and tangy barbecue; and for the life of me, I could not decide which one I liked best. It took both packets just to get through this half sandwich.

2. Live by the sword(fish)

Bistro Soleil is Marco Island’s home for fine French cuisine, and for one of my top dishes of 2018, the swordfish. The filet was char grilled to perfection and served with a sweet and tangy pineapple ginger chutney. It came with potatoes and assorted vegetables.

Char grilled swordfish with ginger chutney from Bistro Soleil, Marco Island.

The swordfish surprised me, with a tuna-like quality to the filet; and an amazing understated taste that blended perfectly with the sauce. Side note; if you don’t go on a swordfish night; order the “saumon” from the regular menu, which is given a similar treatment.

1. Not your average nachos

The Deck at the Hilton has many great items, like the deep-fried pita bread that comes gratis to your table or the root vegetable chips.

A huge boat-shape container full of nachos topped with pulled pork, melted pepper-jack cheese, fresh avocado, cilantro and a side of grilled pineapple salsa from The Deck.

The restaurant with the beautiful gulf view also happens to have the best thing I ate in 2018 on Marco Island, the “island nachos,” a huge boat-shape container full of nachos topped with pulled pork, melted pepper-jack cheese, fresh avocado, cilantro and a side of grilled pineapple salsa. I bet your mouth is watering just reading that. And it should be. Every bite was as good as it sounds.