Best of December: The top things we ate in SWFL

Will Watts

December did not disappoint; it was another great month for sampling food on Marco island as all the restaurants continued to streamline operations in anticipation of the height of season; coming in January.

Wishing you and yours happy and healthy eating in 2020!

The "Shrimp Lenny from Café de Marco.

Café de Marco, Marco Island

Ok, technically I visited this location in November; but the restaurant missed out on the “Best of November” because it ran in the same issue.

Things got off to a most appetizing start with the “Shrimp Lenny,” three large shrimp, stuffed with surimi crab, wrapped in bacon and topped with hollandaise sauce. I agreed to share this with a friend, and since there were only three, I performed surgery on the last one to avoid a fight over who gets it.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Café de Marco brings it’s ‘A’ game

I also sampled the lobster bisque. Typically, I’m not a fan; but this was the best bisque I’ve ever had; loaded with a cheesy goodness and bits of lobster. I may have two bowls next time.

My partner in dine had the “Fresh Catch de Marco,” which on this day was tripletail. This dish was baked with mushrooms, seasoned shallots, garlic butter and topped with breadcrumbs. It was served with mashed potatoes. This dish was cooked to perfection. The whole dish was utterly amazing.

I had the vegetarian delight. Why, you ask? Because I appreciate and want to bring attention to the fact that Café de Marco takes care of our vegetarian friends. And this was no half effort. This was perhaps the best vegetarian dish I’ve had on Marco, and one of the top tier Marco dishes, even when comparing it to meatier contenders.

For dessert, I had the “Café Puff,” almond praline ice cream rolled in chocolate cookie crumbs, inside a pastry puff shell and topped with whipped cream, Bailey's chocolate sauce and graham cracker crumbs.

First and foremost, this dish is HUGE! It could feed at least three people for dessert. I did not finish it. There was no way, unless winning a prize was involved.

The ice cream was amazing on its own. The chocolate sauce is decadent. And covers the giant ball of ice cream, which is covered in whip cream.

The restaurant earns top marks from me. I guess you don’t stay in business nearly four decades without knowing your stuff.

The Waldorf chicken salad from Summer Day Market & Café, Marco Island.

Summer Day Market & Café, Marco Island

Summer Day Market & Café, located in Marco’s Town Center Mall, brings lots of healthy options to Marco Island that we might otherwise have to travel several miles to obtain.

We made three hearty selections this visit: a California wrap, the Waldorf chicken salad sandwich and the tuna sandwich. Most menu items come as a sandwich (with your choice of bread) or as a wrap, with several varieties to choose from.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: A healthy fix at Summer Day Market & Café

The California features turkey, avocado, sprouts, tomato, cucumber, onion and organic goddess dressing. We selected the spinach-flavored wrap. This item goes a long way to dispel the myth that health-conscious food can’t also be filling and delicious. It was my favorite selection this visit. The avocado was pure perfection and the sprouts were plentiful.

I also had the tuna salad sandwich on multi-grain bread. It features albacore tuna mixed with Vegenaise, carrots, onions and celery; served with lettuce, tomato, red onion and sprouts. Overall, I really liked this sandwich; it’s one of the best tuna sandwiches you’ll find anywhere.

My partner in dine picked the Waldorf chicken salad on multi-grain bread. It features chicken breast mixed with Vegenaise, celery, apples, walnuts, cranberries and blue cheese; served with lettuce, tomato, red onion and sprouts.

This sandwich is as good as it sounds, and the café doesn’t skimp on any of the ingredients. High quality chicken and fresh toppings. The sandwich’s namesake hotel would be proud.

"The Riley" from Stonewalls, Marco Island.

Stonewalls, Marco Island

Stonewalls on Marco Island is our next food destination. Unlike many eating establishments, Stonewalls feels a bit younger and perhaps more modern.

With an electronic menu board, an order at the register, then take your table; along with the self-service drinks; it’s a familiar feeling that you don’t find in many Marco eateries. And that’s perfectly ok.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Stonewalls stands out from the pack

Things got off to an appetizing start with the soup de jour, the cream of onion soup. I’ve never had this particular soup before. Cream of mushroom, yes! But not onion. Never. And it was amazing. If you like onions, you’ll love this soup.

For my main entrée, I order the meatloaf. It came covered in a mushroom gravy and with steamed broccoli and mashed potatoes. With the first bite, I could tell this meatloaf was made with quality ground beef. The sides were great to begin with and made even better with just a touch of butter and salt by me.

My partner in dine picked the “the Riley,” sautéed/breaded chicken breast topped with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and arugula. The chicken was much like a Mexican chicken Milanese, which is a flattened chicken steak, lightly breaded. The toppings were fresh and most appealing, and the dressing was light and bold.

The meatloaf sandwich with potato salad from Red Rooster, Marco Island.

Red Rooster, Marco Island

Marco has an abundance of restaurants that focus on breakfast and lunch: Doreen’s Cup of Joe, Hoot’s, Empire Bagel Factory and NeNe’s Kitchen, to name a few. Somewhat isolated from the others in location, Red Rooster is nonetheless worthy of high praise for both their breakfast and lunch offerings.

During our recent visit, I opted for a lunch dish, while my partner in dine remained focused on breakfast.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Red Rooster for breakfast, lunch (or both)

I picked the grilled meatloaf sandwich, served on a brioche bun and featuring caramelized onions and served with chipotle ketchup on the side. Understandably, the casual observer may think you ordered a hamburger when the plate arrives. You have an abundance of sides to choose from (fries, hash browns and fruit among them). I opted for potato salad as my side and only because Rooster’s has a reputation for this amazing side.

I tried the sandwich as served; also, with the chipotle ketchup; with mayonnaise and with both the ketchup and mayo. And it was superb during each and every bite. The meat is top notch; the bun is fresh, soft and tasty.

My dining companion picked the Mexican scramble, with eggs, chorizo, tomatoes, onions, green chilies and cheddar cheese with black beans, salsa and sour cream on the side. I love everything about this dish. Hearty with a wonderful mix of flavors, the Mexican scramble feels like a great choice for breakfast, especially when it’s lunchtime.

More:Hey Marco Island, looking for a place to eat?

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If you go

Cafe de Marco

  • 244 Royal Palm Drive, Marco Island
  • 239-394-6262
  • cafedemarco.com

Summer Day Market & Café

  • Town Center Mall, 1069 N Collier Blvd., Marco Island
  • 239-394-8361
  • summerdaymarket.com


  • 551 S Collier Blvd, Marco Island
  • 239-389-1995
  • marcostonewalls.com

Red Rooster

  • Shops of Marco, 1821 San Marco Rd., Marco Island
  • 239-394-3100
  • Redroostermarco.com